Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Superman #168

Superman #168

Cover date: April 1964

"Luthor - Super Hero" and "Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor"

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

Cover: Curt Swan and George Klein

Reviewed by: Tom-EL

Click to enlarge

Main Story - Part 1: "Luthor - Super Hero"

On the planet Lexor, there stands a statue in the heart of the city honoring Lex Luthor. A father and daughter stand admiring the statue. The father says, "Yes, mighty Lex Luthor discovered the lost science of our ancestors, and turned our barren planet into a world of plenty". To which the child responds, "That's why we named our planet Lexor in his honor". At the same time, Superman is on his way there in a space-ship, determined to return Luthor to prison on Earth. He lands the ship on the planet, then sets off to find Luthor, knowing he will have to use extreme care. On this world, Luthor is the hero and he is the enemy. As he walked to the city, Superman saw relics of Lexor's past, some half-buried in the ground. There was once a great scientific civilization here, and Superman reasons that one of the things that makes Luthor so dangerous is that he has studied and picked up on much of the ancient super-science of this world.

Luthor is in his research lab, working on a project. The people of Lexor see him working so hard day and night and believe he is working to discover more of the science of their ancestors to benefit them. In fact, the reason he has studied this science so closely is because he is looking for technology that will aid him in fighting Superman when he returns. He was specifically looking for science that would give him artificial super-powers to use against Superman. Superman has entered the city, being careful not to be seen. He passes by a studio where two life-size figures of Luthor and Superman in combat are being prepared to be taken to the city museum. Secretly, he hides the Superman figure and substitutes himself, so that he is carried further into the city. In the museum, Superman sees all the honors and tributes that the people of Lexor have paid to Luthor, including an exhibit with a collection of Rainbow crystals, which are considered one of the great natural treasures of the planet. Superman looks long and hard at the crystals. He thinks "...the rarest mineral in the universe, produced only by strange conditions." He has seen crystals like these before, but only one other time. They seem to have an almost hypnotic effect. Studying them closer, a change comes over Superman. They have become so irresistible to him, he decides he has to take them with him, even if it means forgetting about his plan to apprehend Luthor. He hears someone coming into the room, so he moves back to his place in the Luthor-Superman exhibit. It is Ardora, the girl who loves Luthor. Knowing that he needs to get out of there, he comes to life before her eyes, causing her to run out of the room, yelling for help. Ardora alerts everyone within the sound of her voice, and the chase is on for Superman, carrying the stolen crystals in a brown briefcase. Superman is able to make his way to the studio where he hid the Superman figure. A canal runs past the shop, so Superman tossed the figure out the window, hoping the crowd following him would think that it was him, jumping into the canal. It worked, but he knows they will find that figure soon enough and know it isn't him, so he knows that ruse will only buy him a limited amount of time.

Meanwhile, Luthor is still continuing his research with the ancient technology. He found and rebuilt a machine that gives a human body temporary super-powers. Luthor tried it out on himself and discovered that it works. Automatically, his super-hearing kicks in, he hears someone coming, so he turns the machine off. It's Ardora, who has come to warn him that the evil Superman is here on Lexor. Luthor sends Ardora home, then he devises a plan. He didn't want to be seen using his new powers openly, knowing that potential enemies might try to get at him by holding Ardora, so he dons a cape and cowl costume, thinking to himself "It's ironic that to fight Superman, I've had to adopt the same hidden-identity trick Superman uses in Metropolis". As he goes flying over the city, he tells on-lookers that they can call him "The Defender", because he is defending them from invading outlaws like Superman. Using his x-ray vision, he saw Superman hiding from the crowd behind the Luthor statue. Using his super-strength, he picked up the statue so that the crowd could see him, and the chase continued. Eventually, the crowd surrounds Superman and captures him. Superman is taken to jail, and given a robot guard, specifically programmed to watch over him. Superman finds himself a prisoner, wondering who this mysterious "Defender" with super-powers is, and considers the similarity that the Defender put him in jail in much the same way that he uses his super-powers on Earth to round up Luthor and take him to prison. Superman thinks to himself, "Luthor escaped from Earth prisons time after time using his wits. I've got to use my wits to get out of here, so I can get those unique crystals back."

