Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (

Superman #247

Superman #247

Cover date: January 1972

Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover: Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson

"Must There Be A Superman"

Deep in space, Superman sped toward a giant yellow spore-pod hurtling toward our galaxy. "There it is--- Just as the Guardians said!" he thought to himself. Changing course to intercept the pod, Superman realized that there were many red suns in this galaxy and felt his powers beginning to fade. Regardless, Superman decided that he had to go on and gathered speed in an effort to deflect the pod. Reaching an incredible speed he hit the pod, but bounced harmlessly away.

Rebounding from the impact, Superman saw a red sun moving out of the galaxy and an idea struck him. Quickly, he created a small, dense planet from meteors, and propelled it through a crowded solar system where it captured nitrogen and oxygen. After reaching a critical speed, he threw the planetoid in such a way that it would collide with the pod and begin orbiting the red sun. He was only able to observe the collision and the dispersion of the spores before radiation from the red sun finally sapped Superman's strength completely causing him to black out and fall into a peaceful unconsciousness.

For what seemed an eternity, Superman drifted in space. Tranquil. Quiet. In reality, only seconds passed before a green glow surrounded the Man of Steel and, in the speed of a thought, he was transported to OA, home planet of the Guardians of the Universe, and center for all Green Lanterns of the galaxy. Katma Tui, Green Lantern of Korugar, rescued Superman's body and following the instructions of a Guardian, placed him in the direct path of the light beam of the main power battery for all Green Lanterns.

In moments, the healing process had begun and in a state of semi-consciousness, Superman recalled that he had been asked to perform this task because the spores were yellow, the one color against which all GL power rings would be ineffective. Still in this semi-awake state, he also overheard the Guardians discuss Superman's effect on the growth of human culture and the words shook him back to reality. "My what?" asked Superman incredulously. "What are you talking about?" Politely, one of the Guardians led Superman down a long hall and spoke. "Please understand, Kal-El, we have always respected you. None-the-less, your actions have interfered with human social growth. Surely you must realize that your presence on earth directly contributed to the Terran's cultural lag." Superman was dumbfounded, and the Guardian seemed to let the subject drop, offering to show Superman through the Center of Green Lantern Operations yet hoping that they had planted a seed.

The Guardian led Superman into an immense room, which housed a sphere containing the stored complete history of the Galaxy. All the while, Superman wondered what the Guardians were getting at. Walking to the sphere, the Guardian initiated a program and before them appeared the record of a Justice League mission to the planet Kalyarna (Justice League of America #86), whose environment had become horribly polluted. Once Superman arrived, the people of the planet expected him to save the planet. But Superman told them, "You'll never solve the problem by handing it over to someone else." The JLA agreed to restore the sea's ecology, but insisted from that point forward the Kalyarnans must make the effort to maintain the ecosystem themselves, "Just as earth must do," explained Superman. After the scene ended, the Guardian led Superman outside into the light of the Oan day. Shaking hands, the Guardians said goodbye. "It has been a productive visit, Kal-El."

In space, there is no sound, but thoughts echo inside Superman's head like angry screams. "For years, I've been playing big brother to the human race. Have I been wrong? Are they depending on me too much, too often? Maybe I have been interfering unnecessarily. I decide what's right or wrong and then enforce my decision by brute strength."

Entering earth's atmosphere, a confused Man of Tomorrow performed a power dive over central California and streaked across the fertile plains. His super-hearing picked up a violent argument and investigating, Superman came across a migrant worker crew-boss assaulting a young Latino who had spearheaded a strike at an orchard. Everyone had agreed to strike for more equitable treatment but ultimately only the boy, Manuel, stood his ground. Once Superman arrived though, the workers felt a new sense of confidence and joined together behind Superman. "Let him have it, Superman. Give it to him good," they screamed. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, Superman turned to the crowd and asked, "Why don't you handle it?" Angrily, he told them that they were the ones that should settle these disputes and not to turn to him for help.

His behavior toward Manuel, though, was compassionate. Putting his arm around the boy, he led him through the crowd that parted as they passed, and asked the boy to tell him what had happened. As the boy told Superman that his father had sent him to California from Mexico for a better life, images of Jor-El placing him in a spacecraft flashed before Superman's mind's eye. "But here I am," continued Manuel, "just a field picker and life is the same as before." "You were the one with the courage to strike," said Superman, and lifting Manuel into his arms, he flew the boy to the migrant camp. At first, he was shocked to see the horrible conditions in which the workers live, but when the people ran to him and pleaded, "Now you have come to solve all our problems," Superman flew into a rage and told them that he was not there to do anything. "Nothing. Nothing at all," he yelled. "Whatever help you claim you need must come from yourselves."

Suddenly, a flock of birds rose into the sky, and the ground shudders beneath their feet. An earthquake began, shaking the very fiber of the people living into the decrepit village. Acting without thought, Superman bored beneath the earth's surface, smashing rocks to dust to absorb the pressure of the earth's shifting plates and reduce the damage. When he returned to the surface, he saw that the quake has reduced the shacks to rubble. Superman is unsure of what he should do only for an instant, and then rebuilt all of the houses in the blink of an eye. The people were overjoyed and ran to take a look at their new homes almost forgetting that Superman was there.

