Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Superman #161

Superman #161

Cover date: May 1963

Writer: ?
Penciller: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino
Cover: Curt Swan-George Klein

"The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent"

Everyone is familiar with the story of how Superman was placed in a rocket, launched from Krypton, a dying planet, by his father, Jor-El, found by Jonathan and Martha Kent, adopted from the Smallville orphanage and grew to manhood raised as their son. But, over the years there has been much confusion as to how the Kents actually died.

Looking at his calendar, Clark Kent's eyes fill with tears. "It's here," he thinks, that heart-breaking day. Changing from Clark Kent to Superman, the Man of Steel flies dutifully to Smallville, where he immediately resumes his guise as mild-mannered Clark Kent. Walking slowly to a small corner of the Smallville Cemetery, Clark stares longingly at the graves of his parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent.

Thousands of memories whiz through his mind until he focuses on a time many years before. The young Superboy had just completed a luxury cabin cruiser that he had built as a present for his parents to take a Caribbean holiday. After they made their way down the eastern coast, the couple had landed on a deserted island and were basking in the sunshine and scouring the beaches for shells to add to Jonathan's collection when Jonathan spotted an object buried at the edge of the beach. Digging away the sand, they unearthed an old chest. With a great deal of effort, they raised the lid revealing a number of old pistols, swords and a torn page from what appeared to be an old diary. Strangely, it was that page that provided the most interest. The page read, "July 16, 1717. Peg Leg Morgan. On this day, I was driven off the ship by the meanest pirate of them all. He marooned me on this island because..." But the account ended there.

Curious as to how their vacation was going, Superboy flew to the Caribbean and found his parents re-reading the page from the diary. As soon as he landed, both Jonathan and Martha Kent asked Superboy if he could take them back in time to discover the complete story of Peg Leg Morgan. Within minutes, Superboy constructed a super-hard plexiglas shield, placed their boat inside the bubble and transported Jonathan and Martha to that very spot in the year 1717 to discover none other than the ship of Blackbeard the pirate.

At first, the three avoided the pirates and explored the small island. But after a short time Jonathan and Martha became hungry. Superboy went to pick some fruit from a small tree when several of Blackbeard's men approached. Seeing him at the tree, the men got angry. "He has picked fruit from our favorite tree," they screamed. Rushing up, they "captured" Superboy, who actually decided to have some fun with the pirates. At their command, Superboy dug a hole in the sandy beach to bury himself with only his head exposed. When a large wave crashed over him, submerging him, he sped away at super-speed. Their mouths dropped open when the wave receded and he was gone. Whistling to them, Superboy waved casually to them from several yards down the beach, and seeing that he had survived, the superstitious pirates attempted a rapid escape. Superboy helped them along by filling their ship's sails with super-breath, blowing it well out into the Caribbean.

That fun now finished, Superboy returned his parents to the present even though they had not solved the mystery of Peg Leg Morgan. Within hours of returning, Jonathan and Martha became deathly ill. Superboy rushed them back to Smallville, the family doctor examined his parents before joining Clark in the living room. He was the bearer of sad news, telling Clark that his parents had contracted the Fever Plague. "Nobody's had the Fever Plague in 100 years," the doctor said. "They'd have had to travel back through time to been infected." Fearing the worst, Superboy constructed a crystal dome and placed it over the house to contain the deadly plague germs.

Using his x-ray vision, Superboy searched several libraries for any mention of a cure for the Fever Plague. After many hours of searching, he finally found a reference to an elixir made from an orchid tree in the Brazilian jungle. Streaking to Brazil, he first stopped at an active volcano to form a cup from the lava. He then knocked an orchid tree down, squeezed the sap from the bark into the cup and returned home, allowing both parents to sip the elixir. Sadly, the potion had no effect.

In desperation, Clark Kent approached Lex Luthor, the criminal genius, for help. Luthor knew that Jonathan Kent served on the parole board, and expected that his help would guarantee an early release, however Clark told him that healing his father would guarantee nothing. At first Luthor just turned and walked away, but after much pleading, he agreed to help anyway, and constructed a Health Restorer machine. But his efforts went for naught...the machine had no effect.

Desperately, Superboy sought for any way he could find to save his parents. Speeding to a secret crypt on the ocean floor, Superboy retrieved a Phantom Zone Projector he had hidden there for safe keeping and raced back to Smallville. He had decided that he could save them by placing them in the Phantom Zone until he could find a cure. Entering their room, he aimed the projector at his dying parents but sunspots interfered with the circuits preventing him from completing the teleportation. Painfully he could do nothing but watch as his mother passed away. Then, realizing that the end was near, Jonathan Kent pulled his son close and whispered to him, "You must always use your powers to do good - uphold law and order." Gathering up his last remaining strength, Jonathan Kent gasped with his dying breaths, "Good luck, my son... and goodbye!"

