This issue of ADVENTURE COMICS is another book that came in that box of 150 Silver Age comics that I purchased in 1988 for fifty bones–what I think of as my “windfall comics” purchase since it came about entirely by luck. As with ACTION COMICS last week, ADVENTURE COMICS back issues weren’t especially in demand from collectors at the time, and so there were more of these than of other more popular or valued titles such as DAREDEVIl or THE FLASH. In part, this is because these books were skewed so much younger in terms of their prospective audience–plenty of comic book fans were embarrassed by these stories at the time. Me, I found them charming for the most part, though Superboy solo stories tended to bore me for the most part. I never quite connected with that aspect of the character in the same way that I had his adult self.
Page count reductions meant that DC’s once-proud anthology series now only had room enough for two features in each issue, a lead story and a back-up. Additionally, the demands of the buying audience had changed, so it was tougher to craft short 6-page stories that were satisfying and pulled their weight. Accordingly, this release led with a 13 page Superboy story followed by an 11 page Tales of the Bizarro World back-up. This opener was written by the typically clever Bill Finger and illustrated by the competent-but-stiff Al Plastino. I suspect it was Plastino’s style more than anything else that kept me at a remove from Superboy’s adventures. I just didn’t find the artwork at all appealing.
The story is a harmless, gimmick-laden caper revolving around Superman’s greatest foe, Lex Luthor. Not yet a career criminal, young Lex already hates Superboy for the accident that caused the loss of his hair and the destruction of his greatest scientific discovery. So when Superboy happens to locate a valuable new element and the scientific community names it after him–Superboy X–Luthor goes on the rampage, determined to turn his enemy into a laughingstock. And he intends to use his greater command of science to do so. Luthor begins a campaign of public mischief, each escapade designed to make the Boy of Steel look ridiculous.
These stunts are based on the actual scientific properties of a variety of materials–a sure sign that this is a Bill Finger story, as he delighted in turning a plot point on some random fact of trivia. What’s more, the first letter of each of the elements Lex is using in his campaign spells out his own name, LUTHOR. It’s super-villainy 101! But once Superboy figures this out, it’s simple for him to deduce where Lex’s final trick will be played. Luthor is able to keep the Boy of Steel at bay with a machine gun loaded with kryptonite bullets (which is a pretty violent ploy for this period, for all that it’s undersold.) And when Superboy sends one of his robots into the fray as a substitute, Lex is able to override its control frequency and turn it against him. Luthor’s acrostic of evil is almost complete!
But as the aphorism says, 99% of the way is half done, and Superboy is able to turn the tables on the young genius by using the properties of Superboy-X against him–properties that were never set up earlier in the story and so come across as a deus ex machina. But, hey, it’s a Superboy story, we can hardly expect a bulletproof plot. In the end, order is restored and Luthor is sent to prison for the very first time, rather than Reform School. And on the very last page, we were also treated to more Super-Coming Attractions from editor Mort Weisinger. Superman’s secret family! Superman becomes Superbaby! The Superboy Revenge Squad targets Superboy! There were plenty of exciting happenings going on in the other Superman titles that month!
At the halfway point in the issue, we find the Smallville Mail Sack letters page, where Weisinger communicated with his young audience and guided them subtly into thinking the way he wanted them to about the stories he and his creators were building. There was so much mail coming in at this point that here Mort chooses to eschew running them in full past a certain point, but rather to excerpt the salient points from each that he wants to address. I never liked this approach as a reader, but I will admit that it got more readers’ names and comments into print than would have been possible otherwise.
And there’s a full page advertisement for the fourth GIANT SUPERMAN ANNUAL as lettered by Ira Schnapp. The theme in this instance is adventures in Time, Space and Other Worlds, which is plenty broad–but that cover and the assorted call-outs make it seem chock-full of fun and adventure. For those interested in the Man of Steel, there really wasn’t any better value during this period than these Annuals.
Trucking along, we come to the back-up story, an installment in the relatively short-lived Tales of the Bizarro World, which had usurped the position previously held by Aquaman and Green Arrow in ADVENTURE COMICS. It was a strange choice for a series, although Bizarro was clearly popular with the readers, and giving the strip a comedic slant made it feel unique among the other offerings. The problem, really, is that the joke of everything on the Bizarro World being the opposite of that on Earth didn’t really stretch all that far. It was possible to do god stories with this concept, but maybe not on a consistent basis in the way a running series requirted.
This entry was written by the Man of Steel’s creator, Jerry Siegel and drawn by John Forte, whose work was also a bit stiff and lifeless–positive qualities when depicting Bizarros. It concerned Bizarro Number One attempting to create a monster more horrible than Frankenstein for a Bizarro movie. Of course, he comes up with a good looking creature that he names Sapollo (like the god Apollo, but a sap, see?) After a series of soporific escapades rife with references to the overall Superman mythos, Sapollo is turned back into his previous form as a prehistoric cave-man. And all’s well that ends well. It’s a dumb concept and a dumb strip, but one that can be enjoyable in moderation if you’re of the correct mindset.
And we go out this issue on another full-page ad for an upcoming Annual, this one dedicated to the Caped Crusader, Batman. It’s organized around a theme as well, but somehow “action roles” feels like a concept that is so broad that almost any old story could be included. It must have been difficult coming up with theme concepts that would work, especially the longer these series went on, and eventually, DC gave up trying and just put together a block of good stories and called it a day at that. This Annual also includes a Batman 1962 pin-up calendar, which is of limited value today.