DC Comics History: Superman (1964 - 1967: the New Look)
By Deejay Dayton
Aug 8, 2017 - 9:55
Writer(s): Leo Dorfman, Edmond Hamilton, Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Jim Shooter, Cary Bates, Bill Finger
Penciller(s): Curt Swan, Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, John Forte, Jim Mooney
Inker(s): George Klein
The boom of new ideas and concepts in the Superman series had come to an end by the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look. There would still be stories set in Kandor, and Superman would join forces with many of his Justice League friends, but by and large the tales expanded on things that were already a part of his universe. Some new villains would get introduced during this period, but only one would become anything like a major player, the Parasite.
While there was no new origin story for Superman during this period, there were a few tales that expanded on Kryptonian history and culture, often centring on Kandor. In Superman 176 Superman and Supergirl telling nothing but the truth for a single day, no matter what the consequences, a traditional ritual for Kryptonians. Lois Lane and Lana Lang try to take advantage of the situation, asking Superman which of them he prefers, but he gets out of the situation by yelling his answer too loudly to be understood. The story has a couple more instances of this kind of “out.”
The most interesting part of the tale is the flashback explaining the situation. We learn that, at one time, Krypton was under the domination of aliens called the Vrangs. Though most Kryptonains went along with their enslavement, Val-Lor stood up to Vrangs and spoke the truth, even at the cost of his own life. The Vrangian execution of Val-Lor prompted a rebellion, and sent the Vrangs packing. In commemoration of this, all Kryptonians spend one day each year speaking nothing but the truth. This story gets referenced a few times in later tales.
Superman 172 sees a comet with gasses deadly to all, even Kryptonians, approach the Earth. Superman knows he may not survive the encounter with it, so he recruits a potential successor from Kandor, Ar-Val. Superman diverts the comet, and survives his contact with it, but loses his powers. The panels of Clark Kent grieving as he hears the crowds cheer his replacement are excellent. Ar-Val proves to be pretty useless as Superman, simply wanting the glory of it.
He ignores Jimmy Olsen, who warns him that Brainiac has busted Luthor out of prison. Luthor got shot during the breakout, and Ar-Val simply insists that Luthor must be dead. Superman wants to step up, but has no powers. Jimmy Olsen provides him some of his elastic serum, while Legion of Super-Heroes members Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Invisible Kid temporarily charge Superman with their powers.
As he is no longer allowed to wear a Superman costume, he dons a really awful “Former Superman” costume. It is fun to see the hero formerly known as Superman fight Luthor and Brainiac with a wildly different set of powers. But the villains get the best of him in the end. Ar-Val finally shows up, but the Former Superman winds up sacrificing himself to save him.
Ar-Val finally realizes what a washout he is, and with the aid of Kandorian scientist Nor-Kan, he revives Superman, using his life force, but winding up turned to stone. Superman indicates at the end that he wants to find a way to revive Ar-Val, but this never actually happened.
Superman goes through an emotional roller-coaster in Action 317, and all of it shows on his face. Superman gets exposed to red kryptonite (wow, that NEVER happens), and it has the effect of making his face colour brightly when he experiences emotional reactions. Though he spends the day largely as Clark Kent, in the company of Lois Lane, he watches from a distance as his Kandorian friend, the scientist Nor-Kan, sickens, dies, and is buried, all in (apparently) quick succession.
At one point, green with envy, he moves a restaurant called the Green Lantern into a new location, to shine green light on Lois’ face as well. This restaurant will return in the pages of Superman comics in the early 70s. Am I a geek or what? The effects wear off by the end of the story, and Nor-Kan is buried, with a memorial.
Superman is the titular hero of the story in Action 336 but the real star is Ak-Var. As a youth, back on Krypton, Ak-Var had stolen the sun-stone as a prank. But he was captured, and sentenced to thirty years in the Phantom Zone. In the intervening time, Krypton exploded. Superman comes to Kandor as Ak-Var is released, having completed his sentence. Phantom Zone regulars Jax-Ur, General Zod, Kru-El and Professor Vakox all cameo. Ak-Var wants to stay on Earth, and use his powers, just like Superman. But the rules are that anyone released from the Zone must take up residence in Kandor – although the Kandorians are none too pleased to have him around. In fact, the story almost seems to imply that Ak-Var is one of the only people ever released.
