DC Comics History
DC Comics History: Superman (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
By Deejay Dayton
May 15, 2017 - 11:15
Publisher(s): DC Comics
The period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age was one of the greatest for Superman. There are so many classic stories in this period, so many amazing developments for the hero, his world, and his enemies, that I had to struggle to condense it all into a serviceable article. As it stands it’s over 10,000 words. So why add more for an intro? Let’s just dive right in!
Superman 146 contains a “new” origin story for Superman. It’s not really so new, but it integrates a lot of information that had been added, mostly in the Superboy series, in the years preceding. The origin adheres to the very brief, basic story told in the late 1940s, but add in Jor-El’s brother Zor-El, the attempt to build a space ark, and Krypto’s test flight. Although Zor-El is mentioned to be Supergirl’s father, we do not see her story at all. I love that thud. The Kents find the baby boy, drop him off at an orphanage where he wreaks havoc, then adopt him.
Details are shown of how his costume was made from his blankets, and his glasses from the rocket window. Scenes such as learning to fly with balloons are drawn directly out of Superboy stories from Adventure and his own book. Only towards the end, after the deaths of the Kents, does it contain a flashback to a story published in Superman, the people in Smallville saying farewell, and the Superboy cake. This story also goes into the greatest detail yet on which powers are caused by gravity, and which from exposure to yellow sunlight.
A critical addition to this origin was added in Superman 161. The fact that his adoptive parents had died shortly before he became Superman (either as a start to his career, or a change from Superboy) had been established right from the start, but never had the specific circumstances of this been revealed. The story is told in flashback, as Clark visits his parents’ graves. Jonathan and Martha Kent were on a vacation in the Caribbean, and came across a treasure chest belonging to Blackbeard. For fun, Superboy brings them back through time, and the Kents watch as the teen plays games with the notorious pirate. The Kents fall sick as soon as they get back. Lana Lang helps the increasingly distressed Clark. Luthor offers to cure the Kents, but when he fails, claims they aren’t worth saving anyway. Asshole.
By the time it occurs to Superboy to put his parents into the Phantom Zone, sunspot activity is preventing the machine to access the Zone from working. There is nothing Clark can do except watch his parents die. The coda of the story has him consumed with guilt, until he learns that the Kents were killed by a tropical fever, the spores of which were in the treasure chest they dug up and opened. Really a pretty good story, avoiding any major villain plots or nonsense like that.
So many Kryptonian elements had been added to the various Superman books that it could hardly have been a surprise when, in issue 141 of his own book, Superman returned to Krypton himself. In the story, Superman tries to get rid of a strange alien creature he comes across in space, but winds up shunted backwards in time, winding up on Krypton before its explosion. This story is the first time that the colour of sunlight Superman is exposed to is given as the source of Kryptonian powers. It had already been established in the Action Comics story which introduced Supergirl, but this goes into more detail on the effects of the sunlight, and how their powers vanish under a red sun. By good fortune, he is mistaken as an extra on a science fiction movie being filmed, due to his costume. A silly plot point allows him to continue wearing this suit for the remainder of the tale. Superman is quite taken with the lead actress in the film, Lyla Lerrol, but also shocked to see that his parents are about to be married. He attends the ceremony, though he does not introduce himself. Eventually, he cannot resist the opportunity, and heads over to their home to meet Jor-El and Lara. He winds up becoming Jor-El’s lab assistant, though also still working on the movie. It turns out Jor-El knows Lyla, and arranges and introduction. Things get hot between Superman and Lyla pretty fast.
The fact that he knows the planet is going to explode may well have something to do with that. The panel that is meant to build suspense, showing the deadly forces within the planet’s core, instead comes off as something quasi-sexual, due to its placement between embraces. Superman helps Jor-El with the construction of a space ark to evacuate all of Krypton’s inhabitants. Jor-El has been monitoring Earth, and Superman winds up seeing the Kents before their marriage, and even helping Jonathan Kent save Martha Clark from a thieving scoundrel. But the space ark was being built in Kandor, and despite his super-memory, Superman apparently forgot that Kandor was stolen by Brainiac. Not until the alien shrinks the city does Superman realize what a bad place they chose to build the ark. In a nice nod to continuity, Brainiac is shown without his head knobs, but with his chimp Koko, a way he had not appeared since his debut story. Superman resigns himself to perishing on Krypton, and decides to marry Lyla before this happens.
The final day of the shooting of the movie, the day before the wedding, Superman gets trapped on the movie’s rocket ship, and winds up shot into space. Lyla is distraught, realizing she will never see Kal-El again. The story spares us seeing her die, along with everyone else on Krypton. But the explosion shoots Superman ahead, back to his own time. Lyle Lerrol would return in various flashbacks, dreams and imaginary stories over the next couple of decades, but not until the late 90s would a new version of the character be introduced. The story did remain canon, and would be referenced many times before being eliminated in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In Superman 150 many characters observe a memorial day, marking the anniversary of Krypton’s destruction. Krypto builds himself a Doghouse of Solitude in outer space. This has nothing at all to do with the main story, but it is the first time we see this location, which will pop up periodically over the next couple of decades. After building the doghouse, Krypto joins Superman and Supergirl in the Fortress, where they remember the destruction of Krypton, and their origins. The Kandorians in the bottle participate as well, recalling how Brainiac shrunk and captured them. The Phantom Zone prisoners are shown, with Superboy’s enemy Dr. Xadu having a cameo. Bizarro and Bizarro Lois are shown on their world, joining in on the festivities to mark the cataclysm. Superman, Supergirl and Krypto head into space, and gather up enough material to build a full scale replica of Krypton. Then they populate it with androids of everyone who had died, including their parents. This planet, later called Rokyn, did return a few times.
Although there were a number of Superman stories during this time that centred on Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, both of them had their own books, and I will be devoting time to them there. But I do want to mention the Untold Story from Superman 135, detailing when Lois Lane first started suspecting Clark was Superman. Rather than go into any established story, this tells a new one, but not a ground breaking one. Lois notices that Clark is never around when Superman is, and sets out to prove the two are the same. Luthor gets a cameo, but that’s about the only thing that sets this apart from the many other tales of Lois trying to prove the two men are the same. She tries harming him with kryptonite, but Clark withstands the pain. Later, he convinces her he is weak by getting his foot jammed.
