Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
"The Day Superman Became The Flash"
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciller: Al Plastino
Cover: Curt Swan
Reviewed by: Tom-EL
It was Green Arrow that shot the arrow to get his attention, and with him are Aquaman, Batman, the Flash, and the Atom. Superman notices that the five are smiling at him rather cryptically. Aquaman explains to Superman that while he was patrolling the ocean, he discovered a video-tape device with a message for Superman. Superman asks who the message is from and Aquaman tells him, "It's from Jor-El of Krypton, your father". Superman seems skeptical that it came from Jor-El since the planet exploded right after his father rocketed him toward Earth. Aquaman tells him to play the message for himself, and Superman agrees, stating that if it was truly from Krypton it would have changed into green kryptonite.
The tape plays and the video-recorded picture appears in the air. It is Jor-El and he begins telling his story, explaining that the tape player was mounted on the outside of the rocket. Superman concludes that the tape player must have detached from the rocket when it came into Earth's atmosphere and fell into the ocean. Jor-El then begins his narrative. He recounts the story of Krypton's coming destruction. In the beginning, he wondered if he still had sufficient time to build more rockets like the working model he had already built. Lara informs him of a scientist named Zahn-Zar, who just built a computer that has the ability to forecast the future, so Jor-El goes to see him. Zahn-Zar says to him "No machine can forecast the future exactly, but this computer, if fed sufficient data can deliver an audio-visual projection with a high probability of accuracy". First Jor-El asked the machine if there was still enough time to build more escape rockets. The computer shows a visual of the rockets falling over as the destruction begins. It tells him that there's a 98% probability that Krypton will explode before the rockets can be finished. At that point, he decided to focus on the question of which planet he would send the rocket with Kal-El.
The first planet was called Xann, and he fed the data into the computer. The machine then began to tell him the story of Kal's life on planet Xann. This planet had a yellow sun so Kal would have super-powers. The catch is, this is a planet of giants and when Kal-El reaches his full adult size, he would only be the Xannian equivalent of six inches tall. A couple adopts him, but growing up he feels that while people act nice to him, he can tell that really they feel sorry for him due to his small size. Because of his powers, he decides to become a crime fighter, but to protect his identity, he wears a costume. The red and blue costume looks a lot like the Atom's costume with a red cape. As this story comes to an end, Jor-El can see that even though Kal would be a hero there, because of his size he could never lead a normal life on this planet.
Next he gives the computer the data on a planet called Valair. This planet also has a yellow sun so Kal will have powers, but it is completely covered by water, there is no land on the surface of the planet. Jor-El thinks to himself, "With his super-powers, Kal-El could live under the seas". On this planet, he becomes a hero wearing a familiar green and orange costume. As time goes on, he begins piling up huge rocks underneath the sea, until finally they reach the surface. On this little artificially made island, Kal-El sits there remembering air, land, and sky. Jor-El can see that he won't be happy there, so he feeds in the data on the third planet.
The planet Ntann is a primitive planet that resembles the Earth during the middle-ages, the difference is it has a red sun. Again, Kal-El is adopted by foster parents who train him in the use of bow and arrow. As an adult, Kal decides that it should be possible to build better bows and arrows, which he does, including a "lasso-arrow" and a "star-arrow", useful for signaling at night. Because of his inventiveness, the leader of his village wants Kal to join him in an attack with these trick arrows on a neighboring village. Kal wants no part of that, but his village militia is bent on attack, so he uses an alarm arrow to warn the other village of the impending attack. He knows he can't stay in his village now, so he walks off into the sunset knowing he will be living alone. Seeing that on the screen, Jor-El knows he must put in the data for the next planet on the list.
This is the planet Saruun, another red sun world, but with a difference. This world has a giant satellite between the planet and the sun, causing a constant eclipse leaving the inhabitants forever in unending night. On this planet he is adopted by a lawman who intends to bring up his foster son and train him to become Saruun's greatest lawman. Kal goes through years of intensive training from his father, and then finally says "I'm ready to use all you've taught me to enforce the law". His father tells him that he will need a disguise, and suggests that he wears a costume in the theme of a "Diro", a small black flying creature of that planet. Soon, the new lawman of Saruun's greatest city goes into action wearing a blue and gray, cape and cowled costume. The Diro is hailed as "the terror of evil-doers". Jor-El watches this story unfold, and while he is impressed that his son would become a great lawman, he decides that he can't condemn his son to live forever in darkness. Now only two possible planets are left for consideration.