He does run into his old gang, and his former girlfriend, all of whom have aged, while he stayed ageless in the Zone. This story gives a lot of detail about life in Kandor. Van-Zee, the double of Superman, takes a liking to Ak-Var, and introduces him to his niece, Thara. Ak-Var former gang friends launch a crime spree, and frame Ak-Var. Being only recently released from the Zone, no one believes him innocent, except Superman, Van-Zee and Thara.
Together, they expose the gang members as the real criminals. Ak-Var becomes Van-Zee’s lab assistant. Van-Zee is not seen again for a decade, returning for a story in World’s Finest Comics. Ak-Var and Thara have to wait even longer, coming back in the Nightwing and Flamebird series in Superman Family in the late 70s.
The Super-Pets, who were frequent guest-stars in the Legion of Super-Heroes series in Adventure Comics at this time, join Superman for a time travelling romp in Superman 176. After a will leaves a huge bequest for an animal shelter, to be overlooked by the Super-Pets in a managerial capacity (the guy clearly has great faith in these animals), because of the nasty actions of an ancestor, Superman recruits the Pets to join him on a trip to the past, to learn more about the man. Krypto, Streaky, Beppo and Comet all take part, while Proty II is said to be busy on a mission in the future.
They find that the ancestor is a junk dealer who frequently abuses animals. The story also tells a (highly fictionalized) version of the creation of the American Society for the Protection of Animals, as the passage of a law protecting them from being abused gets passed during their time in the past. The story is not bad – largely consisting of the man trying to injure the Super-Pets, but having no success, due to their powers.
Sally Selwyn, the girl who fell for Clark Kent, makes a return in Superman 169. The story recaps the romance she had with Superman while under a red kryptonite spell of amnesia, but also introduces a new character into the mix, a man who has hated Superman since they were teens, and who got plastic surgery in order to resemble him, so he could impersonate Superman for criminal benefit. Since this man looks like Superman, he also looks like Clark Kent, and Jim White, the name Clark adopted under the red kryptonite spell. So Sally runs into the criminal, and thinks he is really Jim.
The guy is confused, but Sally is rich, and his mob cronies are hunting him, so he goes along with her assumptions. But he acts nothing like Jim did, and Sally begins to get concerned. Then she runs into a really confused Clark Kent, and also assumes him to be Jim. Her kisses prove extremely potent, as they restore Superman’s memory of their time together. Finally, Clark has a woman who loves him for himself, and he decides to ditch Lois and Lana and marry Sally. But then the bad guys attack him, thinking he is the criminal guy.
Lots of confused fighting, but the bad guy dies, extracting a promise from Superman to tell Sally that he really was Jim White. So Superman, being too noble for his own good, goes along with it, and tells Sally that Jim White has died. While the narration at the end of the story hints that more is to come with this star-crossed couple, as it turned out, this was Sally Selwyn’s final appearance.
Superman’s hero buddies appeared in a few tales during these years. The story in Action 314 explores some potential variations on Superman’s life. Superman is summoned by the Justice League of America, and meets up with Batman, Aquaman, the Atom, Flash and Green Arrow. Aquaman explains that his octopus sidekick, Topo, discovered a recording by Jor-El on the ocean floor. The rest of the story is Jor-El’s recording, as he recounts his simulations of what his son’s life would be like, had he sent the boy to various different worlds – and why he ultimately chose Earth.
One is a world of giants, where Superman would have been very small, and fought crime as if he were the Atom. And an underwater world, where he would have been that planet’s Aquaman. A low-tech planet, under a red sun, which would have seen him become Green Arrow. A world of eternal night, in which he becomes Batman. And lastly, a planet on which only his super-speed functioned, making him the Flash. But Jor-El chose Earth, to give his son the maximum amount of powers.
The Batman tv craze spills over into Action 344. It begins as Superman and Batman hang out and switch brains. It’ll be fun! Oops, look what a klutz Batman is in Superman’s body. Ha ha. Groan. Then Superman starts having dreams, which are really easy to “decode” as referring to Batman’s enemies. The Joker is the first, with squirting flowers, white faces, and laughing mania.
The Riddler dream sees a sphinx. The last dream flirts with the idea of the Penguin. Superman has no idea what is going on, and starts freaking out. Batman explains it all. When in Superman’s body, he spilled red kryptonite, which induced dreams based on the flash cards of Batman villains he had been showing Superman. Yeah, ok. I guess it could have been worse.
Jimmy Olsen gets to be the focus of a tale in Superman 173, which opens as the cub reporter decides to get into an alien ship that lands on the roof of the Daily Planet, requesting help from Superman. The ship turns out to be a trap, and Jimmy is brought before Luthor and Brainiac at their new base. They proudly show Jimmy their statues of Superman’s and Batman’s greatest enemies, as well as demeaning statues of the Legion of Super-Heroes, shown as elderly and out of shape.