Red kryptonite makes its first appearance in the Superman series in issue 139. Red kryptonite had been introduced in the Superboy series in Adventure Comics, and a couple of those stories are briefly flashed back to in this tale. Red kryptonite has unpredictable effects on Superman, and would rapidly become a mainstay of his stories in the 1960s.
In this story, it winds up giving him extremely long hair and fingernails. This threatens to expose his identity, as he is not able to cut them himself. But with the aid of Supergirl and Krypto, Superman gets properly groomed, so Clark Kent shows none of the red kryptonite effects.
Gold kryptonite makes its debut in Superman 157. The story centres on Quex-Ul, a Phantom Zone prisoner whose sentence has finished, and is due to be released. He had been sent to the Phantom Zone for 25 years for killing a rondor, a Kryptonian beast whose horn had healing powers. The rondor, and its magical horn, would also play a role in a story arc in the 70s. Even though Quex-Ul vows vengeance, Superman has little choice but to release the man. Superman has suspicions about his case, and heads back in time. He does see that Quex-Ul was innocent, hypnotized into believing that he had killed the animal.
But as Superman is learning this, Quex-Ul is building a tower that will attract gold kryptonite. Unlike green, gold does not kill Kryptonians, but instead strips them permanently of their powers. Supergirl helps Superman find Quex-Ul, and they let him know that he had been innocent and unjustly imprisoned. Realizing that he was not a killer, Quex-Ul regrets his gold kryptonite trap, and exposes himself to it, to protect Superman. He loses his powers, and his memory. Superman creates a new identity for him, and Quex-Ul lives out the rest of his life as a human.
White kryptonite shows up in Action 278. Perry White sees an unusual plant outside his house. Having less common sense than one might expect, he picks a fruit from the plant and eats it, and promptly gains super-powers. He adopts the identity of Masterman, but wonders if kryptonite will have any effect on him. Jimmy Olsen happens to be photographing the four known forms of kryptonite at this time, for a story Lois Lane is doing for the Daily Planet colour supplement. Perry does fight crime as Masterman, but has more fun toying with the Planet staff. Still, the scene as he and Clark both find reasons to get away and change costumes is fun.
We then discover that Perry White is actually possessed by some alien plant life. See what happens when you eat random plants? Superman and Perry White battle it out, Superman wearing the kryptonite-proof armor he devised against Luthor. But it’s Supergirl who saves the day, killing the plant possessing Perry by using white kryptonite, which only kills plant life. There are very few white kryptonite stories, which makes it easy to label this one the best.
Blue and Jewel kryptonite are also introduced during this period, and I will be talking about them a bit later in this column.
Supergirl had her own series in Action Comics, but did show up in quite a few Superman tales during these years. In Action 270 Clark Kent pays a visit to the Midvale Orphanage, encouraging the children to write. Linda shows him a creative writing piece she has done, envisioning her life as Supergirl. Clark then goes to sleep, so what follows is obviously a dream. In the dream, Superman’s powers have faded due to repeated kryptonite exposure. His identity is now known to the world, while Superwoman operates in his place. Jimmy Olsen is the editor of the Daily Planet, Perry White having died, and is married to Lucy Lane, making her first appearance in Action. Linda works at Clark’s old job at the Planet, so her secret identity has even replaced his.
Even Lex Luthor has retired. Superman finds Krypto, also powerless and being taken away by the dog catcher. After seeing that Lana Lang has married a millionaire, Superman finally seeks out Lois Lane, who has spent her entire life alone. One heck of a downer dream, there, Clark. Maybe it’s trying to tell you something. Like, don’t base your entire persona on your powers, and take love where you can find it.
Supergirl also shows up in Action 276, which introduces the Superman Emergency Squad. Clark Kent shows himself far too trusting, revealing his identity to a dying philanthropist. Of course, the man is not actually dying, and while he is a philanthropist, that is a front for his criminal activities. He not believes Superman to be Clark Kent, though his doctor warns him that the drug he took to simulate his near-death condition did leave him prone to hallucinations. So it’s obvious how they will “get out” of the revelation, but at least the doctor did set that up near the top of the story. The man sets a kryptonite trap for Clark Kent, who calls on the Superman Emergency Squad to help him. This is a small army of Kandorians, who dons Superman masks and costumes when they leave the bottle to help him. After saving him, they join with Supergirl in all manner of bizarre behaviour, intended to convince the bad guy that he is having hallucinations, and Clark Kent is not Superman.
Lori Lemaris, who Superman had fallen in love with during his college days, makes her return in Superman 135. Clark overhears fishermen talking about seeing a mermaid, and after a brief flashback to Lori’s first story, goes in search of her, and finds her right away. They pick up their romance where it left off, and things move pretty fast for the couple. Superman and Lori get engaged, but then she gets seriously wounded by a nasty dolphin hunter.
Superman brings her back to Atlantis to be healed, but Lori winds up falling in love with her doctor, Ronal, and calls off the engagement. But does Lori really love Ronal? Or is this a way to get out of a marriage she secretly does not believe Superman will be happy in? While no later story actually addressed this, conversations between me and my friends back in the day firmly came down on the latter option.
Lori Lemaris tries to get Superman to propose to Lois Lane in Superman 138. Figuring that Superman ought to settle down, now that she is married, she uses her telepathic powers in an attempt to prompt him to do so with Lois, but it fails. So she resorts to increasingly bizarre plans, including making Superman see Lois Lane’s face on a whale. How exactly that will make him marry her is beyond me, but perhaps it makes sense to an Atlantean. She sets Lois up with another man, but that fails to make Superman jealous. Finally, she tries exposing his secret identity, figuring that once Lois knows he is Clark Kent, he will have to marry her. Aquaman steps in to mess up that plan. This is the first time Aquaman and Lori Lemaris appear in a story together, but as yet there is no explanation for their very different Atlantises.