Fighting back the sadness, Clark focussed himself on performing the task of burying his parents. As a precaution, he used his x-ray vision to destroy all of the remaining plague germs to cleanse the house. At the reading of the will, Clark found that his parents had left him their house and business. Finally, a small sum of money was set aside to be donated to the Smallville Orphan's Home, the place that served as Clark's first home on earth until the Kents could arrange for his adoption.

Depressed by the death of his parents, Clark becomes obsessed with finding out exactly what had happened since, as time passed, he blamed himself for their deaths. Thinking that taking them to the past had exposed them to the horrible plague, Kent swore to never use his powers again so he could never harm another soul. It was that determination that prevented him from acting when he saw an abandoned house burning the next week. Rather than combat the fire himself, Clark called the fire department.

Painfully, Clark decided to sell the family home. Going through his father's papers, he once again came across the page from Peg Leg Morgan's diary that had started the whole chain of events. Disgusted, he wanted to rid himself of the page and decided to donate this to a museum. Entering the building, he was startled to find that the museum already possessed the remainder of the diary, and using his x-ray vision, Clark read the rest of the story. From the diary, Clark learned that Blackbeard had marooned Peg Leg Morgan on that island because he had contracted the Fever Plague. After handing the curator the torn page, Clark was told that several workmen who had installed the case in the museum had also died from a mysterious disease. Suddenly, Clark realized that the plague germs were still on the items in Morgan's chest. His parents had not contracted the disease from going back in time, as Clark had originally thought, but from handling the items they had found in the chest. In a flash, Clark used his x-ray vision to decontaminate the rest of the diary and the case.

Reassured that he was not the cause of his parent's death, Kent resumed his identity as Superboy. Flying to a distant corner of the galaxy, he added two statues to the memorial he had already created for his Kryptonian parents Jor-El and Lara. Together, they now stand with Jonathan and Martha Kent as an eternal memorial to his parents. Looking back at the memorial from space, Superboy cannot help but feel sadness. "The memory of my parents, both sets of parent, will live with me," swore Superboy, "forever."

4Story - 4: This story was written during a time when DC wanted to re-define the history of its main characters and give a firm basis for future stories. This was meant to be the definitive account of the events surrounding the death of Jonathan and Martha Kent. However, like many other "definitive" stories from this time period, it proved to be a significant departure from the events of several other versions of the "Superman Story". Prior to this, including the very first Superman story in 1939, Sarah, or Martha Kent had survived Eban, or Jonathan Kent's passing by several years. In addition, Jonathan Kent had always been shown to die while Clark was a young adult, ready to go to Metropolis and begin his career as Superman. In this version, the Kents pass away within hours of one another while Clark Kent was still a teenager, already having begun his career as Superboy. This story also contradicted several other details from other stories. For example, in a story appearing in Action #288, the family house was said to, "stand unoccupied in Smallville", scrupulously maintained by Clark Kent as a shrine to the memory of his parents. In this story, Clark sold the family house and disposed of the store. Aside from these points, the story stands as an important bit of information in the Superman mythos.

Still, as a story, it has several large plot holes, and possesses some of the most stilted dialogue of any story of this time period. Jonathan Kent's death scene is typical of this. How many people's last words are actually, "Good luck, my son... and goodbye!"

This second story in this issue was entitled "Superman Goes To War", written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by Swan and Klein. In this story, Clark, Lois and Jimmy cover "War Game Exercises," but Superman must become a one-man army when the exercises become "real", fighting alien invaders. The cover of this book announces that "For the first time in his life, Superman goes to war," even though Superman had already gone to war several times, including World War II, Korea, several civil uprisings in strange European nations and later to Vietnam.

2Art - 2: The art for this story was done by Al Plastino. Overall, it is a typical of Plastino's work from the 1960's. However, despite the importance of this tale, at points the artwork borders on boring, and is often completely uninspired.

4Cover Art - 4: The cover to this issue was another nice example of Curt Swan and George Klein's mastery of the Superman character during the mid-1960's. It was drawn to illustrate the lead story in this issue, "Superman Goes To War", written by Edmond Hamilton showing a defiant and angry Superman descending among a group of scattering soldiers.

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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