Here is another thought provoking and kinda nostalgic article by Gene Phillips.


by Gene Phillips

It's a given, in what passes for comics-criticism today, to disparage the legacy of DC editor Mort Weisinger on what were later called the "Superman Family" books. Weisinger himself seems to have been an unpleasant fellow with a dictatorial editorial style, and the stories turned out by the artists and writers are often denigrated as silly kid stuff. At best, some critics may say, the very silliness of the Weisinger legacy stands for the basic absurdity of the superhero genre, which is supposedly the only appeal of said genre.

That most of the stories produced in the years of Mort Weisinger's editorship were intentionally silly-- or at least whimsical-- is beyond dispute. The Superman stories of the fifties and sixties were aimed at preteen kids who might still appreciate Superman the way they might enjoyed fairy-tales: to visit a world whose ground-rules were based not on observed reality but on the free associations of the imagination.

And yet, though Superman stories don't function by the rules of reality as such, obviously they are created by people in the real world, and as such, the concerns of reality-- ethics, emotional consistency, logic-- do appear in the Superman stories, as though through a funhouse-mirror: exaggerated and romanticized. Stories like these do deserve to be better known, and separated from a lot of the standard Weisinger schtick-stories that, while occasionally amusing, don't stand up to re-reading except in the nostalgic sense.

With that in mind, here are ten Superman stories that I feel exemplify the best fusions of real-world concerns with the world of the imagination, ordered solely by their date of appearance, and credited with writer first, artist second. Perhaps needless to say, this listing does not attempt to sort out Weisinger's contributions to any of the other "Superman Family" titles.

"Superman's Return to Krypton," SUPERMAN #141 (November 1960, Siegel/Boring)-- I don't recall if this is literally the first story to use the device of Superman plummeting through time to end up on Krypton before its destruction (and meeting his parents without their knowing his identity), but it is the most effective. Siegel crafts an impressive romantic tale for the wayward son of Krypton and Boring's visuals give us THE most elegant rendition of the hero's homeworld.

"The Night of March 31st," SUPERMAN #145 (May 1961, Siegel/Swan)-- Of all the many tales that were silly for one reason or another, this one was intended to be a spoof of its own conventions, as Superman experiences a sort of "everything you know is wrong" day, until it's revealed that it's simply the comic's editors, presenting readers with an April Fool's joke.

"The Death of Superman," SUPERMAN #149 (November 1961, Siegel/Swan)-- Jerry Siegel finally lets Luthor kill his nemesis, at least in an imaginary story. It is, to say the least, a pretty gloomy affair, but shows how efficacious the imaginary stories could be as far as letting even the unthinkable occur. An interesting period detail surfaces when a judge compares the murderous Luthor to Adolph Eichmann.

"Superman's Day of Doom," SUPERMAN #157 (November 1962, Siegel-Swan)-- This odd story again deals with Superman dying, but in a more quixotic and humiliating way than the imaginary "Death of Superman," also by Siegel. Here the nutty Bizarro presents Superman with a gift of green kryptonite, and while everyone else in the city is having a big parade to honor the hero, Superman himself is slowly dying of the radiation and unable to summon assistance. He doesn't die, of course, but his savior is somehow connected with the strange "double L" motif that haunts Superman's life (at least under Weisinger).

"Superman in Kandor," SUPERMAN #158 (January 1963, Hamilton/Swan)-- This is one of the stories to describe the bottle-city of Kandor in detail, as Superman and Jimmy Olsen venture into it to solve a mystery of Kryptonian escapees from the bottle. Since Superman has no powers in the bottle, he and Jimmy are constrained to take a page out of the crimefighting book of Batman and Robin, becoming a similar-themed "Nightwing and Flamebird."

"Superman Under the Red Sun," ACTION #300 (May 1963, Hamilton/Plastino)-- This is the best of the stories to show Superman "roughing it" without his powers, as a villain hurls the Man of Steel into Earth's far future, when the sun has turned red and the hero becomes an ordinary man, forced to use his wits to get home.

"The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman," SUPERMAN #164 (October 1963, Hamilton/Swan)-- This takes the longstanding rivalry of the foes into new psychological territory, as their quarrel takes them to another world where Luthor shows his more beneficent nature (though not to Superman).

"The Sweetheart Superman Forgot," SUPERMAN #165 (November 1963, Siegel/Plastino)-- This time Clark Kent loses both his powers and memory, takes up a job on a ranch and falls in love with a woman. He appears to "die," but when his super-powers return he forgets the relationship and the girl mourns his death. A sequel wrapped up some loose ends but the first story is the most bittersweet.

"The New Superman," SUPERMAN #172 (October 1964, Hamilton/Swan)-- A lot of DC heroes evinced "replacement fears," but here Superman, wary of losing his powers, trains his replacement from Kandor and then regrets his choice. There's a powerful moment when Kent tries to deal with being nothing but Clark Kent in reality.

"Superman's Day of Truth," SUPERMAN #176 (June, 1965, Dorfman/Swan)-- Superman and Supergirl have to tell the truth, no matter what, due to an interesting Kryptonian custom that has strong overtones of Biblical narrative.

All of these stories, I maintain, possess far stronger values of plot, characterization and theme than is usually claimed for the Weisinger legacy. A lot of readers may not want to search through all the junk to find the diamonds, but given a treasure-map, it would be childish to assume that the treasure isn't really there. To those with the will for it, happy treasure-hunting.

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