The two remaining planets are almost identical in their development and technology. The difference is, planet Gangor has a red sun, and planet Earth has a yellow son, so Jor-El considers Gangor. The computer shows him that Kal will be adopted by another couple, of which the father is a scientist. Kal grows up to be a brilliant scientist like his father, and then they work together to develop an energizing force that, if perfected, will give everyone super-energy. The two decide to test it on Kal, so he decides to try it out by seeing how fast he can run. First however, he will put on a special protective suit he has prepared. The suit looks like Superman's costume, except with touches of the Flash's costume including red cowl, yellow boots, and lightning bolts on the forearms. He starts running at super-speed and the suit works as it is supposed to. Running at this speed, he notices how everything else appears to move slowly, even trains and planes that cannot keep up with his speed. Kal then thinks "I'll open up and see how fast I can go". At that point, catastrophe strikes when Kal's super-speed carries him off the ground and up into the atmosphere. He begins to both freeze from the altitude and strangle from the lack of air. Jor-El can see how this scenario is going to end and so he thinks "There's only one world left to try - Earth!" Of course, the computer shows him that Kal will become Superman, Earth's greatest hero and Jor-El knows which planet is the only choice available to him.
The video-tape comes to an end with Jor-El saying "So, my son, this record will explain why we sent you to Earth. If the computer is correct, you'll be a great hero there". Superman comments on how strange were those other lives he might have lived. Aquaman points out to Superman how strange it REALLY is. He tells Superman that on each world, he would have been like each one of the JLA members. He says, "Do you realize what you were? You were a one man JUSTICE LEAGUE of AMERICA!" Superman's facial expression in response to that statement seems to suggest it has only just now dawned on him the real irony of what they've all just seen.
The second story is part one of a Supergirl story called "Supergirl's Tragic Ordeal". It's about Supergirl's foster parents, the Danvers, agreeing to go to Kandor so that Zor-El and Allura who are in Kandor, can come out and spend time with Kara. This is necessary because it seems Allura is literally dying of a broken heart from not seeing their daughter. Silver age fans will recall that at times the means of entering Kandor was by the "exchange ray" which meant that for a Kandorian to enter Earth, an Earth person had to exchange.
Story - 4: Prior to this story, Edmond Hamilton wrote a story for Action Comics #223 (December 1956) called "The First Superman of Krypton". In that story, a video-tape diary that Superman found told how Jor-El temporarily gained Superman-like powers while he was on Krypton. According to Michael E. Grost of the Classic Comic Books website, that story embodies one of Hamilton's favorite themes: a character, such as Jor-El, taking on the career of another character, Superman. This story is a variation of that same theme, another video-tape, telling about Superman taking on another character, in this case, five members of the Justice League.
First of all I want to say that I've always liked this story, truly I have. Maybe that's due in part to the fact that I am also a Justice League fan, and there is a sense in which you could call this a Justice League story. It's not indicated to be an imaginary story, but as much as I liked it, the story really only works for me if I think of it as one of the things that differentiates the silver age Superman from the others (modern, golden age, Earth-2, Kingdom Come, etc.). The reason for that is this, the premise of this story seems to be contradictory to what has been a basic point of Superman Kryptonian history, that runs as a common thread through nearly all his incarnations. I am aware that across the years, Superman's story has been, depending on the writer, re-invented, re-imagined, even re-booted, but despite the tweaks and do-overs, it was generally part of that story that planet Earth was the one and ONLY planet that Jor-El considered suitable to send his son. The fact that Kryptonians looked like Earth people, and the powers Kal would have from the yellow sun and lesser gravity made it the only real choice out of all the planets across the galaxy that Jor-El could have chosen. I still remember the conversation between Marlon Brando and Susannah York in "Superman: The Movie"... Lara - "But why Earth Jor-El? They're primitives, thousands of years behind us." Jor-El - "He will need that advantage if he is to survive." Evidently the silver age Jor-El saw things a little differently.
This story posits the idea that Jor-El actually had a selection of planets to choose from, some with yellow suns, some with red, and one that is all water. How great would it be to have a computer that could show you with a high degree of probability what the future holds? It ends up that out of all these planets, Earth is the only one that seems to have little Kal having a happy life as an adult. On the other planets, he would have gone through life as a "loner" which according to Grost, loner characters is another theme of many of Ed Hamilton's stories. The planet where Kal is six inches, the all water planet, and the all night planet strike me as venues that Jor-El should have foreseen the eventualities without needing to watch it play out on a computer screen. Still, over the years, I've discovered a story doesn't have to be logical or even perfectly fit continuity to still be fun.
Art - 4: Al Plastino pencilled this story, I have no information on who inked it. I have a hard time giving more than a 4 rating to any artist other than Curt Swan and two or three others, but that's just me. Plastino's work is solid in this story, and the shocked expression on Superman's face in the final panel looks to me to be just the expression that Hamilton wanted to convey in this story.
Cover Art - 4: It's not an elaborate cover, but I thought Swan did a good job in a Carmine Infantino-esque way to convey Superman moving at super-speed. I liked the Superman/Flash costume mix as a means of generating interest in the story. The cover is a bit misleading in that it has Superman saying "I've lost my Superman powers and gained those of the Flash -- But I can't control my speed!" Apparently they didn't want to give away the true nature of the story. Yes, I know, slightly misleading information on the cover is nothing new to more than one DC comic cover during the silver age.
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