Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Superman #87

Superman #87

Cover date: February 1954

Writer: ?
Penciller: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino
Cover: Win Mortimer & Stan Kaye

"The Prankster's Greatest Role"

One evening, Clark Kent and Lois Lane were walking down a crowded Metropolis sidewalk when a scream suddenly filled the air, "The Prankster! He's struck again!" Turning to face the commotion Kent looked intently through the crowd and suddenly his shirt flew open exposing the familiar blue and red costume of Superman, "You won't get away with it this time, Prankster!" Kent yelled. Lois Lane looked at Kent in amazement. Why was Kent publicly revealing his identity?

The answer goes back a week earlier, in the Daily Planet offices. Lois had just received a telephone call from Jim Wright telling her that he could not play the lead role in the News Association's annual play. Getting up from her desk, Lois sauntered over to Kent's desk and coyly asked, "Clark, There's no time for a substitute. You want to play Superman?" Kent was a bit stunned but reluctantly agreed after Lois badgered him for a while.

Later that day, Kent arrived for his first rehearsal and costume fitting at the Rox Theater. Emerging from the dressing room, he stood awkwardly in a costume that hung loosely from his shoulders. "We picked Jim Wright because he was big and husky but we'll have to cut the costume down for you," laughed Lois. One of the other reporters came up and stared at Kent. "At least your face is somewhat like Superman," he said. Kent thought he was fortunate to have used some make-up in the dressing room to make sure that he didn't look too much like Superman.

The News Association play was based on an adventure Superman had with the Prankster, and suddenly a short man dressed to look like the Prankster popped around the corner. Seeing Kent being hoisted up on a wire guide to practicing his "flying" the small, round actor chuckled, "It won't be hard to keep laughing like the real Prankster when Kent flies down a wire in that suit."

As rehearsal progressed, Kent practiced his flying and capturing the Prankster. Then, on another set, Kent almost made a horrible mistake lifting a real piano rather than the paper mache prop. Once the rehearsal was complete the director pulled Kent aside. "Well Kent, you weren't too bad. The part's yours... permanently."

Outside the theater, the real Prankster read the advertisements on the marquee. "I ought to sue for libel," he grumbled out loud. Then he noticed that Clark Kent was playing the title role. "He'll find it a troublesome role. Yes indeed--- I'll see to that!" promised the Prankster, and that was proven at the next rehearsal. Kent was in costume ready to go through a scene when he noticed that the theatre was filled with "hard-looking characters" sitting in the audience. Lois tried to calm him down by telling him that they were probably just people who wandered in off the street to watch, but using his x-ray vision he saw that these "patrons" have tomatoes and rocks in their pockets.

As soon as Kent appeared as Superman on stage, the thugs began throwing the objects at him. Quickly speeding off the stage, Superman remembered that this theatre had a large revolving stage and he spun the sets so quickly that it actually blew the rocks and vegetables right back in the thugs' faces. Hearing a commotion, Lois came running out. "Those hoodlums are running! And only the real Superman could've spun the stage so fast," she thought. But moments later, they heard a moan and found Clark wrapped in the gears and belts of the mechanism that spins the stage. "It's a miracle you weren't hurt," said one of the stagehands, dusting Kent off. Still, thought Lois, it was funny that Kent tripped into the mechanism and got it working.

At the Prankster's hideout, the mood is anything but jolly. "Get out you malodorous idiots-boobs-nitwits! Stopped by a near-sighted, fifth rate imitation of Superman. I'll handle this personally at the first opportunity." Picking up a copy of the Daily Planet, he read the front-page headline that announced that the play would begin a tryout in Tullville tomorrow. "I know Tullville," chuckled the Prankster, quickly planning his next catastrophe. "A little wooden bridge leads into that swampy town. Very swampy indeed. Enough to swamp the whole cast."

The next day, the Prankster waited beneath the bridge leading to Tullville to witness his handiwork. He has cut out part of the supports of the wooden bridge and when the bus carrying the troupe passed that section of planking it gave way and fell, to the gleeful laughter of the Prankster. In an effort to save the troupe, Kent, who was in costume, leaped from the window of the bus carrying Lois Lane with him. On his way past, he grabbed a rope that had been sitting on the top of the bus, then fell over one of the bridge's support beams carrying Lois with him. Their momentum appeared to take them beneath the bus then back up again forming a loop around the bus. Hanging from the beam, Lois and Clark appeared saved by a tangle of rope.

Once the bus was safely supported beneath the bridge, Superman watched the Prankster creep along the edge of the bridge to view the aftermath. Superman used his heat vision to burn away a support beam, sending the Prankster headfirst into the swamp. Back at his hideout, the Prankster was furious because he had become a laughing stock to his men. "So, my name's mud, eh?" He grumbled. "I'll stand Metropolis on its ear."

The next evening was the gala Metropolis premier of the play, attracting a throng of first-nighters. Backstage, Lois told Clark not to worry since she doubted that the Prankster will try anything this night. "There's a special police detail outside all the entrances."

