I have to confess, of all of editor Mort Weisinger’s assorted Superman titles of the late 1950s and 1960s, SUPERBOY is the one that I warmed to the least. In general, I liked the daffy storybook construction of most of the line’s output, but somehow the low-stakes small town conflicts of the Boy of Steel really didn’t grab me in the slightest. I suspect that this was mostly due to the artwork on the series–I never quite warmed to artists such as George Papp and Al Plastino who wound up drawing a lot of Superboy material. The book as a whole wasn’t really any better or worse than the other titles, I just didn’t enjoy it as much.
That all said, this particular issue included a story that would set up a running bit that I’d seen in later Weisinger stories: Lana Lang’s seldom-used costumed identity as Insect Queen. She’d go on to revisit this identity a bunch of times over the next couple of years, even becoming a member of the Legion of Super Heroes under that name. This first story was written by Otto Binder and drawn by George Papp. At its core, it’s a reversal of one of the central defining concepts of the Superboy mythos: now, Lana Lang has a mysterious costumed identity that Superboy knows nothing about.
In this story, Lana helps out a friendly alien who is in distress and the creature rewards her with a biogenetic ring which allows her to assume the characteristics of any insect. Once she works her powers out, lana adopts the costumed identity of Insect Queen, and helps out Superboy wherever possible while preventing him from learning her secret identity. But when an opportunity comes to expose his, she reveals herself to Clark Kent and encases him in a cocoon to prevent him from answering a distress call as Superboy. But the Boy of Steel is able to make it out anyway, and then misdirect Lana into thinking that Clark was in the cocoon the whole time. In the end, Lana puts away her Insect Queen costume and identity because–get this–she can’t think of anything else to do with it. What a girl!
Next came the letters page, the Smallville Mailsack. This one includes an answer with some potentially electrifying news for fans: it was possible to tour the DC editorial offices every Thursday afternoon! This became a regular thing among a broad group of fans who would later go on to enter the industry, including Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, among others.
The second story in this issue is also by Otto Binder and George Papp, and it’s another Superbaby adventure. Somebody must have really loved these Superbaby stories, there were so many of them, but I found them typically a bit of a chore to get through. Superbaby’s baby speak (“Me go get steer for daddy!”) was pretty irritating, I found, and not at all as cute as Binder and Weisinger hoped it would be, at least to me. And as this splash page illustrates, the visual difference between artist Papp and Curt Swan, who drew this same scene on the cover, is night and day. Papp’s characters often seemed as though they’d been carved out of wood.
It’s a ridiculous story filled with coincidence and happenstance. Ma and Pa Kent take young Clark to the country fair, where Professor Potter is testing out some inventions of his: a sleeping gas and a serum that will give people super-powers. But thanks to a series of unlikely events, he walks away believing that they’re both useless. Oh, and Superbaby hits a boxer hard enough to kill him and knocks him high into the sky. It’s only the fact that the man snuck a jellied apple earlier that Potter had filled with his super-serum that allows him to survive. Which all seems funny until you think about it for three seconds. The last page here does have a selction of Coming Super-Attractions, though, which makes up for the story a little. Legionnaires wed! Jimmy emulates the Beatles! Superman faces the Ultimate Enemy! Get your dimes and pennies ready, kids!
The final story in the issue is written by Leo Dorfman, but again drawn by George Papp. it’s an Imaginary Story, a conceit that allowed Mort’s writers to explore different What If scenarios that would make lasting changes to the Superman mythos without harming anything. In this one, the idea is that, rather than pretending to be meek and mild in his civilian guise as Clark Kent so that nobody suspects him of being Superboy, Clark instead decides to act like a complete ass for the same reason.
A break here for the issue’s one and only house ad, devoted to an upcoming WORLD’S FINEST 80 Page Giant. That cover is a bit understated as compared to many of the other Giants, but the package was always appealing in itself.
Actually, Clark’s guise as a tough guy winds up being a pretty good cover, as even Lana Lang doesn’t think the obnoxious Kent could possibly be Superboy–he’s not even wearing glasses to disguise his features and she rules him out! Of course, it does mean that Ma and Pa Kent have to live with the shame of having a son who’s a hoodlum, but that’s a small price to pay for knowing he’s actually Superboy. And Clark himself has to live with being a perennial pariah, which isn’t much fun, and behave in a manner that he knows is wrong. It looks to my eye like there was a (Comics Code-mandated?) change to that third to last panel above indicating that Clark had to return the I.O.U.s that he’d swindled out of his classmates, as no illegal activity could be permitted to stand in these Code days.
5 thoughts on “WC: SUPERBOY #124”
Loved the Insect Queen. Anyone with animal powers was cool to me as a kid.
That’s a different take on What If … for Clark than I’d seen before.
But I’m with you on the bland art.
IIRC, didn’t that story have Lana try to metamorph into an insect she previously had “been” – and she assumed (when she couldn’t change) that the ring could only change her to a specific insect (or arachnid apparently) once only? And only when someone wanted another Insect Queen story, did she learn that she could change into any specific insect once every 24 hours? That’s why Lana refers to thinking up a new list – of insects with useful powers. Psst, Lana: during your next visit to the future, google “list of insect powers”)
I wonder how widely that ring defined “specific insect (or arachnid)”.
There’s literally *hundreds of thousands* of species of beetles alone.
A Batman “Matches Malone” id analog for Superman is a concept I’ve never seen before. It has story potential, maybe along the lines of “Donnie Brasco” (Federal agent went undercover to infiltrate the Mafia). Also, there’s been plenty of “evil Superman” variants, but these usually don’t have secret id’s, they’re just tyrants. An evil Superman who maintains a secret id as a low-level thug for some reason would be an interesting twist (maybe because even if you have super-hearing/telescopic vision, it’s a lot easier to have people in your own organization just tell you stuff, rather than having to listen and watch everyone all the time – that’s got to get tedious).
“And as this splash page illustrates, the visual difference between artist Papp and Curt Swan, who drew this same scene on the cover, is night and day.”
I think the Swan cover is much better drawn, but the Papp splash has more of a super-stunt — on the cover the boxer’s only being lifted an inch or two, but on the splash, yow, he’s a foot or more above the mat and still traveling!
I don’t know whether I’m just getting more tolerant as I age, but I’m glad to see both versions. Still, given a choice between a Papp comic or a Swan comic, I’m gonna go for the Swan…
IMO the only SA Superboy stories worth re-reading are those in which Lana Lang is trying to get Superboy’s goat by finding out his secret ID. Maybe it’s the age difference, but in comparison to Lois’s forays, Lana’s seem more mischievous and maybe a little provocative. I don’t find it hard to imagine a Lana who, once in possession of the Big Secret, basically pressures the Boy of Steel into being an attentive boyfriend.