Thursday, October 25, 2007

Not a Hoax, Not a Dream, but REAL!

Yes, thanks to a suggestion from a correspondent (Hi, Allen!), this week’s Three-Part Thursday features a sad and gruesome tale from Superman #156, cover-dated October 1962, “The Last Days of Superman!”

This Great Three-Part Novel was written by Edmond Hamilton and features more stupendously affecting art by Curt Swan and George Klein. And, it’s …

Not an Imaginary Tale! Not a Super-Computer Prediction! Not Acted Out by Kandorian Doubles Who Look Like Our Characters!

As our story begins, a chest expelled from Krypton at its destruction swings into Earth orbit. Naturally, like the “Decoy of the Doom Statues” encountered by Superboy and Krypto long ago (for Superman) in Superboy #136, the chest and its contents have turned to Green Kryptonite.

As it lands on Earth, Superman and Jimmy Olsen approach it. Since Jimmy hasn’t yet been to Kandor with Superman, he’s had no chance to learn Kryptonese. So Superman rapidly translates. Oops, the chest contains Virus X, “a contagion fatal in 30 days to any native of Krypton!”

Superman quickly uses a boulder like a cue ball to drive the chest miles underground as Jimmy snaps a photo, but … was the wind blowing towards the Man of Steel? Suddenly he feels … faint! Were the Virus X germs blown onto Superman? What other reason could there be for this sudden weakness and fever? Oh, no!

The Man of Tomorrow quickly faces the deadly prognosis, confirmed by a doctor. He’s doomed! Quickly the Action Ace comes up with a list of super-feats to be accomplished before his strength completely fades away..

But it’s too late. As Jimmy overtakes him in a distant desert, where Superman plans to dig irrigation trenches, the hero collapses. He quickly summons his robots to build him a lead-glass isolation booth so he can let the world know of … his doom! With Jimmy inside (he might be a carrier of Virus X!), Superman shows Supergirl his list of dream projects, all designed to help mankind long after his passing.

The next two parts of the tale are made up of various achievements, wrought in Superman’s name by Krypto, Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Lori Lemaris, the Superman Emergency Squad, Superman’s robots, and more! They do things like terraforming Earth by digging irrigation ditches in the desert, melting the polar ice to make room for future population growth (and you thought global warming was a new idea!), destroying future threats to humanity on Earth and in space, and – just a ton of stuff goes on in this story!

Superman directs the deeds, performed by “The Super-Comrades of all Time!”, while faithful friend Jimmy stays by his side for moral support.

Then, a dramatic … discovery! Supergirl journeys to Krypton’s past to verify that there is no cure for Virus X. But she also returns to Superman’s side with the knowledge that the disease germs mentioned on the outside of the Kryptonite chest were destroyed on Krypton! (They forgot to chisel off the inscription I guess.)

Then, with a nudge from Mon-El, in the Phantom Zone, to Saturn Girl, we learn the true cause of Superman’s descent into the abyss of death, and a cure is effected.

Read the story yourself to find out! To read the entire story online, visit Superman Through the Ages’ website. Here’s the link:

With the Man of Steel back to full power, the only thing left is to erase a certain pesky confession. You see, with his last burst of super-powers, the Man of Steel had used his heat vision to etch into the moon this inspiring message: “Do good to others and every man can be a Superman – Superman (Clark Kent).”

So Krypto and Supergirl help erase his Earth moniker from the cosmic billboard.

What makes this story so wonderful (besides its happy ending, natch!) is the depth of plotting and characterization. Superman, contemplating his doom, doesn’t go on a carouse … he contemplates how best to use his remaining days to help others. He looks back upon his life and is thankful. He appreciates the kind support from his super (and non-super) friends.

The deeds performed to fulfill Superman’s legacy range from the silly (melting the ice might lead to flooding of coastal areas much?) to the insightful (destroying a planet whose orbit will intersect Earth; dealing with a space cloud that someday will menace mankind).

And the art! There’s an old story that an editor (Weisinger?) had picked nagged Curt Swan for drawing emotion lines (wrinkles) on Superman’s face. “It makes him look old!” Swan’s rejoinder was that even babies have wrinkles when crying!

George Klein’s inks do a masterful job of bringing those few penciled lines to life, indicating pain, sorrow, relief, and joy.

How could you classify such fine storytelling as "a kid's book"?

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to leave a comment!
TOMORROW: Some monstrous reminiscences!

1 comment:

Allen Ross said...

Actually, that wasn't on my list (you might be confusing it with "The Death of Superman" from Superman #149 which I did list; that's the imaginary story).

It's still a good story, though. I had it somewhat spoiled for me by having read the quasi-sequel to it first. That five(!)-part story was in Action Comics #362-366, and showed the effects Virus X really had on Superman (goosebump stuff to my 9-year old self back in 1968). So when I later read this first Virus X story, I knew he didn't really have it. But Swan's art is definitely better than Andru/Esposito on the later story.


All original content
© by Mark Alfred