Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Superman #173

Superman #173

Cover date: November 1964

Writter: Jerry Siegel
Penciller: George Papp
Inker: John Forte
Cover: Curt Swan-George Klein

"The Triumph of Luthor and Brainiac"

One day in Metropolis, a spacecraft landed on the roof of the Daily Planet building. Hearing the commotion, the ever-curious Jimmy Olsen investigated, and heard a recorded message repeating: "Calling Superman! Your aid is needed desperately on Planet 2H-Galaxy 489! Come at once!" Looking around, he pondered his options. Even knowing that Superman was away on a mission, and that his signal watch was being repaired giving him no opportunity to contact the Man of Steel, Jimmy climbed inside the craft, whose door immediately slammed shut. Just as quickly, the ship lifted off, heading into space guided by remote control.

The craft sped through the galaxy, finally approaching a distant planet. Jimmy was excited; anticipating how proud Superman would be, knowing that he had solved a crisis single-handed. However, that optimism was short-lived when the ship landed, Jimmy climbed out the escape hatch and saw Lex Luthor and Brainiac, two of Superman's deadliest foes, emerge from a strange lizard-shaped building. "Our trap has caught a mouse, instead of a rat!" sneered Brainiac.

"Why are you here instead of Superman? Speak - Before I send you to the Phantom Zone," demanded Luthor. "Talk - Before I dwindle you to the size of a flea, with my shrinking ray," yelled Brainiac. Groaning, Jimmy could only admit that he did this to show Superman that he could handle an emergency, but this does nothing except infuriate the two. Lifting up the Phantom Zone projector, Luthor grimaced. "Since you insisted on butting in, you'll get what we had in store for him," and was about to send Jimmy to the Phantom Zone when Brainiac interceded. "First, let's take him to our private sanctum! Some things there will interest our guest."

As they walked down an alien street, the inhabitants of this world looked on Luthor and Brainiac with great awe and respect, regaling them for their criminal skills. Soon they come to a building with a sign proclaiming it "The Luthor-Brainiac Hall of Fame". Inside were statues of their friends, Joker, Clayface and Mr. Mxyztplk, and their "Rogues Gallery" featuring images of all of the Justice League of America and Legion of Superheroes. "But the most dangerous of these desperadoes are the abominable Superman and his skulking partner, Batman," says Luthor.

Proceeding down the hall, they come to a series of statues. "Here's one of our most popular exhibits," says Luthor with a laugh. Before them are statues of Sun Boy, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Bouncing Boy and Chameleon Boy as they would appear in their seventies. They are old, wrinkled and bent and the image startles Jimmy. They then go on to view several machines. One turns tame creatures wild, and another is an element changer that Luthor uses to turn lead to gold. Laughing with a horrible glee, Luthor then tells Jimmy that they can use that machine to transmute other things... like putting Jimmy's head on the body of an alligator.

Then, suddenly, Brainiac threw a force field around Jimmy. "Let's see if our impulsive visitor's odic ancestroid genes are vulnerable to Fate Z... the worst destiny that could conceivably happen to any living being!" And with that, a radiant shadow emerged from Jimmy's body and flashed away from him. Just as suddenly, the two get into a violent argument over who will ultimately have the privilege to inflict Fate Z upon Jimmy. Like the two connivers they are, they agree to a contest. But first they turn on a space monitor to see if Superman is yet aware of Jimmy's disappearance. Before him, Jimmy sees Clark Kent removing his shirt to become Superman. Gasping, Jimmy cannot believe it. "So that's his alter ego! It's unbelievable!"

Brainiac and Luthor turn Jimmy over to Rombo, a robot jailer, and proceed to a huge coliseum filled with alien spectators to witness their amazing contest. Using a special weapon that first reduces a planet in size and draws it to them, and then shoots heat bolts to destroy the world, the two battle to see who can destroy the most planets in five minutes. At the end of only a few minutes, Brainiac had destroyed 89 worlds, while Luthor had destroyed only 72. "This is ghastly," mutters Jimmy in total shock. With half a minute to go, Luthor has zoomed ahead with a score of 351 to 311.

The prisoner robot, acting oblivious to the contest, offers Jimmy a "last meal". But when Rombo opens the panel in his chest for repairs, Jimmy takes the opportunity to throw his soup into the robot's chest shorting out it's circuits. With the robot incapacitated, Jimmy opens the doors on his cell, then the doors of all the other cells freeing the prisoners. As they prepare to escape the prison, Jimmy oddly decides to remain. In the mean time, Luthor has won the contest and is returning to treat Olsen to Fate Z, and Jimmy decides that he must do something.

