Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Superman #164

Superman #164

Cover date: October 1963

"The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman"

Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Pencils: Curt Swan
Inks: George Klein
Cover: Curt Swan-George Klein

Reviewed by:

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Part I: The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman

A typical day in prison and Lex Luthor, the most brilliant of prisoners sits, pondering and planning. "I'm locked up in this cage but he roves the whole world... It's time the long feud between Superman and me is settled, one way or the other!"

A few weeks pass and Luthor watches, and waits, then takes advantage of a bad situation. when a stamping press breaks down, Luthor offers to rebuild it. Days of intense work follow and when Luthor offers to show the warden the fruits of his labors the warden looks puzzled. "It doesn't look like the same machine at all," he says, scratching his head. "And, it isn't," yells Luthor as he powers up the machine which smashes through the prison walls effecting Luthor's escape.

As night falls, Luthor makes his way to his lead-lined hideout and a few nights later makes a bold move. Using a powerful transmitter, Luthor interrupts television broadcasts on all frequencies to issue a challenge for Superman to travel to a planet where he has no super-powers and meet him on even terms. Surprisingly, Superman agrees to the challenge. "If my career as Superman is to continue, I must accept the challenge! If people thought that I was afraid to meet him without my super powers, they might lose faith on me as a defender of the weak and oppressed." Word goes out from Superman telling Luthor to meet him on Mount Komo, a deserted, barren peak. When each man arrives, Luthor steps forward. "If you win and best me," starts Luthor, "I'll return with you and serve out my time in prison. But if I win, I'll leave you on that planet and return alone."

After they construct a fast spaceship, the two enemies travel to a distant red-sun where Superman would lose his powers. Since the gravity of the chosen planet is much greater than earth, Superman provides Luthor with gravity-shoes boots to counter the effects. Silently, the men find a spot and construct a ring with petrified logs, then turn ready to begin their battle.

Luthor wastes no time stepping in and landing punches on Superman's jaw, then blacking his eye. As Superman falls backwards, Luthor advances with a cold savagery, landing a hard right to the mid-section. Luthor's pent-up hatred turns him into a raging animal. "I'm going to give you the beating of your life, sneers Luthor gleefully. But, Superman takes advantage of his rage, and moves quickly throwing a thundering right to Luthor's jaw, lifting him from the ground, and knocking him out.

Leaving Luthor on the ground, Superman returns to the ship for water. But returning to the ring, Superman sees Luthor up and running into a forest of cacti certainly not willing to comply with their agreement. Superman starts in after him and Luthor turns back toward Superman. Opening a secret-compartment in his belt-buckle, Luthor pulls out a vial of plant growth stimulator that produces incredible growth of the cacti. The plants grow so large so rapidly that they soon crush down on Superman. The sight of this triggers the memory of a story of the Crimson Jungle of Krypton from his childhood where the only way he can escape their rapid growth was to quickly dig a pit and hide beneath the growing plants. With the cacti pressing into him, Superman digs his own pit, just large enough to squeeze beneath the horrible spines.

On a hill beyond the forest, Luthor monitors Superman's movements with a thermal detector. Realizing that Superman has survived, he aims a large boulder at Superman's position and sends it careening down the hill. Reacting quickly, Superman manages to dodge the boulder by deflecting its path with smaller stones.

Superman's quick mind deduces that Luthor has located him by body-heat, so he creates a fire as a diversion to cover his movement behind Luthor. But, emerging from the cactus forest, a sudden sandstorm begins. Superman wanders aimlessly, for hours, with no direction. In the mean time, Luthor has found shelter and hopes that when the storm abated he will find Superman... dead.

Part II: The Super Duel

Weakened by thirst, and tired from his struggle against the storm, Superman stumbles into a city. It does not take him long to realize that the place is deserted. Fatigue and hunger produce a delirium and he hallucinates thinking that he is back on Krypton until two weird animals walk by bringing him back to reality. The beasts appear like cows, but have huge transparent horns filled with water. Running to a staircase, Superman finds a hollow tube and uses it like a straw to drink. Somewhat revitalized, Superman then finds a place to rest knowing that he must regain his strength to battle Luthor on more time.

With the storm over, Luthor emerges from his shelter and begins searching for Superman, however he travels in a different direction and finds another town. While primitive, this city is inhabited. Luthor walks among the citizens noticing remnants of great science. Perhaps a great war eons ago wiped out their civilization and they've returned to the stone age, he thinks.

