Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics [Blu-ray]
THE JOKER, LEX LUTHOR, CATWOMAN, DOOMSDAY, BANE. What makes them so thrillingly watchable? So terribly wonderful? So extremely vital to our super heroes and their worlds? This new feature-length documentary explores these questions across seven decades of DC Comics' hallowed Rogues' Gallery of infamous evildoers.
Superman in: "The Man Who Sold Insurance to Superman"
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Artist: Wayne Boring
Cover Art: Curt Swan and George Klein
The story begins at the Daily Planet, where Clark Kent has finished work for the day. He changes into Superman, and flies off to make his routine patrol of Metropolis. He thinks about how boring things have been lately, when he suddenly spots trouble. A man is hanging from a high flagpole, and is in danger of falling to his death. On the street below a woman is screaming his name. The man loses his grip on the flagpole and starts to fall, but Superman swoops in and rescues him. Superman lowers him to the ground, where the woman rushes to embrace him.
The man's name is Terry Mason, an insurance salesman who is an old college friend of Clark Kent's. The woman is Jewel Cartier, Terry's fiancé. The two have a problem. Jewel's father is a rich businessman, and won't consent to let Terry marry his daughter. He doesn't want to talk to Terry, so Terry was trying to scale the building to reach his office when he fell. Superman decides to help Terry, so he flies him up to the father's office, and leaves.
The father is not happy to see Terry. Since Terry isn't rich, he wouldn't be able to give Jewel the fancy cars, jewels, and vacations that her father does, and the father doesn't want Jewel marrying beneath her. Terry swears that he is devoted to her, and that someday he will be able to give all those things to Jewel. He claims that he is the best insurance salesman on the father's staff, and that he will be rich someday. The father doesn't believe it.
At this point a servant rushes into the room with news that a rival insurance company has signed three big celebrities. To find out if this is true or not, the father activates a spy-camera he has hidden in the rival company's offices. Terry thinks this is dishonest, but the father doesn't care. Sure enough, three big celebrities have signed with the rival company, making them the #1 insurance company. The father wonders how he can top that, and hits on an idea. He challenges Terry to sell a life insurance policy worth $100 billion dollars to Superman. If Terry can do it, the father's company will be back on top and he will let Terry marry Jewel. If not, Terry will be fired. Terry, willing to do anything to marry Jewel, agrees to the challenge.
Terry goes off in search of Superman, and finds him leveling some condemned, unsafe slum buildings. When Superman is finished, Terry calls him over and offers to sell him the insurance policy. Superman, however, is very skeptical. With all his powers and abilities, what does he need insurance for? Terry challenges Superman, what will happen to the poor and oppressed people he helps if he dies from a super-disease? To answer that question, Superman and Terry fly to a doctor, who tries to examine Superman. Superman's heartbeat is steady, even while doing 2,000 push-ups at super-speed. The doctor breaks several needles on Superman's arm, and analyzes a sample of Superman's saliva, and finds no trace of bacteria. The doctor concludes that Superman is in perfect health, and has nothing to worry about from any diseases.
Terry then asks Superman what would happen if he got into an accident. Superman looks at Terry's statistics sheet, and sees that the most common accidents leading to death include falling, drowning, and fires. Superman flies Terry to a circus, where he demonstrates to a happy crowd how none of those three kinds of accidents can harm him.
Not willing to give up yet, Terry says that Superman would still need insurance in case one of his enemies ever succeeds in killing him. Thinking about that Superman flies Terry to the Metropolis Bank, where a robbery is in progress. Terry watches as Superman easily breaks up the robbery, the crooks use bazookas, rifles, and grenades on Superman, but all to no avail as Superman easily shrugs off their attacks. As the crooks are being led off by the police, Terry overhears one of them complain that if only he had able to reach the Green Kryptonite stashed in his jeep, they would have gotten away.
Terry heads over to the jeep and finds the Kryptonite. Superman immediately falls sick, and Terry has proved his point that Superman does have something to worry about. Superman agrees to take out the life insurance policy for $100 billion, which will go to various charities in the event of his death.
Superman collects a tray full of rare space gems to pay the first premium, and the father is pleased, because now not only is he a lot richer, his company is #1 again. He happily gives Terry his permission to marry Jewel, and all is right with the world... for a little while.