How villains amuse themselves in their spare time, I guess. But Jimmy is not as dumb as he seems, and clues in that this is all a giant hoax on him. He spots that the supposed Brainiac has blue eyes, instead of green, and guesses (correctly) that the Luthor and Brainiac he is facing are really Superman and Batman. They were trying to convince Jimmy that he takes too many risks.
By far the best of these team ups appeared in Superman 199, the very first Superman/Flash race. The two heroes are asked by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to do a race taking them three times around the world, as a huge charity event.
Both agree, and Clark Kent gets assigned by Perry White to cover the race, as does Iris Allen by her paper. Iris is the wife of Barry Allen, but unaware that he is the Flash (or so we think). Two crime cartels, one American, one European, make a huge bet on the race, and each brings in a criminal scientist to help plot against the other.
The Justice League show up for the start of the race. Superman has Batman and Robin, Green Arrow and the Atom on his side, while Aquaman, Hawkman and Green Lantern are pushing for the Flash. The Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman are seen later, but we do not know which hero they are rooting for. Supergirl is also at the starting line, supporting her cousin. The story has some excellent art, and makes the most of its varied locations. There are some little problems along the way, such as the heroes running into a camel laden with figs, and some greater ones. The Flash helps Superman when a kryptonite meteor is ejected from a volcano they are passing.
And later, in a snowy Saskatchewan, Superman switches identities to tend to the Flash after he wipes out on the ice. Should have had his winter boots on. The race has been very close, and as the heroes reach the final stretch through the US, both criminal groups put their plots into action, stopping the heroes and replacing them with impostors. The ones betting on Superman replace the Flash, and vice versa.
The impostors are meant to lose the race, but this results in both of them running more and more slowly, until they both come to a complete stop, realizing that neither is the real hero. It’s a great scene, capped perfectly as the actual heroes race by them after overcoming their traps. The race ends in a tie, intentionally, to prevent either gamblers from winning their bets. This would be a bit of a downer, except the final panel announces the second race, soon to take place in the pages of the Flash. A really fun story, well-told, and the tie even makes sense in the context.
Superman displays an astounding lack of foresight in Action 320. Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are going to spend three days sealed up in an underground bunker, to do a story on it for the Daily Planet. Superman has taken no steps to ensure someone will be there to protect the city if anything happens during this period. So guess what, an organized gang attack the city. Superman cannot make stable communication with Kandor, and even his attempts to contact the Legion of Super-Heroes fail. He does reach through to the past, and pulls Hercules, Samson and Atlas to the present. They do half-assed attempts as disguising themselves as Superman, but do get rid of the bad guys. But then they decide to rule themselves. They also display a variety of powers that the “real” version never had – lightning blasts, inducing the “sleep of Morpheus,” and rising the ocean level. The last is somewhat helpful, as the Planet reporters must flee the flooding bunker, and Superman can go into action.
He takes on a different identity though, to confuse the mythological heroes about his powers. He makes them his slaves, but leaves them a way to get back to their own times, which they eagerly do. In the end, he finds out from the Kandorians that these were not the ones from our universe and history. Superman had reached into the past of a parallel dimension of evil beings, and an earlier Superboy story is cited as the same universe. To me, this is obviously Earth-3. This story negates nothing already established about that world, and just fills in its past more clearly.
Superman meets Zigi and Zagi, a couple of irrepressible alien kids, in Action 315. The boys have taken a spaceship and come to Earth to amuse themselves. They do not really grasp the ways of humans, but are also not actively trying to hurt anyone or torment people, like Mr. Mxyzptlk. Superman’s attention is drawn by the boys’ actions. They have an invisibility ray they use to get away from him, as he acts too much like a typical adult. There is also a convict who escapes, but remains a very minor player in this issue.
Superman does manage to corral the boys, and takes them to school. But they prove far too disruptive, and are promptly expelled. While they are sleeping, Superman recreates their home planet, so as they wake, they become homesick.
He has also found their spaceship, and sends them back to their home planet. But none of them are aware that the escaped convict has snuck on to the ship, and is now on his way to an alien world.
The story concludes in Action 316. Learning of the escaped con aboard the spaceship, Superman flies out to Zigi and Zagi’s homeworld. The crook gets knocked unconscious during the landing, but at least that alerts the boys that he is there. They make him invisible for a while, to taunt Superman, but eventually send him back to Earth.