"Come back here, all of you," Superman yelled. "Let's get something straight. I rebuilt your houses but that was because an earthquake is something that you can't handle. But you must not count on a Superman to patch up your lives every time you have a crisis or disaster. You don't need a Superman. What you really need is a super-will to be guardians of your own destiny. Now, I have work of my own to do."

Wiping the tears from Manuel's eyes, Superman told him to remain strong, and lifted off setting his course for the WGBS building. As he approaches the building, Superman used his telescopic vision to read a bulletin coming across the teletype that a pleasure cruiser was endangered by a water spout in the mid-Atlantic. Instinctively, Superman reacted to the new emergency, streaking to save the boat.

Back on OA, several Guardians watched the course of events with interest. "Superman is troubled by an idea that never crossed his mind before, that earth must move forward unaided by outsiders from another world" said one. Nodding, a second Guardian agreed. "Our job was merely to plant the seed. We must let time take its course."

4Story - 4: The 1970's were a time of great upheaval, and those concerns eventually reflected themselves in comics. DC published a number of stories dealing with ecology, civil rights and drug abuse during these years. In fact, some of the more notable stories in DC's history came from this period, including Denny O'Neill's wonderful series of stories in Green Lantern and Batman.

This particular story was Elliot Maggin's very first Superman script and is often included among the better stories of this decade and has been included as part of a collection of the Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told. On one hand, that is fitting. This is one of the first times in which Superman took a radical turn and questioned whether his acts of heroism were actually hindering earth's advancement as a society by making them too dependent on his abilities. This very question served as a forerunner for such series as the Watchmen and Kingdom Come that questioned the basic relevance of superheroes.
On the other hand, this story is really rather disturbing. Up until this time, the Superman we knew did good deeds and helped the underdog. Here, we see that "old" Superman, who raced across space to prevent a galactic catastrophe and then a "new" Superman who returned to earth to tell migrant workers that they should not turn to him for help. Even more, he tells them that they should solve their problems themselves, regardless of the fact that they are essentially powerless to make these changes. In one stroke, Maggin establishes Superman as the ultimate authority figure, and in another makes him one who reacts to those turning to him for help as if they were "self-pitying whiners". It would seem as frustrating and unjust as a judge who first freed a thief and then lectured the victim for wasting the court's time at having to try the case. This is further confused when, in the last few panels of the story, Superman rushes off to save a luxury yacht. The actions are not consistent with Maggin's message, unless the plight of wealthy yacht-goers has become a more important problem than the plight of impoverished immigrants.
Because of these inconsistencies, this story has been criticized over the years as advocating a Right wing, every-man-for-himself, don't look to higher powers for help philosophy. It makes me wonder exactly what seed were the Guardians were planting? Thank heavens it didn't take root.
Also in this issue was the first of a series called The Private Life of Clark Kent. This first episode was entitled "When on Earth" (written by Denny O'Neill and drawn by Swan-Anderson). This story dealt with Clark and Jimmy helping a secretary whose brother had become part of a city gang. It also contained a reprint of the second appearance of Superman 2466 from Action #338 (June 1966, reviewed elsewhere in this Homepage).

5Art - 5: Curt Swan's pencils were inked by such great inkers as Stan Kaye and Jack Burnley in the 1950's. In 1963, George Klein began inking Swan's work and received much praise for that work. But, Klein left DC in 1967 for Marvel and for a period of several years, Swan endured the inking of such artists as Vince Colletta and Jack Abel. Then, in 1970, in another stroke of editorial genius, Julie Schwartz teamed Curt with Murphy Anderson. Schwartz had been the editor who first teamed Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane with Anderson in the early 1960's to produce some wonderful work on Flash, Green Lantern and the Atom. But it was probably this team that is most fondly remembered as creators of Superman. Over time, they became referred to as SwAnderson, and were often called the "essential" Superman team, creating the version of Superman that was used for the first Superman movie. Superman fans may argue over who was the better team, Swan-Klein or Swan-Anderson... they were very different, Klein's inking was slicker and Anderson's more that of the classic illustrator. To each their own, I suppose, but give me Anderson, any day.

This particular story was a very nice example of the SwAnderson team, combining solid figure work and story telling by Swan with the lush inking and detail of Anderson. Anderson's ability to use zip-a-tone effects for the space shots and ink wash and charcoal in the wonderful panels from Krypton made this something truly special to look at. It also displays Swan's new willingness to experiment with panel and page designs to make the story more interesting. Several pages in the second story were wonderfully designed.

4Cover Art - 4: The cover to Superman #247 is a dramatic scene showing an agonizing Superman standing before eight Guardians who sit in judgement of Superman, and find him guilty of crimes against humanity. To my mind, more could have been done with the image, which seemed cramped, since a lot of the space was spent advertising the other stories in the issue. Still, it is a nice example of Anderson's inking over Swan.

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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