Suddenly the actor who plays the Prankster popped his head into the dressing room. "There's your cue, Kent. Off with the glasses and lets get going." The next minute Kent was hoisted up to his place on a thin wire, but when the Prankster reappeared, Lois realized that he was holding a real tommygun. "Of course, Nothing like realism to liven up a role," laughed the Prankster who put his finger on the trigger and began shooting. Hanging by a wire, Kent realized that was the real Prankster and he was firing real bullets. Taking careful aim, the Prankster shot at a specific rope causing a new set to fall to the stage, telling the audience that this was a stick up and they should to remain in their seats. From behind the screen, the Prankster's henchmen arrive with their, guns drawn.

Realizing he needed to act quickly, but not wanting to give away his secret identity, Superman twisted, breaking the support wire. He fell to the stage hitting a loose board so powerfully that it catapulted a prop barrel up and over the Prankster's head. Seeing this, his thugs moved toward Superman who leaped through a set head first, simultaneously flipping a bullet casing into the fuse box, shorting out the current and shutting off the house lights. Moving quickly, Superman painted a giant image of himself, then used an iron clothes rack to fashion a prison cell. When the lights came up, a new set appeared on stage, one with the painted image of Superman flying the Prankster away. The Prankster and his thugs stared at the set. "What's that?" yelled the Prankster. "It's not in the script!" With the crooks distracted, Superman dropped the cell on them. "A good actor can always ad-lib in an emergency," laughed Superman.

As the dust settled, Lois came running in. "This time you can't get out of it, Superman. All those accidents fooled me before. But now I know Clark is the real Superman. Because if you're not Clark, where is he?" On cue, a voice from the rafters pleaded, "Help! Get me down." There stuck in the rafters was... Clark Kent. "Guess he got caught on one of these rope pulleys when the last drops were raised," said Superman who flew up to retrieve him. Kent then asked Superman to carry him out to the alley so he can change his ripped suit trousers. Lois just shook her head. "Oh dear. I was wrong about Clark again." But, unknown to Lois, she wasn't wrong. Superman had used the cardboard cutout of Kent from the front of the theater to make her think Clark was stuck in the rafters, and his ventriloquism to cry for help to deceive Lois.

The next day, the Planet told a very different story as the headline read, "Audience cheers new ending of News Association play." "Some people think it was all part of the act," laughed Lois. "Well," said Kent, "The Prankster's act was so good he's certain to have a long run at the state prison."

2Story - 2: Both Batman and Superman had serious foes that were somewhat similar. Batman fought the Joker and Superman Lex Luthor on a regular basis. Both were psychotic madmen who gave each hero a run for their money. However, they couldn't fight these villains every issue, as much as editors might have liked it. So, each hero had other villains. Batman had Two-Face, The Penguin and the Riddler. Superman's regular villains were Mr. Mxyztplk, the Toyman and the Prankster. The Prankster was one of Superman's most frequent foes, first appearing in Action Comics #51 (August 1942) in a story called "The Case of the Crimeless Crimes". He was described in Superman #41 as being in his mid-thirties, approximately five feet tall, weighing 125 pounds, with slicked-down red hair, a narrow moustache, a pointy nose, large cupped ears and a wide gap between his upper front teeth that made him look like a Halloween jack-o-lantern. The Prankster loved to pull a caper that would incorporate a series of pranks all designed to make authorities, and Superman in particular, look like a fool. Yet often, he was the one made to look like a fool by Superman.

In this story, the Prankster appears more a bumbling clown than a criminal genius. None of his plans are very well thought out and none were successful. Furthermore, the whole pretense that he would be upset about a play, to the point of killing the actors, seems a bit far-fetched. You'd think that someone with an ego like The Prankster's would be proud to be immortalized on-stage.
While the story is a typical "fun" adventure of Superman, there were a lot of plot holes which weakened it. For example, the writer never bothers to explain the first sequence where Kent opens his shirt revealing himself as Superman. You assume, after reading the story, that happened as a publicity stunt for the play, but it is never referred to again. Also, it was odd that Lois thought Superman was so much larger than Kent, even after having stood next to him and flown with him as often as she had. Instead, she helped cast a man obviously much larger than Kent, or Superman, to play the role. Finally, Kent was hoisted up into the rafters in the final scene wearing his Superman costume, but is wearing his Clark Kent apparel when Superman flies up to save him at the end of the story, yet Lois didn't even notice. For the crafty reporter she is, she misses a lot of details.
Comics of the mid-1950's were 32 pages and routinely contained two-three complete stories in each issue. Also appearing in Superman #87 was the classic story, "The Thing from 40,000 AD" and "Superman's Super-Boners."

2Art - 2: This story was drawn by Al Plastino, who also drew the second story in the issue, "Superman's Super-Boners". Wayne Boring drew the lead story, "The Thing from 40.000 A.D." When I think of many Superman villains, I imagine Wayne Boring and Curt Swan 's versions. That is especially true of Luthor and the Prankster. At first glance, it was tough to believe Plastino's version, even though he had drawn the character many times before, because he looked more silly than menacing. To me, Plastino's interpretation of the Prankster actually makes this story more difficult to buy into and less effective.

5Cover Art - 5: The cover to Superman #87 was drawn by Win Mortimer and inked by Stan Kaye, illustrating the story "The Thing from 40.000 A.D." Over the years, this cover has become a classic. The Thing could change its shape from a rock to a tree to a human. Finally, it took on the appearance of Superman and the two battled in the sky above Metropolis using railroad ties and sledge hammers as weapons. In May 1967, this story was reprinted in Superman #196, and was the subject of another powerful cover by Curt Swan and George Klein.

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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