The story then becomes about Zigi and Zagi trying to matchmake Superman with their sister, Zyra. Superman gets out of this by finding Zyra’s lost fiance, re-uniting the couple. Although Zigi and Zagi do not return, I am certain I have read something, likely by Grant Morrison, playing with the concept of these two.
Beppo, the Super-Monkey gets to appear in this book, as a new, but short-lived, series launches, “Tales of Green Kryptonite,” in Superman 173. The tale follows a single chunk of the toxic rock from its creation through its first years on Earth, with the kryptonite itself narrating the story. After an opening sequence on Krypton, with Jor-El and Lara, we follow the rock as it lands in the African jungle. Beppo is the first to come across it, but gets away from the substance before it kills him. The rock gets found by Lana Lang’s archaeologist father, and brought back to Smallville. The kryptonite gets stolen from the museum, and Superboy has his first encounter with this specific piece, but is rescued by Krypto.
Young Lex Luthor uses it as he works on a cure for kryptonite, as this story is set before he loses his hair and turns evil. Though both Lex and Superboy are not aware of it, Luthor had indeed found a way to suppress the effects of the radiation. Superboy, not realizing the situation, thinks the kryptonite must be an imitation, and throws it out the window. An interesting idea for a series, there are further installments, which see the piece become red and gold kryptonite before losing all its radiation. Sadly, none of those tales are as good as the first.
As usual, Lex Luthor was Superman’s main enemy during this period. I have already mentioned a couple of his appearances, and will briefly acknowledge that he plays a role in a terrible story about a robot boy, Captain Incredible, in Action 354. Luthor gets two multi-part stories during these years, which elaborate on the world that worships him, Lexor.
In Action 318 Luthor escapes from prison on Earth, and takes a rocket to Lexor, where he is given a parade, because, wouldn’t you go to a world where they give you parades? Lex even has a girlfriend on Lexor, Ardora, who he marries in this issue. They both know Superman will be coming for Lex eventually, and she begs him not to kill the man. Lex goes out to confront Superman when arrives on Lexor. The planet orbits a red sun, so Superman has no powers there.
As they fight, Superman knocks Lex against a pillar, which cracks his head open and kills him. Superman is immediately hauled away, risking an all-out lynching. Lex Luthor’s funeral draws a huge crowd, even Brainiac shows up to attend. No one believes that the death was accidental, not even the lawyers appointed for Superman, who does not look happy about waiting till next issue for the resolution to the story.
Much of issue 319 is a Kafkaesque trial for Superman, as nothing he says or does has any effect on the Lexorians, who are simply going through the motions before executing him. Their preferred method turns a person into stone. During the trial, Superman learns that no autopsy was performed on Luthor, at his own request. This makes Superman suspicious enough to bust out of his cell to investigate further. The pills make Luthor’s plan clear. He will be in his death-like coma for the duration of the trial, and wake up after Superman has been executed for killing him.
Superman gets Lex out of his trance, and even reveals the pills he used, but to no avial. Oh, the charges against him are dropped, but everyone still believes in Lex. Superman is forced to return to Earth, while Luthor stays on Lexor with Ardora.
The story in Action 332 opens on Luthor, in exile on an alien prison planet, along with Brainiac, as well as Cosmic King, Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen of the Legion of Super-Villains. They had been sent there a few months earlier, at the end of a battle with Superman in the pages of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Luthor escapes, and Superman expects that he will head to Lexor. A scientist has devised a teleportation ray, which Superman uses, getting to Lexor ahead of Lex.
He is interrupted by Ardora, and barely gets away before she attacks him with deadly flowers. But Superman has opened a secret vault, containing Lex’s tapes. Ardora listens to them, and discovers that her husband really is the criminal Superman made him out to be.
Lex is furious with Superman for damaging his idyllic life on Lexor, and returns to Earth. Perversely, he then rescues Superman a number of times. Superman has no idea why Lex is doing this.
Lex Luthor’s vengeance plot proceeds apace in Action 333. Lex continues to play with Superman, rescuing him again, but also causing him to change into a dinosaur-type monster. Superman is not sure if this effect is visible to others, or just him. And not sure whether it is the result of red kryptonite, or something else. Luthor then asks for Superman’s help, disposing of a train full of toxic waste.
By now, Superman believes in Lex, and so goes along with it – and winds up kidnapping a train full of police, for which he is savaged in the press. By the end of the issue, Superman is not sure if he can trust anyone, or even his own senses, and is incapable of taking decisive action, all to Luthor’s glee.
