Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics
Superman #115Cover date: August 1957
"The Midget Superman!"
Penciller: Wayne Boring
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!
Story - 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.
Art - 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!
Cover 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
- Action Comics #1 (June 1938)
- Action Comics #2 (July 1938)
- Action Comics #3 (August 1938)
- Action Comics #4 (September 1938)
- Action Comics #5 (October 1938)
- Action Comics #6 (November 1938)
- Action Comics #7 (December 1938)
- Superman Archives: Volume 1 (1939)
- Superman #1 (Summer 1939)
- Action Comics #8 (January 1939)
- Action Comics #9 (February 1939)
- Action Comics #10 (March 1939)
- Superman #13 (November/December 1941) - The Archer
- Superman #19 (November/December 1942) - Case of the Funny Paper Crimes
- Action Comics #60 (May 1943) - Lois Lane - Superwoman
- Superman #30 (September/October 1944) - The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk
- Action Comics #80 (January 1945) - Mr. Mxyztplk Returns
- Superman #38 (January/February 1946) - The Battle of the Atoms
- Superman #42 (September/October 1946) - The Death of Clark Kent
- Superman #45 (March/April 1947) - Lois Lane, Superwoman
- Superman #53 (July 1948) - The Origin of Superman
- Action Comics #124 (September 1948) - A Superman of Doom
- Superman #60 (December 1949/January 1950) - The Two Identities of Superman & Superman Fights the Super-Brain
- 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
- Superman #134 (January 1960) - The Super-Menace of Metropolis
- Jimmy Olsen #42 (January 1960) - The Big Superman Movie!, Perry White, Cub Reporter!, and Jimmy the Genie!
- Jimmy Olsen #44 (April 1960) - The Wolf-Man of Metropolis
- Adventure Comics #271 (April 1960) - How Luthor Met Superboy
- Jimmy Olsen #46 (July 1960) - Jimmy Olsen, Orphan
- Superman #141 (November 1960) - Superman's Return To Krypton
- Superboy #85 (December 1960) - The Impossible Mission
- Jimmy Olsen #51 (March 1961) - The Girl with Green Hair
- Jimmy Olsen #52 (April 1961) - Jimmy Olsen, Wolf-Man
- Superboy #89 (June 1961) - Superboy's Big Brother!
- Action Comics #279 (August 1961) - The Super-Rivals
- Superman #147 (August 1961) - The Legion of Super Villains
- Superman #149 (November 1961) - The Death of Superman!
- Jimmy Olsen #57 (December 1961) - Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl
- Superman #155 (August 1962) - Superman Under the Green Sun and The Downfall of Superman
- Justice League of America #13 (August 1962) - Riddle of the Robot Justice League
- World's Finest #129 (November 1962) - Joker-Luthor, Incorporated
- Superman #158 (January 1963) - Superman in Kandor
- Superman #160 (April 1963) - The Mortal Superman
- Superman #161 (May 1963) - The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent
- Superman #162 (July 1963) - The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue
- Superman #163 (August 1963) - Wonder-Man, the New Hero of Metropolis and The Goofy Superman
- Justice League of America #21 & #22 (August/September 1963) - Crisis on Earth-One! and Crisis on Earth-Two!
- Superman #164 (October 1963) - The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman
- Superman #165 (November 1963) - The Sweetheart Superman Forgot
- Superman #166 (January 1964) - The Fantastic Story of Superman's Sons
- Superman #167 (February 1964) - The Team of Luthor and Brainiac
- Superman #168 (April 1964) - Luthor - Super Hero and Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor
- Superman #169 (May 1964) - The Man Who Stole Superman's Secret Life
- Action Comics #314 (July 1964) - The Day Superman Became The Flash
- Justice League of America #29 & #30 (August/September 1964) - Crisis on Earth-Three! and The Most Dangerous Earth of All!
- Superman #173 (November 1964) - The Triumph of Luthor and Brainiac
- Action Comics #318 (November 1964) - The Death of Luthor
- Action Comics #319 (December 1964) - The Condemned Superman
- Superman #175 (February 1965) - Clark Kent's Brother
- Superman #181 (November 1965) - The Superman of 2965
- The Legion of Super-Heroes - Archives Volume 4 (1965)
- Superman #184 (February 1966) - The Demon Under the Red Sun
- Action Comics #338 (June 1966) - Muto - Monarch of Menace
- Action Comics #339 (July 1966) - Muto versus The Man of Tomorrow
- Superman #189 (August 1966) - Krypton Lives Again
- Action Comics #346 (February 1967) - The Man Who Sold Insurance to Superman and The Case of the Superman Imposter
- Superman #194 (February 1967) - The Death of Lois Lane
- Superman #196 (May 1967) - The Star of Steel
- Superman #199 (January 1967) - Superman's Race With The Flash
- Superman #200 (October 1967) - Super-Brother Against Super-Brother
- The Flash #175 (December 1967) - Race to the End of the Universe
- Justice League of America #63 (June 1968) - Time Signs a Death Warrant for the Justice League
- Superman #211 (November 1968) - The Name of the Game is Superman!
