Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Superman #163

Superman #163

Cover date: August 1963

"Wonder-Man, the New Hero of Metropolis"

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

"The Goofy Superman"

Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: Al Plastino
Cover: Curt Swan and George Klein

Reviewed by: Tom-EL

Click to enlarge

The story opens with Lois and Jimmy saying good-bye to Clark who supposedly is going on vacation. The truth is, as Superman he is going off to place steel support beams in a fault chasm underneath another city. Finishing that job, he then flies off to a nuclear facility to be present at the test of a new experimental reactor. He plans to build a shield to place over the plant, so that in case of an accident, no harmful rays will escape. At that moment, another caped hero arrives, announcing that his name is Wonder-Man, and he has already made the lead shielding. Superman thought he might be a robot, but his x-ray visions reveals that he is human. A crack opens in the reactor, but Wonder-Man repairs it before Superman can lend a hand, proving that this mystery hero is also invulnerable. As Wonder-Man flies away, both Superman and Jimmy Olsen wonder who he is and where he got his powers. A curious Superman intends to find out.

At the Fortress, Superman checks to see if anyone had left Kandor. Finding the Kandorians accounted for, he next checks the Phantom Zone and discovers no one has left. While Superman continues his investigation, Wonder-Man rescues a ship in Metropolis Harbor, and brings a Latin-American statue, a gift to Metropolis that Superman was supposed to get. Superman shows up in time to see the arrival and questions how Wonder-Man even knew about his bringing the statue. After the statue presentation, Wonder-Man approaches Superman and tells him to quit prying into who he is, and just retire as Clark Kent and get out of town. He even pulls out from his cape a piece of kryptonite to force Superman to give up. Superman is stunned to learn that this newcomer is invulnerable to kryptonite and knows that he is Clark Kent. In the following days, Wonder-Man becomes the toast of Metropolis as Superman is nearly forgotten. As Wonder-Man is honored by Metropolis with a parade, he rides in the car, waving to a cheering crowd and thinking to himself "If Superman only knew who I REALLY am!" He was, until recently, one of Superman's robots.

Wonder-Man continues to remember the events of his identity change. He was originally one of Superman's robots, the guardian of the Fortress, and his name was Ajax. Superman was aware of a meteor swarm that was headed in the direction of Earth, but he would be busy preventing an earthquake in Canada, so he sent Ajax to investigate. Ajax flew to the scene and discovered a space-ship pinned to one of the larger meteors. He freed the ship, but was severely damaged by a flying piece of meteorite and blacked out. Later he awoke to discover the inhabitants of the ship recovered his body, and transferred his robot memories into the body of a human-like chemically-made android with super-powers equivalent to those he had as a robot. The new body looked nothing like Superman, with blonde hair and a different face. Ajax was given a new super-costume, and told that he now had no reason to think of himself as Superman's servant. The super-suit had a "W" insignia shield on it so that he could call himself Wonder-Man. He returned to Earth feeling like a human, and determined to perform great tasks with his new identity and powers. As his thoughts returned to the present and the parade in his honor, he thinks to himself "Superman doesn't dream that I used to be one of his robots, but I must go ahead with my plans."

Lois and Jimmy were covering the parade in a Daily Planet helicopter. A parade banner broke free and was tangled in the copter's rotor-blade, causing it to fall. Superman flew towards the helicopter, but Wonder-Man got there first and saved the day. Superman began to feel like a has-been, so he decided to say good-bye to Metropolis and fly to his Fortress and sort things out. No sooner had he gotten there then he discovered Wonder-Man standing in front of the door. He told Superman "I'm taking over the Fortress of Solitude!" Superman states he is responsible for the things in the Fortress and isn't going to give it up without a fight. Superman and Wonder-Man fight it out, blow-for-blow, with Wonder-Man getting the best of the struggle and leaving his piece of kryptonite next to a prone Superman. A short time later, the aliens that Wonder-Man (as robot Ajax) rescued land their ship close to Superman, still laying next to the kryptonite. They approach a very weak Man of Steel, revealing that they are part of the Superman Revenge Squad, turning Ajax into Wonder-Man and giving him the kryptonite was all part of their plan to destroy Superman.

