Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Superman #115

Superman #115

Cover date: August 1957

"The Midget Superman!"
Writer: ?
Penciller: Wayne Boring
Inker: ?
Cover: Al Plastino

(Two other stories, "Jimmy Olsen's Lost Pal!" and "The Three Substitute Supermen!" are not reviewed here, due to this review's focus on the first story)

Reviewed by: Bruce Kanin

Story #1. The Midget Superman!

This is a rather unique Superman yarn that caught my eye and is the primary reason for reviewing this 1950s era Superman comic book. In this story, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are at a "sensational new show" that has come to Metropolis called, of all things, "The Super-Rescue of Lois Lane Girl Reporter". The show stars, as advertised in a placard in the first panel of the story, Tina and Tom Thumb, who are presenting a "midget play".

Yes, the Daily Planet reporters are part of the audience for a play performed primarily by dwarves (presumed here to be a more politically correct term). In it, a character called Super-Midget (played by an actor, Tom Thumb) rescues "Lois Lane" from a big bad giant (an actor named Goliath), whose attempts to injure Super-Midget with a club over the head are futile. (Of course, the club is fake, in order not to really hurt the un-super Tom Thumb.)

Afterwards, Clark and Lois go backstage to meet the actors. Clark is impressed with the seeming authenticity of Tom Thumb's performance as a super-hero. The actor explains to the reporters that he gets his extra energy and pep to play a character akin to Superman via a special "health tonic". While this is going on, Kent spots a nearby emergency that he is able to address via his heat vision (although he uses heat, it is termed x-ray vision - later, in the Silver Age, this had been sorted out such that x-ray and heat vision were distinctly different, amongst other assorted "vision" powers).

However, while Kent is casting his invisible super-vision, he unknowingly sends it through a bottle of Tom Thumb's health tonic as the actor is drinking it. The next day, it apparently has caused Thumb to grow to "normal size" (as is determined by Superman himself). Thumb is aghast: "What'll I do? I can't possibly perform as Super-Midget now!"

Superman gets an idea and promises to return - himself - as Super-Midget! Will he use Brainiac's shrinking ray? Perhaps a dose of Red K that once shrank Supergirl? A friendly magical assist from Zatanna, his comrade from the Justice League?

No, none of the above, especially since we're not yet in the Silver Age; Brainiac, Red K, Supergirl, Zatanna and the Justice League had not yet come along! Superman's idea is quite unusual, though: he hurls himself across the time barrier and towards his youthful home of Smallville! His thought: "I'll aim for the time when I was Tom Thumb's size and change places with myself!"

And sure enough, with the years whizzing by - 1957 - 1956 - 1955 - etc. - Superman and - Super-Tot - meet each other in the time stream, with Superman telling his much younger self: "Super-Tot, you're needed to take Tom Thumb's place as the Super-Midget of Metropolis!" And Super-Tot, clad in a complete Superman uniform and clearly a young - check that - VERY young version of Superman, before he became SuperBOY - answers: "Sure thing, Superman - glad to help out!"

Then, like the Fairy Godmother to Cinderella, Superman issues a warning to his much younger self, "But remember - this time distortion will straighten itself out and automatically switch us back in exactly THREE HOURS. Not a moment longer"!

We then see sequences in "current day" Metropolis (1957, that is), with Super-Tot, masquerading as Superman, intending to perform as "Super-Midget" in place of Tom Thumb. Before he can do that, however, Super-Tot stops a jewel robbery and astounds the crooks, i.e., "Yipes! It's my eyes! How can this little shrimp be Superman?"

Super-Tot then races to the theater where Tom Thumb's play is about to begin, not knowing that Goliath, the giant actor, is in cahoots with a "scheming press agent" to "turn the tables" on Tom Thumb (as Super-Midget) and get his own publicity. Sure enough, when the play begins, Goliath attempts to bop Super-Midget over the head with a real club, but is once again thwarted, this time by Super-Tot's invulnerable body!

Once the play ends, we see that Tom Thumb has reverted to his original size - but the story's not over. As the real Tom Thumb, now dressed in his super-costume, takes his bows (though it was Super-Tot who performed in the show), the Tot of Steel begins to fade back into the time barrier. However, the evil-minded press agent decides to get his revenge against Thumb and fires a bullet at the actor from backstage.

With a moment left in "present day" time, Super-Tot is able to use his super-breath to move the bad guy's gun so that the bullet misses Tom Thumb, who as said is bowing on stage. But the danger isn't over: back in the time stream, Super-Tot warns his older self that the bullet missed Tom Thumb but is headed for the audience! So, when Superman materializes in his "present day" Metropolis, in the theater, he immediately protects the audience from the bullet and then nabs the nasty press agent.

