This issue of SUPERBOY was another book that came to me in 1988 as a part of my purchase of a box of around 150 Silver Age comics for $50.00, the result of a chance meeting at the Post Office. And it was one of the more noteworthy issues in the bunch, given that it showcases the first appearance of a character who would go on to have a long DC career even beyond the confined of SUPERBOY. That character is Mon-El, of course, who would one day join the future’s Legion of Super Heroes, where he’d serve with distinction (and several alterations over the years) to this day. His introduction was important enough to warrant it being “A Great 2-Part Novel!” (though not, apparently, so important as to require the standard 3-Part Novel treatment.)
And actually, the story itself isn’t anything novel. In fact, it had been done before, both in SUPERBOY and in the present day with SUPERMAN. But this one was the version that stuck, largely because editor Mort Weisinger was starting to craft a larger mythology for the Man of Steel and his universe, constantly bringing back and referencing events from recent stories and making an elaborate fictitious tapestry out of them, which his young readers adored. So, rather than being forgotten like Superboy/Superman’s other previous faux big brothers had been, Mon-El stuck around, and his plight at the end of this story was referenced repeatedly–until it was eventually remedied and he joined the Legion. But that was still several years away at this point.
ADDITION: My memory, it seems, was flawed. While there had been a similar story about Superman’s older brother in SUPERMAN, no similar prior story had appeared in the SUPERBOY series.
Given its provenance, it’s an almost certainty that editor Weisinger assigned this story to its writer, Robert Bernstein. Artwork was provided by George Papp, whose style I never really warmed to. Certain artists are described as being wooder–in Papp’s case, his characters often looked as though they had ben carved out of wood, at least to my eye. Anyway, the story concerns the arrival of a stranger from space, whom all evidence points to being the older brother of Superboy, also sent from Krypton by their parents Joe-El and Lara. The stranger has amnesia, so Superboy and his Earth parents name him Mon-El since he arrived on a Monday. They also set him up with teh secret identity of Bob Cobb, traveling salesman, to explain his sudden appearance to their neighbors in Smallville. And at first, all is well, and Superboy is overjoyed to have a sibling who shares his tremendous powers and loneliness as the last survivor of a doomed planet. But as time goes on, clues begin to crop up that Mon-El isn’t all that he seems to be. He isn’t vulnerable to Kryptonite, for one thing, which is a bit of a red flag. So what’s his deal?
A pause here as Chapter One gives way to Chapter Two for some advertising. Even beyond his typical shilling for the New Jersey Palisades Amusement Park, this month Superman extols the virtues of the Clyde Beatty & Cole Bros. Circus which will be performing there for a month.
And rather than simply getting a blurb in one of editor Weisinger’s Coming Super-Attractions ads, te debut of the Tales of the Bizarro World series in ADVENTURE COMICS rates an entire half-page ad all by itself. It’s another typographical tour-de-force by letterer Ira Schnapp. The feature would run for 15 issues until it was displaced by the aforementioned Legion of Super Heroes.
Back in Smallville, Superboy’s distrust of his newfound brother begins to manifest itself–especially after “Bob Cobb” charms Clark Kent’s romantic interest Lana Lang with his quick wit and snappy salesman’s patter. Something must be done about this! Especially after Mon-El feigns weakness while attempting to stop a bunch of crooks who are smashing their way into the Smallville Bank with projectiles of lead hurled by a catapult. The criminals get away, and Superboy is certain that Mon-El must be somehow in cahoots with them. So he decides that he needs to prove that his so-called brother is faking, and so he baits a trap. Taking what’s left of the crooks’ lead ammunition, Superboy paints it to resemble Green Kryptonite and launches it towards a nearby planetoid., Then he invites Mon-El to romp with him on that planetoid, knowing that’s where his make-believe Kryptonite is going to land.
Sure enough, when the Kryptonite starts to fall, Mon-El gasps in pain and keels over. Superboy reveals his ruse and calls Mon-El out on it. But the joke, such as it is, is on the Boy of Steel. Because the intense pain of Lead Poisoning has brought back Mon-El’s memory, and he’s able to explain that he isn’t actually Superboy’s brother at all, but rather a visitor from a neighboring planet, Daxam, whom Jor-El and Lara had once helped. Daxamites like himself gain similar powers to Superboy under a yellow sun, but they are vulnerable to lead–and the damage done is permanent. (Mind you, the sleeping Mon-El had no reaction when Superboy exposed him to Kryptonite in a Lead box, an oversight by Bernstein and Weisinger.) So thanks to his suspicion and jealousy, Superboy has killed Mon-El, the jerk! As a last ditch measure, Superboy recovers an object that had been featured in a recent story–remember how I mentioned Weisinger was building a connective mythology–the Phantom Zone projector, the gateway to an immaterial dimension where Krypton’s worst villains were imprisoned. Superboy projects Mon-El into it, figuring that his lead poisoning won’t progress while he is ephemeral, and this will give him the time needed to find a cure. In actuality, it will take 1000 years for somebody to eventually figure out how to heal and restore Mon-El, but he’ll become a recurring figure in any Phantom Zone stories from this point forward.
Time out here for the Smallville Mailsack, the title’s letters page. A regular letters page was still a relatively new development in these days, and its clear from those letters that were printed that Weisinger was cultivating a very specific sort of letter-writer. They were often young relative to those in other comics, they often tried to catch the editor out on mistakes (or “boo-boos” as they became known) in recent stories, and they were a font of prospective ideas for future stories.
And no Weisinger Super-Title of the period would be complete without some Coming Super-Attractions, as featured above. Jimmy Olsen as a Giant Turtle Man! Clark Kent in Reform School! Supergirl joins the Legion of Super Heroes! There always seemed to be a lot of exciting things going on in these titles, even if often these come-ons didn’t quite pan out in the stories the way they were implied to.
Because Mon-El’s introduction only occupied 2/3 of the issue, there was room in the back for another shorter Superboy adventure–one in which he didn’t accidentally almost kill anybody. This tale was written by the character’s inventor, Jerry Siegel, then back toiling in obscurity for the company he felt had stolen his character and wronged him. Artwork was provided by Curt Swan and inker Stan Kaye, and it’s as vibrant and alive as the George Papp pages in the first 2/3 are stiff and lifeless. There’s a particular charm to Swan’s work in the early 1960s. He maintained his skills throughout the decades, but between the larger size of the original art boards and the flavor of the story material, his work was especially welcoming during this era.
The story has a very simple premise, and is more interested in clever incident than in conflict. After a bout of one-day measles sidelines the entire Smallville police force, Chief Parker deputizes Superboy as a one-man Police Department to fill in for the day. So the Boy of Steel spends his time ticketing speeding motorists, breaking up craps games, exposing crooked beggars and even hunting down unlicensed stray dogs. Fortunately, Smallville is a pretty quiet place overall, and a day later the Police Department has recovered enough to do their own jobs again. But Superboy is given a citation making him an honorary member of the force in perpetuity for his actions. And that’s it. It’s a very storybook-style outing, as was a lot of the Super-titles’ output in this period, charming but not especially thrilling. But for an imaginative child, this stuff was like candy.