Luthor has now returned to the lab and changed back into his clothes. Ardora arrives and begins telling him all about this mighty champion named the Defender, who helped them capture Superman. Luthor and Ardora go down to the jail to see Superman, who is being guarded by the robot. Superman calls out to Luthor that he wants to make a deal, but Ardora warns him not to. Luthor has no interest in making any deals with Superman, he further warns him that it would be useless to try any clever talk on the robot-guard because he's nothing more than an automaton that can be programmed for any action. After they leave, Superman remembers that statement "an automaton that can be programmed for any action". If that's the case, Superman devises a plan. He takes off his cape, makes a loop, and through his jail bars, lassos the robot. He ties the other end of his cape to a bar, and as the robot continues to walk, the bar is pulled out, allowing Superman to escape the cell. He knows however, that the robot is programmed to capture him if he escapes, so moving fast, he gets to the control panel on the robot's back and re-programs it. Instead of guarding prisoners, it is now programmed to go on a mission for Superman. In the meantime, he plans to get out of the city while it is night and the streets are pretty well deserted.

During the night the robot makes its way to the city museum. It has no trouble getting past the guards, and steals the rainbow crystals. The alarm goes out as word spreads through the city. Luthor races to his laboratory and again charges himself up with artificial super-powers, then takes off in the garb of the Defender. The guards, seeing the Defender, want him to stop the robot, but he is not going to do that because he knows the robot will lead him to the real thief, Superman. Lex follows the robot, and finds Superman at the place where Superman had parked the space-ship. "You're rejoicing a little too soon, Superman" the Defender says to him. "I'm going to destroy you Superman, but before I do, allow me the pleasure of revealing who it is that is ending your career!". He takes off his cowl and reveals himself to be Luthor. Superman pleads with him to listen to his deal, saying "It concerns the good of your people here on Lexor." Luthor consents to listen, but warning Superman "No tricks!" Superman then explains what he has remembered about the crystals. The people of Lexor once long ago had a brilliant civilization, but it fell because of the people's decline into barbarism. The Rainbow crystals were the cause of that decline. It was due to rays they give off that slow the brain's EKG action and dull the intelligence. Luthor doesn't believe that at all, suspecting that this a trick by Superman to talk his way out of destruction. Superman swears it's true. He finally remembered where he'd seen the crystals the first time. It was on a far off planet, but fortunately, the people of that planet recognized the danger and destroyed the crystals before it was too late. Superman says the real reason he was trying to get these crystals off Lexor, was to save the people from the harmful effects. A skeptical Luthor examines the Rainbow crystals with his x-ray and microscopic vision and sees that Superman is telling the truth. Luthor agrees to allow Superman to take the crystals and leave Lexor, with his promise to destroy them. However, both agree that this is not the end of their feud. As the ship passes by Earth's yellow sun, Superman opens the hatch and hurls the crystals into the sun. He is going back to Earth, but he knows one day he will return to Lexor and finally have it out with Luthor. Their feud will never end until the day Luthor is brought to justice.

5Story - 5: This issue is part two of a four issue story-arc written by Edmond Hamilton, dealing with Superman and Luthor on the planet Lexor. Part one was told in Superman #164 (see Wallace Harrington's review), with parts three and four being told in Action Comics issues #318 and #319 (also reviewed by Wallace Harrington). DC didn't do very many multi-title story lines in the silver-age, for the ones they did, this is surely one of the best. "Luthor - Super-Hero" was in my opinion, the best chapter of the four issues. It tells a story that shows true irony in that it represents a total 180-degree role-reversal from most any regular Superman vs. Luthor story. In this tale, Superman returns to the planet Lexor, where Luthor is now that world's hero that everyone looks up to, he's the one with a super-identity that he keeps secret from the people. Luthor even has a woman who loves him, his own version of Lois Lane. On this world, Superman is the outlaw and despised "public enemy number-1". Another bit of ironic reversal that Superman sees, that on this planet, Luthor has super-powers (albeit temporary), while Superman can only rely on his intelligence and his wits to stay out of Luthor's grasp.