Lori Lemaris is back again in the following issue, which begins as a wealthy and successful man falls for Lois Lane and proposes marriage, only to be rejected, because she longs for Superman. Lori Lemaris promptly shows up, looking for Superman. Ronal is close to death, and Superman proves incapable of saving him. Ronal’s dying wish is for Superman to marry Lori, to Lois Lane’s dismay. Superman picks up his romance with Lori, and somehow winds up with a merman body. But it all turns out to be a giant hoax they are playing on Lois, trying to convince her to move on with her life and find someone else. It fails dismally at this, as Lois just sees the effort as a sign of how much Superman cares about her. With the cruel games that Lois and Superman play with each other, they really are suited to be a couple.
And while I am discussing his lost loves, I should mention the interesting variation that plays out in Superman 165. Superman falls victim to red kryptonite, removing both his memory and his powers. With no idea who he is, Superman adopts the name Jim White, and gets a job as a lumberjack, and winds up falling in love with Sally Selwyn, the boss’ daughter. Things get hot between the two pretty fast, to the annoyance of another lumberjack, also interested in Sally. When Jim proposes, this prompts the other man to attack him, leaving Jim paralyzed from the waist down.
Sally still intends to go through with the marriage, but Jim falls into the river, and is carried out to sea. Sally believes him to be dead, and he would be, if not for Aquaman and Lori Lemaris. Lori uses her telepathic powers to help Superman’s memory, and the red kryptonite effect wears off under her care. But now Superman has no memory of his time with Sally. So as Clark ends the story wishing there was a way to know if a woman would fall in love with him, instead of just his powered identity, he has no clue that Sally has done just that. Sally Selwyn would return in the following period.
Segueing from romance to guest stars, in Action 272 Lois Lane begins drawing a comic strip about a super-hero, Mental Man, and the woman who loves him, Laura Lovely. She does this for her own amusement, but Perry White is impressed, and begins running it in the Daily Planet. It becomes a huge success, but no one expects it when Mental Man suddenly comes to life, evoked into existence by all the people who have been reading the strip. Mental Man and Lois Lane immediately hit it off, and she is by his side as he uses his mental powers to stop crime and perform other super-deeds. Even Lana Lang and Lucy Lane are jealous of her. No one seems to care about Superman anymore. But Mental Man can sense Lois Lane’s feelings for Superman. Some hoodlums give him the secret on how to kill Superman, and Mental Man turns the Daily Planet globe into kryptonite, killing him. But once the villains start to go wild, the whole thing is revealed as a hoax intended to draw them out.
Mental Man was really Aquaman, pulling off the various super-deeds through a combination of his own powers, Superman’s, and help from Aqualad. In an interesting coda, Mental Man and Laura Lovely get married in the newspaper strip, and the readers lose interest. The strip gets cancelled. This so clearly reflects the belief at DC that Superman and Lois must stay separate to maintain reader interest.
The Legion of Super-Heroes, and members from the team, would start to show up in various Superman tales during this period. Action 283 sees two Durlans come to Earth and create a red kryptonite sculpture, to draw Superman’s attention. These beings are not called Durlans in the story, but are meant to be from the same planet as Chameleon Boy, so clearly are. The word had simply not yet been coined. Three different red kryptonite meteors were used, so Superman has three different effects during the course of the story. The first allows his wishes to come true, as he discovers when Sherlock Holmes manifests to explain to the situation, a result of an inadvertent wish. So Superman wishes both sets of his parents back into existence, and Jor-El and Lara get to briefly meet Ma and Pa Kent, before this power wears off. It gets replaced by flame breath, which causes Superman a bit of trouble.
Back at the Daily Planet, current events impinge upon their reality, as Perry intends to send Lois and Clark out to cover the summit between JFK and Kruschev. Jimmy sulks about not being picked to go. As he arrives for the summit, the third red kryptonite effect takes hold, giving Superman mind-reading powers. Thanks to this, he knows the two world leaders are not real, and are being impersonated by the Durlans. Superman knocks them both out, and frees the real men.
Clark Kent comes to the Daily Planet in Superman 152, only to find that Lois Lane is writing an article exposing his identity as Superman. Lois acts disdainfully towards him, as does Jimmy Olsen, who is preparing to expose Supergirl as well. After Perry White joins in on the lynch mob, Superman uses his x-ray vision (as per the cover image) and discovers that his friends have been replaced by robots. He calls on Supergirl for help, and they bring the robots to the Fortress to study them. They are under the control of someone called the Robot Master, but the robots act of their own accord as well. In the Fortress, they each check out the room dedicated to the person they based on. The Clark Kent robot joins them, as they begin fighting amongst themselves over which one Superman likes best. The robots wind up ripping each other apart. Superman and Supergirl do not notice that the Clark Kent robot starts removing pieces of the damaged ones.
In a somewhat nonsensical ending, the Robot Master is revealed to be the Legion of Super-Heroes. This story comes just before they begin their own series in Adventure Comics, the next place Cosmic Boy, Lighting Lad, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy and Sun Boy appear. Brainiac 5 gets a cameo in a Supergirl story between the two. The reason for this bizarre hoax was to commemorate Supergirl’s arrival on Earth. Of course it was. It’s all so clear now. Inside the robots were tiny figures of the Legion, and the super cousins. They get displayed on a very large shelf, making them look even smaller.
The Legion also show up in the classic story in Superman 156. A Kryptonian artifact lands on Earth, and Superman and Jimmy Olsen come to investigate. It contains samples of Virus X, an incurable plague from Krypton. Although Superman shatters the container, he falls ill quickly, and realizes he must have caught the disease. For fear of infecting any other Kryptonians, Superman has himself and Jimmy Olsen sealed up as he gets sicker and sicker. Superman enlists Supergirl and Krypto to complete a number of projects for the benefit of mankind before he dies, and Supergirl in turn enlists the Superman Emergency Squad and the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Brainiac 5 tries to find a cure for Virus X, hoping to balance out his evil ancestor’s actions, but fails. As death nears, Superman reflects on his romantic interests. Lana Lang, Lois Lane and Lori Lemaris all appear, as does Lyla Lerrol – although she does not much look like how she appeared. Superman bids farewell to Batman and Robin, and burns a message into the Moon, revealing his secret identity.
