Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Action Comics #319

Action Comics #318 and #319

Cover date: November-December 1964

Writer: Edmond Hamilton Penciller: Curt Swan Inker: George Klein Covers: Curt Swan-George Klein

"The Death of Luthor" and "The Condemned Superman"

Action #318 - The Death of Luthor

One day, while working in the prison steam room, Lex Luthor carefully stashed his newest escape device inside an unused boiler and left to ready himself. Once again, the criminal genius had prepared to breakout of prison, hoping that this would be the last time he would ever need to do so. The next day, the plan was hatched when Luthor smashed through the prison walls and stared in amazement at a Luthor that appeared to be impervious to bullets. Setting chase, they finally caught the man only to find that it was a robot, and the real Luthor had slipped out during the diversion.

After several days on the run, Luthor made his way to Cape Canaveral. Cautiously, he snuck aboard an experimental rocket, re-wiring the controls and setting the destination for Lexor, the planet named for him which circles a red sun. The lift off was rough for Luthor, but the trial was worth the effort. The experimental rocket was never meant to land, so Luthor parachuted to the planet's surface while his ship crashes to Lexor.

When the people of Lexor discovered that Luthor had returned it was cause for a worldwide celebration. The populace was eternally grateful for Luthor's efforts in saving the planet from draught, and they hold an elaborate ticker tape parade down the main street of the capital city. Sitting to Luthor's left was Ardora, the woman he met on his first trip there... the woman he fell in love with.

Within days, Luthor wed Ardora and prepared for a long life on Lexor. Still, Luthor knew that Superman would eventually come for him, and he developed a series of sensors that would warn him of Superman's presence. He made Ardora promise him that if Superman should come for him and anything happened, that no one be allowed to perform an autopsy.

Back on earth, scientists at Cape Canaveral told Superman that the craft had left earth's orbit and headed out into deep space. It dawned on Superman that had gone to Lexor, and he resolved to travel there to bring Luthor back. Because Lexor orbits a red sun, which would make his powers fade, Superman built a small space ship, and launched himself into space. After entering Lexor's atmosphere he landed the craft in a remote jungle and began to make his way to the city.

The people of Lexor had already been warned that Superman would come to apprehend their hero, and were ready for his arrival. While Superman made his way toward the capital, a man working in the jungle promptly recognized him, approaching him and offering to help him get to the city, all the while planning to lure him to several traps. At first, Superman thought the man was sincere warning him about the strange flora and animals of Lexor. First they came across a Madness Flower which would cause temporary insanity, and then a Truth Beast whose presence would make anyone tell the truth. But, as fate had it, the guide fell into the path of the Truth Beast, and when Superman asked where they were going, the man confessed that he was leading Superman to a trap. To protect himself, Superman subdued the guide and left him in the trap.

Emerging from the jungle, Superman was immediately detected by Luthor's sensors and alarms blared loudly. Luthor went to meet Superman and told him that he would never voluntarily return to earth just to be placed in prison again. Luthor tried to evade Superman's grasp, swinging wildly at him and in response, Superman landed a mighty blow to Luthor's jaw. "That pays you back for the black eye you gave me the first time we met on this world," Superman said. But, surprisingly, Luthor fell backwards hitting his head on a statue and collapsing. Rushing to Luthor, Superman lifted up the lifeless body and feared that he was dead. Seeing the fight and the outcome, the people of Lexor erupted in a frenzy of rage, seeking justice by the ancient custom of throwing carved stones at the perpetrator, forcing Superman to fall into a living lake made up of giant jellyfish which held him tightly.

Ardora stepped forward, in a move of reconciliation, appealing for the people to convene a legal trial. After Superman was removed from the living lake, Luthor was placed in state and criminals from across the universe arrived to pay their last respects. Among the visitors was Brainiac who did all he can to foment dissention and excite the already rabid crowd.

