August 1, 2021

Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (wwh27539@mindspring.com).


Superman #149

Superman #149

Cover date: November 1961

Writer: Jerry Siegel
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Stan Kaye
Cover: Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff

"The Death of Superman!"

Chapter 1: Lex Luthor, Hero.
This is an imaginary tale, which begins one afternoon, that may or may not ever happen. Walking across the prison yard, Luthor and his guard pass a convict smashing boulders with a sledgehammer. At the convict's feet lays a glowing, gold boulder. Without explanation, Luthor turns and hits the guard. As a result, Luthor loses his soft library job and is immediately sent to the rock-pile. But this is exactly what Luthor wants. Concentrating on the gold stone, Luthor crushes it into bits, stuffing the pebbles into his pockets. That night, Luthor's cell is illuminated by the radiance of the pebbles. Luthor has found Element Z.

Realizing the possibilities of Element Z, Luthor goes to the warden, requesting a laboratory to experiment with the unknown element, predicting that he can find the cure for cancer. The warden is skeptical though, knowing that Luthor has done this before. Reluctantly, Luthor is given 24 hours, but is to be guarded every minute. The next day, Luthor returns to the warden's office with a serum. Later that very day, the warden goes to Luthor at the rock-pile. "The investigating scientists have reported fantastic success! Doomed cancer patients were cured instantly by your serum!"

The members of the Daily Planet are incredulous, finding it hard to believe that the evil Luthor has reformed to help mankind. Still, Superman feels that if Luthor has contributed to science, the least he can do is fly into space and collect large amounts of Element Z. After handing the boulder of Element Z to the scientists of the United Nations, Superman appears and speaks on Luthor's behalf at his parole board, and at his urging, Luthor is released.

Superman meets Luthor at the prison gate, offering to help Luthor begin his new life. At Luthor's urging, they fly to what was "Luthor's Lair". Luthor shows Superman all of the advanced technical precautions he had taken to prevent Superman from discovering his lair. And in a special room, Luthor shows Superman his Hall of Heroes: statues of Atilla the Hun, Ghengis Khan, Captain Kidd and Al Capone. "Please destroy the statues!" requests Luthor, and Superman smashes them to pieces. "I'm going to sell this place," says Luthor, "rent a laboratory in an office building and operate openly like any respectable scientist would."

Walking down the hall, Superman and Luthor reminisce. Luthor tells him about the atomic powered top that he used to destroy a whole town. And Superman could not forget the Duplicator Ray that Luthor used to create the imperfect double: Bizarro.

After having sold Luthor's Lair and moved into a laboratory, Luthor tells the press that he is now going to find a cure for heart disease. As the reporters leave, two other men enter the lab. "Duke Garner and Al Mantz: underworld hoods!" The men back Luthor into a corner. "Either you kill Superman, or we kill you. Who's gonna die, genius? You... or Superman?

Chapter II. Luthor's Super-Bodyguard.
"Luthor, because of your scientific genius, you're probably the only one who can succeed in destroying Superman," says one of the hoods. But Luthor declines. "I won't betray Superman! He's my friend now." The hoods pull their guns, but Superman flies through the window just in time to stop the bullets from striking Luthor. After the hoods are restrained, Superman gives Luthor a signal watch, similar to the one he had given Jimmy Olsen. In danger, Luthor would use the watch to signal Superman with an ultrasonic signal.

Over the next few days, gangland attempts to assassinate Luthor with everything from hand grenades to poison darts. Each time Superman manages to save Luthor, but Superman realizes that he can't possibly watch over Luthor every instant. Meeting with Supergirl [who at this point had not been announced to earth and was Superman's Secret Emergency Weapon], they decided to build Luthor an orbiting satellite laboratory.

After being transported to the laboratory, Luthor is so happy that he cannot adequately express his gratitude. But even here he is not safe. The underworld chiefs arrange to purchase a missile to destroy the satellite. Again, Superman prevents a disaster, and now builds a "super-hard, semi-transparent substance" around the satellite lab. "Nothing, not even a hydrogen bomb, can pierce this," says Superman. As a further precaution, Superman constructs a missile resembling Luthor that he can fire into the atmosphere should a crisis arise.

Only a week later, that missile is launched, and Superman hurries to the satellite to discover what peril faces Luthor this time. "What's wrong," asks Superman entering the satellite. "Wrong? Nothing's wrong, for me:" says Luthor. With that, he flips a switch, and lead-lined lids lift to allow a powerful Kryptonite ray to be projected at Superman. Superman is weakened, and confused. "The rays... turn them off. Have you gone out of your mind?" Luthor only laughs. "It was so easy to trick you," he cackles.

Seconds later, Luthor straps Superman to a bench with Kryptonite straps. The sadistic Luthor opens a partition. Behind unbreakable glass are Lois, Jimmy and Perry. He has kidnapped them just to let them watch the murder in progress. "Luthor hasn't reformed! He's as evil as ever," sobs Lois.