Some days later an alien UFO swoops down over the white house. The aliens via radio order the US to surrender its plutonium stockpile, or they will destroy the capital. Superman swoops in and destroys all of the alien ships weapons, and forces the aliens to retreat. As they're fleeing, the aliens use their secret weapon, a copy of the Phantom Zone projector. They hit Superman with it and banish him to the Phantom Zone. The world believes that Superman is gone forever, and agents from various charity groups show up at the father's office demanding he pay out the $100 billion dollars in insurance. The father is furious because his business is ruined and he is now broke. He fires Terry and revokes his permission to marry Jewel. As Terry leaves, Jewel goes with him. She tells Terry that she loves him, and will stay with him.
The next morning, Superman returns to Metropolis, Terry and Jewel rush out to meet him to find out what happened. Superman explains that Supergirl came to his rescue. Once she heard how Superman was trapped in the Phantom Zone, she flew to the Fortress of Solitude, and used the real Phantom Zone projector to release him. The father arrives, and he is thrilled that Superman is back. Now he doesn't have to pay Superman's insurance, and offers Terry his job back. Terry tells the father to take a hike. He accuses the father of only caring about money, and doesn't want to go back to work for him. Jewel then steps in and tells her father that she will marry Terry no matter what. Superman then tells the father that he is canceling his policy. If anything ever happens to him, the Justice League will provide for the weak and poor. Superman then flies off with Terry and Jewel, leaving the father standing alone. The father has plenty of money, but he's lost his happiness.
Story - 4: There are two different things going on in this story. The first is the question of what Superman would need insurance for, and the answer is that he really doesn't. This is a more boring section of the story, as Superman goes to the doctor, the circus, foils the bank robbers, everything Superman does in this part of the story we've seen him do many times before. While there is nothing terribly original to this part of the story, it does do a good job of showing off Superman's abilities and weaknesses, making it a good story to read to a kid who is only first learning of Superman. What makes this story really work is the second thing going on, the triangle between Terry, Jewel, and her father. Terry's love for Jewel shines through, and the father undergoes real change over the course of the story, as he realizes that his lust for money has cost him his daughter. This is a good Silver Age Superman story, and while not a classic, it is well worth the read.
Art - 5: Wayne Boring's art is what makes this issue work. This is a slower Superman story. He doesn't have to fight any major battles or villains. Instead the story depends on characterization, and it is Boring's art in large part that shows us the love between Terry and Jewel, and the father's maniacal greed.
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Pencils: Jim Mooney
Inker: Al Plastino
As the story begins it is night in Metropolis. A killer named the Torpedo has crawled out a window and onto the ledge of a tall building. He's holding a bomb in his hands. Staring at him from the window he just crawled out of is Clark Kent. Clark has been writing a series of stories on the Torpedo, and has trailed him to this building, where he was going to plant his 29th bomb. Clark crawls out onto the ledge to talk, but the Torpedo warns him that if he comes closer, he'll drop his bomb into the crowd of policemen and firemen below. Not wanting to take chances, Clark acts afraid and climbs back into the building.
Across the street, two interested bystanders are observing the scene. They are the Professor and his goon, Maxie. The Professor is studying Clark's face with his binoculars. Even though Clark is acting afraid, the Professor doesn't believe it. He believes that Clark is secretly Superman, and when he sees Clark disappear through the window, and Superman fly out of it, he is convinced that they are one and the same. Superman quickly proceeds to capture the Torpedo, who blames Clark Kent for the series of events that led to his arrest. He swears revenge on Clark, promising to blow him up the next time he sees him.
Meanwhile, the Professor and Maxie head back to their base, where we meet the third member of their gang, Marlene. Marlene is a master plastic surgeon, who makes money by giving criminals new faces so they can hide from the law. Marlene agrees to use plastic surgery on Maxie, to make his face look exactly like Clark Kent's. The Professor reveals his plan, which involves tricking Supergirl into believing that Maxie is the real Clark Kent. After the surgery, several weeks go by as Maxie practices speaking like Clark, and the gang rehearses their scheme. While Maxie is taking a break from rehearsals, he turns on the TV to watch his favorite game show, "University Bowl". On the show Supergirl, in her secret identity of Linda Danvers, wins the game for Stanhope College for the third straight week.