The tale concludes in Action 335. Superman continues to be indecisive, which makes him not nearly as useful as he had been, and people begin to turn against him. Van Benson appears as the editor of the Daily Planet, while Perry White appears as a senator. Perry became a senator in a recent issue of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane. Through Perry, the president requests tests of Superman’s abilities. Superman fares no better on the tests than he has in actual situations.
But the people running the tests are not really generals. They are Luthor and Brainiac in disguise, making the most of their psychological war on Superman. But they overplayed their hand. Superman’s x-ray vision gave away how the tests were rigged, and their gloating was overheard by his super-hearing. Still, Superman allows them to escape.
Returning to Lexor, Luthor finds an adoring Ardora, with seemingly no memory of the criminal acts she discovered. Brainiac figures out that Superman induced amnesia in Ardora. We learn Superman’s rationale for this – that Ardora was too nice to learn the truth. That’s kind of odd reasoning. And leaves Ardora in the hands of a dangerous and unstable man. But Superman is fine with that.
The Toyman makes his first appearance in over a decade, and his only major appearance during the 1960s, in Superman 182. At least he gets a cover appearance out of it. Toyman has been given a major haircut, and has been released from prison after stopping others from breaking out. He goes into business selling Superman toys, but the toys have the property of forcing Superman to actually do whatever the toy does. He markets this to criminals, explaining that there is red kryptonite and a transmitter in each of the Superman dolls.
In reality, the Superman performing all the tasks is yet another of his creations, Robo-Toy. Superman has been away in space throughout the early part of this story. Once Superman returns to Earth, he sees what the Toyman is up to, takes the place of Robo-Toy, and rounds up the bad guys.
It’s not a bad Toyman story, really, and is the first time he is attributed with the knowledge and skills needed to build robots that pass for human. But aside from a cameo in a World’s Finest story later in the year, that was it for the Toyman for almost another decade.
Mr. Mxyzptlk makes three appearances in Superman tales during these years, none very remarkable. In Superman 169 the imp comes down with a case of lockjaw. Unable to speak, he figures this is the perfect time to head to Earth and pester Superman.
But there is nothing much to this tale. Simply Superman’s attempts to overcome the lockjaw. Eventually Superman resorts to a disc that makes thoughts audible, a pretty extreme way to get out of the situation.
In Superman 171 Mxyzptlk places Superman under a magic spell that makes any idiomatic phrase come true is some fashion, so when he says he is as hungry as a horse, a hungry horse suddenly manifests.
Much of the story consists of these idiomatic “jokes,” until Superman tries undoing the magic by saying his name backwards. In this case, he has to say “Le-Lak,” though in other stories, “Namrepus” works as well.
Mr. Mxyzptlk switches sides in Superman 174. He decides to become Super-Mxyzptlk, and follows Superman around, jumping ahead of him whenever there is trouble, and using his magic to save the day. For a change, he is genuinely not trying to be a pest – but he is anyway. I do enjoy the ending, in which Bizarro pops up, joining others in a celebration of Mr. Mxyzptlk’s heroism.
He builds a statue of the imp, but of the Bizarro version he knows – Kltpzyxm. Mxyzptlk is taken aback by the statue, which he considers insulting, but in reading the inscription gets transported back to his own dimension. Not the greatest story, but it’s neat to see Bizarro defeating Mxyzptlk, even accidentally.
Bizarro also appears in Superman 169, in a story promoted as the Great DC Contest. The story itself is pretty bland for a Bizarro tale, as he and some others come to Earth to “fix” things. The beginning and end of the story insist that something is unique about this tale, but frankly, it’s all but impossible to spot that the story avoids using the letters “d” and “c.”
The contest element is explained on the letters page, that there are one of each letter that did make it into the story, and readers are meant to write in when they find it, with prizes drawn from the entrants.
Brainiac doesn’t fare too well, either. I have mentioned him in relation to some other stories, and he winds up playing second fiddle to a new enemy for Superman, Grax, in Action 342. The story opens out in space, as Grax runs in to Brainiac. He claims a higher intelligence level than the android, and bests him in their first encounter. Grax is heading to Earth to kill Superman, after Superman destroyed his criminal empire. Grax sticks a bomb belt on Superman, so powerful it will destroy the Earth when it explodes. Superman has a day to try to get rid of it, but it withstands anything and everything. It’s somewhat interesting to see Superman’s increasing desperation, when the belt seems as indestructible as he is.
