Now this was a thoroughly excellent issue of SUPERMAN, one I acquired as a part of my much-discussed windfall comic book purchase of 1988, wherein I scored about 150 Silver Age vintage comic books for the sum of only $50.00. The SUPERMAN titles during this period were always wildly imaginative, even as they tended to also be utterly safe and confined to a very narrow set of parameters. But often, the best stories in the line were the Imaginary Stories, a device editor Mort Weisinger had come up with to permit his creators to expand the possibilities of their imaginations and to answer the kinds of questions that the young readership of the books was always asking. In those days, those questions weren’t so much about who could beat up who, as they’d become in the Marvel era. Rather, they revolved around the interconnected mythos that Weisinger’s teams had built up for the Man of Steel and his world, and what the outcome might be if certain truisms were allowed to run to their logical conclusion.
The story in this issue is a whopper, one that requires the utmost suspension of disbelief. But if you are able to get on board with the premise–something that most of the readers of the era had no difficulty doing–then the enterprise is worthwhile. You see, this one is a flip on the accepted Superman canon, in which it is Earth rather than Krypton that explodes, and it is Lois Lane rather than Kal-El who is rocketed to a distant planet to save them. So there’s some Bizarro-logic at work here, there has to be. Just roll with it. If you do, then this whole thing is a lot of fun. It’s another 3-Part Novel that takes up the whole of the issue–Weisinger was clever in his marketing of that phrase, which made these book-length stories seem like real events with built-in importance, rather than simply being the path of least resistance. It was written by science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton and illustrated by Curt Swan and George Klein, who defined the modern look of the Man of Steel for the 1960s and beyond.
So right away, the story immediately starts doing all of the things it needs to do in order to make this sequence of events remotely plausible. In tis reality, Lois’s father is secretly a scientist who’s determined that the Sun is going to explode, destroying Earth as well. As in the case of Jor-El, he builds a spaceship to carry his infant daughter to safety on far-off Krypton, a world that he’s observed telescopically. Exposure to the Power Ray that powers her tiny craft gives Lois super-powers (and presumably enables her to withstand the crushing density of Krypton’s greater than Earth gravity.) She’s found and adopted by Khal-Kan and his wife Maural, who name the child Kandi-Kan. She grows up as a playmate of Kal-El of course, whose father Jor-El found a way to prevent Krypton’s destruction years ago. As she becomes of age, L:ois/Kandi of course adopts the heroic identity of Supermaid, using her super-powers to protect her adoptive homeworld. And it turns out that she is vulnerable to, wait for it, Earthite, fragments of her exploded homeworld that have reached Krypton, and whose radiations can only be blocked by silver for some reason.
As Part Two begins, Kandi’s parents have perished from Virus-X, and Kandi has relocated to the big city of Kryptonopolis to set out on her career. Growing up, Supermaid has been torn between two suitors, Len Landor (who attempts to constantly prove that Kandi-Kan is Supermaid, and who becomes an astronaut) and Kal-El, who is quieter and less dynamic, and who becomes a doctor. Kandi-Kan finds employment as a nurse working in the same hospital as Kal, alongside a Professor and an Orderly that greatly resemble Perry White and Jimmy Olsen. Parallels are the name of the game here, after all. But they also work alongside Lu Thoria, a brilliant medical researcher who has eyes for Kal-El and who is insanely jealous of his constant interest in Supermaid. But Lois has he hands full preventing Brainiac from shrinking and stealing the city of Kandor, imprisoning the space pirate in the Phantom Zone after his capture.
But Lu Thoria seized control of Brainiac’s crashed spaceship, intending to use its heightened technology to carry out her criminal ambitions. (She’s secretly bald, of course, the end result of earlier having attempted to kill Supermaid with a heat-ray that backfired on her. ) She lures Kal-El to her, as she wants him by her side as she destroys her rival Supermaid with Earthite. Kal-El has been secretly experimenting on re-creating Pa Lane’s Power Ray in the hopes of giving himself super-powers as well, and thus being able to draw Supermaid’s notice. As Lu Thoria eludes capture by Supermaid, Kal realizes that he’s going to need to test his prototype on himself, even though there’s a chance that the Ray, designed to work on Earthmen, will prove too powerful for Kryptonians and kill them after a brief period of time.
A pause between Chapters Two and Three for the Metropolis Mailbag letters page–which is truncated this issue so that the yearly Statement of Ownership, necessary to secure second class postage rights, can be run. These early Statements didn’t give much in the way of detail on the sales figures, but it does indicate that across the preceding year, the title sold 740,000 copies per month. That sure seems like a rounded off number to my eye, but assuming that it’s essentially accurate, that’s a remarkable number of copies for 1962.
As we move into Chapter Three, the story accelerates towards a climax. As promised pages earlier, Kal-El exposes himself to his version of the Power Ray, which grants him limited super-powers for a short period of time. Keeping his powers a secret ace up his sleeve, Kal searches out Lu Thoria, realizing that she’ll need to venture into space in order to gather the Earthite necessary to destroy Supermaid. He almost convinces her that he’s on her side, but he cannot hide his disgust when she removes her wig revealing her bald head–there was nothing more repulsive in Mort Weisinger’s world than baldness, a telling fact given Mort’s own hairline. Kal tries to prevent Lu Thoria’s takeoff, but his makeshift super-powers crap out just when he needs them, and he’s saved by Supermaid.
Undaunted, Kal convinces Len Landor to fly him into space where the Earthite is located. But as the pair arrives, so too does Supermaid. She seems to succumb to the Earthite before revealing that Jor-El equipped her with a protective coating if silver dust, which blocks the radiations. Capturing Lu Thoria, Supermaid brings her to Jor-El, who has determined that her mania is the result of a lab accident, one whose result he can reverse. And Kal-El has perfected a process to regrow her lost hair, making her socially acceptable once more. So everyting is good right up until the final five panels, where Supermaid and Kal-El are searching for elements to perfect a cure for Virus-X. Supermaid is exposed to Purple Earthite, a rare Red Kryptonite-like variant, which causes strange effects to Earthlings that are also permanent. In the case of Supermaid, this transfers all of her powers to Kal-El for no discernable reason apart from the fact that, as Superman, he needs to get the final win. And so the story closes out with Supermaid having been reduced to powerless Kandi-Kan, hopelessly chasing after Kal-El who is now Superman, and who shuns her affections. In other words, the stuatus quo is more or less maintained. It’s a but of a downer and abrupt ending, but that’s the way most of these Imaginary Stories tended to work.