Their plan was years in preparation, having to be revised only when it was a Superman robot rather than Superman himself that came to investigate the fake meteor swarm. They wanted Ajax to think it was in gratitude that they gave him an android body, the reality was that they expected the two would eventually battle, with Wonder-Man winning with the help of his piece of kryptonite. At that moment, Wonder-Man returns. Immediately he grabs the kryptonite and throws it far away. He knew all about their plan. After he left their ship, he tested his x-ray vision and super-hearing just in time to see and hear them talking about Ajax's role in their plan to destroy Superman. Knowing that they were monitoring him, he went along with their plan, displaying jealosy towards Superman until the two eventually clashed, knowing the Revenge Squad would come down to see Superman finally die. As the SRS members enter their space-ship, Superman and Wonder-Man pick up the ship and toss it into outer-space, knowing it will be many years before they can slow the momentum of the ship enough to take control of it, making it a virtual prison in space.

Superman revealed to Wonder-Man that he had figured out that he was originally one of his robots. During their fight, he told Wonder-Man that Supergirl or his loyal robots would avenge his death, then he saw tears in Wonder-man's eyes. Wonder-Man admitted that he cried because of the deep admiration he feels for Superman. They both return to Metropolis, with Superman planning to inform the citizens of Metropolis the truth about the identity of Wonder-Man. He intended for the two of them to be equal partners protecting the city. Wonder-Man informs Superman that there is one other thing he overheard the SRS members say. They fixed it so that after the death of Superman, a few days later Wonder-Man's android body would die due to a fail-safe death-mechanism the aliens had built into him, in order not to have any trouble from him. As time finally runs out, Wonder-Man dies in Superman's arms. He tells Superman that it was wonderful to have been a human, if only for a short time. His last words are "Good-bye Superman... my master!" Superman responds "Not your master, you died as you lived, as a human being and as my friend." Later, Superman, Lois, Jimmy, and Perry stand at the monument to Wonder-Man's final resting place. The monument reads "WONDER-MAN - Formerly called AJAX. He was born a ROBOT.... But he died a MAN."

4Story - 4: During the silver-age, the Superman Robots were seen in many of the Superman stories of those years. Even though they were called robots, they were immensely sophisticated mechanical representations of Superman, far more complex than the metal mechanical robots created by Earthly scientists and inventors of those times. Most of the time they were there either to provide Superman a way to be in two or more places at once, or so that Clark Kent and Superman could be seen in the same place at a given time to avoid suspicions that they might be one and the same person. The Superman robots were kept at the Fortress, while Clark Kent robots were kept behind a secret panel at Clark's apartment. Only once in a very great while did one of the Superman robots ever take center stage in the story. This, in my opinion, is one of the best of those robot stories. It had mystery (who is this Wonder-Man?), it has a reasonably good super-clash between the two heroes, and it had what I thought was a very touching ending. What can I say? I'm a sentimentalist at heart, The Waltons was one of my favorite TV shows. It was a poignant moment, occasionally seen in the silver-age. The Edmond Hamilton era saw some very good Superman stories, this one among them.

4Art - 4: Much has been written about Curt Swan's ability as a penciller to draw interesting and unique faces on the characters in his stories, and this case is no exception. When Ajax becomes Wonder-Man, Swan didn't just make him look like Superman with blonde hair, he could do more with facial construction and appearance than just give you another cookie-cutter square-jawed hero face. Not only Wonder-Man, but also the leader of the Superman Revenge Squad had facial characterizations that I could visualize what they might look like in real life. A well written story that Swan and Klein matched with equally fine art. You normally might not think of purple and yellow as colors that would work for a super-hero costume, but Wonder-Man pulls it off nicely.

"The Goofy Superman"

Clark Kent reads the morning teletype at his office, and discovers "The Mad Bomber of Vineville" is at it again, threatening to blow up Vineville's City Hall. Vineville has no bomb squad of its own, so Superman is off to the rescue. He finds the bomb in an excavation, and blocks the blast, but the resulting crater exposes him to a piece of red kryptonite that was buried close by. Feeling a familiar tingling sensation, he knows he's about to go through another red K transformation. He changes to Kent, hoping he does nothing that will give his secret away. This time the red kryptonite makes him do a number of goofy things, such as walking on his hands (his wallet and ID drops out), and purposely sitting on a park bench with wet paint. The Vineville PD picks him up and puts him in a cell, so he then acts like a monkey in the zoo. The police also picked up the Mad Bomber who stated he regretted not having the chance to set off his 100th bomb. The police put him in the same cell with the goofy "John Doe" they just picked up.