In the end it is Brainiac who comes to Superman’s assistance. Both because Grax bested him, and because he wants to defeat Superman himself, Brainiac gives Superman the information on how to defeat Grax. It requires a giant magnet, as you might have guessed. Superman and Brainiac congratulate each other on their defeat of Grax, who vows to return. He does, and in this book, but about six years down the road.
The Superman Revenge Squad keep showing up. In Action 313 they make Superman’s nightmares come true. The story begins as Supergirl casually reveals Superman’s identity to Perry White, as per the cover image. Superman is upset and mystified, even moreso when Batman then reveals that he is Clark Kent in front of Lois Lane. Later, Lori Lemaris exposes Clark in front of Jimmy Olsen. It’s a really bad day!
Superman gathers his friends, and talks them into voluntarily undergoing a mind-wipe of his secrets. They participate, but it has no effect on them. In fact, it seems to make things worse, as they begin blackmailing him. But this is all a huge scam by the Superman Revenge Squad, using a battery of androids. Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Batman, Supergirl and Lori had all been captured before the events in the story began, replaced by androids.
Superman became suspicious when tear gas did not affect them. He finds his real friends, captive in a cave, and releases them, messing up another overly elaborate and somewhat aimless plot by the Revenge Squad.
In Action 322 they attempt to make Superman cowardly, but only succeed at making Clark Kent cowardly. This is not really noticible to Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, or any of Clark’s other friends. It is disruptive for Superman, though, as he often acts bravely, while pretending to be scared, as Clark. He no longer has that degree of control over himself.
So he works with his friends to try to make Clark a braver man. It’s Supergirl who breaks him of the Revenge Squad’s effect, putting his uniform on over his Clark Kent clothes as he sleeps, so that he acts bravely as Clark without realizing it. Another failed Revenge Squad plot.
There is an attention grabbing cover for Superman 198. The story opens as a man claiming to be the real Clark Kent arrives at the Daily Planet, and uses an x-ray gun to expose Superman. It quickly becomes clear that this man knows a completely different Superman, one who came to Earth as a criminal adult, kidnapping Clark Kent and stealing his identity. Superman proves that he has always been Clark, and explains that the man must have come from a parallel universe.
He takes the man back to the world, and gets into battle with the other Superman. But midway through he simply starts trashing the city, to the point where Superman intentionally causes a nuclear explosion to destroy Metropolis.
Superman had spotted some clues that made him realize that the Clark Kent and Superman were both androids, along with everyone else on the world. The entire thing was a huge trap set up by the Superman Revenge Squad, with satellites forming a force barrier that not even Superman can penetrate. So
Superman simply flies out the gap the Revenge Squad left for their ship, and the Revenge Squad smash into the barrier, killing this group of them. Heading back to the Daily Planet as Clark, he switches the x-ray gun with a projector, and shows Lois, Jimmy and Perry White how it makes anyone look like they have the Superman crest under their shirt. Not the greatest story, but it does fulfill the cover.
Rokk and Sorban, the alien gamblers, make their debut in Superman 171. They demand that Superman murder an innocent person, threatening to destroy the Earth if he refuses. Superman decides that the best way out is to kill himself, there by saving the Earth. He crawls into a cave full of kryptonite, but the aliens transmute it into ordinary rock, and insist that he kill someone other than himself. While all his friends know about the situation, only Lana Lang tries to take action, entering a chamber that will slowly kill her by turning her to crystal. Jimmy and Lois Lane just stand around feeling sorry for Superman, as he cures Lana.
Superman pulls off faking the murder of Clark Kent, but the aliens are also aware of his other identity. But the game is up, anyway. Superman learns that the two had placed a wager on whether he would actually kill, and his refusal to do so wins the bet for Sorban. They mention that they are from Ventura, the pleasure planet, also called the gambler’s planet, a location also used in Legion of Super-Heroes stories. Superman is just glad the whole thing is over.
The Parasite debuts in Action 340. Jensen, the man who will become the Parasite, gets only the briefest introduction. He doesn’t even get a first name (or possibly a last, hard to tell.) All we really know of him is that he is a lazy lab assistant, who doesn’t pay attention to warnings.