Superman can only struggle weakly as he begins to turn green from the Kryptonite fever. "Resistance is hopeless, you fool," says Luthor. "I was a fool to trust you," gasps Superman with his last breath. "Indeed you were," says Luthor who walks away and mercilessly increases the power of the rays. Superman turns completely green. His struggles cease. He is dead. "At last!" screams Luthor. "After all of these years of vainly trying, I've finally succeeded in killing Superman!"

Luthor lands the satellite lab on earth, releasing Lois, Jimmy and Perry with Superman's body. Using his powerful radio, Luthor announces to earth that he has killed Superman. Most of the world is shocked and saddened, but the underworld is overjoyed. Luthor, himself, can only gloat. "Soon, I'll be king of earth."

Chapter III. The Death of Superman.
The sun rises on a saddened world. Everyone feels a great loss and throngs of people crowd the street outside the Metropolis Chapel to mourn Superman. Paying their respects are heads of state from many nations, civilizations and planets. A sea of sad faces passes by his glass encased body including his pal Jimmy Olsen, his dog Krypto, representatives from the Legion of Superheroes and the three women that loved him the most, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris and Lois Lane. Near the end of the line, his disguised cousin, Linda Lee fights back tears. And in Kandor, the bottle-city of Krypton, flies the Kryptonian flag at half mast.

In dramatic contrast to the sadness, the underworld is holding a party to celebrate Luthor's triumph. "Tell us again how you killed Superman, Luthor," implores one of the hoods. Luthor does this with glee, not forgetting any one of the gory details. Just as Luthor finishes, and another toast is being made in his honor, a costumed figure wearing a red-s bursts through the wall. "Superman's alive," they scream.

The figure destroys all of the gory decorations, then bursts open the costume. "It ain't Superman. It's a girl with super-powers." The confused underworld crime bosses can only watch as the girl lifts Luthor up, and flies away with him, bullets bouncing off of her back, "Luthor, in the name of the planet Krypton, I arrest you for murder."

Supergirl flies Luthor to Kandor where he is tried for the murder of Superman, The trial is telecast throughout Kandor and to the world. Luthor scoffs at the proceedings with an icy arrogance. When Luthor is brought forward he confesses, and the judge decrees that he is to be sent to the Phantom Zone. Quickly, Luthor offers to work on a ray to restore Kandor to it's original size in return for their releasing him. "We Kandorians do not make deals with murderers!" the judge proclaims, and with that, the executioner pushes the machine's black button sending Luthor to the Phantom Zone for all eternity.

As the world struggles to return to a semblance of normalcy, Supergirl begins to fly Superman's patrols, accompanied by Krypto. She had eagerly looked forward to the day that she could operate openly, but this was not the way she had hoped the opportunity would arise. Flying over Superman's tomb, she can only feel sorry for the passing of "The strongest, kindest, most powerful human being I've ever known - my cousin Superman."

4Story - 4: This story was a direct response to Marvel's success with book-length stories. Up until this time, DC Comics usually had three eight-page stories in each issue. This was one of (if not the) first book-length story in a DC comic. Editors were so worried that this would upset the continuity of Superman comics, not to mention frequent readers, that they mentioned multiple times that this was an imaginary story that may or may not ever happen. The story, while simple and straight forward by today's standards, was very experimental for DC and its success launched a series of imaginary stories. Overall though, it was so different from the other stories of the day that it sits fondly in my mind.

4Art - 4: While there were many artists lending their pencils and brush to Superman over this period, very few have had the impact on me, personally, that Curt Swan had. This is a prime period for Swan art, where he is at the height of his form. Swan's figure work is nothing less than stunning. His faces have a very wide, believable range of emotions, and his story-telling is quite solid. Many, including DC itself, have credited George Klein with inking this story. However, Klein did not come to work for DC until February 1962, three months after this story was printed. The truth is that Stan Kaye, who had inked Swan's work since the mid-1950's, handled this story in his typically solid, well rendered fashion.

5Cover Art - 5: The cover to Superman #149 is one of those covers that simply sticks in your mind, and has become a classic. Luthor's demonic face laughing at Superman as he turns green, being poisoned by the Kryptonite ray. In the background, Lois, Perry and Jimmy can only gasp, powerless, in horror as they watch their friend being murdered. This cover was pencilled by Swan and inked by Sheldon "Shelly" Moldoff. Moldoff was an "old-timer" at DC, having drawn the Golden Age Hawkman, not to mention ghosting Batman for many years through the late 1950's and 1960's. He is remembered for inking a great deal of Swan's interior work, especially later in the 1960's, however it was rare for him to ink a cover.


Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews

1938-1949

1950-1959

  • 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”

1960-1969

1970-1979

1980-1986

Compilation Volumes

Miscellaneous

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