Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Action Comics #252

Action Comics #252

Cover date: May 1959

1. "The Menace of Metallo"
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciller: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino

2. "The Supergirl From Krypton"
Writer: Otto Binder
Penciller: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino

Cover: Curt Swan-Stan Kaye

1. The Menace of Metallo (Story 1, page 1-13)

On a quiet summer evening outside of Metropolis, reporter John Corben drives through the night, gleefully listening to his favorite radio show, Crime Files. "There is no perfect crime," announces the radio actor. "Bunk!" says Corben laughing. "I just did it!" Looking out into the darkness, Corben relives killing the man who had discovered he had embezzled from his company. By wiping the gun clean of his fingerprints, and placing the gun in the victim's hand Corben made the death appear like suicide. "That's what I call the perfect crime," laughs Corben. His laughter is suddenly shattered by the squeal of brakes when Corben loses control of the car and skids off of the curvy road.

Severely injured, Corben lies next to the wreck until an old car slowly passes by and an aging professor and his housekeeper discovers him. Determining that his injuries are beyond the scope of normal surgery, the Professor takes Corben to his own laboratory. "Hmm... His heart has a fatal wound. I'll begin by giving him a mechanical heart," ponders the old man.

Days pass before Corben miraculously awakens. He remembers the accident, the pain, but now feels great and thanks the Professor. "Don't thank me until you've seen what I've done", says the professor pulling back the blankets. In amazement, Corben sees that the professor has replaced his battered body with one of metal covered by flesh-like rubber, making him a "human" robot... all that is left of the original Corben is his brain. Opening his chest, the Professor demonstrates the mechanical heart. "One of two elements can energize your synthetic heart and keep you alive," lectures the Professor holding a capsule of uranium. Removing the capsule, Corben slumps over, weakened. The professor warns Corben that each uranium capsule lasts only one day, and then must be replaced.

Suddenly, a storm breaks outside and a lightning strike causes a rockslide that smashes into the house. Overwhelmed by the stress, the Professor collapses of an apparent stroke. As Corben tries to free himself from the rockslide, he finds that he has amazing strength. Leaving the Professor for dead, Corben emerges into the night, and makes his way to Metropolis where he applies for a job on the Daily Planet. After checking his references, Perry White quickly hires Corben and takes him into the newsroom to introduce Corben to the other reporters. Perry assigns Corben to handle all the tough assignments that Clark is too timid to take on. Later, Corben scares Lois when he grabs her with his "iron grip after she refuses to have lunch with him.

That afternoon, Corben feels weak and realizes that his energy has waned, and needs a source for more uranium. At the same time, news comes across the radio that the nuclear submarine Neptune, which has been trying to set a record for time submerged, has developed problems with its "air scrubber". Flying to the Arctic Sea, Superman locates the submarine, fills his lungs to capacity with air and dives to the submarine's side. Exhaling gently, he fills the sub with enough air to allow 100 men breathable air for 6 days... time enough to break the record. However, while Superman is saving the submarine, Corben is back in Metropolis breaking into secret laboratories, stealing all of the uranium he can lay his hands on. The following day, television announcers christen the metal-man "Metallo", and proclaim him Public Enemy Number One!

Proving that the Planet uses a radio for many of their leads, Kent overhears a report that movie star Sherry Blair is planning to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel as a publicity stunt, and is hoping that Superman will prevent her being injured. Feigning a sore stomach, Kent leaves the office, flies to Niagara, and grabs Blair's barrel softly depositing it on the shore, ruining her stunt but preventing her from being injured.

At that same moment, Corben intercepts Lois Lane outside of the Planet as she leaves for lunch. Gunfire erupts from a passing car carrying members of a gang hoping to teach the troublesome reporter a lesson, however, the bullets strike Corben instead and when Lois sees the bullets bounce off of his metal "skin", she rushed to his side. "Don't bother to cover up the bullet holes in your suit, darling," sighs Lois. "You're Superman, the man I love." Cautiously, Corben lets Lois believe that he might be Superman, and the two eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant. While Lois reads her fortune, Corben overhears a radio report that all uranium has been taken to Fort Taber to protect it from Metallo.

