I have to confess that I’ve never been particularly enamored of the adventures of SUPERBOY, for all that I own and have read plenty of them. I understand the appeal of the series, but somehow, it’s small town atmosphere and small-scale young heroics never really did anything for me. I can be difficult to even remember the events of a given issue after having perused it. In part, that’s due to a lot of unappealing artwork. But that all said, this particular issue of SUPERBOY was both great and memorable, a real favorite. It’s another in editor Mort Weisinger’s Imaginary Stories, tales set apart from the regular continuity wherein a premise could be put forward about how the Man of Steel’s life might have gone under other circumstances and then events play out from there. It was a way for Weisinger to satisfy his young audience, to give them certain interactions and payoffs that would have meant the end of the series if he did them legitimately. It was an effective work-around, and having hit upon it and found some success with the approach, Weisinger proceeded to beat the hell out of it over the course of five or six years.
The story in this issue was written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by George Papp–one of those unappealing artists that I spoke about earlier. The issue features a single story rather than three separate adventures as the book typically did. Mort dubbed these long epics “3-Part Novels”, and their greater length allowed for more sweeping plots, greater characterization, and better stories all around. This one is built around a concept that’s exceedingly simple but also incredibly interesting: what if, rather than only being able to evacuate baby Kal-El to Earth before Krypton exploded, Jor-El was instead able to save both himself and his wife Lara as well as their child? How would this super-family be welcomed on Earth? What would the culture shock be like? And would Kal-El still become the hero known as Superman? Let’s find out.
The story opens on destruction raining down upon Krypton. Jor-El just about has his rocket ship ready to go, but it turns out that Lara has spent her time perfecting an enlarging ray, which they use to make the craft big enough to fit all three family members. The trio land on the outskirts of Smallville and are taken in by Jonathan and Martha Kent–the Kents are enamored of little Kal-El, and this inspires them to adopt a child of their own, a blond-haired child that the name Clark Kent. But not everyone on Earth is so welcoming. Tyro Daily Planet editor Perry White makes the trip from metropolis so that he can confirm his suspicions that the El family with their great powers are the vanguard of an alien invasion. Shades of Jonah Jameson! But this stirs up the Smallville town council, which forbids the El family from settling there. (Ha! As if they could possibly stop it!) So instead, the Els take up residence on a plot of land owned by the Kents beyond the boundaries of the town, and they work to fit in. Jor-El gets a job at a factory, where with his super-powers he excels at his work. But eventually, the Kents sell their farm to move into Smallville, and so the Els are left isolated and alone.
A pause at this point for a particularly excellent full page ad for other titles in the Superman line, no doubt orchestrated by DC’s lettering wizard Ira Schnapp. I don’t recall many occasions where the Superman books got a full page to show off what was coming up, but these particular releases may have warranted it. The Legion of Super-Pets! (Hey, laugh, but they just got an animated movie!) Bizarro Lex Luthor! Supergirl’s existence finally revealed to the world! If you were a devotee of the Weisinger line of books, this must have been a red letter month for you.
As we move into chapter two and time marches on, the El’s make the best of their situation. But young Kal-El is desperately lonely, despite having his super-powered pet dog Krypto to play with. All of the other children in Smallville have been cautioned by their parents not to play with Kal-El, for fear that he will accidentally hurt them with his super-powers. And as Kal-El gets more and more bored, he tries to alleviate his boredom, causing a bunch of unintended damage to the town. This causes the citizens of Smallville to picket the El household, demanding that Jor-El and his brood quit Earth. But before they can do that, Jor-El comes to the aid of a stricken cruise liner, saving it and its passengers from destruction. On board were Professor Lang and his daughter Lana, who are grateful for the assist. Professor Lang uses his influence in Smallville to get his neighbors to quiet the hell down. And now, Kal-El has somebody who’ll hang out with him in the person of Lana, which cures his boredom.
As time goes on, Jor-El and Lara, inspired by the positive response they got to Jor-El saving the ocean liner, put their powers to work as super heroes. Once he gets old enough,. Jor-El gives Kal-El a costume and initiates him into the family business. But given that the Els are known to everyone, Superboy doesn’t need a secret identity in this timeline. But the trio does Americanize their names so as to fit in better on Earth, becoming Joe, Laura and Cal Elton. When Lex Luthor is caught in the accident that destroys his hair, Jor-El is able to cure him by use of Kryptonian super-science, so Luthor becomes a positive force in the world. And when Mr. Mxyzptlk shows up to cause mischief among his family, Jor-El swiftly whips up a barrier device that seals him permanently in his home 5th Dimension. Encountering Kryptonite for the first time and realizing its devastating effect on him and his loved ones, Jor-El also creates a device that destroys all of the Kryptonite on Earth, thus safeguarding his family. So as chapter two draws to a close, things are looking pretty sweet for the El/Elson family!
Time out for the Smallville Mailsack letters page, which is shorter than usual this month thanks to the need to include the annual Statement of Ownership required to secure second class postal mailing privileges. These early Statements didn’t require circulation information, so while they’re still full of interesting facts, they don’t give us any picture as to how well or poorly the given titles were performing. This particular installment of the Mailsack includes a letter from Paul Gambaccini, a frequent comic book correspondent who would one day be immortalized in an issue of THE FLASH as Paul Gambi, the tailor to the super-villain community. He’d also have a long and stories career in broadcasting.
On to chapter three, and the thrilling climax of this Imaginary Novel. As this chapter opens, Superboy has a chance encounter with Lori Lemaris, the mermaid from Atlantis, and falls head-over-heels in love with her. But they cannot be together because of their difference in physiognomy. However, this is a simple thing for Kryptonian super-science to correct, and so Lori gains legs and moves to the surface, where she’s adopted by the Langs and becomes Lori Lang, Lana’s sister. Later, on a space patrol, Jor-El encounters Brainiac, who holds several miniaturized cities, including Kandor, in bottles. He and his family will not let this stand, so they team up and capture Brainiac, using the enlarging technology developed by Lara to restore the stolen cities to their proper places. This includes Kandor, which they are able to set up on an otherwise uninhabited planet which becomes Krypton II.
But now it’s time for the wrap-up, and Jor-El and his family need to decide whether to live on Krypton II among their own people or remain on Earth. While they’re thinking this through, a gap in the Phantom Zone allows a few Kryptonian criminals to escape confinement and materialize on Earth, where they too have super-powers. In order to defeat and destroy the El family that opposes them, the criminals duplicate the conditions that destroyed Krypton around the spaceship that brought the El family to Earth, and it is transformed into Kryptonite by the process. Using it, they are able to strike down their foes while remaining shielded behind protective lead themselves. Things look bad for the family, until a mysterious blond stranger in a Superboy costume shows up. He’s unaffected by the kryptonite. This is, of course, Clark Kent, whom Jor-El has given permanent super-powers through a serum so that the Earth will continue to have a guardian when his family moves to Krypton II. The new Superboy is able to scoop up the kryptonite and use it to defeat the Phantom Zone criminals, thus proving his readiness for the job. So as the El family rockets away to their new life on another world, Clark Kent determines that, in order to safeguard his true identity, he will wear special glasses in his role as Superboy. This is a bit of a turkey of a final beat to go out on, but the rest of the story up to this point has been so fun, I’m willing to overlook it.