I got my very first comic book at the age of six, at a 7-11 where my father would go to buy cigarettes. On this visit, for some reason the comic book rack had been moved to near the door, and while we waited in the checkout line, my attention was drawn to it. I can remember other comics that were on it at the time, notably JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #107, but when my Dad told me that I could get one, I went the safe route and chose this issue of SUPERMAN. The cover is by Nick Cardy, clearly working from a sketch by DC’s then-head, Carmine Infantino–that skyline and those motion-streaks scream Carmine to me. At this point, Cardy was DC’s chief cover artist, and did the covers to many of the company’s titles every month, under Carmine’s direction.
I knew how to read at this point, but I’m certain that my Mom had to help me with this first comic book purchase, as its language was beyond me. In these early comic book reading days, I didn’t bother with the captions–they seemed like a waste of time to me. Rather, I focused on dialogue balloons and thought balloons exclusively, which sometimes made it difficult to decipher what was going on.
The lead story is pretty forgettable, apart from the fact that, upon learning that Superman has to be in Washington DC as Clark Kent the following day, Batman fixes him up with Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl, who at this time was a U.S. Congresswoman (a civilian occupation that I liked for her, incidentally.) This is a far cry from today’s depiction of the relationship between these two heroes.
While he’s there (and after being described as “a drip” by a less-than-impressed Barbara Gordon), Clark is abducted by the spy ring known as Maze after he inadvertently slips up and mentions secret information that he knows because he’s really Superman. Babs becomes Batgirl to ride to his rescue.
Becoming Superman, Clark makes sort work of the entire maze organization–he’s so bored by the situation that he decides to go about things in a somewhat different manner in order to liven things up.
And then, taking advantage of the fact that Maze’s leader, Mister J, had dark hair and wears glasses, Superman uses him as a decoy, to make Batgirl believe that Clark Kent has been injured, so that she will not draw a connection between Kent and the Man of Steel.
Returning to the Fortress with batman afterwards, they discover that the gem they deposited there at the beginning of the story, and which was responsible for Clark’s faux pas, is now missing. A caption promises a follow-up in a subsequent issue, but if it ever happened, I never read it.
For all that it was pretty unremarkable, this issue was a good example of the Superman comics of the era. It was told in a very direct, straight-ahead fashion, the interest lied more in how Superman solved the puzzles put in front of him than any direct challenge to his strength or survival, and while there was story tension, nothing ever seemed particularly life-threatening. Curt Swan inked by Bob Oksner was a nice combination on the art, especially as Oksner’s skill at depicting women made Barbara Gordon seem especially fetching. And the entire story was told in a mere14 tightly-plotted pages. Characterization was minimal, and took a back seat to plot.
The issue also included a back-up story, as most of DC’s books did in that day. It’s what you might call a “Forever Comic”, in that no matter how many times I read it over the years, it is instantly forgotten again once I close the book afterwards–it is a story that literally can be read as though new forever. It does have art by Dick Dillin, then also the regular JUSTICE LEAGUE artist and one of the artists (along with Curt Swan, Irv Novick and a few others) that was ubiquitous during this period. I very much associate his work with the look of DC.
All in all, it was an inauspicious beginning for my comic book reading career. But there must have been something about it that worked for me, because i would be back for more just as soon as the opportunity presented itself.