Monthly Archives: March 2011

“Prisoner of the Super-Heroes”

Adventure Comics #267 (December, 1959)
“Prisoner of the Super-Heroes”
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Penciler/Inker: George Papp
Cover Artists: Curt Swan, Stan Kaye
Big Cheese: Mort Weisinger

It’s been twenty months since DC Comics released the first installment and the one thing that jumps out on the cover is Sweet Jesus, the costumes are much better, and Saturn Girl looks way hotter and she is… splitting kryptonite… with lightning… from her eyes? And why does the kryptonite look like wood? Does kryptonite have grain? What’s going on here?

Apparently during those 20 months, Superboy readers were clamoring to have the Legion back, and Mort Weisinger was always willing to give the audience what they wanted. This was the first Legion story under the pen of Jerry Siegel who, along with Joe Schuster, is most famous for creating Superman way back in 1934 (although he wouldn’t see publication until 1938). Siegel would become the primary architect of the Legion for the next seven years, introducing many of their most significant and long-standing members, and establishing a great deal of the mythology that would linger over the Legion’s history.

The Story

While on patrol at the wretched scum of hive and villainy colloquially referred to as the Smallville airport, Superboy sees a small aircraft in nosedive extremis. Supes figures he’ll slow the aircraft’s descent with a super-sneeze, but someone else has a different idea.

Okay, so the costumes were better, but still not great. Cosmic Boy shoves the Boy of Steel aside, narrowly avoiding collision with Superboy’s huge expository thought bubble in the process, and gently lowers the plane to the ground using “reverse-magnetism rays” which are still, at this point, shooting out of his eyes. Superboy praises him on a job well done and tells him it’s good to see him again. Cosmic Boy spits back, “sorry I can’t say the same about you.” Ouch. Burn, Cosmic Boy. Major burn. To add insult to injury, a couple of smirking bystanders pile on:

Another reminder of why I’m glad I don’t have super powers–I’d be heat-vision-ing people left and right and blaming it on spontaneous combustion. The situation repeats itself later on as a giant robot crashes out of the Science Exposition as a Life Magazine reporter somewhere adds another paragraph to their “Smallville: The Most Dangerous Town In America” article (and really, what kind of Science Exhibition in 1959 had freaking giant robots? It would have to be Lex Luthor’s robot, right? Who else was building giant robots in Smallville?) The robot has run amok, its controls jammed, blah blah. Before Superboy can break out the heroics, the newly-alliterative Lightning Lad intervenes.

You have to love the old biddies remarking that the new kid they’ve never seen before is much cooler than the guy who saved their town seventy or eighty times. Regarding the Lightning Boy/Lightning Lad change, Mort Weisinger had a hard-on for the initials “LL” working them into the Superman mythos whenever possible. All three of Superman’s girlfriends at this point in his publishing history had those initials (Lois Lane, Lana Lang, the mermaid Lori Lemaris) as well as his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. Weisinger would brag about this little auctorial conceit twenty years later as if it were a major creative achievement.

Back to the story. Superboy briefly ponders what the heck is going, it’s Saturn Girl’s turn to steal his thunder, and let’s be honest, you don’t care about the particulars any more than I do. All you need to know is that she makes a criminal think he’s holding a snake instead of a gun, gives Superboy the stink-eye, and then this panel happens:

And you wonder why I love comic books from this era. That little kid in the sailor outfit grew up to be Glenn Beck, by the way. He (Superboy, not Glenn) goes home and even his parents are giving it to him with both barrels. Pa Kent slurs in his whiskey-soaked breath, “so you’re slipping! That’s no excuse to whine!” Ouch, thanks, Dad. Intent on getting the people of Smallville to admire him again, Superboy decides he must do something “absolutely terrific.” Naturally, it involves… tunneling! Drink up, everyone.

So much to love here. Superboy creating a “scenic wonder” (i.e. a freaking empty cavern) that will attract “a great deal of tourist trade” to Smallville in the hopes that it will make people forget that this picturesque slice of Middle America appears to see more violence every day than Beirut. That there’s an underground world that seemingly contains horrible monsters located directly under Smallville (which… I mean, of course there is). Cosmic Boy rightly asking Kal-El if he’s out of his mind, and Lightning Lad happy firing lightning blasts at the creature Saturn Girl already has under control. The Legion seals the cavern to the cheers of an exuberant crowd who also lustily boo Superboy, who cries for the second Legion appearance in a row and thinks that nobody cares for him any more. I find myself agreeing with Pa Kent about the whole whining thing. Nut up, Superbaby.