Later at the High Court, Lar Than was chosen to prosecute the case and swore to get a speedy conviction. "There must be no slips in prosecuting this man, no loopholes. Superman must be convicted," he told the crowd. Then, before the High Judge the greatest lawyers of Lexor were gathered yet no one volunteered to defend Superman but one must be chosen. The Statue of Justice spun on a pivoted base then slowed, coming to rest pointing at Vel Quennar. Reluctantly he accepted and told the court that his partner Garn Abu would assist him. Lar Than turns to Vel Quennar and says, "I will show no mercy on Luthor's killer."

Garn begged Vel to withdraw. "You can't defend this criminal who murdered heroic Luthor. All Lexor will hate you if you do." "Someone must defend him," said Vel, "if our laws are to be fair!" Then, together, the two lawyers went to Superman's cell and explained the judiciary process to him. Superman understood that on Lexor a trial lasted only three days, and that punishment was swift and severe. Superman told them that he is gratified, but that only served to agitate Garn. "Don't be gratified! We'd never defend you if we had a choice!"

Slowing the assault of his partner, Vel tried to help the Man of Steel. "Just tell us how you killed Luthor and we'll try to find some extenuating circumstances." "But I didn't kill him," exclaimed Superman. "It was pure accident!" "Your story will never convince anyone, Superman. If you insist on it, you're doomed!" said Vel Quennar who turned and purposefully left the cell.

Alone in his cell, Superman was completely depressed. "If I don't clear myself, I'll never leave this world. I may even be executed here. But how can I expect to convince a court when my own lawyers don't believe my story?"

Action #319 - The Condemned Superman

The trial of Superman began with Ardora, the widow of Luthor, taking the stand. Her testimony told of Superman's hatred of Luthor, and how Luthor knew that Superman would eventually come for him. She confessed that Luthor wanted to kill Superman, but that she had made him promise to let the law deal with him. When her testimony ended, Superman was angry that his defense attorneys have no question. Turning to Superman, Vel said pointedly, "She would say nothing to help us."

After only one witness, the prosecution rested and Superman was called to the stand in his own defense but was asked only one question, "Did you come to Lexor with any intention of killing Luthor?" "I did not," said Superman emphatically. "I came to take him back to the earth prison where, as a convicted criminal, he belonged." That response prompted the gallery to erupt in a frenzied roar. "Liar! Murderer!" they scream. None believes that great Luthor could have been a criminal.

Stepping up to the stand, the prosecutor began his cross-examination. "Where is your proof that Luthor was a criminal," he asked. "I have no proof other than my own word," responded Superman. "All we know of you," said the prosecutor moving closer," is that you were Luthor's enemy. Yet you ask us to take your word, when you tell us that the greatest man in Lexor's history was a criminal?"

As the first day of the trial adjourned, Superman stood shocked. "Not a soul in that court believed me, did they," asked Superman shaking his head in disbelief. "I'm afraid not," said Vel, and the police took Superman's arms to escort him back to his high-security cell. Back in his cell, Superman over-heard other inmates talk about the stone room, and then witnessed Zen Zabo, a convicted felon, being escorted to that room. Before his eyes, Superman saw Zen turned to stone, the highest punishment of Lexor.

Realizing that could be his fate, Superman spent a restless night. The next morning he tried desperately to find a way to prove his honesty and asked his attorney to capture a truth beast to show that he is telling the truth. "A Truth Beast's brain is so sensitive, the thoughts of more than one or two people would unbalance its mind; it would go mad and die in the courtroom." Garn then suggests that Superman try a temporary insanity plea, but Superman rebuffs him. When Superman returned to the stand, Garn told the court that Superman had been exposed to a Madness Flower in the jungle causing temporary insanity, but when the prosecutor asked if that was so, Superman insisted that he had not. "The guide led me away from the plant," he said.

Next, the physician was interviewed. His testimony was that only Superman's attack could have caused Luthor's death, however the defense established that no autopsy had been done, at the wishes of Ardora. Superman suddenly realized what might be going on and implored Vel to seek permission for him to go to Luthor's Laboratory.

The second day ended no better than the first. However, looking over the events of the day, Vel found some clarity. Turning to Garn as Superman was being lead away, he said, "Superman's insanity plea failed because he gave a truthful answer when a lie would have served him better. He's not been lying at all. I need to save him."

