Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Superboy #85

Superboy #85

Cover date: December 1960

Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: George Papp
Cover: Curt Swan & Stan Kaye

"The Impossible Mission"

Years ago, when Superman was a boy, the people of Smallville gathered in Lincoln Park on a bright, sunny February 14th. The purpose was to celebrate Abraham Lincoln Day and remember the sixteenth President of the United States. The mayor of Smallville climbed to the podium of a stand built in the center of the square and presented a moving speech celebrating Lincoln's contribution to America and lamenting his untimely death. In the crowd Clark Kent and his parents listened intently, and Pa Kent thought out loud, "What a pity such a great American was murdered."

Like most citizens, once the celebration was done, the Kents returned home to their lives and little changed. But young Clark Kent decided that he was going to undertake a fantastic mission. "If I succeed... and I hope I can... it may change the course of history, for the better!" Slipping out of bed, young Clark changed to Superboy and left using the secret tunnel in the Kent's basement which lead to the forest far from the house. Speeding into the sky, Superboy attained tremendous speeds, and was able to break the time barrier emerging in Washington DC on Good Friday, April 14, 1964, the day that Lincoln was assassinated. "I must locate him and warn him of the killer's plan!" thought Superboy.

First, Superboy flew over the White House, and used his super-vision and hearing to learn that Lincoln had taken a room in the Petersen House to ponder certain matters before going to the play at Ford's Theatre. It seemed a simple matter to fly to the hotel and locate the President and arriving in a back alley Superboy quickly searched for hints of Lincoln's room. On a clerk's desk he saw a note which read, "Important! No one must disturb Mr. L., in room 309." Thinking Mr. L. must mean Mr. Lincoln, Superboy flew through the window of room 309 to warn the President only to find that "Mr. L" was an adult Lex Luthor.

Luthor was as startled as Superboy is, and quickly grabbed a piece of Red Kryptonite from a lead box exposing Superboy. Red Kryptonite always has unusual and unpredictable effects on Superman, and this piece paralyzes Superboy as immobile as a statue.

With Superboy immobilized, Luthor can't help but gloat. He explained that in order to escape from Superman in 1960, he had invented a time machine. "What puzzles me," sneered Luthor, "is why you, Superman as a youth, pursued me instead of the adult Superman doing the chasing?!" Superboy, however, cannot answer. He can think but is incapable of moving a muscle.

Luthor passed the time bouncing paper wads off the super-youth's forehead with a rubber band, and using his nose to strike a match to light his cigar. The hours flew by, and across the street President Lincoln entered his box at Ford Theater to watch the new comedy, "Our American Cousin."

At that very moment, Superboy looked at the clock in Luthor's room and realized that it was almost time for the assassination. But, Luthor, thinking solely of himself, was unaware of the day or time. Instead, he erupted into a rage. "You aroused my wrath as a youth by thwarting my greatness as a scientist. And so I turned to crime! I grew up to become your greatest foe. Despite all of Superman's super-powers my super-science has become his greatest threat. Someday, I'll destroy him. Think that over, you stupid, helpless statue!"

As Luthor ranted, another evil presented itself. John Wilkes Booth, an unemployed actor, made his way to the Presidential booth. Screaming, "Sic temper tyranis" (Death to all tyrants), Booth fatally shot Lincoln in the head from behind. To escape, Booth leapt from the presidential box to the stage. He was later captured in a barn outside of the capital city.

Luthor was still screaming at Superboy when he became aware of the commotion out in the street. Looking out the window, he saw a number of soldiers carrying a wounded man toward the hotel. "Oh no! It's... It's Abraham Lincoln!" yelled Luthor. Stunned, Luthor turned back from the window. All of the malice was temporarily gone from Luthor's face as he realized what had just happened. He turned to Superboy, and saw a lone tear drop streaming down his cheek. "So that's it! You came to the past not to capture me... but to save the life of Lincoln from an assassin's bullet."

Hurt, startled and embarrassed, Luthor scooped up the Kryptonite and opened the door to his room to leave. Looking back, the immobile Superboy could still only stare. Luthor screamed, "Blast you! Don't stare at me like that. I had nothing against Lincoln. I may be evil, but I had no hate for him!" Luthor ran from the room and made his way back to the time machine. After setting the controls to return to 1960, Luthor slumped over the console. "Why did fate choose me to prevent Superboy from saving the life of Lincoln, a great man? I'm responsible for many crimes, but this is the worst of all! Lincoln's blood is on my hands. I'm sorry... sorry... sorry..."

