Now, this was a noteworthy issue, and another one that I acquired as part of my big Windfall Comics purchase in 1988, when I bought a box of close to 150 Silver Age comic books for $50.00. Unfortunately, for me, it’s also a book whose lead story was one that I had read many years earlier, when it had been reprinted in the 1970s in a SECRET ORIGINS OF SUPER-VILLAINS Treasury Edition.
But that didn’t keep me from reading it again, and also from being pleased to have this original version. It simply meant that any new reading pleasures from this issue were going to be scant.
This lead story, written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and illustrated by workhorse Al Plastino, reveals the heretofore-untold origin of criminal scientist Lex Luthor’s hatred of the Man of Steel. It’s also the story in which Luthor’s first name, Lex, was established. So in a very real way, much of the Superman media of the past twenty years (in particular the SMALLVILLE television series) all stems from this one short 13-page tale. And for all that it pitches its wares at a level still understandable to very young readers, in the manner that editor Mort Weisinger preferred to do throughout his books, it’s still a story with some emotional power to it–as witness by the fact that creators of today are still mining from it decades later.
The story opens in with Superboy flying out to an area farm to welcome the new neighbors who have moved in there. Unfortunately, as he does so, a kryptonite meteorite comes crashing down in front of him, robbing him of his powers and threatening to kill him. Fortunately, the farm he was visiting is adjacent to a cliffside overlooking a gully, and the young man driving a tractor is able to knock the kryptonite meteorite over it, saving Superboy’s life. This newcomer introduces himself as Lex Luthor, and he reveals to Superboy that he is a major fan of the Boy of Steel. He shows off his room of Superboy trophies which he’s collected in hero-worship. The two strike up a fast friendship, and Superboy even takes it upon himself to craft a state-of-the-art modern day laboratory for the science-minded Lex. Mistake number one.
Lex’s ambition is to create a sort of synthetic protoplasmic life within his lab–and with Superboy’s unearthly chemicals, he’s able to make that dream a reality! So overjoyed is he that he determines that his next project will be to create a serum that will render Superboy invulnerable to kryptonite. But Lex isn’t watching what he’s doing, so excited does he get, and he accidentally knocks over some beakers, starting a fire. Superboy is on teh scene almost instantly, putting out the blaze, but Lex’s creation has been destroyed, as have all of his notes which permitted him to create teh thing in the first place. Additionally, the powerful fumes have caused his hair to fall out. Lex believes that Superboy set him up for failure deliberately, that the Boy of Steel was jealous of Lex’s genius ad didn’t want to become overshadowed. Despite Superboy’s protests, the idea hardens inside Lex’s heart.
Luthor vows both to destroy Superboy and to become a greater figure than he is. He uses the last few specks of his protoplasm to create the kryptonite antidote, but its effects are only temporary, and after asking Superboy to test it and proving its effectiveness, he tells his former friend that he could have had the real thing had he not stabbed Lex in teh back. Superboy is becoming worried about what his former friend might do. As the days go on, Lex embarks on a campaign to make himself more beloved by the people of Smallville than Superboy is, but because he rushes his efforts, his scientific innovations wind up causing calamity when they gone wrong, forcing Superboy to come to the rescue. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, as Luthor assumes that each failure of his innovations is due to Superboy’s interference, causing him to hate the Boy of Steel even more.
So Luthor heads out to the gully abutting his property, and fishes out the kryptonite meteorite from teh beginning of teh story, intending to finish off Superboy with it. He summons his former friend to his laboratory and exposes him to the kryptonite, causing him to fall, stricken. But Luthor makes the mistake of taunting Superboy with the last few drops of his kryptonite antidote, and the young Kryptonian uses his dwindling super-breath to suction the beaker out of Lex’s hand and shatter on his indestructible face, allowing him to consume the last of the antidote. Revived, Superboy can’t bring himself to arrest Luthor for attempted murder ,and he tells Lex that he hopes he’s able to straighten himself out. Of course, we readers know that this is destined never to happen, because Luthor will go on to become Superman’s most implacable foe. Still, it’s difficult to read this story and not feel some small degree of sympathy for him, given teh circumstances.
ADVENTURE COMICS wasn’t solely the home of Superboy but ran two additional features at this time. And after a pair of filler one-page comedy and public service strips, the second story begins. It’s an adventure of Congorilla, written by Robert Bernstein and illustrated by Howard Sherman. In this series, hunter Congo Bill typically transferred his mind into the body of a gigantic Golden Gorilla by means of a pair of magic rings. But in this story, Bill switches Conorilla’s ring to another ape, the son of Congorilla, in order to save the young simian from captivity. This he does in six professionally-crafted pages that otherwise don’t make a bit of impact whatsoever. Many of these short gimmick back-up strips weren’t very memorable, I’m afraid.
Next up was the Smallville Mailsack letters page, which, as were all of Weisinger’s letters pages, primarily ran letters from its young audience. Many of the letters have a “gotcha” quality about them, where the readers try to spot mistakes in previous stories and Weisinger talks his way out of them. And a good time is had by all. The next page includes three more Coming Super-Attractions, the house ads for Weisinger’s other Superman books then on sale. These were always fun in that they weren’t very visuals-oriented, relying on the strength of story concepts to get buyers interested. Jimmy Olsen becomes a Werewolf! Superboy meets Supergirl despite living in different eras! Superman discovers a whole planet of Bizarros! How could any kid with twelve cents in their pocket not want to hunt down these stories at their local newsdealer?
The last feature in this issue spotlights Aquaman, perhaps the king of the short gimmick story. This one was also written by Robert Bernstein, and illustrates by the marvelous Ramona Fradon. In it, a mysterious Captain Noah propesizes to Aquaman that a second global flood is coming. Noah is, of course, causing the flooding himself, and using his activities to cover up the fact that he’s secretly siphoning gold out of the sea water. It seems to me that he would have maybe been smarter to just do the latter without all of the performance art and teh warning of Aquaman–but a showman’s gonna show, I guess. Aquaman is on to Noah’s performance pretty much from the jump anyway, as the Captain screws up some of his information about sea life, causing the undersea monarch to suspect him. It’s all wrapped up in a neat 7 pages.
3 thoughts on “WC: ADVENTURE COMICS #271”
Still the definitive Lex Luthor origin in my book. So many fans and creators later reduced Silver Age Lex’s animus to the loss of his hair when it’s obvious there’s much more going on with his drive to as acclaimed as Superboy and inability to admit to his own faults.
In the story, it’s clear he’s primarily upset about the destruction of his prized creation of synthetic protoplasmic life, and the notes for the process. The hair loss is a final humiliation, but not the main motive. Too many people just forget about that, yet the feelings involved are very relatable.
In these days of widespread animation productions, it would be wonderful to see this story as an animated short.
It’s a great story. Up there with “Luthor’s Conquest of Superman” in which he robs Fort Knox under Superman’s nose, learns he only outwitted a robot and gives the gold back in disappointment.