Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Action Comics #242

Action Comics #242

Cover date: July 1958

Writer: ?
Penciller: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino
Cover: Curt Swan and Stan Kaye

"The Super-Duel in Space"

Scientists watch anxiously as the Army launches the experimental spaceship Columbus for its inaugural trip into space. Among the crew are Clark Kent and Lois Lane, recording the launch for history and for the Daily Planet. Speeding into space, the rocket breaks every established distance record and continues on its mission until, ten thousand miles from earth, an amazing flying saucer intercepts them. Fear runs rampant through the ship when the saucer fires a powerful ray at the rocket shaking it to its core. Using his x-ray vision, Clark Kent scans the ship and detects a mysterious alien. Aboard the saucer, Brainiac, and his pet Koko, prepare for the fatal shot at the spaceship. "If only Superman were here," wishes Lois.

Searching for a means to get out of the ship and rescue the rocket, Clark Kent dons an emergency escape suit and leaves the ship through an escape hatch. Lois thinks that Clark is so afraid that he is trying to "jump back to earth", but once out of the ship Clark maneuvers behind an asteroid, strips off the suit to reveal himself as Superman, and streaks off. Smashing into the saucer, Superman is incredibly repelled by an impenetrable force field. Realizing that he must save his ship, Superman turns back, grabbing the tail section and guiding the rocket toward earth. With skill, Superman dodges Brainiac's rays and keeps the rocket out of range. Curiously, Brainiac does not pursue Superman. Instead, he has other plans for earth.

Hovering over the planet, Brainiac uses his hyper-bombsight to place the cross hairs on Paris, his first earth target. Pushing the button on his hand-held trigger, a ray makes Paris disappear. "See Koko?" says Brainiac pointing to a large glass bottle. "The hyper forces I released reduced the entire city to miniature size and transported it inside this bottle!"

To avoid injuring the crew, Superman guides the rocketship slowly back to earth, and can only watch in amazement as Brainiac repeatedly fires his ray stealing one major city of earth after another. Rome, then New York City joins Paris as bottled trophies, kept alive by an oxygen supply. Frustrated, Superman uses his telescopic vision to watch Brainiac remove the George Washington Bridge from the New York bottle with a pair of tongs, almost playing with it.

Following the huge expenditure of energy, Brainiac guides his saucer back into space to recharge his hyper-batteries and lands on a small planetoid to rest. Seizing the opportunity, Superman leaves the rocket to again attack Brainiac, this time using his heat vision. Astoundingly, Brainiac's power belt repels the rays back at Superman. Desperately, Superman grabs everything in sight, actually tearing the planetoid to pieces, hurling debris at the mysterious alien without any effect on Brainiac. Thoroughly defeated, Superman flees into outer space.

Later, the Columbus reaches earth under its own power and once landed, Clark Kent greets Lois Lane at the gate. She, of course, is disgusted at both Clark and Superman for having run away in the middle of a fight. But as she vents her spleen, Brainiac's ray strikes Metropolis and in the wink of an eye joins the fate of the other cities.

Clark quickly changes to Superman and flies toward the opening of the bottle, but Brainiac places a super-hard metal stopper to seal up Metropolis impeding Superman's escape. As tiny as Superman is, he is still strong enough to push the cork out of the bottle, then replace it before Brainiac can suspect that anyone could have escaped. Landing beside the hyper-force machine, Superman tries to determine how to reverse the effects, but Brainiac becomes aware of the flying miniature man. Thinking it a fly, Koko swats Superman, who quickly moves to hide in the city Brainiac has just uncorked.

As Superman descends into the bottle, the architecture of the city seems familiar to him and he realizes that the city appears Kryptonian. Suddenly, he loses his powers and comes crashing down, rather hard, onto the street. He does not know exactly where he is, but he does know that here he has no powers.