In time, the effects of the Red Kryptonite wore off of Superboy, and he, too, returned through the time barrier. Superboy told his parents of his failed mission, and not long afterward, the Kents visited Washington DC. Standing before the Lincoln Memorial, young Clark could barely hold back his emotions. "I tried, Mr. Lincoln. I tried awfully hard," thought Clark. " But I learned no mere mortal, not even a Superboy, can change fate, and there's no use in going back in time again to do so."

5Story - 5: Superboy #85 had a cover date of December 1960, and was part of an important period in Superboy's, and thus Superman's evolution. During 1960 and 1961, Superboy introduced the Kryptonite Kid and Pete Ross, had an appearance with Supergirl, and began what was to become a recurring place for appearances by the Legion of Superheroes.

In recent years, comic stories tend to be book-length sagas that may even extend to 3-5 issue story arcs or miniseries. In 1960, the norm for a 32-page DC comic was 2-3 stories per issue, usually 7-8 pages in length. It was a special story that had two chapters.

The lead story of this issue was a two-chapter story that featured Mighty Boy, who was basically Superboy's counterpart from the planet Zumoor. They were similar to the point of having a secret identity and even a super-dog. Meeting super-powered teenagers also became a reoccurring, experimental theme in these issues of Superboy, much the same way Supergirl was an experimental theme in Superman comics. This story ultimately lead to Superboy's meeting Mon-El in Superboy #89. Mon-El became a fixture at DC later joining the Legion and then becoming Valor.

However, it was this shorter 7-page story, which was the back-up, that became the more relevant, and best remembered, part of this issue. Jerry Siegel wrote this tale when he returned to DC after being fired and banished for nearly 11 years. When he returned to DC, he received no credit for the stories he wrote, but his impact was definitely felt because he took the characters in some interesting directions. For example, Siegel wrote the infamous Return to Krypton story in Superman #141 in which Superman was able to return to his home planet before it exploded, meet his parents, and fall in love with Lyla Lerrol.

Here, Siegel dealt with several issues. The first was time travel, a popular theme of 1960's science fiction. Intrinsically, it seemed pretty easy for Superboy (or Superman) to be able to go back in time and correct some "atrocity" of history. And, I am sure that every fan that read a comic during that time period asked why Superman didn't do just that. Here Superboy travels to 1864 to stop Lincoln's assassination an event that would change over 100 years of history. However, by a turn of fate, Luthor is also there and inadvertently prevents him from stopping the murder. This story set a tone for DC comics, by explaining that not even a super-being such as Superman can change fate. As such, when Superman\boy did return to the past, they became observers, not active participants in the past. Without this, DC writers would have had to explain all of the ramifications of the events Superman\boy changed in the past. However, there were definitely examples of events in the past that Superman, Superboy, Supergirl and other members of the Superman family were involved with.

This story also portrayed Luthor in a very different light. Prior to this, he was shown almost exclusively as a diabolical sociopath, who had no regard for anyone or thing save the destruction of his mortal enemy, Superman. The emotion of this story really peaked at the end when Luthor realized the possible good that he had undone, and displayed true remorse giving a new view of the evil genius.

4Art - 4: George Papp was one of the work-horse artists on the DC staff that routinely put out quality work. Papp was probably best known for his 17 years of work on Green Arrow (a character he helped create in 1941, first appearing in More Fun Comics #73), but he also spent ten years (1958-1968) drawing Superboy (in Superboy and Adventure Comics). In fact, it was Papp that drew the introductory stories to many of the more famous Superboy characters. In this particular issue, Papp drew both stories. However, it is the emotion that he captures, first of Superboy's youthful optimism, then Luthor's gloating, and then their paired remorse when Lincoln is assassinated, that helps make this story a real classic. The two panels on the last page, one with a single tear streaming down the Superboy's paralyzed face, and the other with a despondent Luthor collapsed over his time-machine controls, were excellent choices completely capturing the sorrow the two very different characters felt. It makes us realize that good comic stories do not have to be 4 issues long.

4Cover Art - 4: Typical of the early-mid 1960's, this cover was drawn by Curt Swan (and here inked by Stan Kaye), and is a solid example of his work. Obviously, the cover image features what the editors felt would be the primary part of this book, The Secret of Mighty Boy, and shows a dramatic shot of Mighty Boy saving an aero-train from certain disaster and Superboy looking on in amazement.

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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