At the last minute Mon-El, still in the Phantom Zone, contacts Saturn Girl telepathically. Superman was never infected with Virus X. A tiny piece of kryptonite got jammed in Jimmy Olsen’s camera, and had been slowly killing Superman. With the help of Supergirl and Krypto, Superman removes the writing on the Moon that would have revealed his identity. A really well done tale, giving lots for the huge supporting cast to do.
Legion members also appear in Action 309. JFK, looking awfully shadowy, tricks Superman into going to a location, which is where a “This is Your Life!” special about him is being broadcast. It’s not that much of a surprise for Superman, Clark Kent received an invitation. But who will Superman get to be Clark? Lois and Lana have a robot detector, as they are using the special to try to prove Clark is Superman. Lori Lemaris reads their minds, and alerts Superman to the danger. Lex Luthor makes a cameo, watching the show from prison, but he is the only villain really featured in the tale.
The Super-Pets put on an impressive show under Supergirl’s command. Superboy’s friend Pete Ross makes his first appearance as an adult, and we see a very aged Police Chief Parker from Smallville as well. All the usual friends are there, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White, as well as representatives from Kandor. Among them are the “Lookalike Squad”, the ones who are identical to people in Superman’s life. This includes the Clark Kent lookalike, Van-Zee, and his Lois Lane lookalike wife, Sylvia. Even the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club show up, one of whom is dumb enough to bring a chunk of gold kryptonite as a gift. But then the Legion of Super-Heroes show up, and Element Lad changes the rock and saves the day.
Chameleon Boy is part of the group, eliminating him as the phony Clark Kent. Batman unmasks in front of Lois, but is wearing a Bizarro face. A nice laugh on snoopy Lois, and a way to work the Bizarro image into the story. So who is left that could possibly have been Clark Kent? Why, JFK of course. Very disturbingly, this issue was released only a couple of weeks after the assassination of JFK.
Superman would gain a new identity during this period, in another classic tale, which appears in Superman 158. Super-powered thieves appear in Metropolis, men who not only can go toe to toe with Superman, but also know him, and have a grievance against him. Superman recognizes some of them, as being from the bottle city of Kandor. Bringing Jimmy Olsen with him for no particular reason, Superman heads to the Fortress and they descend into Kandor. Superman runs into Nor-Kann, a friend of his father’s, who informs Superman of how Than-Ol has made the Kandorians comes to blame Superman for their captivity, and how he intends to enlarge the city, despite the risks. With everyone hating him, Superman decides to adopt a disguise for his time in Kandor, and figures Jimmy should have one as well. They name themselves after two Kryptonian birds, the Nightwing and the Flamebird. But really, they are patterning themselves on Batman and Robin. Superman also enlists the help of Van-Zee and the Superman Emergency Squad. Van-Zee looks identical to Superman, and allows the hero to impersonate him. Sylvia, Van-Zee’s human wife, who looks identical to Lois Lane, has a cameo.
Superman’s impersonation gets exposed, and Van-Zee dons the Nightwing costume to aid Jimmy Olsen in freeing Superman, but the two wind up getting sent into the Phantom Zone. Superman gets him and Jimmy out of the Zone, but not before Than-Ol manages to get Kandor out of the Fortress, and enlarges it. But as Superman knows, the enlarging process makes the atomic bonds unstable, and the city begins to disintegrate. The Kandorians will as well, but Superman shrinks them all, and puts them back into the bottle. Early in, the Kandorians had torn down a statue of Superman. But at the end of the story, grateful that he saved their lives and city, a new pair of statues are erected, to Nightwing and Flamebird. Nightwing and Flamebird will go on to a long life, with many variations, over the years.
When it comes to the villains, it is no surprise that Lex Luthor once again appears far more than the rest. I have already mentioned a couple of stories that he had small roles in, and there were eleven more where he was featured. Usually I was able to briefly scan over most of his tales, but that is just not possible during this era. There are just too many really important stories. I will say that the one in Superman 144, in which Luthor uses “Weapon X” to drain Superman’s powers, is the least important.
Action 267 and 268 see Luthor team up with Hercules, who had appeared in Adventure Comics with Superboy. Luthor builds a time ray, and brings Hercules into the present, getting the now amnesiac demi-god to break him out of prison. . It doesn’t take long for Hercules to figure out that Luthor is lying to him. By the time Superman shows up, Hercules has no problems allowing Superman to cart the villain away. Superman intends to send Hercules back to his own time, but Hercules asks to stick around and explore this world. Superman arranges an identity for him, and gets him a job at the Daily Planet. In his guise as a reporter, he falls for Lois Lane. When danger threatens, he saves her, but does not try to conceal who he is. In fact, he reveals that he is Hercules simply by flexing his muscles, which tears all his clothing off. Lois rejects him, of course, as she loves only Superman.
So Hercules gets Perry to assign him an article in Greece. Once there, he travels to magical Olympus, where he gains powers from a variety of the gods – basically making him Captain Marvel. He vows to get rid of Superman. Hercules returns to Metropolis, and shows off his newly acquired powers of the gods. It makes no difference to Lois’ feelings about Superman. Hercules goes on a rampage, fighting Superman, and being generally destructive. Although I suspect Superman was equally destructive when he pulled the Moon out of its orbit, into to make the ocean re-fill a bay of water Hercules magically evaporated. Hercules uses Apollo’s lyre to put Superman to sleep for a hundred years, but Venus steps in.
She is not impressed with Hercules’ behaviour, and intends to report him to Zeus. This sends Hercules into an even more desperate attempt to kill Superman. Superman notices that as Hercules goes faster, he gets more confused. Exploiting this, he makes the demi-god travel through time again, which removes his memory of all the time he spent in the present.
Electro, who is not named in this issue, makes his first of two cover appearances in Action 271. In this story the odd character is simply referred to as one of the “light tube people,” who uses his odd little spaceship to perform some helpful acts, before enlisting Superman’s aid. His planet is in deadly danger, and he requests Superman’s help. Superman gets into the tiny sphere. It’s really all a hoax, and a trap, designed by Lex Luthor. The lead-lined sphere is attached to a bomb which will blow up Metropolis if Superman breaks out.