Seeking out a scientist in the city, Superman locates Professor Kimda. When he explains to the old man that he is Jor-El's son, Kimda is excited. "Jor-El? Why, he was my roommate in college!" Superman quickly explains how he came to be sent to earth, and in kind, Kimda explains that they are standing in Kandor, Krypton's capital city. Amazed, Superman looks at Kimda. "You've spent half a lifetime in a bottle!" "But not wasted years," explains Kimda. During that time he has watched Brainiac, and has generated a chart correlating the appropriate button to the city it can restore. "But, I... I can't use it," says Superman desperately. "I... I'm trapped here with you."

With time on their hands, Kimda shows Superman around Kandor, and by doing so Superman experiences the wonders of Kryptonian culture before the planet exploded. At the zoo, they see a metal-eating mole that must be housed in a glass cage. Kimda then explains how Kandorians have developed robots to perform menial tasks and to grow food for them, and have created their own artificial sun to cross over the city at regular intervals to bring warmth and light to the otherwise dark, cold bottle.

Returning to Kimda's laboratory, the scientist peers through the telescope he has been using to monitor Brainiac. Through the powerful lens, Kimda watches Brainiac and Koko turn their ship towards deep space, then enter a suspended animation chamber. Shocked, Kimda translates for Superman, telling him that the controls are set to revive Brainiac in a century. Realizing that all of the people trapped in these bottles will die during the 100-year trip, and only their descendents will arrive on Brainiac's world, Superman decides that he has to act immediately.

Hurriedly, Kimda and Superman produce a strategy. Since Superman has lost his powers, he must use a powerful rocket to get to the bottle opening. Reaching his target, Superman purposely crashes the rocket into the stopper, then releases the metal-eating mole which bores it's way through the stopper, allowing Superman to escape. Free of Kandor's environment, his powers return. One-by-one, the tiny Superman uses Kimda's chart to strike the appropriate buttons enlarging the earth cities to their former size and location.

Transmitting the earth cities back to their normal size drains the batteries of Brainiac's ship, and Superman realizes that there is only enough power to enlarge one more object... he can enlarge either himself or Kandor. Deciding that it is more important to enlarge Kandor, Superman reaches for the final button. But, before he can touch the console, a tiny rocket strikes a different button enlarging Superman. Picking up the rocket, Superman sees his friend, Kimda. "We could not let earth be deprived of its greatest Super-hero," he cries. Superman is grateful, but is saddened by the magnitude of Kimda's sacrifice.

In the darkness of space, Brainiac's ship continues its way home. "Let Brainiac's ship fly on. When he awakens, he will have no stolen cities." Sadly, Superman lifts the bottle-city of Kandor and returns to earth. Landing at his Arctic Fortress of Solitude, Superman creates a special place, a shrine, for the tiny city of Kandor. Placing the bottle down he steps back, looking longingly at the last remnant of his home planet, and swears to find a way, someday, to return the Kryptonians to normal size.

5Story - 5: Where many of DC's origin stories of the 1950's often had no real plot other than to introduce the character, this was a very well-crafted story. Not only did this story introduce Brainiac, the evil-mastermind who would return from time to time to become one of Superman's great foes, but it also introduced Kandor. At the time, this was the lone remnant of Krypton. (About a year later, readers would learn of Argo City's survival, as well, and the existence of Supergirl.) The existence of Kandor would give rise to many future story lines including the Superman Emergency Squad (a group of elite Kandorians who assist Superman), and the tales of Nightwing and Flamebird which occurred when Superman and Jimmy Olson visited the city. All-in-all, this is a good read, a fun story, and is full of important events, which will impact Superman until the Crisis.

4Art - 4: This story was rather masterfully drawn by Al Plastino and is an excellent example of his best work from the 1950's. The pacing of the story was well executed, and the frustration and despair of Superman's battles were well illustrated.

4Cover Art - 4: The cover to Action Comics #242 is another wonderful cover drawn by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye. The image features a defiant Brainiac, standing on a piece of a destroyed planetoid, hands on hips, laughing at Superman's futile attempts of smashing through his impenetrable force field. This is an excellent prelude to the lead 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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