Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Superman #166

Superman #166

Cover date: January 1964

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

"The Fantastic Story of Superman's Sons"

Part I: Jor-El II and Kal-El II

In a Metropolis hospital, on a day that may or may not ever happen, Superman is overjoyed when he learns that he is the father of twin boys. "They aren't identical twins", explains the doctor sadly. Even without his explanation, differences are readily obvious. While Jor-El II appears to have inherited Superman's powers, Kal-El II has inherited the characteristics of his human mother.

As the years pass, Kal-El II grows up living in the big shadow of his super-brother. Even though Superman repeatedly asks Jor-El II to stop his taunting, and to include and protect his brother, Kal becomes more and more introverted prompting Superman to take a radical decision. In his travels in space, Superman had discovered a planet with unique radiation from two suns that would give even a normal earthman superpowers. Using a protective space suit, Superman transports Kal-El II through space to the planet and the boy is ecstatic. Here, he can fly, has all the super-powers of his father and decides to stay as this planet's "Superman". But the joy that he receives from his powers does not last long. Realizing that it is Christmas back home, Kal uses his telescopic vision and watches his family opening presents. Everyone appears so happy there; all except Kal. Depressed and homesick, Kal throws a huge rock from the planet to strike a passing asteroid making a signal for his father to come retrieve him.

Grabbing at straws, Superman then uses science to help his son. Slaving away in the laboratory, Superman eventually develops an elixir that he hopes will give Kal super-powers. To their amazement, when Kal drinks the liquid he can immediately lift a huge safe, but within moments he becomes invisible. Quickly, an antidote is administered. After he recovers, Kal thanks his father for all of the attempts, but asks that he just stop.

The next morning, Superman takes Jor-El II to help round up some racketeers, leaving a robot to guard Kal-El and his wife. In a field near the house, Kal watches them leave and again feels left out. Turning, he begins to walk home when two racketeers jump from the bushes and grab him. "This is the brother that is non-super," shouts one of the crooks. "Well hold him for a hostage." But before they can move, the robot appears to capture the crooks and alert Superman.

That night, Kal overhears his mother and father talking about the incident. "Since he's the weaker of our two sons, you must always guard Kal-El against such perils", insists his mother. Feeling weak and humiliated, Kal rushes from the house and decides to run away. Lightning illuminates his face, and only the falling rain from a summer shower hides the tears running down his cheeks as he runs down the road. Realizing his son has left, Superman quickly searches the area and finds Kal asleep in a nearby barn. Realizing that he must do something to build the self-esteem of his son, Superman suggests that he, Kal and Jor visit Kandor where none of them will have powers.

Part II: The New Nightwing and Flamebird

The three arrive at the Fortress of Solitude, and after reducing their size they parachute into the bottle city of Kandor, the last remaining city of Krypton. Superman takes his two sons to enroll them in Kandor University, to learn the history of Krypton. Their first assignment is a trip to view statues memorializing the greatest minds of the long-dead planet. Among them are Zan Zarn who discovered atomic power and Murn Abbas, inventor of the Repulsion-Halo which defeated an alien invasion of Krypton. And last, but not least, the two boys stop to stare at a statue of Jor-El, Krypton's greatest scientist, and their grandfather.

In Kandor, as he had on earth, Jor-El II excelled in physical endeavors, soon becoming a star in Sky Polo and Kandorian weight lifting, while Kal could not even make the team. Instead, Kal turned to academics, studying long nights in the library until, fatefully one night, Kal heard a loud crash and witnessed a masked thief using a rocket belt to fly away with a stolen device. The next night, the Mystery Raider strikes again stealing the only known specimen of the rare element, Volium.

The two boys decide to alter the costumes that Jimmy Olsen and their father had used years before in Kandor with Jor becoming the new Nightwing and Kal the new Flamebird. Going to the hidden Night Cave, and powering up the Nightmobile, the two head out on patrol, and soon discover the Mystery Raider breaking into the aquarium which housed some of Krypton's greatest ocean creatures. Searching through the halls, the brothers discover the Raider in the process of stealing the ancient Repulsion-Halo. Suddenly aware of the two, the Raider focuses the ray on the glass tank, shattering the walls enclosing a giant sea squid. Quickly, the boys ignite their jet-belts to pursue the raider, first flying over the talons of the squid then up through a skylight to the roof. As soon as they emerge into the open the Raider opens fire and Flamebird (Kal) is hit. Losing the power of his jet pack, Flamebird falls toward the rooftop and Nightwing (Jor) streaks down dives down to catch Kal. Safe on the ground, Kal realizes the one thing that should be so obvious... all of the stolen materials come from Old Krypton and no Kandorian would know how to use the ancient Repulsion-Halo.

Back at the university, Kal scours the history books and finds a clue to the Raider but Jor dismisses it. Returning to patrol as Nightwing and Flamebird, the two use their jet-belts to fly to the edge of the city to watch the artificial sun set and near the Jungle, discover living examples of the two Kryptonian birds they were named for. The harmony of the moment is destroyed when suddenly the two harmless birds are transformed into huge monsters. In the split second before they can react, Kal notices the Raider flying off and realizes that this must be his doing. Suddenly, the monstrous Flamebird grabs Kal dragging him through the air. In an instant, Jor has flown after the bird and uses his power jets to scare the bird and drop Kal. Once free, the boys work together grabbing fisherman's nets to capture the birds and head back to earth. "I told you I had a clue from history on that Raider, and now I know I'm right", screams Kal. "A terrible menace has come out of Krypton to threaten earth!... We have to warn the world of danger!"