Luthor then sends a Superman impersonator to the United Nations, where he makes a pleading case that everyone turn over their nuclear weapons, so that he can use them to save the world of the light tube people. Oddly, everyone agrees. This is clearly a much more compassionate world than the Earth in our reality. Superman’s escape is pretty clever, as he heats the air within the sphere to make it float like a balloon, and waits for lightning to short out the bomb. Now you may be wondering, if Electro did not really exist in this story, how does he make a second cover appearance? Wait and find out!
In Action 277 Luthor escapes from prison, and heads to his own version of the Fortress of Solitude, Luthor’s Lair, located in an abandoned museum, complete with trophies, a lab, monitoring devices and statues of his heroes. Luthor’s Lair will return in a number of stories in the next few years. Luthor announces his plans to rob Fort Knox, luring Superman there. Luthor has a machine that shoots out a variety of coloured kryptonite balls. Sadly, despite the colours, none of these have any of the effects of true coloured kryptonite. The fourth dimensional arm he uses to steal the entire fort is impressive. Luthor rejoices over his triumph, especially because the kryptonite balls were fakes. But all that turns sour when he finds out that he did not defeat Superman, just one of his robots. Infuriated, Luthor returns Fort Knox and all its gold, and even goes back to prison. Defeating Superman is the one and only thing that really matters to him.
The Legion of Super-Heroes had become regular supporting characters in the Superboy books by the time their villainous counterparts debut in Superman 147. Luthor, who learned of the Legion’s existence when he was Superboy’s age, theorizes that an adult evil group must exist, and figures out how to contact them. They break him out of prison. Cosmic King, Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen each get their origin told in this story. Cosmic King has neither the same powers as Cosmic Boy, nor the same home planet, so the pairing of the two is a bit odd. Cosmic King’s abilities, gained through alchemy, actually are parallel to those of Element Lad, yet to be introduced. Lightning Lord is made into the elder brother of Lightning Lad, an inspired touch. Mekt Ranzz is easily added to the origin on Korbal, with the Lightning Beasts. Saturn Queen is kept the most nebulous of the three, but we do learn that she is from Titan, along with Saturn Girl. They join with Luthor to kill Superman.
Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl show up to help him, but the villains already have Superman trussed up for the kill. Saturn Girl volunteers to die in his place, and Superman creates a ring around the planetoid they are on, using material from Saturn’s rings. This causes Saturn Queen to switch sides, and she helps defeat Luthor and her former team mates. While Saturn Queen would stay on the bad side in all her later appearances from this era, the notion that she only becomes evil away from Titan is brought back in the 90s Legion series.
Superman winds up fighting for Luthor’s life and freedom in Action 292. Luthor escapes from prison, and Earth, using the statue atop his Luthor’s Lair as a rocketship. The Superman Emergency Squad cameo, sending out a Superman robot to try to stop him. Luthor wrecks the robot, but it’s parts stay on the ship. Lex winds up landing on the planet Roxar, a world run by robots, with human-looking android servitors. Not realizing the inverse dynamic on this world, Luthor kills a robot, and winds up imprisoned. Superman spends a lot of the story just trying to prove to the robots that human are worthy of being considered sentient beings.
That was the hardest part, as he uses some of the wrecked Superman robot, and the rocket’s energy source, to rebuild the robot Luthor “killed,” negating the need for a trial completely. But with the rocket no longer functional, Superman leaves Luthor trapped on Roxar.
In Action 294 we see that Superman has been updating his model collection. He makes a statue of Lex on Roxar. Perhaps he has statues of every single place Lex has ever been. Kind of obsessed there, Superman? Lex has been more productive, having devised a protection for the robots from giant alien bugs. He is granted honourary robot status, and allowed a lot more freedom in his lab. Bad idea.
Lex takes three of the humanoid androids, and transforms them, creating Diamond Man, Lead Man and Kryptonite Man. When Superman comes to Roxar to check on him, he pits the creatures against him. But Lead Man has some sense of justice, and allows himself to be destroyed, in order to block the radiations of Kryptonite Man. This time, Superman brings Lex back to Earth to imprison him.
In Superman 164 Luthor challenges Superman to a battle on a planet with a red sun, where Superman will have no powers, and they can fight as equals. Superman accepts, but finds the challenge much more difficult than expected. A storm separates the two men, and the next day they both finds themselves lost and wandering in the ruins of a formerly great civilization. Luthor understands the machinery still lying around, unused, even though the inhabitants of the world have lost that knowledge. He is able to use their weapons against Superman, but cannot help their depleted water supply.
Still, by the time Superman finds Luthor, the people already think he is the greatest thing they’ve ever seen, and cheer him on in his battle with Superman. Luthor lets himself lose, and even Superman can tell this is happening, but cannot understand why. As they head back to Earth, Luthor points out a planet of ice, which could supply that of the planet they had left, and asks Superman to do so. Superman is amazed, but does as Luthor asks. He shows Luthor a picture of the world, and the statue they have erected of him. There is more to come with Luthor, and this world, during this time period. But for reasons that will become clear I will be discussing two of the villain’s most important stories a little later on.
Mr. Mxyzptlk makes five appearances during this era, but few are really important. In Superman 135 the imp hypnotizes Superman, and wants a Superman robot of his own. In issue 150 Mxyzptlk makes everyone forget Superman, and in issue 154 takes up residence underwater, where he cannot speak.
Action 273 sends Superman to the 5th Dimension, where he plays pranks on Mr. Mxyzptlk himself. This follows the imp making a visit to Earth and pestering Superman, though Superman had already tricked him back to his dimension by that point. Childishness is catching, it seems. Still, it’s a fun variation on the theme.
Mr. Mxyzptlk keeps trying to trick Superman into saying his name backwards. But when he succeeds, it does not work. Superman voluntarily goes back, by saying Kal-El backwards, the name is feels is his true name.
In Superman 148 the imp gets the brainstorm to legally change his name before heading to Superman’s dimension, as then saying his former name backwards will have no effect. Superman tries his usual tricks, but with no luck. Mr. Mxyzptlk is more than happy to reveal his change of name, knowing that Superman will find it impossible to guess. it’s the Superman Emergency Squad who save the day, lead by Van-Zee.
They pretend to be Mr. Mxyzptlk, even to the point of apparently vanishing when the name is said backwards. Mxyzptlk has to say his new name backwards to try to prove he is the real thing. The Superman Emergency Squad, and Van-Zee, had both been introduced in other Superman books within the past year, before appearing here.