Realizing that he resembles Superman, especially without his moustache, Corben shaves then dresses as Superman and drives to Fort Taber. Easily entering the fort, Metallo meets a soldier who thinks that he is talking to Superman. Hoping to convince the soldier that he is indeed Superman, Corben lifts a car onto a lift and tells the soldier that he is there to protect the uranium from Metallo. Once alone, Metallo crashes into the uranium vault, but before he can get to his car and escape, Superman arrives. Metallo throws a bronze statue of a deer at Superman, which shatters harmlessly against Superman. Using his super-breath, Superman blows Corben's car off the road. But, as fate would have it, a hoist holding a giant statue snaps and having to chose between capturing Corben and stopping a disaster, Superman streaks off to prevent the crowd from being injured.

Looking for a way to escape, Corben returns to the Professor's laboratory, finding the old man ill, but still alive. The professor tells Metallo that Kryptonite is the other element that can power his mechanical heart, and its energy will never expire. Smashing through the Professor's lead safe, Metallo grabs the Kryptonite and, returning to Metropolis, enters the Municipal Exhibit Hall again disguised as Superman. Knowing that the real Superman will appear soon, Metallo places the piece of Kryptonite in the ceiling pipes and waits until Superman arrives. Suddenly weakened by the Kryptonite, Superman falls to his knees, unable to muster enough strength to blow the rock away. Metallo steals the sample of Kryptonite Superman had brought for display and places it in his chest as Superman lays dying. Searching for escape, Superman concentrates his x-ray vision on the stone. Agonized and drained, Superman concentrates for over six minutes, until the Kryptonite begins to melt. "For the first time in my career, I've found a way to conquer Kryptonite," Superman sighs exhaustedly.

Lois answers a knock at her door thinking it's Superman, but as he enters, his costume tears on the doorknob and a metal body is exposed. Lois stares in amazement. "Now you know I'm Metallo. I must get rid of you like I got rid of Superman," he screams. But, as Metallo moves toward her, he suddenly collapses to the floor. Opening Metallo's chest, Superman removes the simple green-colored rock he had brought to display as Kryptonite. Later, the police tell Superman that they were about to arrest Corben for murder, discovering that while he had wiped the fingerprints off of a gun he had used to kill his victim, his fingerprints were all over the cartridges. "If Corben thought he had committed the perfect crime... He's dead wrong!"

2. The Supergirl From Krypton (Story 3, page 23-30)

Diligently working on a story at the Daily Planet offices, Clark Kent's attention is suddenly broken when his super-hearing detects a strange sound. Using his telescopic vision, Kent focuses on a missile, containing a human form, rapidly descending just outside the city. Realizing that the missile is about to crash, Clark quickly changes to Superman and speeds towards the missile only to find that he is too late. Landing at the crash site, Superman notices how similar the rocket is to the one that once brought him to Earth, but surveying the damage assumes that nothing and no one could have survived the fiery landing. Picking through the wreckage, Superman opens the rocket and to his surprise finds a young, blond-haired girl, wearing a costume similar to his own. Superman is amazed that the girl is alive, without a scratch and completely unharmed. "Why not Superman? I'm also from the planet Krypton!" the girl says.

In reply to Superman's disbelief, the girl tells Superman that he was not the only one to escape the destruction of Krypton. The force of the explosion of Krypton had propelled a large piece of the planet into space, a fragment containing the intact Argo City and among the survivors were Zor-El, a respected scientist and Jor-El's brother. Fortunately for those people, the atmosphere remained on the planetary fragment and a "food machine" continued to function, allowing the population to survive.

To their surprise, the surface of the fragment like all other pieces of Krypton, slowly became Kryptonite and began poisoning the survivors. Luckily, Zor-El had a roll of lead shielding in his laboratory which they used to cover the land surface of the city and protect the inhabitants from Kryptonite poisoning. Life settled back to normalcy, Zor-El married and his wife gave birth to the first child born in Argo City. They named her Kara and lived peacefully for 15 years until a freak meteor shower smashed holes in the lead shielding. Unable to repair the damage to the shield, the Kryptonite radiation again began poisoning the inhabitants of Argo City.

Desperately, Zor-El began constructing a rocket and searching for a suitable planet to send Kara to safety. Using a super-telescope, Kara and her mother Allura discover Earth and listening to a radio broadcast learned English and that the Superman was also a survivor of Krypton. As final touches are made to Kara's spacecraft, Allura finished making her a costume similar to Superman's so he would recognize her as one of his own. With no time to spare, the rocket is launched sending Kara to Earth, believing that her parents would die with the rest of the population of Argo City. As Kara finished her story, Superman recalls a similar situation when Jor-El sent him to earth. "Jor-El? Why, my father's name was Zor-El, your father's brother," exclaims Kara. "Great Scott! Then you're my... cousin," Turning to the girl, Superman says, "We may be orphans, but we have each other now. I'll take care of you like a big brother, cousin Kara."

