Superman Comic Books
Superman: Special Reports
Favorite Silver Age Stories - Part 2 (of 2)Author: Sean Hogan (email@example.com)
Last updated: September 27, 2004
Significant Silver Age Stories
The closing days of the pre-Crisis universe led to a number of great stories. Probably the best known story of that period is "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow" by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, George Perez, and Kurt Schaffenberger (Superman #423 and Action Comics #583; also available in collected form).
A good bookend to that farewell is the life story of the Golden Age Superman in Secret Origins #1. Roy Thomas' tale is based on the Siegel and Shuster stories, with a timeline from the destruction of Krypton to the events in Action Comics #1. The treat is the art by classic Superman artist Wayne Boring and another classic Superman artist, Jerry Ordway.
The story ends with a picture of Superman's wedding to Lois Lane, which took place in the 1978 issue of Action Comics #484 in "Superman Takes A Wife". This Cary Bates story (illustrated by Curt Swan and Joe Giella) takes place on Earth-2. The villainous Wizard casts a spell to make Superman disappear. Clark Kent, having no memory of his life as Superman, romances and weds Lois. One year later, Lois learns that she is married to an amnesiac Superman and convinces the Wizard to restore Superman, even though she realizes it may mean the end of her marriage. The revived hero renews his vows with Lois, this time in a Kryptonian ceremony.
1978, being a 40th Anniversary year, was a significant time for Superman. In Superman #338 (by Len Wein with Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte), he finally figures out how to enlarge the bottled city of Kandor. The issue has Superman and Supergirl battling wits with Brainiac and Superman risking his own life to test the enlarging ray. The story combines triumphs and heartaches with a brilliant two page spread of Kandor arising as well as the teary farewell between Supergirl and her parents -- separated yet again.
The following year celebrated Action Comics' 500th issue with a special 64-page-edition story by fan-turned-pro Marty Pasko (with Swan/Chiaramonte art) called "The Life Story Of Superman". Using the opening of a Superman Pavilion as a backdrop, Superman recalls his life as he wanders through the various exhibits. Since you can't have a nostalgic story without a villain, Luthor kindly shows up with another diabolical trap.
Although Luthor is featured in that special, he had an issue focussing on his origin in 1975's Superman #292. The story is the traditional classic that has Superboy accidentally causing a follicle fallout in young Lex -- leading to a lifelong vendetta. The mid-70s, with Curt Swan drawing for writers Elliot S! Maggin and Cary Bates, signified a remarkable time for the adventures of the Man of Steel.
Maggin wrote both the Luthor story and issue #293's "The Miracle of Thirsty Thursday", which has time travellers returning to a celebrated day in history to discover why the citizens of Metropolis slept for an entire day and awoke parched (Maggin later used this story as the inspiration for his novel, Superman: Miracle Monday).
A Special Four Part Adventure Plus One
Starting with Superman #296, Maggin and Bates co-wrote an epic 4-part adventure that examined the roles of both Clark Kent and Superman. An alien scout arrives on Earth about the same time as baby Kal-El. Using the name Mr. Xavier, the alien monitors Earth and its hero, receiving orders to destroy Earth by using Superman as the weapon of its destruction.
From his apartment next to Clark Kent's, Xavier breaks into Clark's room and treats all of his clothes with red sun radiation. Clark learns that he has his powers when dressed as Superman, but not when wearing any article of Clark's clothes. Added to the mix, Inter-Gang has a contract to kill Clark and prevent him from testifying against them. The set-up issue has Clark wondering whether his body is trying to tell him that he will have to make a choice between his identities.
In Superman #297, he resolves to be only Clark for the next seven days. With the freedom to act as he wishes, Clark literally turns the table on Steve Lombard, tells off boss Morgan Edge and starts actively romancing Lois. This issue is infamous among fans for raising speculation as to whether the two consummate a relationship that night, as the next morning sees Lois singing merrily and blissfully as she puts a flower on Clark's desk. The beef bourguignon dinner they shared has become a symbol of this suspected union.
The comic itself gives no indication of anything but sexy, late night smooching. Apparently there were a lot of us hormone filled, imaginative teens in the mid-70s.
In issue #298, guilt finally drives him to abandon his Clark Kent persona to be Superman 24/7 (oops, wrong reference). Superman defeats a wacky villain but realizes that Clark is also important -- both for the Inter-Gang trial, for Lois, and, more importantly, for himself. In one scene, his pal Jimmy actually berates Superman for taking time off when there are villains menacing the city.
Superman heads off to get the bad guy with a tear in his eye (not as silly as it sounds when Curt Swan draws), reflecting, "People expect so much... of a Superman!", although he realizes that "the world will always need a Superman!" The issue ends with Superman proclaiming, "and now I have concluded whose life is more important to me... that of Superman or Clark Kent! I'll do what I... must!"