But yay, Krypto (Superboy’s dog if you didn’t know) shows up. “Dogs aren’t fickle like humans,” Supe beams happily. “They’re always faithful to their masters!” But…

But is that really the cruelest blow of all? I think we can top it!

Daaaaaaayum. Let’s ignore for now that the Kents, of course, didn’t adopt Kal-El from an orphanage. So unless Pa’s talking about returning him to the rocket ship he crashed in as a baby, which moonshine has he now stamped in his memory a miniature, flaming, rocket-shaped orphanage, I have no clue what “back” means in this context. Superboy finally does the sensible thing and leaves this town of ingrates behind; indeed, he turns his back on the whole freaking Earth because if people suck in good old Smallville, then fuck this planet in the ear.

Kal-El heads out into outer space where he sees a veritable school of flying super-beings headed… somewhere, and decides to go with the flow. They lead him to a planet where he discovers what, given the circumstances, might as well be named Orgasm Town.

“Welcome to… Superboy Planet,” a rocket-packed denizen tells him. Superboy Planet! Take that, stinky, old Earth with your stinky, old Smallville. Take *yourself* back to the orphanage, Pa Kent. “The Council awaits, Superboy,” another tells him. To heap great honors and praise on him, no doubt. And there’s no pesky Legion to get in the wa–

At this point, you wonder if hazing 20th-Century super-heroes is something kids in the future just do for kicks. They build Superboy a kryptonite prison out of “granite blocks [that] have been painted with kryptonite paint, made from kryptonite meteor fragments ground to dust and blended with paint,” as Cosmic Boy helpfully but inarticulately explains. Now that he’s finally imprisoned, the Legion explain their madness thusly:

  1. The Legion traveled from the future to build Superboy Planet in his honor and had intended to spring it on him in as a surprise. So, ummm… “Surprise!”
  2. “We followed the routine procedure of checking your future on our Futurescope! The reason: our historical records concerning your activities five years from now had been lost in a fire!” (Record-destroying fires being prevalent enough in the future that there’s a “routine procedure” to follow when time-traveling.)
  3. The Futurescope shows Superboy committing a series of heinous acts: destroying an aircraft carrier, wrecking an American airstrip and digging a chasm and shoving and burying a factory in it. Which, sure, it looks bad, but maybe he’s just working out or something.
  4. The Legion determines that this means Superboy is destined to become a super-outlaw! Hence, the prison.
  5. They publicly shamed him in Smallville so he would leave Earth. Also, because they’re dicks.
  6. Saturn Girl used her mental powers to turn everyone in Smallville against him including his parents and Krypto. Because it was important. And kinda funny.

Lightning Lad asks if Superboy has anything to say in his defense but he remains mum, so they send him off to the kryptonite slammer (impartial trial by a jury of peers being a quaint custom left back in the 20th century.) But lo, something happens…

“Help us, Superboy!” Can you believe the nerve? Of course he helps them, because he’s Superboy…

…by YELLING the radiation away. “I’m unable to work this same stunt on kryptonite because nearness to kryptonite makes me too weak to shout!” And also because it’s f**king ludicrous even by Silver Age standards.

So then the Legion decides Superboy is okay despite what that stupid Futurescope says, then Saturn Girl mentally picks up a radio message from Earth (she mentally picks up radio messages? Head… hurting…) saying that the President releases Superboy from his security oath. He says that the various acts of violence the ‘Scope picked up were stuff that he had *already* done in order to remove traces of a poison gas that was too horrible to use on white people. (Okay, I added that last bit.) Cosmic Boy confirms that, golly, Superboy was right–there was a bug in the Futurescope. Ma and Pa Kent are brought up from Earth in space suits and tell him sorry about that whole wanting to send him back to the nonexistent orphanage thing and the Legion calls for three cheers for Superboy. The End.

The Verdict

Love the first half, which is dopey Silver Age storytelling at its finest. Everything after he leaves for Superboy Planet is rushed, overly expository and honestly just sloppy and half-assed storytelling that barely attempts to make sense. Jerry Siegel would go on to write a slew of classic Legion stories, but he didn’t break sharply out of the gate. Two and a half Protys.