You can expect to see a lot more coverage of obscure issues of the less-popular-with-collectors Silver Age titles going forward in this feature, as those are the books that I got the most issues of in my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988, for obvious reasons. Which didn’t at all keep them from being entertaining reads. But we’ve already exhausted, for example, the only two issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that were in the batch, but there are a lot of Superman books to go. So next up is this issue of ACTION COMICS from 1963 (or, technically, the final days of 1962 when it came out.) This cover is interesting in that it doesn’t depict a scene from the lead Superman story but rather the Supergirl back-up. I’m guessing that the cover was done first and then a story was written to match it–but why that story would be a Supergirl entry remains a bit of a mystery. Maybe editor Mort Weisinger was simply changing things up.
Superman, of course has his own problems this month, in this lead-off tale written by Leo Dorfman and illustrated by Curt Swan and George Klein. It’s a story mostly dedicated to the Man of Steel’s alter ego of Clark Kent, and one that relies on the Superman line’s usual assortment of impossible coincidences and stretches of logic to make its story work. But for young readers of the era, it was an entertaining adventure that they could absolutely understand and key into. And that was really the secret of Mort’s success. He largely eschewed the older comic book fans that other editors such as Julie Schwartz had been courting and instead focused his titles on the very youngest readers–those who might have a dime and two pennies to spend on a brief bit of fantasy. This approach, and the enormous popularity of Superman at this point kept his books at the top of industry sales charts for the whole of the decade, much as the hardcore fans often decried their silliness.
The story opens with Daily Planet reporters Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen taking a closer look at a hot air balloon the “Balloon Gang” used in a recent getaway. Clutzy Jimmy winds up untethering the balloon while the trip are inside it, causing it to take off wildly. Jimmy wants to use his signal watch to contact Superman for help, but Lois senses a story in this (“Daily Planet Reports Are Idiots!”) and keeps him from doing so. But the sort of fluke these stories specialize in, the runaway balloon winds up carrying the reporters to a lost civilization hidden in the mountainside. The trio is captured by the city’s guards, but their Queen Lura takes a liking to Clark. In a series of outlandish coincidences, Clark appears to court Lura when he’s actually using his secret super-powers to handle crises that are happening all over the world despite being trapped here. Prince Vikar, who is betrothed to Lura, isn’t a fan of this, and he challenges Clark to a duel.
The duel will be fought using Power-Rangs, huge explosive boomerangs. But Vikar isn’t really interested in Kent at all–he intends to throw his Power-Rang towards Lura, killing her. Since he’s the next in line for the throne, this will make him King. Clark of course is able to foil this assassination attempt, and agrees to marry Lura in order to lure Vikar into the open and trap him–which he does as Superman. Then, Clark pretends to have broken his glasses, and that his eyesight is so bad without them that he would have to be led around like a blind man. As replacements cannot be made in the kingdom of Mistri-Lor, Lura agrees that their marriage plans must be put aside. And so, the three reporters use their balloon to soar back to civilization–with Clark having performed another ruse to explain why he didn’t just rescue his three friends all along. Interestingly, neither Jimmy nor Lois remarks on Clark’s resemblance to Superman without his glasses in this story, where in any other this would have led to further shenanigans.
At the midpoint of the book came the Metropolis Mailbag letters page, still pitching its questions and answers at relatively young readers. You can tell how popular Supergirl was becoming in that she’s been included in the header to the page by this time. Mort’s audience was still trying to catch him out on goofs, which was a seeming regular pastime on his letters pages. Here, one asks him about a returning character, Lena Thorul, who had earlier appeared in a LOIS LANE adventure as a much older character. Mort is uncharacteristically straightforward about the fact that they thought the character had potential and decided to de-age her so that she would better fit in with Supergirl’s world.
There’s also a half-page edition of Coming Super-Attractions, in which Mort plugged a trio of his upcoming releases. These ads were almost all text based and a lot more focused on selling the magazines due to the intriguing story concepts rather than any visual component. How Jor-El discovered the Phantom Zone! The Legion of Substitute Heroes (one of my favorite concepts of the era)! Lois Lane as an old woman! With a tiny cameo from DC’s recently-introduced mascot Johnny DC to help seal the deal.
Not only was the Supergirl story in this issue featured on the cover this month, but it was also a page longer than the lead Superman story. It also guest-stars Superman, albeit to a limited degree. It was also written by Leo Dorfman, and illustrated (and signed in the splash panel–a rare thing in a Weisinger book) by regular Supergirl artist Jim Mooney, and it’s something of a tour de force. It’s presented here as a stand-alone story, but really it’s a continuation of the Supergirl adventure from last month. Last time, Supergirl’s recurring foe Lesla-Lar had trapped Lena Thorul in the Bottle City of Kandor, released a number of Phantom Zone criminals onto Earth, exposed Supergirl to a plague that made her a dangerous carrier which forced her to exile herself on a remote island, and then took steps to prevent aid from Superman or any of Supergirl’s other allies, such as the Legion of Super-Heroes. With nowhere else to turn, the Maid of Steel reached out to her cousin’s arch-enemy Lex Luthor for help.
For the sake of his sister Lena Thorul, Lex is willing to set aside his enmity and work with Supergirl. But trapped on the island for fear of infecting others, she can’t actually secure his release from prison. What’s worse, the Phantom Zone criminals have an offer of their own to make. They give Lex temporary super-powers through a high-tech belt gizmo and entreat him to join them as an ally. They want Lex to work with them, but his own monstrous ego insists that only his colossal mind can destroy Superman and Supergirl, and he demands leadership of the group. There’s a quick dogleg here to work the cover image into the story, dressing Luthor up in his own super-costume and having him put his fist through a statue of the Man of Steel.
Luthor comes up with a complex plan that involves exposing Supergirl and Superman to God Kryptonite which can take away their powers. Of course, the other Kryptonian villains intend to turn it on Lex as well, but he’s one step ahead of them, and throws in with Superman and Supergirl to destroy their futuristic weapons (which they had used to brutally murder Lesla-Lar last month) and exile them all back to the Phantom Zone. For all his faults, Luthor is pretty much the hero of this story. What’s more, with the threat neutralized, Supergirl’s condition is cured and Luthor has lost his super-powers and will be returned to finish out his prison sentence. But he’s happy enough in that his sister Lena is freed from Kandor, and still has no awareness that her brother is the greatest criminal in the world.