In his fourth panel, he just opens a container of radioactive materials. Why not? What could happen? Aside from turning into a purple, skull-faced, energy draining monster. The Parasite can draw energy off of anyone, although the story never makes it clear if those people he drains are left dead. I’m fairly certain that they are. But the energy of a human does not last very long, and the Parasite weakens. When Superman flies near, he gets a big energy burst, and realizes that Superman is the meal he needs. To his good fortune, the Parasite happens to be on the street as Clark Kent and Lois Lane are passing. The Parasite feels the energy boost again, as Clark collapses. Parasite now knows who Superman is. The information does not prove very useful, though.
The Parasite’s plan to use his knowledge as a threat does not take into account that anyone close enough to hear him has already been rendered unconscious by his draining. Superman has a very hard time with the creature, as he loses not only his strength to him, but vision powers as well, finding himself on the receiving end of heat vision. In the end, Superman does not even defeat the Parasite, except in a very passive way. His energy is so great, it’s more than the Parasite can absorb, and the creature explodes. That’s far from the end for this character.
Amalak, an alien pirate, makes his debut in Superman 190. Amalak considers himself the greatest space pirate of them all, and has decided to choose a world to enslave as his base. He picks Earth because of its remoteness – a strange thing, as so many aliens wind up there. Superman is the one person he feels may be a threat to him. Amalak kidnaps four humans, and turns them into elemental beings, under his mental control. The machine shorts out and knocks Amalak for a loop, but the creatures are already on their way to Earth to kill Superman. Superman has a much more difficult time with the elemental creatures than he expects.
They show great diversity with their forms, and with four of them, the hero can never get a second to take control of the fight. Amalak wakes just as the elemental creatures are about to kill Superman. He wants to deliver the killing stroke himself, so he stops them. This gives Superman the opportunity he needed, and he goes on the attack at super-speed, taking out the creatures, who revert to human form. Amalak is furious with himself for causing his own plan to fail, but even more upset when the fire creature nukes his ship. Although he appears to die, Amalak returns with vengeance on his mind in Superman 195.
That story opens as Superman discovers that someone has trashed the Superman Museum, destroyed his monuments, and burned his name out of all documents and records. Heading to the Fortress with Krypto and Supergirl, they find it all smashed up as well, but miss the thief stealing Kandor and all the samples of kryptonite. Amalak relates how he teleported to survival after his last encounter, and has acquired a sidekick, a young man who is the sole survivor of his planet, demolished by a chunk of Krypton after its explosion.
Once again, Amalak chooses to have someone else do his fighting for him. Their goal is to kill all the Kryptonians, and destroy all they had, to remove them from memory completely. Rinol captures Supergirl and Krypto, putting them with Kandor. This is primarily to lure Superman. But just before Rinol can kill the hero, Amalak steps in to do it himself.
Very unwisely, he admits to having used Rinol, and shoots him, which once again gives Superman an opportunity to get the upper hand in the fight. Rinol helps Superman take Amalak down, and this time the space pirate gets imprisoned, where he stays until the mid-70s.
Action 351 begins a three issue story which pits Superman against Zha-Vam. DC had crushed and consumed Fawcett Comics, the publishers of the Captain Marvel whose magic word as Shazam, but did not yet have the rights to use the character. So they used weird variations like this one. The gods who are the source of Zha-Vam’s powers are even largely the same ones who endow Shazam, except Apollo replaces Atlas, and Vulcan takes the place of Solomon.
Zha-Vam bursts into an organized crime gathering, demanding to be made the boss. He demonstrates his impressive array of powers, scaring the crap out of the hoods, who hare happy to put him in charge. Zha-Vam leads his men on an assault on Fort Knox. Superman shows up to stop them, and he and Zha-Vam battle.
Superman finds himself equally matched. Well, no, he finds himself squashed under Zha-Vam’s foot, and tossed to the side like a piece of trash. A really crushing defeat, but Superman simply prepares for the next time, which comes in the next issue.
In Action 352 Zha-Vam taunts and toys with Superman through much of this issue. He is wearing a belt that temporarily gives him the powers of other mythological beings. He makes Superman press his belt, and gains the serpentine hair of Medusa, freezing Superman to stone. Lois Lane helps Superman get out of that one, but the next button he presses gives Zha-Vam Morpheus’ powers, and puts Superman to sleep.
The only thing that really drives this chapter is Superman’s refusal to give in, as he just keeps trying and trying, and failing every time. Superman even resorts to some underhanded measures by the end of the tale. He gets himself a ring with a paralysis drug in it, and intends to jab Zha-Vam in his Achilles Heel. But Zha-Vam has kryptonite feet! Of course he does.
The Zha-Vam story comes to a conclusion in Action 353. Superman figures that he needs to learn more about Zha-Vam in order to defeat him, and so he travels back in time to anceint Olympus, adopting the guise of a bard.
