This 1959 issue of SUPERMAN represented a rare departure from the format of the series, one that would be used more and more often in the coming years as the tastes of the audience changed over time. Rather than featuring three shorter Superman stories, as all of the books in the line were doing, here editor Mort Weisinger experimented by having a single story that ran through the entirety of the magazine–what he termed a “3-Part Novel”. I could be wrong, but I believe that this was the first time that an entire issue of SUPERMAN had been dedicated to a single story, so this was something of an event. But other titles had already been experimenting with similar things, notably Jack Kirby and company on CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, so it’s possible that Mort was influenced to try it by them. Or else he simply thought he had a killer story that warranted the additional space.
ADDITION: Mark Waid corrects me, noting that this was the fifth book-length story in SUPERMAN, the first having appeared in #113.
“Superman’s Other Life” was another of the old comic books I had lucked into as part of my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988, and like everything in that stash, I wound up paying only 33 cents for this masterpiece. It was a story I was intently interested in reading, having seen its cover years earlier in the SUPERMAN FROM THE ’30s TO THE 70s hardcover book. This book-length epic was written by Fawcett emigree and noted science fiction author Otto Binder and illustrated by the Man of Steel’s artist in residence, Wayne Boring, ably inked by Stan Kaye. It was a bit of a precursor to the Imaginary Stories that would become a regular part of Weisinger’s Superman arsenal, stories that depicted events that could never occur within the rigid cosmology that he’d set up, but which allowed for readers to experience certain impossible situations vicariously.
In another bit of a unique feature, this story also features Batman and Robin. Which wasn’t so much of a surprise–the caped crusaders were appearing in stories alongside Superman in every issue of WORLD’s FINEST COMICS. But it was unusual to find them outside their beaten track in this random issue of SUPERMAN. They’ve gone to the Fortress of Solitude to give Superman a gift in thanks for him having saved them from a death trap the previous week. Having wracked their brains to figure out what sort of a gift would be unique for the Man of Tomorrow, they hit upon the idea of having the Fortress’ “Super-Univac” computer hypothesize what Superman’s life would have been like had Krypton not exploded and he had not been sent to Earth. The recounting of that alternate tale forms the spine of the issue.
As events play out, we see that another scientist, Zin-Da, prevents Krypton’s destruction. Having shot baby Kal-El into space, Jor-El fires off a second ship to intercept his son’s ship and redirect it back to Krypton. He obligingly also brings Krypto’s earlier space-pod back so that Kal-El will have his pet back. As Kal-El grows up, we see a number of technological innovations along the lines of what would appear in the Jetsons, which makes life easier for the Kryptonians. As a Kryptonian Youth Scout (an equivalent of the boy scouts), Kal-el remotely rescues Jonathan and Martha Kent when their car goes out of control. They’re on their way to adopt a child, a girl in this case. Kal himself gets a younger brother, Zal-El. Growing to manhood, Kal-El wants to become a Spaceman, but the Skill Machine earmarks him in a job as a ground-bound dispatcher.
Somewhat later, an accident with unpredictable Super-Static Rays give both Krypto and science teacher Xan-Du super-powers. Attending a costume party in the made-up guise of Futuro, Xan-Du is called upon to save the day when the building they’re in collapses. He decides to keep up his duel identity as effectively Krypton’s Superman, earing an ersatz Superman costume in purple which for no good reason has bare legs. Kal-El, in an Earth costume and looking like Clark Kent, winds up becoming Futuro’s Jimmy Olsen-esque friend, armed with a similar signal watch. But when Futuro is occupied with another disaster, Kal-El proves his daring and heroism by saving an imperiled spaceman. Recognizing his aptitude, Futuo examines the Skill machine, locates a loose connection, and the repaired device indicates that Kal-El will become the ace of the space patrol. So he has his life’s desire. His spaceman uniform, of course, is identical to his Superman costume. The last page of the second chapter includes the above super-cool ad for the first appearance of the revived Green Lantern in SHOWCASE. I’d have bought it!
A brief pause in the story at this point for the Metropolis Mailbag letters page. This makes me wonder whether it might have been readers writing in and requesting a book-length story which might have motivated Mort to try it. The issue also included the usual bevy of public service comic pages and single-page comedy fillers, as well as Superman’s invitation to readers to come out to Palisades Park in New Jersey on him.
As the story heads into its final chapter, events begin to crescendo. When Jor-El’s rocket ship crash lands on an unstable planetoid with a uranium core, he, Lara and Zal-El are all killed when it explodes before Kal-El can reach them. Looking at this moment with modern eyes, it feels a bit cruel to me, for all that it mirrors their final fate on Krypton in the real history. Years later, in the future of 1965, a space ship from Earth reaches Krypton. Despite its far greater gravity, the people from Earth don’t seem to have any trouble moving around–and one of them, a stowaway, turns out to be Lois Lane. s you’d expect, she is immediately dazzled by Futuro’s incredible super-powers and becomes infatuated with him, and oblivious to Kal-El. For his part, Kal-El is completely disinterested in Lois, despite having been assigned to show her the sights on Krypton.
Lois, being a goon as always, winds up activating a “subsurfacer” boring machine that Kal_el is showing her, sending the pair hurling beneath the surface of Krypton and into danger. Kal-El summons Futuro with his signal watch in time to save them–and Futuro finds himself smitten with the earth girl, and proposes to her. Lois accepts, but being ultimately selfish, she wants to live on Earth, so now Futuro will have to relocate. But so as to not leave Krypton without a super hero of its own, Futuro subjects Kal-El to the same charge of Super-Static Rays that gave him his powers and leaves him to carry on the fight in his stead. Kal-El comes up with his new name “out of thin air”–he’ll be Superman, of course! And on that final revelation, this what if adventure draws to a close. It was a harbinger of things to come in the SUPERMAN titles, with its deep dive into Kryptonian culture and the minutia of Superman’s past and history. Even after all of these years, it’s still an entertaining piece–and a good example of how these post-Comics Code Superman stories were able to wring some drama and pathos out of situations that weren’t about overpowering enemies and fighting and violence. Imagination and irony were the watchwords of the day.