Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Superman #38

Superman #38

Cover date: January/February 1946

Writter: Don Cameron
Penciller: Ed Dobrotka
Cover: Shuster Studio

"The Battle of the Atoms"

Driving along a desolate stretch of wilderness north of Metropolis, Lois Lane and Clark Kent followed up a bizarre tip sent to the Daily Planet that nature had somehow gone wild in the mountains. After hours of searching with no results, the two stopped for a rest thinking that this had to be a big mistake. However, just as Kent plopped down next to a tall tree, Lois saw a strange sight. There were trees twisted like pretzels, hills flattened like melted chocolate, and water towers struts twisted like licorice.

Deciding that it would be best to split up to look for clues to these strange happenings, Lois headed through a thicket of trees while Clark Kent, ran ahead and quickly changed to Superman. Even though Lois was supposedly on the lookout for unusual things in the woods, she completely missed seeing three hoods who watched her carefully. "Ya know what the Bid Shot said about snoopers," whispered one of the men, and the three jumped out of the bushes to grab her. No sooner had the word, "Help!" left Lois' lips than Superman sprang over the treetops confronting Nick Biggins, Slug Rickley and Vannie Winkler and knocking them into slumberland. With Lois safe, Superman changed back to Clark Kent and rejoined Lois at her car looking as confused as ever. "Lois, did you find anything?" asked Kent. "Enough to make the front page of the Planet sizzle," she said exuberantly. "Let's go!"

Meanwhile, at a secret underground workshop, Lex Luthor chuckled demonically to himself. "Success at last! The most potent weapon ever invented is mine - proved and perfected - ready to bring me what I desire!" Luthor's gloating was interrupted by the return of his battered and bloodied henchmen who told him that Superman had shown up and Lois Lane had escaped. "Do you mean to tell me you let her escape after she had seen the work of my molecular impulsion beam on steel, rocks and trees?" "We done our best," said Nick Biggins. "This means that I must start sooner than I planned!" Luthor screamed, and enraged he sent his men into action.

Eerily, a section of the hillside opened and a sleek, transparent metal craft streaked skyward setting its course for Metropolis. High over the city, Luthor took aim at the Daily Planet Building. Inside, Lois was excited that her story was going to run on the front page and began ribbing Clark. "I was afraid your typewriter would collapse if you ever started to write a good story on it!" said Lois, laughing. At that exact instant, Kent's typewriter did appear to collapse, twisting and turning like rubber. Then the whole building twisted as if there were no support. Metal moved like rubber, wood collapsed under the weight, and even the huge presses appeared to melt before the printers' eyes.

Hurriedly, everyone ran to evacuate the building. Only Clark's nimble mind grasped the complete explanation. "Only one thing could cause this... an atomic disturbance speeding up molecular motion in steel and stone making them fluid. Intense heat would have that effect or a beam of concentrated vibrations. And only one man could harness such a beam - Luthor!"

Kent quickly changed to Superman and rushed out to reconstruct the distorted shapes fixing walls, columns and the giant presses. However, no sooner had Superman finished this monumental task then he heard a cascade of emergency bells and sirens. Luthor had turned his beam on the financial district turning the streets to sticky bogs that trapped powerful trucks. Above the city, Luthor laughed in sadistic glee. Looking down, he prepared to turn his beam on the Truslow Trust Company. Inside, Luthor's henchmen had already taken over the building, and the ray made Truslow's giant steel safe move like jelly. In one second, Luthor's men had opened the safe. In the next seconds, Superman had arrived and quickly apprehended them, leaving them in the sticky pavement that was the city street.

Using his telescopic vision, Superman scanned the sky until he found his old enemy, then leaped skyward to apprehend him but Luthor spotted Superman and laughed. "No doubt he thinks himself safe because his atomic structure is different from that of ordinary people, but I'll turn the power full force and blast him into eternity!" Luthor turned his craft to face Superman and a crackling roar echoed across the sky as the beam hit Superman with all of its force and Superman dropped from the sky like a stone. Luthor is ecstatic. "I've done it. The world is mine for the taking!" he screamed.

Seconds passed as Superman fell to earth, crashing through the power plant roof and landing on the powerful condenser. Millions of volts flashed through every fiber of Superman's body, not hurting him but actually reviving him. Leaping back into the sky, Superman sped off toward Luthor. Seeing Superman in the air again, Luthor realized that, "I've failed! The beam failed me and I can't try it again. My only chance is to outdistance him!" But even the fastest plane from 1946 cannot outdistance Superman. It didn't take long before Superman overtook Luthor, first disabling the craft's steering, then tearing his way into the craft.

