There’s something extremely comforting about the Superman titles edited by Mort Weisinger at the start of the Silver Age of Comics. They were unfailingly consistent in terms of their execution and in the level at which they placed their stories. While there were occasionally physical challenges to be overcome, these Superman stories weren’t about action-oriented slugfests between heroes and villains, but rather quiet and almost storybook adventures that gave their emotionality the greatest heft. Fears, betrayals, turns-of-fortune, the specter of being unloved–these were the kinds of subject matter that Mort and his creative teams made Superman and his cast grapple with month in and month out. So these weren’t exciting comic books per se, especially as far as the hardcore fan audience was concerned, but they were perfect for the young and impulse-oriented readers that made up the backbone of Mort’s circulation.

I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: every character in these stories evidenced the emotional maturity of a young child. While we can look at this today and laugh at these depictions, in which Superman can spend sleepless nights wondering whether the people of Metropolis love him any longer, this was a perfect pitch for the kids who followed these books–the characters were all written at their level, and so their problems and fears and concerns were immediately relatable to even the youngest readers among them. There was never really any worry that Superman wasn’t going to be able to save the day, but what was more worrisome was whether Jimmy was going to be broken-hearted when his pal Superman threw him over for some newcomer, or when Lois Lane proved to be an annoying pain attempting to suss out the Man of Steel’s secrets and had to be mercilessly tricked in order to teach her a lesson. Any kid could understand these situations on an almost primal level.

That all said, the two-part story that opens this issue, while entirely bloodless, feels as though the stakes are a bit more real than usual. Experimenting with a cure for Kryptonite while using a piece of Red Kryptonite that once split him into both his Superman and Clark Kent selves, the man of Steel creates some strange Kryptonite fumes that again split him into an evil Superman and a powerless Clark Kent, even though Red Kryptonite isn’t supposed to be able to affect him twice. Nevertheless, the separated Superman is cruel–though not so cruel that he abandons Clark to his arctic fortress. But having recently seen a tyrant king on an assignment, the malevolent Superman appears at the United nations and demands to be crowned the King of Earth.

What’s more, this transformation doesn’t wear off in 72 hours as Red-K typically does, so there’s no change of the situation simply righting itself. Clark is horrified as, cowed by destructive displays of his super-powers, the entire world is forced to acquiesce to Superman’s demands, turning over all authority to him. But Clark himself, no longer needing to protect a double identity, is driven to pull together an Anti-Superman underground in an attempt to overthrow his evil tyrant self. And that’s where this first half wraps up. For all that the stakes are massive, the storytelling is typically storybook here, and presented in the kind of direct way that Mort preferred. It was written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by the ace Superman art team of the era, Curt Swan and George Klein.

A pause here between stories for a full page house ad trumpeting the fact that Hawkman had finally won a series of his own. Getting the Winged Wonder his own title had been a bit of a cause celeb among the super hero fandom of the day, but this proved to be a bit of a pyric victory, as artist Joe Kubert whose work had made such a strong impact on the older fans had been replaced with the cleaner lines of Murphy Anderson by the time of this first issue.

Just as with the lead feature, the back-up Supergirl series functioned on a child’s logic to a great degree as well. that’s about the only thing that makes it both plausible and acceptable that Supergirl for many issues was being wooed by Comet the Super-Horse in his seemingly human guise. This was all presented in the manner of a fairy tale, so nobody was leveling any charges of bestiality against the pair or anything. Still, it’s all a bit weird. But these soap opera shenanigans made Supergirl an incredible popular character during this time, in particular among young girls who really didn’t have a lot of options when it came to female super heroes to root for. Leo Dorfman wrote this story as well, and it was illustrated by Jim Mooney, who snuck his signature into the lower left corner of the splash image seen above.

Comet, you see, had once been an ordinary centaur who wound up cursed to become a full horse. As recompense, his patron Circe gave him super-powers. So on St. Valentine’s day, as he watches Supergirl receive gifts of love from her other suitors such as Dick Malverne and Jerro the Merboy, he is frustrated that he cannot share his own feelings for her with her. In an attempt to alleviate his situation, he petitions Circe to transform him into human form, and she agrees to do so, even though she foresees that he will desire to become his super-powered self again before too long. And as he returns to his own time, Super-Horse is stricken with amnesia, and winds up helping a criminal called the Hooded Demon to commit a crime.

Before long, though, Super-Horse loses his powers and adopts the makeshift identity of “Bronco” Bill Starr. As Bill, he winds up saving Linda Lee’s life (or seeming to, since she’s really Supergirl and was in no danger) and is able to begin a torrid love affair with her. But Bill is mistaken by Supergirl for being the Hooded Demon, and he’s forced to flee from her. But when the pursuing Supergirl winds up stricken by some Kryptonite, as predicted Comet prays to Circe to be restored to his powerful horse self so that he can save her. By the end of teh story, Supergirl is heartbroken that “Bronco” Bill has vanished after she accused him of being a criminal, and Super-Horse is once more unable to tell her who he really is. So the status qu is maintained, but the lead characters carry emotional scars because of their experiences.

Finally, the Metropolis Mailbag letters page comes last, where it doubles up with some Coming Super-Attractions, Mort’s always effective ad-plugs for other titles within his Superman line. Jimmy Olsen and Robin join forces against Superman and Batman! Elastic Lad romances the Legion girls! The Legion’s Suicide Squad! Mort definitely knew how to make these little blurbs resonate with his audience and how to hook them into seeking out these other publications.

5 thoughts on “WC: ACTION COMICS #311

  1. Murphy Anderson’s was the first rat I ever saw on Hawkman so he’s who I associate with classic Katar. I have to admit that Wheet! Wheet! sounds less like a battle cry and more like an asthma attack.


  2. Tom,
    I have a much different perspective on than you do. It’s not an argument, but I see it differently, perhaps because I was reading these comics before you.

    Superman could have up to 70 stories a year published. He appeared in Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Superman, Superboy, Action, Adventure, World’s Finest and JLA titles. The first four often had three stories in them.

    I see it differently: They were all filled with GIMMICKS! After your first year of reading them, you knew Superman would not be a dictator and take over the world, Lois Lane was NOT a witch, although the cover told you otherwise, you knew Superman was not losing his powers, turning evil, growing older, younger, bigger, killing or marrying Lois and so on.

    Once in while that would be fun, but I was wanting more adventure. Here is a man who could travel anywhere in the universe and I’d love him to have an adventure. When he returned to Krypton, or discovered another planet it was fun. Otherwise it became repetitive. And he always fought ther same old villains. I think that is why DC attracted the younger readers….when they got older they wanted something more.

    I think that is why I was attracted to Marvel in the 1960s. For example, The Fantastic Four had adventures and fought NEW villains. They went t the moon and met the Watcher. While they did fight villains again, in issue 42 the Inhumans are introduced, issue #48 gave us Galactus and the Silver Surfer, #52 was the Black Panther.

    I was finding little new with Superman and DC at the time, just gimmicks like the Flash with a Swelled Head that you knew was not going to last.


  3. Boy, the comics of the time sure loved doing their own version of Nikita Khrushchev brandishing his shoe at the UN!


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