Another title for which I received an inordinate amount of issues in my Windfall Comics haul was SUPERBOY. Like with SGT FURY and a few other books, SUPERBOY wasn’t a series whose value to collectors had become apparent yet, so copies were plentiful and relatively cheap even as late as 1988. As much as anything, that’s because the buying tastes of the audience had shifted somewhat over the years. SUPERBOY, with its three pleasant small town stories every issue wasn’t as exciting as what Julie Schwartz was peddling in the books in his stable, nor as electric as the new Marvel titles. But it was a perennial bestseller despite that, all due to the overwhelming popularity that Superman in all his forms experienced in the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s.
That having been said, while consistency was the watchword on pretty much all of editor Mort Weisinger’s titles, the overall look of SUPERBOY was beginning to feel antiquated. Some of that was down the the artists involved, craftsmen such as George Papp who could tell a story clearly and visually, but whose work was a bit dry and posed-seeming. There wasn’t a lot of energy in Papp’s pages, and part of that was by design. Weisinger approached his stories with the youngest readers in mind, and so he wanted every image to be framed in as direct a manner as was possible. In a lot of ways, the artwork was subordinate to the copy, which tended to run rampant all across the pages. The text was really where the story was being told, moreso than the visuals.
The author of the opening story in this issue is unknown, but it was drawn by Papp. In it, Superboy agrees to test a chemical formula that may result in an atomic explosion by drinking the two components to the compound. As a result, he’s stricken with uncontrollable flame-breath, and must struggle to find a way to rid himself of it. Additionally, he cannot open his mouth in either his Superboy or Clark Kent identities without unleashing the destructive flames. In the end, forced to relocate to a world where life evolved in a fiery environment, Superboy is forced to give a stricken citizen mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and he literally breathes the remainder of the compound into the guy’s body, saving his life and permitting the Boy of Steel to return home.
The Smallville Mail Sack letters page is a bit truncated this time out, to make room for a paid Tootsie Roll ad. Even as late as 1964, Mort is still answering the letters with the clinical and imposing signature “Editor”.
There’s also a short write-up on the different ways that Krypto, Superboy’s dog, has been affected by Red Kryptonite over the years, a filler piece necessitated by the 2/3 page ad for Trix cereal. And in case you were wondering, I’m sure the reason why Weisinger didn’t just put the Tootsie Roll ad onto this page and make the letters page a full page was likely a requirement that each ad run along with no other advertising on its page. This feature has the sense of something that was written at the last minute to solve this difficulty.
One of the things that the Superboy strip did have going for it was that it was typically the place where Weisinger would first road test new additions to the Superman family canon. If they got a good reaction in SUPERBOY, Mort would begin to roll them out in the other related Superman titles. Responsible for a bunch of those innovations was science fiction writer Otto Binder. Binder had been one of the chief architects of the career of Superman’s greatest rival in teh Golden Age, Captain Marvel, and he brought those well-honed skills at comic book storytelling to National after the Captain’s publisher Fawcett left the field. The Phantom Zone, a discovery of Jor-El’s wherein the Kryptonians would imprison their criminals as insubstantial phantoms until their sentences had ben served was one such concept, although by the time of this story it had been well-established.
The story involves young Lex Luthor posing as a super-criminal, Dak-El, who claims that a volcanic eruption had blown him out of the Phantom Zone. He wants to be reunited with his fellow inmates, and so he attempts to force Superboy into projecting him back into the Zone, threatening to go on a criminal rampage if the Boy of Steel refuses. It’s all part of Luthor’s plan to release all of the Phantom Zone criminals, but he’s made a very basic mistake: his faux Kryptonian costume is adorned with an English letter D, which didn’t appear in the Kryptonese language. You would think that Lex would have been smarter than that, but apparently not.
The identity of the writer of the final story in this issue is likewise a mystery, but it too was drawn by George Papp. In it, Lana Lang lucks into possession of a ring with a gemstone made of Red Kryptonite, the substance that causes uncontrollable and random transformations to befall any Kryptonians that are exposed to it. Red Kryptonite was a regular story-driver in the Superman books during this period. Anyway, Lana sees a chance to prove her suspicions that Clark Kent is Superboy, and so she exposes the Boy of Steel to it deliberately, counting on whatever effect is has upon him to also be apparent in Clark.
The Red K causes Superboy to lose control of his assorted powers, principally his strength and ability to stop in flight. But despite Lana’s best efforts, she can’t seem to catch Clark out accidentally wrecking the pavement or putting his hand through a wall. And the reason in the end is a ridiculous deus ex machina: apparently, a can of tomato soup that Superboy plunged his fingers into contained some additional Red Kryptonite dust which neutralized the effects of the first dose. It’s about as unlikely and implausible a solution as is possible, and Superboy really does nothing but luck into it. Not all of these stories could be classics, after all.