Once inside, Superman approached the demonic madman, and in an act of desperation Luthor pulled out a small bomb and hurled it at Superman. "Nothing can survive the blast of this atomic bomb!" yelled Luthor. But catching the bomb, Superman bent over and shielded himself with his cape, absorbing the complete blast. "I, I don't believe it," said Luthor in amazement. "That's the trouble with you," said Superman to Luthor punching him on the chin, "you're skeptical of everything. What you need is time to think things over...Twenty years sounds about right," said Superman who grabbed Luthor by the collar, leaped into the air and flew him to the Metropolis prison.

After the disaster passed, Perry and Lois entered the Planet offices to find the building exactly as it was before. "Superman...that's the only possible explanation," said Lois looking around. Suddenly they notice Kent busy at his desk. Turning toward Perry, Kent handed Perry a new story and said, "A fine pair of newspapermen you are, running out and leaving me to handle a whopping story all alone." Perry became ecstatic as he read. "You'll get a bonus for this, Clark." Turning to Lois, Kent can't resist a little jibe. "Too bad about Lois' little yarn," said Kent. "But maybe there'll be room for it on the back page." Lois could only grumble in disgust.

3Story - 3: This story was originally scheduled to run in Superman #34 (May-June 1945). However, during the heart of World War II, security was high and even stories featured in comic books had to pass through governmental censors. Unbeknownst to the editors of DC, and writer Don Cameron, Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein were among a group of select scientists busily at work beneath the football field at the University of Chicago creating what was to become known as "Fatman" and "Little Boy", the first two atomic weapons. This was one of the United State's greatest secrets, yet Cameron wrote a story in which Lex Luthor, Superman's archenemy produced his own "Atomic Bomb". The US Army didn't want anyone to know that the US was even thinking about such a weapon and, as a result, Army Intelligence demanded that this story be withdrawn from publication to prevent any sensitive information from being leaked to the Japanese. This story was officially labeled "Secret" until after the bombing of Hiroshima on 7 August 1945 and Nagasaki on 9 August 1945 and appeared in print over six months after the bombing. Newsweek told the whole story of this episode in its issue from 20 August 1945. Curiously enough, not only did this story mention an atomic bomb, but it also accurately described the use and effects of microwaves years before they were of practical use.

The story, itself, was typical of the Luthor-Superman battles in the mid-1940's. In each of those stories, the diabolical Luthor invented some amazing ray, bomb or device that he could use to kill Superman and take over the world. Just by a stroke of luck, the writer made this issue's doomsday weapon the real thing... an atomic bomb. However, in this issue, the atomic bomb Luthor uses was thrown like a hand grenade, so it was much smaller than the actual bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. Still, just the use of the name "atomic bomb" was enough to send ripples through wartime military intelligence and make this a historically significant Superman story.

DC comics of the mid-1940's contained 52 pages and routinely carried three 11-13 page stories in each issue. The second story in this issue was "The Bad Old Knights" featuring a Bill Finger story where Superman traveled to Camelot. The final story of the issue was "The Man of Stone" written by Don Cameron introducing two new characters Goon McGloon and the Literary Link.

3Art - 3: The art from this story was penciled by Ed Dobrotka, one of the many artists to work in Joe Shuster's studio in the 1940's. The art for this story, like many of this period, gets the job done. Overall, it is not fancy in fact it is rather crude and simple using many of Shuster's classic elements. However the splash page, showing Superman being struck by the molecular ray, was very dramatic and could well have been the cover to the issue. Ed Dobrotka also contributed the art to "The Bad Old Knights". Several comic art scholars have attributed the art of "The Man of Stone" to Win Mortimer. If this was, indeed, a Mortimer story, this may be one of the earliest jobs by Mortimer in Superman.

4Cover Art - 4: The image used for the cover of Superman #38 had absolutely nothing to do with any of the stories appearing inside. This was not uncommon for comics from the 1940's. Here we see Superman sitting in a barber chair, reading a copy of Batman Comics, while a frustrated barber attempts to give him a hair cut. Obviously, this is not an easy task since the barber is using a pair of hedge clippers, and a pile of broken scissors litters the floor. The cover is drawn in Shuster's "cartoony" style but is a lot of fun, even though it might appear odd to the modern comic reader who expects the cover to at least relate to the interior story.

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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