From October, 1965, another three-story issue, this one featuring:
“The Insect Queen of Smallville” – Superboy’s girlfriend, Lana Lang, becomes a super-hero! Now, it’s important to understand that, if you’re Kal-El / Clark Kent and it’s not yet 1970, “girlfriend” is another word for “arch-nemesis.” Like Lois Lane in his adult life, Lana exists at this point only to try and prove that mild-mannered Clark Kent is actually the last son of Krypton. Also like Lois, she’s really bad at the job, and similarly obsessed with it.
This time out, Lana happens upon a spaceman in the woods, as teenage girls in small towns in the Midwest were wont to do back in the day. Said spaceman (now we would say “extraterrestrial,” but this was literally a little, green man.) She frees him from beneath a fallen tree. In gratitude, he gives her a ring which allows her to assume the powers of any insect.
As was typical of the times (1962), this issue contains three stories. The cover actually references the third and shortest of them, “When the World Forgot Superman.” These were the days when the editor (Mort Weisinger, if memory serves) would have the artist draw a sensational cover, depicting an incident likely to make a reader ask, “How could that ever happen?!” And then the writer would be told to make that happen in a story. In this case, Superman returns from a mission in space to find that no one in Metropolis knows who he is, although, appropriately, they still know Clark Kent. How could this happen? Well, the answer is pretty obvious, if you know your Superman lore.
The first issue of the much-heralded story, “The Oz Effect.” Who is Mr. Oz? Well, he’s a character who first appeared a couple years back in a middle-numbered issue of the last run of Superman. That was before DC launched “Rebirth,” this… um… lessee… Crisis, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis (do we count Final Crisis?)… New 52… Sixth? Fifth and a half reboot—well, now, I guess the introduction of the Silver Age Flash and all his JLA kin was also a reboot, so let’s go with six and a half reboots—six or seventh reboot of the DC Universe. Anyway, Mr. Oz is more than one reboot old, which is pretty damn ancient in DC terms, and he’s shown up a few dozen times these past few months, including in the eponymous DC Rebirth one-shot that started all the current shooting.
In this opening tale, the mysterious Mr. Oz declares that the human race does not deserve Superman or his family. Humans are just too selfish and petty, too easily swung toward the wrong choice, too prone to bring chaos. So Mr. Oz decided to give them a little push towards just that, in hopes of showing Kal-El that humanity is just not worth his time.
Right at the end, we learn the true identity of Mr. Oz. No spoilers, and I’m pretty sure it won’t stick; but it guarantees that this is a story I’ll want to read. Of course, so does Dan Jurgens name in the credits, but still…
A well-crafted story that touches on an old (but never-answered) question about being Superman: What the hell does he do when a lot of things go wrong at once? Here a lot of things do go wrong, and it’s enough to drive even the eldest of the super heroes to despair. Kudos to Jurgens for political even-handedness, by the way. There is, predictably, a white supremacist attack on helpless immigrants depicted. It’s the first crime Superman prevents. It’s followed up quickly by a thug spouting Occupy rhetoric as he tries to burn down someone’s house. It’s refreshing to see a piece of mass entertainment remind us that there are extremists on both ends of the spectrum, and they’re all dangerous.
I have a great fondness for Giant-Size comics. When I started reading, DC was in its phase of publishing its most popular comics as 100-pagers, with a wealth of reprint material from the 1940s up through the 1960s. It was a great way for a new reader to get immersed in the history of the characters, and, of course, a kid got the equivalent of four comics for little more than the price of two. I have no problems with comics for adults, but I think it’s important to keep them accessible to kids. Childhood is where we really learn to dream and imagine.
Anyway, I grab 80-page and 100-page issues from the past whenever I can. This one doesn’t offer much variety. It contains reprints of Bizarro World stories which had run monthly in Adventure Comics only about five years before this issue was published. They’re a bit repetitive—Bizarro’s obsession with Frankenstein shapes at least two of the stories. But they’re fun, especially when other members of the Superman family guest star. There’s not much depth to 1960s DC stories, at least those published before they shook things up around 1968; but they’re almost always fun.
One thing I find odd, in all the play that Bizarro got as a character in the 1960s, his origin was never represented in the course of my readings. Any time he appeared, we were just told he was the result of some scientist pointing an imperfect duplication ray at Superman. Although, in one story in this issue, we’re told it was pointed at Superboy instead. Continue reading →
Two months ago, in honor of July 4th, Peter J. Tomasi, one of my favorite comics writers, together with Patrick Gleason, offered up a two-part Superman story called “Declaration.” Lois, Clark and their son, Jon, take a tour of the United States to visit historic sites. On this trip, they meet the Dowd family, who, for 154 years, have celebrated the birthday of Thomas Dowd, their ancestor, at Gettysburg. Thomas died in a military hospital and his body was never recovered. The story brought tears to my eyes, and not only because Tomasi and Gleason told it so well.
You see, I have a Thomas who fought in the Civil War. His name was Thomas Rathbone, and he too died in a military hospital. He was my great, great grandfather. His body, too, was never returned home. Over a century later, some of his descendants journeyed to Ashland, VA, to place a marker on a mass grave where we think he was buried.
The fictional Thomas Dowd fought for the Union army. The very real Thomas Rathbone fought for the Confederacy.
Every now and then, my creative friends and I step out from behind the mics and indulge in a bit of stage or video parody. Here’s a short comedic tribute to the George Reeves Adventures of Superman from the 1950s, directed and edited by Lew Aide, and starring my dear departed friend Jim Childs.
Tom Sawyer. Huck Finn. Oliver Twist. The Artful Dodger. Tarzan. Rhett Butler. Scarlett O’Hara. Peter Pan. Alice in Wonderland. To some of us, characters like these, and their many, many young siblings, are more real than the people we work with, go to school with or meet on the street. Their images are indelibly stamped on our hearts, so well did their creators fashion them. They are alive for us.
All of these characters have been revisited, again and again, by authors not their creators. That’s because they are so powerful. Because we want more adventures with them. Because they fire the imaginations of even the most imaginative people… and, yes, sometimes the imaginations of the dullest of people as well.
I daresay Captain America is such a character now, for millions of Americans. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the pages of Timely Comics (now Marvel Entertainment, thank you very much!) during the early days of World War II, Cap was re-engineered by Kirby and Stan Lee beginning in 1963. Starting as just another patriotic-themed Nazi-buster, in the 1960s, Steve Rogers became a stranger in a strange land, Rip Van Winkle, Buck Rogers, a man who goes to sleep and wakes up in a time not his own. Of course, in 1963 he’d been asleep for only 18 years. Now, since World War II can’t move in time, the movie version of Cap awakes over 65 years in the future, still young, still ready for battle.
My wife has a flag in our yard during the warm months. It features the Peanuts gang, dancing their little, undersized legs off, and it’s emblazoned, “Dance like no one is watching.” Many of us are nervous about dancing in front of others. I know I am. I can’t. I have no rhythm. I have no grace. My best dance moves, I was once told by a dear friend, resemble those of a geriatric drag queen.
This is going to be a controversial review, I think. This film has already been noted to have divided comics fans. We seem to either love it or hate it. And, sadly, we also seem to be directing a good deal of hate at those who don’t agree with our opinions. That’s too bad.
And yet this movie represents some trends in modern entertainment and storytelling which I think need to be identified and discussed, so I’m going to share my opinion no matter how much it pisses off those who disagree. If you disagree with me, I’m sorry. But I’m not going to hide or deny my opinions simply because you don’t like them.