Hurriedly, the two villains return to the prison to find the cells open, the prisoners gone and Jimmy standing at the element changer. As they approach, Jimmy presses a button and turns the gold bar into... Green Kryptonite. Suddenly, Luthor stumbles and screames in pain. "So you know! Okay, Jimmy! Go easy on me..." yelled Luthor.

Transforming the Kryptonite again, this time to a harmless jewel, Jimmy told the pair to unmask, revealing Superman and Batman disguised as Luthor and Brainiac. "I noticed on the monitor that though the spectators were sweating because of the heat bolts, Luthor wasn't sweating - which meant he was wearing a disguise mask. I guessed Superman was masquerading as him to teach me a lesson." "Right," said Superman. Having returned from an important mission, Superman had watched Jimmy just walk right into the spacecraft with his telescopic vision. Racing the space ship to the planet, Superman prevented a tidal wave that would have caused mass destruction, then "arranged" for the charade to teach Jimmy a lesson.

Jimmy then explained that he realized Brainiac was really Batman since Brainiac had green eyes, but the "imposter" had blue eyes, just as they had been in the photo of Batman in the Rogues Gallery. "Clever deducing, lad!" compliments Batman.

Oh, says Superman. "That space monitor picture of me switching to my secret identity of Clark Kent was a faked tape, of course." "Of course," laughed Jimmy. "I realized that once I caught onto the hoax. Clark Kent supposedly you! What a laugh." The three broke into uproarious laughter, but Superman's laughter became the loudest. "I couldn't resist revealing the truth about me to Jimmy, knowing he'd laugh it off as a gag after Batman and I unmasked. It was just a little "private joke" I indulged myself in," he thought to himself.

3Story - 3: This particular story was written by Jerry Siegel after his return to comics. At first glance, this story fits the mold of a typical Superman story from the 1960's. Here, an impatient Superman concocts an elaborate scheme to teach an impetuous Jimmy Olsen (or Lois Lane, for that matter) that it is better to think before leaping into a dangerous situation. However, in the end, Jimmy is allowed to appear, at least for a second, that he was able to solve the mystery and handle the tough situations.

This issue contained two other stories. The first was "The Untouchable Clark Kent", a story about an actor who believed he actually was the main character of his most famous role... a gangster, and that Kent was John Dillinger (drawn by Swan-Klein). This was followed by the first of a very short series of "Tales of Green Kryptonite", which told the story of one piece of Kryptonite from the time it was presented to Jor-El as a trophy, transmuted to Kryptonite, fell to earth and finally "found" by several individuals. It also featured Beppo, The Super-Monkey and Krypto. George Papp drew that story.

3Art - 3: George Papp drew two of the three stories in this issue, and John Forte may have inked the stories (there will be more on John Forte in future reviews). In general, both Papp and Forte were not as well known for their work on Superman as they were on a number of other characters. Papp entered the comics field in 1938, at the age of 22, drawing stories like "Fantastic Facts" for the company that would soon become DC Comics. His first feature was Pep Morgan, a strip about an all-American athlete, done for Action Comics. In November 1941, Papp received Mort Weisinger's script and drew the first Green Arrow story appearing in More Fun Comics #73. That issue also premiered the first appearance of Aquaman, DC's answer to Timely Comics' Sub-Mariner, drawn by Paul Norris. In 1942, Papp entered the service, but after returning from WWII in 1946 he resumed drawing the feature, producing almost every Green Arrow story published over the next twelve years, as well as the Congo Bill and Clip Carson strips. In 1955, Papp began doing work for Superboy and The Legion of Super Heroes, drawing many important stories including the first appearances of Bizarro, Mon-El, and the ever-popular Beppo the Super-Monkey. Papp's work during the period from 1955 to 1970 was very consistent. While his Superboy was only a little more fluid than Wayne Boring's Superman, his figure work, especially his women, were very well drawn. Papp does hold the distinction of being one of the few DC artists to actually draw Batman with "eyes" showing through the cowl, as he did in this story. This work on these stories is very typical of his efforts from this period.

4Cover Art - 4: The cover to this issue was another really nice example of Curt Swan and George Klein's cover work for the Superman title. Here, a startled Jimmy Olsen looks on as Clark Kent opens his shirt to reveal the Superman tunic beneath while Luthor and Brainiac gloat that they know his secret identity, and is a nice teaser for the story inside.

Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews



  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”




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