Part III: Kal-El IIs Mission to Krypton

Emerging from the bottle city, Kal and Jor enlarge themselves to normal size and realize that the Raider has also enlarged himself and escaped. With an urgency neither of them had ever felt before, the brothers speed off to warn Superman. But before they can prepare for anything, a strange ray strikes two lizards in the zoo enlarging them to monsters. Superman and Jor stop them easily, only then to be faced by a giant water snake and an ape. Finally the raider broadcasts an ultimatum. "I have given you a sample of my powers. Accept me as world ruler in 24 hours or I will turn loose monsters on every city of earth."

Superman and Jor prepare to take off looking for the dangerous Raider. Kal, again, is left behind wondering what to do because he is the weaker brother. Then it strikes him. The clues lead back to old Krypton. Somehow he must go back to that world before it exploded.

Using a small super-speed plane, Kal hurries to the fortress by himself and uses a time bubble left for Superman by the Legion of Super Heroes to travel back in time to Krypton, before it exploded. Kal needs a pair of anti-grav shoes to displace the immense gravity of Krypton, and walks to an information machine to find Jor-El. With deep emotions, Kal-El II stands before the man that would be his grandfather and tells him that he has traveled a great distance in hopes of studying science with him. Jor-El agrees to give him a try, and when he asks the boy his name, Kal says, "My name is Kal-El Kent."

Entering Jor-El's laboratory, Kal watches Gann Artar, a brilliant biologist, demonstrate his new devolutionary ray to the Science Council. Within seconds of energizing the ray, modern animals revert to their more primeval form, essentially making monsters from pets. Disgusted by the results of the ray, the council forbids any future experimentation with the ray, but Gann Antar shouts revenge. "Fools! You're only jealous of me!" he screams.

Perhaps it is an unspoken understanding, or simply good fate, but Kal and Jor-El form an immediate bond with one another and later that day Jor-El takes Kal to the Crypt of El. "It's strange", says Jor-El, but you look like them. Suddenly feeling sad, and realizing that his grandfather's life will be cut short when Krypton explodes, Kal give Jor-El the blueprints for the time bubble hoping in his heart that Jor-El can use the plans to save the planet. "This design is truly amazing, Kal-El Kent! I'll build the thing as soon as I finish my freeze-force experiments."

A few nights later, while demonstrating the freezing force suspended animation ray, the devolutionary ray suddenly flashes from outside striking Krypto's ancestor. Instantly, the dog becomes large, enraged and charges. Without hesitation, Kal focuses the freezing force on the dog placing it in suspended animation and giving them time to find an antidote for the terrible ray. An hour later, Jor-El has concocted an antidote to the induced atavism, returning Krypto to normal. After some further testing, they are able to revert all of the affected creatures to normal, and as a result Gann Artar is sentenced to the Phantom Zone, an inter-dimensional prison. Leaning over the projector, the executioner pushes a black button and Artar begins to fade between dimensions. "I'll have vengeance yet. You'll see."

Soon Kal realizes that he must leave Krypton, but as the time bubble materializes in the present, the plans he had left with Jor-El materialize with him. "History cannot be changed", he sobs. In the fortress, Kal uses the Zone-O-Phone, a device Superman uses to communicate with Phantom Zone prisoners to seek Gann Artar only to find the Phantom Zoners laughing. "He escaped when a space warp temporarily opened the zone", they laugh. "He is the Raider and he has conquered your father and brother."

Kal speeds home in his plane and then races toward the house. Frantic, his mother rushes out to tell him his father and brother have gone to Gann Artar's base on Wild Mountain. Kal races after them, and finds his father and brother laying unconscious, poisoned by pieces of Green Kryptonite. Since Kal is human, he is not affected by the radiation and goes to face Gann Artar. Gann Artar flies down to confront Kal, and laughs. "Superman's weakling son will soon join him and his other son in death!" But before Artar can even land, Kal pulls a Phantom Zone Projector from a lead-lined wrap and pushed the projector's button returning Gann Artar to the Zone. Kal then rushes back to his father and brother, and drags them far away from the Green Kryptonite to safety.

Back at home, "It's wonderful how Kal-El II has changed", says his mother. Superman turns toward her and smiles. "If his grandfather, Jor-EL I were alive today, he would be proud indeed of his grandson Kal-El II."

5Story - 5: Lets just get this out of the way. In general, comic book stories before 1975 were not very well written. They were often more like sketches. This story has fits and starts, but overall it has something for every Superman fan and is a fun read. There's action, villains, the Phantom Zone, science fiction elements, not to mention Superman getting married and having children where even the weaker of his two sons is something special. Amazingly, in this story the writer does not assume Superman's wife is Lois Lane. In every panel she appears Superman's wife is either in harsh shadows that cover her face or has her back turned toward the reader. So, even though her hair style and body shape looks like Lois, at no point does the writer admit its actually her.

4Art - 4: Superman #166 is very typical of the work Swan and Klein were doing for DC in the early 1960s. It is well drawn, well paced and full of detail, and calls for some skillful story drawing of science fiction themes that are carried off very nicely.

4Cover Art - 4: As soon as you see this cover, you know it is an Imaginary Tale. The image is a Christmas scene, with one of Superman's sons flying around the tree and the other standing on a chair setting up the conflict between the brothers very well. Also, Superman's wife is again shown in a harsh shadow, and while she has the shape of Lois Lane, you cannot tell for sure.

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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