Continuing out of the city, Luthor comes across some farmers and sees that the ground is quite arid and even though there are water pumps there, the only irrigation is by hand. Suddenly a flock of monstrous birds screams down from the sky. Knowing that they will destroy the crops, Luthor uses the high-pressure pump to scare away the birds. Suddenly, Luthor is hailed as a hero, and the leaders take him back into the city to celebrate. Then, one of the leaders takes Luthor to a museum. He stands before many machines and realizes the possibilities first learning their language, then refitting the machines.

"Shortage of water is our biggest problem", says the leader of the city pointing to their only source of fresh water. Luthor tells him, "From my study of it, I fear that this fountain may soon fail." Returning to the museum, Luthor constructs giant robots to dig for more water, but as time passes the search becomes ever more futile. "The robots can't find any other source of water in this planet... yet I can't let these people down", thinks Luthor determinedly.

But his search for water is interrupted when Superman enters the town and finds him. "Luthor", calls Superman. "We can finish our fight now!" But the people realize Superman is no friend of their hero, and grab him to protect Luthor. Luthor's hatred takes over. "No, let go of him! I have vowed to fight him on even terms", explains Luthor. Taking him to the Museum, Luthor gives Superman access to the alien technology. "You can study them tonight", says Luthor. "Agreed", asserts Superman. "Well duel tomorrow!"

While Superman studies, Luthor continues his search for an alternative water source until, frustrated, he admits that there may be no other water on the planet. Amazingly, the evil Luthor is dismayed at disappointing these people.

The next day they enter an arena for the final showdown with the crowd cheering for Luthor. Luthor begins by selecting an anti-gravity tornado that quickly engulfs Superman. Superman quickly energizes a machine which expands the tornado nearly engulfing Luthor as well, forcing him to turn it off. Then Superman lifts a weapon projecting shooting suns, but Luthor counters with a wall of dark force through which no light or energy can pass.

Luthor then unleashes an automated bloodhound that immediately leaps for Superman's throat. Struggling with the robot, Superman manages to open a side panel and grabs a handful of wires. Ripping them from the robot, Superman deactivated the robot. Out of control, Luthor leaps at Superman yelling, "I can still use my hands." Grabbing at Superman's throat, Luthor closes his grip. Behind him the crowd is yelling, "Luthor is winning! And when he's won he'll find us more water." With that, Luthor pauses, knowing that there is no more water. As his grasp loosens, Superman crashes another blow to Luthor's jaw making him surrender.

Superman escorts Luthor back to the ship and prepares to leave. But before they can take off, the people of the city gather around calling to Luthor. "You won't forget your promise to get us water, great Luthor?" they cry. "No, I won't forget my friends", answers Luthor. "I'll do it."

Once their ship has entered a solar system with a yellow sun, Superman's powers return. Luthor turns to Superman and implores him to help. "There's an icy planet just ahead. You could throw vast masses of ice back to that desert world." Superman agrees, hurling icebergs across the vast reaches of space, then using his x-ray vision to activate Luthor's machines to build canals providing water to the entire planet. "Luthor, did you deliberately let me beat you so that... I could help you keep your promise to those people?" "Ridiculous, what makes you think such a thing?", spits Luthor.

But back on the once arid world, the people now have more water than they will ever need. "And we owe it all to great Luthor." Later, Superman visits Luthor in his prison cell. "I took this photo through a super-telescope in my fortress", says Superman handing him a photograph. A statue of Luthor stands tall among a throng of thriving buildings in a now prosperous world. "On one world... I'm a hero", says Luthor with a touch of emotion. "It was worth coming back to prison for."

4Story - 4: In a way this story was very much out of place. For nearly thirty years, Luthor had been portrayed as a sadistic, pathological psychopath with little or no regard for anything other than himself. But here, we see a transition from a man of pure hatred to a Luthor that can show compassion, and even do good deeds in a story that wasn't labeled an "Imaginary Tale". This story could have done a lot to change every Superman fan's impression of Lex Luthor, however in typical DC fashion, with the next appearance of Luthor he was back to his old psychopathic self. It sometimes seemed that the editors at DC had no memory since they quickly forgot a story after it appeared. As such, there was no strong thread of continuity among stories in a year, let alone a decade which greatly frustrated Superman fans.

4Art - 4: This is another strong example of Curt Swan's work from the early 1960's. Characteristically, Swan's rendering of faces and science fiction elements was flawless. Also, Swan handled the battles between Luthor and Superman with an amazing attention to detail. While in many stories featuring Luthor, Swan has given him a decidedly evil countenance, here he softened the edges a bit making Luthor a very sympathetic character.

5Cover Art - 5: The cover for this issue was a great image of a bare-chested Superman and Luthor slugging away at each other on a planet with a red sun. From the cover alone, you knew that this issue was going to be something good!

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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