Several days later the crooks are finally ready to put their plot in motion. Supergirl responds to an oil fire lit by the Professor and quickly puts it out. Maxie, disguised as Clark, approaches Supergirl and congratulates her. Maxie tells her there is a big emergency, and that while he switches to Superman, she should switch back to her secret identity. Supergirl changes back to Linda, and Maxie instantly recognizes her from the game show. Maxie tells Linda she's been tricked, and that the truck behind him is lead-lined, and contains a remote camera recording her change on videotape. Linda doesn't believe it, but Maxie offers proof by challenging Supergirl to hit him lightly. She does, and not being invulnerable like the real Superman, Maxie goes down. Maxie tells Linda that unless she does exactly what he tells her, every gang in America will learn her secret identity. Linda rips open the truck to find the remote controlled camera.
Outraged, she quickly changes to Supergirl and flies off with Maxie. She flies him to a deserted island and puts him in a cage, where she plans to leave him for life, but Maxie tells her that if he doesn't report in to the Professor, her identity will be revealed. Also, if she leaves him there he will die eventually, and it's against her code to kill. She brings him back to the mainland, where he issues his ultimatum. Next week she is scheduled to transfer a shipment of gold, he wants her to steal that shipment and bring it to him. Not knowing what else to do, Supergirl agrees and flies off. That night the Professor, Maxie, and Marlene all toast to their success.
Over the course of the next week, Supergirl is worried about what Superman will think of her slip up. It worries her so much that it occupies her mind, distracting her from the things she is doing. At one point she almost drops the bottle city of Kandor, and on her game show she is eliminated when she answers all the questions incorrectly.
Finally, the day of the gold transfer arrives. Supergirl brings the gold to the Professor, who is waiting with Maxie and Marlene. The Professor thanks Supergirl, and promises to get in touch with her again when they need more money. Realizing that these crooks will never let her off the hook, Supergirl decides to fly off with the gold. She would rather Superman think of her as a screw-up than a thief, and if her identity is revealed to the world then so be it.
The Professor, Maxie, and Marlene all get in their car and drive off to expose her identity. They have the radio on, and hear an alert that the police are setting up roadblocks to try and capture an escaped killer. Not wanting to be captured themselves, they turn off the highway and get a flat tire. Maxie gets out of the car to try and hail a passing motorist. But the motorist is actually the escaped killer, the Torpedo. Seeing Maxie, who he believes is Clark Kent, he throws a bomb at him. The bomb explodes, killing Maxie, the Professor, and Marlene. Supergirl, having delivered the gold safely to the bank, returns to the scene too late to save their lives, but she does arrest the Torpedo, who is happy he got to enact his revenge on "Clark Kent". With all the crooks who knew her identity now dead, her secret along with Superman's is once again safe.
Story - 5: This was a classic Supergirl story, and I liked it for several reasons. First, it's always bothered me to a degree that no one ever saw through Superman's Clark Kent disguise. Certainly a well-designed disguise should be able to fool most people most of the time, but realistically it can't fool everyone all of the time. So it was nice to meet the Professor, a criminal who was smart enough to see through it. While it's a shame that he had to die at the end of the story, I'll take that over the alternative, which is that he develop some form of amnesia after being hit on the head (if I had a penny for every time that happened in comics...). Second, I like the symmetry of this story. It begins with the Torpedo swearing to kill Clark Kent, and it ends with the Torpedo killing "Clark Kent". I character I at first believed to be a throwaway turned out in fact to be essential to the story. Finally, it's a lot of fun watching Supergirl agonize over what to do. It's clear that she looks up to her older cousin, and wants him to think the best of her. This leads her to almost do something she'll regret, but she changes her mind at the last possible instant. Combine this story with the good Superman tale, and you have one excellent issue of Action Comics.
Art - 3: While Jim Mooney draws what is to me the definitive Supergirl, I'm not nearly as fond of his Superman. Jim's Superman at times looks like the Curt Swan version and at others like the Wayne Boring version, and the result is no consistency to his appearance, which I find jarring.
Cover Art - 5: The Supergirl story gets top billing on this excellent cover by Swan and Klein. It does its job of drawing the reader into the book.
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