He sees that the various gods form Zha-Vam out of clay, and endow him with their various powers. So he is actually a bit less of Captain Marvel, and a bit more Wonder Woman. Neptune is jealous of Zeus and his powers, and so is eager and willing to aid Superman, giving him his own belt, and pantheon of mythological characters to draw from. Superman returns to the present, and challenges Zha-Vam to a final battle. They are far more venly matched, as both can draw on magical heroes. Superman calls up Atlas, and together they have the strength to defeat Zha-Vam.
Superman brings the defeated being back to Olympus, and confronts the gods about their creation. Ashamed, they return Zha-Vam to the clay he was formed from. It’s not really a bad story. But all it really does is make one wish for an actual confrontation between Superman and Captain Marvel.
A new Superman gets introduced in issue 181, one living a thousand years in the future, a descendant of the Superman of today, known as the Superman of 2965. The story deals with the very start of his career, as he gets official accreditation to act as Superman from a ruling council of planetary leaders.
There is a bit of a drama to this story, as he fends off some criminals searching for his Fortress of Solitude, located in outer space, but most of this tale simply introduces the character. The Superman dynasty has become immune to kryptonite, but the waters on Earth, so irradiated, have become toxic to them.
Like his ancestor, this Superman maintains a secret identity as a journalist, for an intergalactic future version of the Daily Planet, under the name Klar Ken T-5477, and is in love with another reporter, who is unaware of his double identity, Lyra 3916. Once all this has been set up, Superman heads out to find Muto, the most wanted felon on Earth at the time.
The Superman of 2965 returns in Action 338, but is now called the Superman of 2966. This tale sees the debut of his arch-enemy, Muto. Swan’s art is just great as the future Superman, introduced a few months earlier in his own book, returns. As with many of these tales, everything is as close as possible, with a Clark Kent-based name, and a job as a journalist. He maintains a secret identity despite the problems it causes him. He no longer has a problem with kryptonite, but has issues with ocean water, now contaminated beyond his physiology’s ability to deal with it. Kind of like the weakness in the movie Unbreakable. Which at one point shows a similar comic book cover, complete with checkerboard pattern. Just saying.
We get some more of the family history of the future Superman, including stupid ways his ancestor’s identities were revealed. The fact that they just kept on re-establishing new ones, generation after generation, says something about obsessiveness in this bloodline. Anyway, on to Muto. His mutations were caused as a very indirect result of a heroic action by this Superman’s father. So he wants to kill him.
Aside from a big yellow head, he has very strong mental abilities, as one might expect. Muto captures the future Superman by making it look like innocent children are endangered by a flood. But the kids are just androids, and Muto has the Superman of 2966 in a death trap!
In Action 339 the Superman of 2966 escapes from Muto’s trap, using the androids to bring him to safety. He has to struggle to deal with Muto, who keeps his base in the toxic waters. Muto makes use of an enlarging ray. His plans are never very precise, but the art is fun.
It really looks like Superman is killing Muto, not just sending him back to his home dimension. But Muto does return, along with this Superman, in World’s Finest Comics the following year.
Finally, I am going to close out this piece with a tale from Superman 170, the delayed story that has Superman working for John F Kennedy on his program for improving the health of American youth. The story was written earlier, but pulled because of the president’s assassination. At the request of Lyndon Johnson, the story was run in this issue, despite Kennedy having died. Lana Lang is doing a television special on how Americans are behind Europeans when it comes to health. Apparently nothing has changed in 50 years.
Kennedy gets Superman to promote health among the youth, and he does so over the next few pages. But eating well and working out is not just for the young, and Clark Kent has to fake weakness as Perry White puts the Daily Planet staffers through their new health regime, despite the complaints of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. The health program serves Clark well when the staffers get trapped during a hike, and Clark can claim its Kennedy’s workout program that has increased his strength enough for them to escape. Supergirl cameos, along with her fan club, and Jimmy Olsen’s.
Superman continues in the next period, 1967 – 1970: It’s a Happening!
Superman: Action Comics 312 - 354 (May 64 – Sept 67)
Superman 169 – 199 (May 64 – Aug 67)
Next up – Batman!
DC Comics History: the Superman/Batman team (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
DC Comics History: Superman (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
DC Comics History: the Superman/Batman team (1955 - 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age)
DC Comics History: Superman (Dawn of the Silver Age: 1955 - 1959)
Silver Age Superman