Later that evening, Vel Quennar went to see Superman in his cell and tell him that his request to visit the lab has been denied. Seeing no other alternative, Superman quickly grabbed the attorney and tied him with torn bits of sheets. "I'm going out of here disguised as you...I won't hurt you... Please don't hold this against me." pleaded Superman. Vel did not resist. Legally, he could not help Superman to escape, but he did not have to prevent it either.

Sneaking past the prison guards, Superman raced through the city making his way to Luthor's home. Climbing up the side of the house, he entered Luthor's lab and searched until he found what he was looking for. There on the shelf was a bottle, labeled in English so the Lexorians could not read it, which said "Coma Drug: Induces Coma for 5 days". Beside it was another vial: "Shock Restorative Chemical."

Realizing exactly what Luthor had done, Superman rushed from the house to the glass-enclosed memorial that the Lexorians had built for Luthor. "I forgot about the honor guard," said Superman dejectedly. However, almost as if on cue, an alarm went off alerting the guards to Superman's escape. Hurriedly they left their posts to search for Superman, and as they left Superman raced to Luthor's bier. Lifting the glass case, Superman sprayed the restorative chemical under Luthor's nose... then waited.

Within seconds, Luthor sat up startled. He was even more shocked to see Superman sitting next to him. Grabbing him, Superman demanded an explanation. "I knew that you'd came for me to take me back to an earth prison. I wanted to get rid of you forever," stuttered Luthor, "but I promised Ardora I wouldn't kill you, and I wouldn't break that promise. This pill put me in a death-like trance for five days. By that time Lexorian justice should have convicted and executed you for my murder."

The alarm alerting the people that Superman had escaped caused the whole city to rush into the streets to find the man that had killed their hero. What they found, instead, was that Luthor was still alive. Cheers rebounded down the city streets as people cried for joy. Standing before the crowd, Luthor admitted that he had taken the drug, but the people adored him so much that they assumed he had taken it by accident, not as part of some insidious plot to arrange Superman's death.

Back at the court, all charges were dropped, however the victory was bittersweet since Superman was banished from Lexor and told never to return. Turning to Vel Quennar and Garn Abo Superman expresses his thanks. "I owe you a lot, he told them." Then, gathering his things, Superman returned to his spaceship and lifted off towards earth and home. Luthor and Ardora watched the small craft streaked heavenward. "I know Superman will never give up," sneered Luthor. Ardora hugged her husband to her body. She was happy that she, and Lexor, still had Luthor for a while longer.

3Story - 5: In an unusual move for DC editors and writers of the 1960's, this story was a true sequel to the events that first appeared in Superman #164. Luthor had challenged Superman to a battle on neutral territory, and the two men had traveled to a planet with a red sun. While there, Luthor gained an appreciation for theses people and following the battle showed compassion for one of the few times in Superman comics. In the end, he and arranged for Superman to throw large chunks of ice from a frozen planet to Lexor to help end the worldwide draught of the planet. In thanks, the people renamed the planet Lexor. Edmond Hamilton wrote these stories using classic science fiction elements with a touch of a murder mystery as well. He made sure to give the reader a good taste of Lexorian culture, in addition to solid characters to deal with. Over all, this was a really well written story with a surprise ending.

3Art - 5: The art for these two issues was classic Curt Swan pencils and George Klein inks. Swan really showed his skill in these stories creating diverse characters. However, what set him aside from many other comic artists of the 1960's were the panels of the enraged crowd. Each face was different, individual and filled with emotion. Also in these issues were two nicely drawn Supergirl stories by Jim Mooney entitled Supergirl goes to College, where Linda Lee Danvers begins college, and The Super Cheat where Supergirl has to deal with an unscrupulous student. These stories combine to make these two issues quite special.

3Cover Art - 5: The covers to these two issues were both drawn by Curt Swan and George Klein. Action Comics #318 shows Superman, held in Kryptonite chains, forced to watch as the major criminals of the universe pay their last respects to Luthor who lies in a glass chamber. The cover for the conclusion of the tale shows a scared Superman about to be lead to an execution chamber. They were perfect covers for each issue and showed why Swan was the premier Superman cover artist for DC for nearly 30 years.

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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