Meanwhile, our antagonistic alien, Mr. Xavier, has stolen some space-jewels from Clark's apartment. He alters them so that they will collect energy whenever Superman uses his super-powers, until they gather enough to cause a massive explosion and destroy the planet.
In the final issue (#299), Xavier assembles nine of Superman's rogues gallery to force Superman to use his super-powers. Superman captures all of the villains, including Xavier, using his wits as much as his super-powers (I won't spoil how -- it's a well-written ending). As required by stories of the time, everything returns to normal with Superman saving the world and Clark again becoming mild-mannered.
What about Superman's decision as to which identity was more important to him? As the issue ends, Superman says he, "realized that to do away with one would be to kill half of myself -- whoever I really am! So even before I got rid of my power problem, I'd decided... meek, mild-mannered Clark Kent will still walk the streets of the city -- while up in the sky the world will still watch and thrill to the sight of -- a job for Superman!"
The following issue, Superman #300, was another fun story celebrating the comic's tricentennial issue in a story called "Superman 2001". This imaginary story has baby Kal-El's rocket landing in 1976 and being captured by the US military (barely beating the Russians). Interestingly, although many of the traditional Superman elements are worked into the story (he adopts a secret identity by combining the names of the man who first reached his ship, Thomas Clark, as well as the man he considers a father, Kent Garrett -- and no, it's not Thomas Garrett, wise guy), there is no reference whatsoever to any of the regular Superman supporting cast.
This story was the inspiration for Mark Millar's wonderful Elseworld's novel, Superman: Red Son, which has the rocket land in Russia, with Superman raised by Stalin. The individual issues are hard to find, but the trade paperback is highly recommended.
Silver Age Inspirations
Another anniversary issue is Action Comics #544, which celebrates Superman's 45th year in 1983 by upgrading Lex Luthor and Brainiac in separate stories. Although both stories are great, the special treat is a three page text piece by Jerry Siegel recalling the early years in the creation of Superman, as well as a short note and original drawing from Joe Shuster.
In the Luthor story (written by Cary Bates with art by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson), Luthor flees to the planet Lexor -- the planet which worships him as a hero. Luthor discovers that his wife, Ardora, has borne him a son, also named Lex.
The story shows Lex in a new light as loving and beloved father, husband and hero, but as ever, his obsession with Superman grows. A mysterious armoured villain begins creating mayhem on Lexor, but Lex assures his wife, "I swear the marauder is as much a mystery to me as every other Lexorian!".
Ultimately, Superman arrives to collect Luthor, who reveals that he is in fact the mysterious marauder. Using advanced weapons which he had discovered and incorporated into an armoured suit, Luthor's attacks bounce off Superman, triggering an explosion that destroys Lexor -- killing everyone, including Ardora and Lex Jr.
The tale ends with a maddened and tear-filled Luthor vowing, "You've taken my family from me... You've taken my world from me... Until now, I always thought I hated you as much as any one being could hate another! But I was wrong... until today, I didn't even know the meaning of the word! I'M COMING FOR YOU SUPERMAN... AND I HAVE ONLY JUST BEGUN TO HATE!"
The Brainiac story is written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gil Kane. The humanoid robot, Brainiac, entombed in a computerized planet, is converted into a molecular form by a nearby super-nova. Eventually he reincorporates himself into a deadly new life form combining computer, organic and more. In his skull-shaped ship (which is part of him), he attacks an innocent planet to lure Superman to him.
The Brainiac tale continues in Action Comics #545 and 546, as Brainiac sends advance hordes of aliens to attack Earth. Superman assembles the JLA and Teen Titans to battle the aliens while he goes after Brainiac in space.
In case this story sounds slightly familiar, it should be -- it's the basis of the "Panic in the Sky" story from the 1992 Superman titles (also available in trade paperback). The earlier story is just as gripping as the later one and I'd encourage you to read both.
The other element from "Panic in the Sky" -- namely Warworld and its previous master, Mongul -- first appeared in 1980 in a storyline from DC Comics Presents #27-29. Len Wein's story (art by Jim Starlin and Romeo Tanghal) has Superman acting arrogantly out of character. Superman seriously screws up as he confronts and battles J'onn J'onzz, allowing Mongul to obtain the key which controls Warworld.
In the following issue, Superman recruits his cousin, Supergirl to defeat Mongul and Warworld, but victory comes at the ultimate cost for Supergirl. The concluding issue has the Spectre preventing Superman from following his cousin in his attempt to save her life and soul. The Spectre forces Superman to confront his arrogance and hubris, before reuniting him with Supergirl.
There's lots of other good Silver Age stories waiting to be rediscovered in the comic bins. Visit your local comic shop and start browsing.