A deranged Clark and the Mad Bomber spend the night in the lock-up, and the next day are transported to a local asylum. This particular sanitarium is filled primarily with patients who think they are famous people from the past. Among the "guests" at this facility are Napoleon, Abe Lincoln, Da Vinci, King Arthur, Columbus, and General Ulysses S. Grant riding a wooden hobby horse. About this time, guess what wears off? Clark returns to his normal self, but as a patient of the asylum, he is not able to just walk out. He goes to the warden and tells him that he's really sane, but he acted nutty for 48 hours to pass a fraternity initiation. He doesn't tell him his real name, instead he says his name is Cal Ellis. The warden buys his story and tells him the release papers will be ready in one hour. Unfortunately, before the hour is over, Clark meets Gen. Grant, who falls over and breaks his wooden horse and insists that Clark be his new horse. Clark honors his request, but seeing an airplane in trouble, flies up to fix it with Grant still on his back. When they are back on the ground, General Grant decides to strip him for disobeying orders, ripping off his coat and shirt, exposing his Superman costume. When the warden sees that, Clark is sent back to solitary.

Superman knows he needs to get out, but can't leave any evidence there of who he is, that might expose his real identity, so he decides to stay until he can get rid of any evidence he was in the place. He has two immediate goals. One is to find a way to extricate himself from the asylum, leaving no evidence he was ever there. Goal two deals with an attendant at this facility that insists on treating the inmate patients with disrespect bordering on cruelty, and Superman decides to teach him a lesson in their presence. General Grant and the attendant enter into a series of wagers with the two challenging Clark to prove if he is or is not Superman. Clark pulls each one off in a way that first appears that he is Superman so the attendant pays off Grant (always a box of cigars), then he arranges a plausible alternative that discredits the attendant in everyone else's eyes. The final wager has Clark showing his super-strength to Grant and the attendant by hurling cannon balls over the asylum outer walls. At the same time, the Mad Bomber has been saying he has his "100th bomb" just about ready. The cannon balls are really mellons painted black, and Clark, smoking several cigars Grant gave him in gratitude, causes a smoke screen with a fake explosion, causing the bomber to believe his final bomb (another black mellon) was a success, and getting the attendant in trouble with the hospital authorities for allowing Kent to escape. As he escapes through the hole in the wall, Clark covered by his smokescreen, uses his heat vision to set fire to his file, the last piece of evidence he was there. Upon his return to the Daily Planet, Perry informs Clark that his next assignment is to act like an insane person so that he can enter an asylum and do a story on life inside.

2Story - 2: Anyone who has read Douglas Trumbull's or Neal Bailey's reviews of Smallville is familiar with the expression "filler episode". This is basically the comic book equivalent of that. Not a bad little story in its own right, in fact, it's mildly entertaining. It's just a light story with no real depth and a villain that seems better suited to Green Arrow or maybe Plastic Man. Where exactly is Vineville and how slow a day was it in Metropolis that Superman (DC's most powerful hero) needed to fly over there to go after some two-bit villain that just about any second or third tier DC hero could have apprehended? I didn't dislike the story, I just thought it more in line with stories of DC heroes that at that time didn't have their own book, such as Martian Manhunter or Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man. However, in its defense, I will l say I did like the idea of Superman helping the inmates of the institution, and making their lives better.

4Art - 4: I've stated before that I am not Al Plastino's biggest fan, but in this story his work seemed better (to me) than usual, and I'll give him kudos for the way he drew inmates that looked like the historical characters the inmates believed they were. Some of the facial expressions of the General Grant character were just priceless. In my opinion, this is a better than average Plastino story.

4Cover Art - 4: Typically fine work of Swan and Klein, this time showing the moment that Superman appears to be feeling a little down because Wonder-Man seems to have overtaken him in popularity with the citizens of Metropolis. Jealousy seems a little out of character for the big blue boy scout, but such was sometimes the nature of stories from the silver-age of comics.

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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