Brainiac makes three appearances during these years, and each is more significant than the one before.
The story in Action 275 is notable only for its silliness. Brainiac shows up, stealing aluminum. Superman moves in to stop him, but Brainiac gets into his bubblecar and shoots the red/green kryptonite mix at him. Brainaic has no idea what the effect will be, and none is apparent. Superman steals Lois Lane’s hat, and continues to wear hats over the next few days, as he performs various super-feats. We know, from Superman’s conversation with Supergirl, that Brainiac’s ray had some sort of effect on him, but the art gives no hint at all of what it is, despite showing us how hard Clark Kent tries to conceal it. Brainiac pops up again at the end of the story, to be defeated. The kryptonite mix had given Superman a third eye on the back of his head, but the art had never shown that. The story ends with Superman and Supergirl beating up and humiliating a statue of Brainiac (actually labelled “statue of Brainiac”), which really makes them look ridiculous.
The story in Action 280 opens in the distant past, where Superman left him, in suspended animation, after his red/green kryptonite attack. Cavemen eventually waken him, and he heads back to the present. Perry White has sent Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to Africa, to write a story on the uprisings taking place. But they wind up in the jungle, watching some gorillas. Brainiac finds them, and shrinks them all down, sealing them in a bottle. A large gorilla tries to intervene, but winds up bottled as well. The gorilla is able to escape from the bottle, which none of the humans can do, and even throws down a line, leading them all to safety. Superman has figured out who the gorilla is. Did you? It’s Congorilla! Congo Bill fills in the gaps, how he spotted Brainiac and trailed him.
The classic tale in Superman 167 reveals new information about Brainiac, and set up a number of characters, places and events that will have long repercussions. Luthor breaks out of prison, and invents a scanner that allows him to learn about alien worlds.
He winds up tuning in to Colu (although the planet is not named in this story), and learns that Brainiac is not an alien, but an android, created to be the operative of the Computer Tyrants. To help disguise his mechanical nature, the Tyrants provided him with a son. Only called Brainiac 2 in this story, the boy, Vril Dox, runs away from Brainiac at the first opportunity. Luthor heads to the planet where Superman has imprisoned Brainiac and frees him, revealing that he knows Brainiac’s true nature. He also takes advantage of this to implant a bomb within the android’s computer brain, to prevent Brainiac from turning on him. Together they scour the galaxy gathering resources for their new device to kill Superman.
While doing this, they stop off on the planet where Luthor is considered a hero, now called Lexor in his honour. Luthor meets a woman who is very interested in him. Her name is given as Tharla in this story, but she will later be called Ardora. They also pass Brainiac’s world, and see a monument to the revolution that overthrew the Computer Tyrants. Although not stated in this story, it was Vril Dox (Brainiac 2) who lead the revolt. Returning to Earth, they hit Superman with a shrink ray, and toss him into a bird cage. He escapes by using his Clark Kent clothes as a rope ladder, while Brainiac decoys Luthor into sitting in front of a mind control machine. Brainiac forces Luthor to remove the bomb he had implanted, and also wipes his mind of the knowledge that Brainiac is an android.
Keeping that a secret is so important in this story, which is a bit odd, as soon everyone will know about it anyway. While the villains do succeed at putting Superman into a deathlike trance, they wind up getting captured by the Superman Emergency Squad and taken to Kandor, where they are prosecuted by Nor-Kann. Although they are both sentenced to the Phantom Zone, they bargain their way out of it, promising to bring Superman back if left to go free. They keep their word, and are allowed to head off into space, with Luthor returning to his new hot babe on Lexor. I consider this the best Superman story from the 1960s, rivalled closely by the one that comes next.
Because the tale in 168 is a sequel to the previous issue, I held off on discussing it until this point, rather than including it with the Luthor stories above. Superman is hunting for Lex, and, not finding him on Lexor, uses a time viewer to track him. Superman follows him to the time and place, but cannot actually find Lex.
He gets a job at a newspaper, using the name Clark Kent. This is so amazingly stupid. The editor of the paper is Luthor in disguise. Superman has just revealed his identity, as Luthor knows this newbie reporter is really Superman. But the story skirts this, having Lex assume Superman was using the name of one of his friends.
Historical personages Lillian Russell and Diamond Jim Brady appear in the tale. Superman gets exposed to red kryptonite, painted onto a fire engine. He loses his powers, but is still alert enough to realize that the red kryptonite must have been brought there by Luthor, who must be aware that Superman is around. Luthor captures Superman and brings him out to an island in the bay. He tries to bring them both back to the present, but the machine malfunctions, and transports only Lex, and a chunk of the island.
This sets off the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which the powerless Superman is helpless in. When the red kryptonite wears off, Superman heads back to the present. He sees that Ardora is still pining away on Lexor, and eventually finds Luthor on the same island he had been on in the past. Alcatraz. The two halves of this story were not intended to be published in the same issue. The change came about because the story that was meant to be included with the hero of Lexor tale had Superman working with the recently assassinated John F. Kennedy. The story was pulled, but a few issues later, apparently at the request of Lyndon Johnson, the story was run.
Bizarro appears in four issues, and all are of major importance in one way or another. Action 263 and 264 see Bizarro and Bizarro Lois find an abandoned world, and decide to live there, refashioning their ruins into new habitation. Lonely, Bizarro creates a perfect duplicator machine, and they use it on each other, to fill their world with identical duplicates. Superman comes to check the planet out, and is puzzled by the insanity he sees all around him. The Bizarro Code is first introduced, in which perfection is a crime.
Superman made the horrible mistake of fixing up some crumbling housing, for which he is arrested. The other prisoners being held have also committed the crime of fixing or repairing things. Superman tries to escape, but the Bizarro jailers have a gun that drains his powers. The gun seems to work perfectly, but no one questions that. Superman is put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be turned into a Bizarro.
In issue 264 The execution is put on hold when the bell rings to call an end to the work day, and rescheduled for a week later. Superman dreams that he gets turned into a Bizarro, and has big problems when he returns to Earth (as per the cover image). The Bizarros make him battle other prisoners in a gladitorial arena while he waits out the week.
