This issue of SUPERMAN was a noteworthy one, containing possibly the most memorable story the Man of Steel’s creator Jerry Siegel ever wrote concerning his might-muscled powerhouse of a character. It’s definitely well-remembered by those who read it in the era in which it was published. And it was another book that wound up in my hands as a part of that Windfall Comics purchase of 1988 that saw me acquire a box of around 150 Silver Age books for the reasonable price of $50.00
The issue features a book-length adventure, what editor Mort Weisinger had termed a “three-part novel.” As advertised, it was broken up into three chapters so as to more closely resemble the format of the SUPERMAN title up to this time. But Mort had begun to experiment with doing longer, more complex Superman stories such as this one as he moved to craft a complex interlocking mythology for the character across the seven regular titles in which the Man of Tomorrow regularly appeared. In this instance, he turned to Jerry Siegel, whom he once described as “the best emotional writer of them all” in his stable, pairing him with the artist who had set the style for the Krypton Crusader for the better part of a decade, Wayne Boring.
Boring’s work is on strong display in this adventure. His big, barrel-chested Superman was a product of its time, and he often had a unique way of depicting the Metropolis Marve in flight, posing him almost as though he were running through the sky. But here, Broing is called upon to depict not super-heroics, but personal drama, and he’s got a good handle on such things. Additionally, his depiction of Krypton is imaginative in a very 1950s science fiction manner. While the pages are still laid out in storybook fashion (as was the style in the Weisinger titles so that even the youngest readers would be able to follow along with what was happening) the content of those panels was slick and palatable.
What’s interesting about this story from a modern day perspective is that there really isn’t a direct physical conflict to be found anywhere within it. There is jeopardy, yes, and there are definitely stakes, but all of the key moments are emotional ones. In this manner, Siegel was able to unlock the secret of how to wring drama and pathos out of a character whose amazing powers permitted him to accomplish almost anything. Starting at around this time, and carried through the assorted Superman family of titles, the Man of Steel became a figure of tragedy, who had lost his family and his homeworld and never stopped longing for them, despite all of the fantastic things he was capable of on Earth. Giving the ultimate man something that he could not have helped to humanize him in the eyes of the young readers, who could relate.
It’s likely that you may already be familiar with this story, since it’s been reprinted so many times. But just in case you aren’t: After encountering a strange creature in space, Superman finds himself knocked through the time barrier backwards in time, and emerges on Krypton, bis birth planet, shortly before it is scheduled to be destroyed. Bereft of his super-powers under Krypton’s Red Sun, the Man of Tomorrow has no way of escaping Krypton’s destructive fate–nor can he warn anyone else of the devastation that is coming. He winds up getting a part in a film about space travel, and is smitten by his co-star, the lovely Lyla Lerrol. He also befriends his newlywed parents, but doesn’t dare to reveal to them his true identity as their son–though he does accidentally reveal his true birth name the them, Kal-El.
Over time, Superman and Lyla’s relationship becomes steadily more serious, and he grows ever more determined to find some way to cheat fate and to save his homeworld from destruction. But his efforts are thwarted at every turn. He is able to help out his future foster father Jonathan Kent by prevented a crooked swindler from romancing his eventual bride Martha after spying them long distance on Jor-El’s space scanner. But when he endeavors to assist Jor-El in the building of a massive space-ark to carry the Kyrptonians to safety, they unfortunately select Kandor as the build site, and are stymied when the space marauder Brainiac miniaturizes and bottles the entire city, ark included.
Time out here for an ad touting more Coming Super-Attractions! Superman gets old! Supergirl visits Superboy in Smallville! Aqualad goes to school! (Yuck!) Lois Lane and Lana Lang both develop super-powers! No matter which title you turned to, there was always something exciting or intriguing going on in the Metropolis Marvel’s world!
Next comes the letters page for the issue, the Metropolis Mailbag, which runs for two pages this time out. Mort Weisinger must be feeling his oats this month, as he gives some lengthier answers to the questions posed by his young readers. he also takes out a huge space to promote the upcoming second SUPERMAN ANNUAL. This giant reprint collection of past Superman adventures was a huge hit and financial windfall for DC, so it’s no wonder that they would duplicate it. As this was Mort’s notion (albeit one no doubt inspired by similar collections that had been put out by other publishers previously) he was quick to take claim for it. As we’ve seen in this feature, DC/National swiftly expanded the program throughout the line, and it wasn’t long before there were similar BATMAN ANNUALS and so forth.
Back on Krypton, things aren’t looking good for Superman and his one true love, as the day of the planet’s destruction draws nearer. As earthquakes begin to occur with increasing frequency, Jor-El and Superman look for a solution, but in vain. and the Man of Steel begins to accept this tragic fate–that he’s doomed to die after all with his parents and his fellow Kryptonians when their homeworld explodes. However, fate isn’t quite done with Superman yet. Called back to finish shooting the climax of the film, an improbable accident causes the make-believe spaceship to be blasted out into space, with Superman on board. Incredibly, despite not having any life support equipment on board (because it’s not a genuine spacecraft) nor any means of long-range propulsion, the ship enters a far-off solar system with a yellow sun, thus restoring Superman’s super-powers. Realizing that he can’t change anything, and not bothering to even try, he instead hurls himself forward through the time barrier again, arriving home on Earth. And the story is over.
It’s a tale in which Superman battles nobody, doesn’t even have his powers for most of it, and accomplishes nothing. And yet, it became a classic. For one thing, it provided greater depth and realism to Krypton by giving readers a glimpse of what life was like there before it was destroyed. And it gave the Man of Steel a tragic, doomed romance–forget Lois Lane, all true Superman fans knew that Lyla Lerrol was his actual soulmate. (Alan Moore, of course, didn’t forget this, and used her decades later in his classic story “For The Man Who Has Everything” as Kal-El’s wife.)
5 thoughts on “WC: SUPERMAN #141”
My favorite Superman story of all time. Even at age 8 I thought Superman’s “oh well” attitude at the end was kinda uncharacteristic for a hero. I always imagined he could have found some other way to save Krypton through the incredibly easy time travel he was capable of. Anyway, I was happy to see Lyla in a Super Friends comic years later.
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That inaction at the end is classic depression.
I almost didn’t buy this classic, because of the pedestrian cover. But it was only a nickel and it turned out to be a lasting favorite of mine. Two delights in my young adulthood came when it was reprinted a decade later in a 68 page Giant (reduced from 80 pages) with a MUCH better cover, then a little later when we saw the gutsy Lyla save the Super Friends from being destroyed along with Krypton as she learned her beloved Kal-EL had survived on 1960 Earth. Thank you, E Nelson Bridwell and Ramona Fradon
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Boring was smooth. Did he do romance comics? As a young teen in the 80s, I 1st heard of him b/c he drew some stuff inked by Jerry Ordway. Was like seeing history made. And Jerry was genuinely jazzed about it. Looked great, too.
In the late 70s DC launched a mini called “World of Krypton” detailing Jor-El futile efforts to save the planet: the events of this tale were duly taken into account, but placed in the background, and omitting the campiest details. I did not know of this story at the time so I was quite baffled to see Superman in it, and being called Kal-El! It was quite good, nevertheless, and I think Bridwell was at the helm.