I tend to agree with a point Wallace Harrington made in his review of Superman #164. He noted how puzzling it was, Luthor's compassion and humanity to the people of Lexor (which continues in this issue), that he rarely if ever had shown to the people of his own home world. Then, when this story line was over, he returned to his old evil self. In the 7th season Smallville episode "Descent", Michael Rosenbaum's Luthor kills off his good side, shown in the story as his younger self running around in his mind. This story makes you wonder if the silver-age Lex's good side was still there, when you see his kindness towards the people of Lexor, and why is it that we virtually never saw that side of him ever again? At one point I thought that his humanity might just be all for show in order to get his hands on the ancient science, but I discarded that theory when Luthor allowed Superman to leave, getting the rainbow crystals off the planet. If he actually didn't care about these people, he would never have let Superman out of his grasp.

5Art - 5: What else can be said? This is Curt Swan at his silver-age best. I always liked the way Swan handled landscapes and city backgrounds of alien planets. In his review of Action Comics #318 and #319. Harrington notes the faces of the enraged crowd - different, individual, and filled with emotion, as an example of Swan's skill in creating diverse characters. I agree, and those talents can be seen in this issue as well.

Main Story - Part 2: "Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor"

One month has passed since Superman left planet Lexor. In that time, Luthor cannot forget that Superman drove him into exile, despite his now living on a planet with a woman that loves him and population that hails him as a world-wide hero. He also discovered, and is using an inventing machine. He first used it to invent artificial red Kryptonite to rob Superman of his powers, then he had the machine build him a special ship, built for two, so he could return to Earth and bring Superman back as his prisoner. Despite the objections of Ardora, he takes off, bound for Earth. As the ship enters Earth's orbit, it accelerates too fast, causing it to break the time barrier and arrive on Earth in the year 1906. It sets down outside San Francisco. Luthor walks into the city. A man in horse and buggy asks for directions to the San Francisco Daily Planet, and Luthor remembered that the Planet actually got its start on the west coast. Then a cat spooked the man's horse into bolting, the driver fell out and instantly died. Luthor, examining the man's I.D., discovers he was Cyrus Groat, and he was on his way to become the new Planet editor. Since the man was new in town and unknown, Luthor, figuring he will need a job while he's stranded in this time, decides to impersonate Groat and take his job.

In the present, Clark Kent sits at his desk writing a story on the world's greatest scientists, which by definition means, it must include Luthor. He begins to wonder if Lex is still on Lexor and using his telescopic vision and reading lips, he sees he is not there. Then he uses his vision again to see if he's on Earth. When that search fails, Clark determines to know where Lex is. As Superman, he flies to his Fortress to use a Kandorian machine that can find a person anywhere, even in a different time period. He tracks him down to 1906 San Francisco, so he decides to go there to see what he's up to. Arriving there, Superman decides he will need a job while he's there, so he puts on a derby hat and turn-of-the-century suit and applies at the Daily Planet for a job as a reporter, calling himself Clark Kent. New editor Cyrus Groat (Luthor wearing fake whiskers) isn't interested until he recognizes that this is Superman. He'll give Kent the job if he can get three big scoops. Clark agrees and says he'll get right on it.

Scoop number one - Kent must get an interview with famous actress Lillian Russell. She's in town and Groat wants a front-page story. Clark gets the interview, and what originally seemed to be a dull story turned interesting. Lillian Russell tells him that her friend Diamond Jim Brady is bringing her a jeweled necklace. Clark looks out the window on the street below and sees Brady being held up, including the necklace. Using his heat-vision to set off a nearby gas street lamp, a policeman passing by sees and arrests the thieves. The next morning the editor considers that a freak, and sends Kent on his next assignment.

Scoop number two - Clark has to get in the ring and be a sparring partner with "One-Round" O'Rourke, the heavy-weight challenger. He goes there and watches a sparring match, noting that O'Rourke is a phony because he uses brass knuckles that Clark can see with his x-ray vision. This gave him an idea for his scoop. Clark agrees to spar with O'Rourke, being told if he knocks O'Rourke out, he'll win $1,000. He gets into the ring, wearing the bottom half of his costume, which looks like boxing attire of the period. He blocks O'Rourke's blows with super-breath, and, while on the mat, bites off the hammer of the bell, so that the time-keeper can't ring the bell, prematurely ending the round. O'Rourke tries a head-butt, which back-fires knocking himself out, so Clark collects $1000 for knocking out the champ, which he donates to the fire department which is collecting for a new fire engine.