Before they can carry out the sentence, Superman points out that their world itself is a perfect sphere, and offers to “fix” that. So it is Superman himself who turns Bizarro World into a cube. He is released from his sentence in gratitude.
One of the all time best Bizarro tales appears in Superman 140, as Bizarro and Bizarro Lois have a child. Both Bizarro and Bizarro Lois are horrified to discover that their son has been born deformed – he looks like a human. The other Bizarros are equally repulsed, and demand the child be destroyed. Instead, Bizarro puts him on a rocket and sends him to Earth. The baby is found and brought to the nearest orphanage – which happens to be Midvale Orphanage, where Linda Lee is living.
She winds up taking care of the powerful infant, even though this puts exposing her existence as Supergirl in jeopardy. Supergirl brings the child to the Fortress of Solitude, and Krypto is more than eager to play with the boy. After a machine explodes, Supergirl sees that the boy’s skin has altered to become that of a Bizarro. But she assumes this is the result of the explosion, an accident she blames herself for. The Bizarro boy uses the duplicator ray on Supergirl, creating a Bizarro Supergirl who is far more devious and malevolent than other Bizarros, and who plots to kill Supergirl. Meanwhile, Bizarro has seen that his son now looks like him, and thinks that Superman is keeping his child away from him intentionally. While the logic on this part is a bit off, it is Bizarro logic, after all, and good enough to cause the Bizarros to launch an invasion to regain the child.
To prevent an all-out Bizarro attack on Earth, Superman uses the duplicator ray on a pile of kryptonite, altering to blue kryptonite, the only thing capable of killing Bizarros. This is the first story to have blue kryptonite. It proves successful in keeping away the Bizarros. While all this was going on, other Bizarro children have been born, and the fact that they start off looking human, and then change to Bizarros, gets understood. So Bizarro returns home with his son. Bizarro Supergirl lays a trap for the real Supergirl, but winds up getting killed herself, from exposure to blue kryptonite. No other Bizarro Supergirl is created until after the Millenium.
The story in Superman 143 is the forerunner of the Bizarro World series, opening with an explanation of Bizarro World, and the backwards way they do things. Bizarro and Bizarro Lois now have two children, so apparently Bizarros age at a much faster rate than humans. They are shown to watch television shows from Earth, but react in very different ways. When Bizarro sees an ad for a Frankenstein film, he is enraged that the creature is considered the scariest thing on Earth, and heads there to prove he is the most terrifying.
But Bizarro heads to the film studio, and everyone he encounters assumes, for one reason or another, that he is not what he appears to be, and no one gets frightened. Superman observes much of this from a distance. Because Bizarro is getting increasingly upset at not scaring people, Superman causes an electrical discharge, making peoples hair stand up, which Bizarro takes as a sign of fear and leaves happily. He brings with him a Superman puppet, which is considered scary by his kids. A really solid tale for a Bizarro story.
Of the two Titano stories in this era, only one is any good. That is not the tale from Superman 138, in which Superman uses an alien time viewer to check on Titano, but the time viewer is also a teleporter, and he brings Titano back to the present. From that point, the story basically just replays his first outing.
The Titano story in Superman 147 may be billed as a Superman tale, but he only appears in the first panel of the tale. Krypto believes that Titano crushed a bone he was saving to chew on, and flies into the past to find the ape with kryptonite vision, and “get even” with him. The whole kryptonite vision thing does not deter Krypto. He is a dog, after all. But once Titano eye beams him, Krypto decides to make friends with the giant ape. There are some invading aliens that the two animals hold off as well.
The Phantom Zone villains make their first appearance in the adult Superman series in Action 284. The story opens as Clark Kent reports on a phony medium. But he is surprised when a hand leaves a ghostly message for him. Because of this message, which the reader does not see, Superman uses some red kryptonite to revert to being a baby. He retains his adult intelligence and speech, though. A few pages are spent as he continues to act as Superman, having to prove that he really is who he claims to be.
Eventually we discover that Mon-El sent the message, warning Superman about a gap opening in the Phantom Zone, which gets a long explanation/introduction in this story. Jax-Ur and Professor Vakox appear. Jax-Ur had been introduced in the pages of Adventure Comics a few months earlier, while this is the first appearance of Vakox. Superman had to reduce to infant size in order to penetrate the Zone through the gap. With the help of Supergirl and Krypto, they seal it.
Jewel kryptonite, the rarest form, makes its debut in Action 310. Parole hearings for Phantom Zone prisoners are being held in Kandor, and Superman attends. Jax-Ur, who is serving a life sentence without parole, asks to be freed, in order to help cure a plague that has struck down Lori Lemaris, and other less important residents of Atlantis. Superman agrees, and he and Jax-Ur head to Krypton, to the Jewel Mountains. Jax-Ur relates a legend of their creation, from the skeletal remains of jewel birds. He does work on the serum for the plague, but also puts Superman to sleep, and fashions a marge wedge of jewel, having calculated (somehow) that it will travel directly to Earth.
Jax-Ur is returned to the Phantom Zone, but now he, and the others in the Zone, are able to funnel their telepathic power into the real world, through the jewel kryptonite. They make Superman think he was “exposed” to it, and that it had the result of causing combustible materials to explode when he passed near. Superman does not fall for this, as it did not happen consistently. Jewel kryptonite is then written off as having “no effect.” Literally, that was how it was described in the Superman pages in which I first read about it. The use it had for Phantom Zone residents was completely ignored until the 80s.
The Superman Revenge Squad make their first adult appearance, following their debut two months earlier as the Superboy Revenge Squad in Superboy, in Action 286. These are a group of aliens who spend an awful lot of time coming up with ridiculously complex methods of exacting this revenge. In this story, they capture Krypto, and try out a variety of red kryptonite meteors on him, until they find one that induces nightmares. In Krypto’s case, being tormented by Streaky and Titano. So the leader uses an invisibility ray on himself, comes to Earth, and puts the red kryptonite into a bottle of ketchup. Yes, he does. The plan only works because Clark, Lois and Jimmy all ordered the exact same lunch. So Superman eats his kryptonite burger, and starts getting nightmares. The Revenge Squad are monitoring all of this. Their monitors are truly amazing. Not only can they see anywhere on Earth, they can even broadcast Superman’s dreams.