Kara is overjoyed, expecting that she would come to live with Superman. However, he explains that he has adopted a secret identity, and it would become difficult to explain the sudden appearance of a cousin. Instead, Superman and Supergirl fly to Midvale. Assembling a dark wig to cover her golden hair, and a new set of clothes, Superman decides to register her in the orphanage. After Kara chooses the name Linda Lee (another "LL" name) Superman takes her to the orphanage telling the headmaster that, "The poor girl lost her parents in a big disaster that wiped out her whole community."

The accommodations at the orphanage were not plush, and Kara uses her powers to "spruce up" the place using super-strength to repair the broken bed, her x-ray vision to fuse the cracks in a broken mirror, and her super-breath to dust the room in one blow.

Eager to try out her newfound powers, Linda Lee/Kara changes to Supergirl and slips out for a "secret" patrol of Midvale. Flying over the local theater, she sees that they are showing a film documenting Superboy's career in Smallville. Smiling to herself, Supergirl thinks, "Will I someday do as good a job in Midvale, as Supergirl? What will the future hold for me?" Flying back to the orphanage, Supergirl slips back into her room. What will the future hold for Supergirl? We will only have to wait until Action #253 to find out

3Story - 3: There are a number of comics considered to be seminal in the "Silver Age". In the Superman continuity, this single issue has to be one of the more important issues of the 1950's, setting the stage for many significant event in DC Universe of the 1960's.

Nearly a year after a tryout in Superman #123, Action #252 introduced the "new" Supergirl, who would become not only one of Superman's most devoted allies, but arguably one of the most popular female characters in comics. In later stories, Supergirl would be adopted by Fred and Edna Danvers, would graduate from Midvale High and Stanhope University, move to New Athens Experimental School to work as a student advisor, be "discovered" by a TV director who casts her in a role in a soap opera called Secret Hearts, and would ultimately die in battle during the Crisis. She served as Superman's secret-weapon from 1959 until 1962 when Superman revealed Supergirl's existence to the world in Action Comics #285, February 1962.

Superman's stable of foes had been rather constant for years until this issue introduced a new enemy, Metallo. Even though Metallo appeared to die in this installment, he returns to do battle many times and becomes one of Superman's greatest foes being called "The Man With the Kryptonite Heart". Also in this issue was a Congorilla story. DC, and Mort Weisinger in particular, had a love affair with stories about monkeys and super-gorillas and this was another of those quirky stories.

As far as stories go, both of these tales are very simple stories, with many contrived plot twists. Other than introducing the characters, there was no high drama, just a setting of the stage for future events. So, while this issue was historically important, having an impact on the Superman mythos that continued for several decades, the stories were typical comic-book fare of the late 1950's and in-and-of themselves nothing special.

3Art - 3: Both of the Superman stories were illustrated by Al Plastino. Plastino has always been "The Other" Superman artist to me, ranking down the list of influential Superman artists after Shuster, after Boring and far below Swan. Curiously, all of these artists were contemporaries of one another, and the fact that Plastino's work appeared alongside these other artists in so many issues of both Superman and Action Comics in the 1940's-70's speaks to his appeal to the editors, if not always the readers, of DC comics. While Plastino's figure work was competent and solid, it always lacked a certain "punch" that the other artists possessed. In general, his work utilized little shading, and had simple, sparse backgrounds. These stories were good examples of his work, with "The Menace of Metallo" probably being the stronger story artistically.

3Cover Art - 3: The cover to Action #252 was pencilled by Curt Swan. There is some debate as to who inked this cover. Several comic historians list the inker as Stan Kaye, an artist who handled many of Swan's covers from this period (Action #242-281). DC, however, credits Al Plastino as the inker of this particular cover. Unfortunately, DC's published credits have been wrong before (Case-in-Point, the listing of George Klein as the inker of Superman #149). I have often considered this to have been one of Swan's weaker artistic efforts. The cover premise is an interesting teaser showing a puzzled Superman landing at a crash site and seeing the mysterious new Supergirl flying up, unharmed from the crashed rocket... friend or foe? However, the design looked rushed and contrived, and both the poses and faces of both Superman and Supergirl lacked Swan's normal high quality. This may well be due to Plastino's handling of Swan's pencils. As it stands, this may be very difficult to sort out since this story was published 40 years ago, many of the creators have passed away and DC kept such poor records of credits.

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”




Compilation Volumes


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