Scoop number three - Clark is instructed to visit the showroom where the new horse-drawn fire-engine is waiting to be delivered to the fire department. Again, Luthor (as Groat) wants a front-page story. Clark enters the showroom and immediately feels a tingling that he recognizes as red Kryptonite. Then the horse kicks him, and feeling it, knows his invulnerability and super-strength are gone. He discovers all of his powers are gone, except his visions, by which he spots a ship on fire in the bay. Leaping on the fire-engine, he takes off for the bay. With x-ray vision he sees the right chemicals in the ship's hold, that he set off with his heat vision, causing the chemicals to foam, putting out the fire. This marks the first historical time that foam extinguished a fire. Later he meets the captain, Josiah White and his young grandson, Perry. Clark thinks "This lad will grow up to be Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet".

Clark knows that only Luthor could have painted that engine with red Kryptonite paint. As he is walking along the sidewalk, Luthor emerges from beside a building, holding a gun, telling Clark "Take off your disguise, Kent, I know you're Superman!" Luthor forced Superman at gunpoint to row the two of them out to an island in the middle of the bay. Luthor previously placed a Lexorian teleportation device on the island, intending to send them both back to Lexor. He throws the switch, but only he disappears, along with half the island, causing vibrations. At that moment, more vibrations occur, and Superman realized that Luthor was responsible for the great San Francisco earthquake, which now takes place. Without his powers, there is nothing he can do to prevent the quake. Once again he sees that he can't change history. He spent a few days with Lillian Russell at a mission helping quake victims until his powers returned, then he returned to the present.

Superman figured that Luthor was teleported back to Lexor, but using his telescopic vision, he sees that Luthor never returned there. Then an idea occurs to him. Superman and the warden of Metropolis Prison fly to an abandoned prison island in San Francisco bay, the warden wondering what they are doing there. Inside the prison, Superman and the warden walk past hundreds of empty cells. They walk down the last row of cells, and there he is, Lex Luthor, in one of the cells. Luthor says "Superman, thank heavens! I've been alone in this place for three days. How did you find me?" It dawned on Superman that the island that Luthor put his Lexorian transporter on, was later the location of a government prison that over time was abandoned. His teleporter misfired, instead of sending the two of them to Lexor, it sent him to the same location in the present - a cell on Alcatraz. Superman tells him "You should have stayed on Lexor". Luthor says "Then that island was Alcatraz! I made a super-goof!"

4Story - 4: "Lex Luthor - Daily Planet Editor", was an interesting story, but I thought it seemed out of place as one chapter in this on-going story-line regarding the planet Lexor. It's actually a fairly good story on its own, it just struck me as not a particularly good fit with the rest of the entire story-arc. However, I give it credit for establishing how Luthor came to be in prison, setting up where the story in Action Comics #318 begins. In this story, Superman as Clark Kent was not wearing glasses while using his Kent name in 1906. Yet somehow, rather than Luthor thinking "Clark Kent must really be Superman", he instead thought "Superman is using his friend Kent's name". Evidently Lois isn't the only one that can't make the Clark-is-Superman connection by sight.

5Art - 5: Same great artwork as the first story. It's been said that Swan's Superman was drawn to look like George Reeves, and I have seen the resemblance many times. But, if you read this story, look at Clark in the 1906 suit and derby hat. To me, he looks remarkably like Christopher Reeve in the suit and derby he wore in in the 1980 movie Somewhere In Time. I almost expected Lillian Russell to look like Jane Seymour.

5Cover Art - 5: Another great Swan/Klein collaboration, this time as Superman hides behind a statue honoring Lex Luthor, with a cape and cowl costumed Lex as "The Defender", looking through the statue with his x-ray vision, and the mob ready to string up Superman. Superman is thinking that he certainly sees the irony of the role-reversal in this situation. To me, this cover sums up the story very well.

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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