Jimmy is staying overnight at the Fortress of Solitude. For some reason, he is sleeping directly in front of the door to his room. Perhaps he really wanted to sleep under the big statue of himself. But couldn’t Superman have provided something better than fold-up cots? Anyway, I’ll just ignore the mention of Superman quivering. So Superman has his first nightmare, meeting descendants of Lana Lang and Pete Ross, who have gotten married, and lead an attack on him.
Superman’s second dream is even better, with the villains from the cover – Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Electro, Cosmic King, Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen pitting him against Supergirl. Supergirl gets sent to the Phantom Zone, and earth gets destroyed, Superman wakes up freaking out and upset. While it’s true that the cover image is “just a dream,” at least the story never pretends otherwise, and the dreams are actually part of the plot against him.
The second half of the Superman Revenge Squad story, in Action 287, never quite lives up to the joyous insanity of the first half. Superman has one long dream, which sees him become a criminal against his will. He is hunted by the police, and Perry White. Finally the payoff comes, as the Revenge Squad attack Earth right in front of Superman, and hope that he will think it was just a dream. Really? That was the plan? They deserved to lose.
The Superman Revenge Squad are back in Action 295. As with most plots of the Revenge Squad, it’s kind of dumb, and uses amazing technology. They have the ability to take over Superman, and make him do anything they want. Although having him eat kryptonite is discussed, they opt instead to have him become hated by all those around him. He goes on a rampage at the Daily Planet, attacking Perry White, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen.
But Superman knew what they were up to, and cued Perry in during his rampage. They put “Plan P” into action. “Plan L”, for Lois, had recently been shown in her book, and Jimmy Olsen’s”Plan P” is set up by this tale. The Superman Emergency Squad wind up taking out the Revenge Squad, while Superman just hangs out, apologizing to everyone.
The Superman Revenge Squad actually manage to pull off one of their schemes in Action 300, sending Superman into the Earth’s distant future, after the planet has been abandoned, and the sun has become a red giant. Superman’s powers are drained by the lack of yellow sun, and he is forced to navigate the dead planet as a normal human. There are robotic replicas of a number of Superman’s friends and enemies, that were constructed as eternal memorials to Superman, and give him someone to talk to.
Much of the story consists of him travelling through the hostile environment that the planet has become. Superman finally reaches his Fortress of Solitude, hoping to get help from the Kandorians, only to discover that, at some point, the bottle city got enlarged, and they are no longer there. He does manage to figure out a solution, using red kryptonite to shrink himself, and an abandoned mini Kandorian rocket to make the trip back through time. Not the normal type of Superman story at all. The ending is almost shocking, as he simply sits and stares out at the city, contemplating the dead world to come.
In Superman 165 Lana Lang is broadcasting an archeological dig, which uncovers and opens the tomb of Circe. She claims to have been spurned in the past by Superman, and is seeking vengeance. Her magic is effective on Superman, giving him the head of a lion, and then a mouse. She commands him to perform silly tasks, which he does, although he still manages to fight crime at the same time. But this is another of those stories in which nothing is as it seems.
Superman had actually been the victim of a successful attack by the Superman Revenge Squad, which prevented him from using his powers. He discovered that they would work so long as he was upside down – a position which Circe’s tasks kept putting him in. Of course, Circe wasn’t really the mythological Greek woman, it was Saturn Girl, aided by Proty II, who did the animal heads.
I’ll wind up this ridiculously long article by looking at two of the Imaginary Stories from the era, Superman stories that were not part of continuity.
Tired of having Lois Lane and Lana Lang fighting over him, Superman travels through time to get Hercules and Samson, and fobs them off on the women, in Action Comics 279. And indeed, the women fall head over heels in love with the doting heroes. The couples try to get married immediately, but discover they need to wait a week. The story then descends into a horrifying parody of marriage relationships, an endless outdo-the-other-couple cycle.
The heroes also find it extremely difficult to find fulfilling work, and Samson even loses his powers after Lana cuts some bubblegum out of his hair. Superman returns Hercules and Samson to their own eras, as they just long to be rid of the women by now. With the other men gone, Lois and Lana start attacking each other again. Geez.
The last story I will look at is another classic tale. The cover of Superman 162 insists that Superman Red/Superman Blue is the greatest Imaginary Story of them all. And you know, it just might be right. The tale opens with Kandorians acting like total dicks. They summon Superman, and list off his failures, including not enlarging their city. Among his other “failures” is not wiping out all crime on Earth. You gotta feel sorry for the children of these people. But Superman takes it all to heart, and with the aid of Supergirl, uses a variety of coloured kryptonites in an experiment to boost his powers. It has the result of splitting Superman into two identical beings, Superman Red and Superman Blue, named for their costumes.
With twice the super-brain power, they have no trouble coming up with a cure for kryptonite, and enlarging Kandor on a new planet, terraformed to be just like Krypton. With the aid of Supergirl and Krypto, the two Supermans help Lori Lemaris and the Atlanteans move their entire city to a new planet, without ever having to leave a giant waterspout. Then they create satellites to beam goodness and peace into everyone’s minds, stopping all wars. The Superman Revenge Squad and Brainiac are both affected, and decide to leave Earth alone, while Luthor reforms, cures blindness, broken bones and baldness, and gets re-united with his sister Lena. Even Mr. Mxyzptlk is affected, and decides to never return to this dimension. With the list completed, and nothing much else to do, the two Supermen turn their minds to romance.
With the kind of ease and harmony that characterizes this entire story, one is in love with Lois, and the other with Lana. So they have a double wedding, which turns into a triple one, when Lucy Lane proposes to Jimmy Olsen. Superman Red and Lois head to the new Krypton to live out their days, while Superman Blue stays on Earth with Lana. The story does tease a sequel, asking which couple is happier, but I think it’s a good thing none ever came. This is the ultimate happy ending story, the “goal” that all the Superman stories from this era are striving for.
Superman continues in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
Superman: Action Comics 261 – 311 (Feb 60 – April 64)
Superman 135 – 168 (Feb 60 – April 64)
Next up – Batman!
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