- Superman #215 (April 1969) - Lois LaneŠ DeadŠ Yet Alive
- Superman #224 (February 1970) - Beware the Super-Genius Baby
- Action Comics #393 (October 1970) - Superman Meets Super-Houdini! and The Day Superboy Became Superman!
- Jimmy Olsen #133 (October 1970) - The Newsboy Legion
- Action Comics #394 (November 1970) - Midas of Metropolis and Requiem for a Hot Rod!
- World's Finest #198 (November 1970) - Race to Save the Universe!
- Action Comics #395 (December 1970) - The Secrets of Superman's Fortress and The Credit Card of Catastrophe
- Jimmy Olsen #134 (December 1970) - The Mountain of Judgement!
- World's Finest #199 (December 1970) - A Race to Save Time!
- Superman #233 (January 1971) - Superman Breaks Loose!
- Jimmy Olsen #135 (January 1971) - The Evil Factory!
- Superman #234 (February 1971) - How to Tame a Wild Volcano
- Jimmy Olsen #136 (February 1971) - The Saga of the D.N.Aliens
- Superman #235 (March 1971) - The Sinister Scream of the Devil's Harp
- Superman #236 (April 1971) - Planet of the Angels and The Doomsayer
- Jimmy Olsen #137 (April 1971) - The Four-Armed Terror!
- Superman #237 (May 1971) - The Enemy of Earth
- Superman #238 (June 1971) - Menace at 1000 Degrees
- Jimmy Olsen #138 (June 1971) - The Big Boom!!
- Superman #240 (July 1971) - To Save a Superman
- Jimmy Olsen #139 (July 1971) - The Guardian Fights Again!!!
- Superman #241 (August 1971) - The Shape of Fear
- Superman #242 (September 1971) - The Ultimate Battle
- Jimmy Olsen #141 (September 1971) - Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?
- Jimmy Olsen #142 (October 1971) - The Man from Transilvane!
- Jimmy Olsen #143 (November 1971) - Genocide Spray
- Jimmy Olsen #144 (December 1971) - A Big Thing in a Deep Scottish Lake!
- Superman #247 (January 1972) - Must There Be A Superman
- Jimmy Olsen #145 (January 1972) - Brigadoom!
- Jimmy Olsen #146 (February 1972) - Homo-Disastrous!
- Jimmy Olsen #147 (March 1972) - A Superman in Super-Town!
- Jimmy Olsen #148 (April 1972) - Monarch of All He Subdues!
- Superman #292 (October 1975) - The Luthor Nobody Knows!
- Action Comics #458 (April 1976) - Make Me a Super-Hero! and Masquerade of the Nutty Kid!
- Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (Spring 1978)
- Action Comics #484 (June 1978) - Superman Takes a Wife!
- Superman #328 (October 1978) - Attack of the Kryptonoid
- Action Comics #489 (November 1978) - Krypton Dies Again and Where There's a Will... There's a Fray
- Superman #329 (November 1978) - I Have Met The Enemy... And He Is Me! and The Secret of the Talking Car
- Superman #330 (December 1978) - The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis!
- Action Comics #490 (December 1978) - No Tomorrow For Superman
- Action Comics #491 (January 1979) - A Matter of Light and Death
- Superman #331 (January 1979) - Lockup at 20,000 Feet
- Action Comics #492 (February 1979) - Superman's Secret Afterlife
- Superman #332 (February 1979) - The Eternity Cage
- Action Comics #493 (March 1979) - The Metropolis UFO Connection
- Action Comics #494 (April 1979) - The Secret of the Super S
- Action Comics #495 (May 1979) - Attack of the Ultimate Warrior
- DC Comics Presents #14 (October 1979) - Judge, Jury... and No Justice!
- The Superman Story (1979) - The Life Story of Superman
- DC Comics Presents #57 (May 1983) - Days of Future Past
- DC Comics Presents #67 (March 1984) - 'Twas the Fright Before Christmas
- DC Comics Presents Annual #3 (1984) - With One Magic Word
- Superman: The Secret Years #1 (February 1985) - Dreams and Schemes and Feeling Proud!
- Superman: The Secret Years #2 (March 1985) - Reach Out and Touch
- Superman: The Secret Years #3 (April 1985) - Terminus
- DC Comics Presents #80 (April 1985) - A World Full of Supermen!
- Superman: The Secret Years #4 (May 1985) - Beyond Terminus
- DC Comics Presents #85 (September 1985) - The Jungle Line
- Superman Annual #11 (1985) - For The Man Who Has Everything
- World's Finest #323 (January 1986) - Afraid of the Dark
- DC Comics Presents #97 (September 1986) - Phantom Zone: The Final Chapter
- Superman #423 & Action Comics #583 (September 1986) - Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?
- Showcase Presents: Superman Family - Volume 1 (October 2005)
- Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons (December 2007)
- Not Brand ECHH #7 (April 1967) - The Origin of Stuporman
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