And so ends a most unusual story of teamwork between Superman and - Super-Tot!

3Story - 3: Its political incorrectness aside, this was a unique story because of Super-Tot. In my book, it's worthy of at least a "3" because of this. In the Silver Age, there were a handful of stories with "Superbaby" and sometimes he wore an outfit similar to Superman's, but never with the "S" shield. Moreover, Superbaby was not by any means a superhero - he was just a toddler that got into super-mischief, although sometimes he would inadvertently save the day.

However, Super-Tot, as portrayed in SUPERMAN #115, is an entirely new instance of Superman. It is implied in this story that Super-Tot was a version of Superman before he became Superboy. Moreover, I inferred that since Super-Tot wore Superman's complete uniform, he operated as a public or semi-public superhero at whatever young age he was as a "tot" (otherwise, why advertise him with the "S"?).

What's strange, though, is that unlike the Silver Age Superbaby who spoke almost like a Bizarro "me see bright, pretty, shiny thing", Super-Tot behaves and thinks like an adult! After all, Super-Tot was able to thwart jewel robbers, Goliath the actor and a sinister press agent, much like his older self would have done. In fact, this was seemingly the only way they could have done this story - a small Superman with the mind of an adult (Superman as a true baby or toddler would not have been able to behave as an adult; Superboy wouldn't have worked, because he would have been too "big").

It's interesting, too, the way Superman is able to so easily summon Super-Tot across time, with his younger self immediately willing to help. It was like having Batman summon a long-distance Robin to, er, "bat" for him.

Another unusual aspect to this story is the treatment of the time barrier. This has been treated in various ways over the years. In another story less than two years away, "The Town that Hated Superman" (July 1959), Superman goes back in time to the days when he was a toddler (interestingly, he was not Super-Tot). Instead of automatically exchanging places with his other self, Superman becomes a phantom in the earlier time, co-existing that way with his younger, non-phantom self.

Yet, much, much later, in the "imaginary" story that was effectively a coda on the Silver Age, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" (September 1986), it sounds like the norm is for someone to exchange places with him or herself as is done in SUPERMAN #115 between Superman and Super-Tot (in the 1986 story it is Supergirl, as a younger version of herself, who believes that her older self has been hurled back in time, explaining her ability to exist in 1986 - though the real reason for that is another story!).

However, the switch between Superman and Super-Tot contains a caveat not seen elsewhere: the exchange expires after three hours! Clearly this was done to give the story its dramatic ending.

While I haven't read every single Superman story ever published (though I would like to!), my guess is that this was the only appearance of Super-Tot - ever. If any reader is aware of a story with this same incarnation of Superman, please let me know.

4Art - 4: Clearly this was Wayne Boring, though it's not apparent as to whom the inker is. This is classic Boring; his portrayal of the Man and Tot of Steel is what one would expect.

Boring always did a good job of portraying Superman using his powers, especially his x-ray vision. Here, there's a nice little panel - key to the story - in which Clark Kent peers at a lion's cage with his x-ray vision, spots trouble, and then uses his super-vision to fix things. Boring shows all that, but also draws in it the key scene of Tom Thumb drinking his health elixir that is being bombarded by x-rays. In one simply drawn scene, Boring shows a lot going on.

There's another distinction worth noting, and Boring did a great job here: Super-Tot has the face of, well, a baby. However, Tom Thumb, when acting as Super-Midget, uses a Superman mask. When Super-Tot first appears, he has his baby face; then, in all of the sequences as Super-Midget, he has the Superman mask on. At the end, when Super-Tot has finished pretending to be Super-Midget and is fading into the time barrier, he has his baby face back. Although in other stories this might have been blurred or been fodder for "boo-boo" hunting letter writers (though Lettercols had not yet arrived), the artist was consistent in showing these faces. Good job!

2Cover Art - 2: For completeness, the cover is rated here, although it has nothing to do with the first story. The cover refers to the third story in this book, "The Three Substitute Supermen!" It shows Superman and Lois observing three men wearing Superman outfits who are trying out to be a "new man of steel", as the cover puts it.

It's always fun to see others wearing Superman's uniform, especially on the cover. However, this one did nothing for me. As well, the cover has a bland white background and a dull pink-and-yellow "Superman" logo at the top. There's also no excitement in having these three super-characters on the cover, trying out to be a new Superman, for 48 hours, as Lois tells us on the cover. It's very ho-hum.

Al Plastino's work is typical for him, nothing bad though nothing special, either.

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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