Thursday, October 18, 2007

Three-Part Thursday Serves Up Another Classic!

One of the great wonders of the Silver Age of DC comics was the “imaginary” tale. Done right, these little “what ifs” could make you smile, laugh, muse and dream, or even experience heartfelt sorrow, joy, pride, or anger.

Such a wonderful story was featured in Superman 175, cover-dated February, 1965. Written by SF great Edmond Hamilton and accompanied by supremely appropriate Curt Swan art, this tale, while pretending to be a “what if?” children’s story, also featured a masterful handling of the more “grown-up” emotions of jealousy, the loyalties of friendship, and – the BIG one for me, the redemptive power of selfless love.

Wow, and all that in a kiddie comic book!

Thanks to Robby Reed for uncovering a variant version of our cover! (Check out his blog, Dial B for Blog, through the permanent link to the right edge of this entry). Of the two covers shown above, the scene on the left is the actual printed cover.

As our story opens, a pesky cold prevents Jonathan and Martha Kent from departing on the vacation that, in “real” continuity, would have led to their deaths (as told in Superman 161). Meanwhile, Superboy detects that Lex Luthor has nearly triangulated the Kent home through a system of surveillance cameras. And through a series of brief vignettes, we learn that the Pete Ross of THIS tale does NOT know Clark Kent’s secret, but IS becoming very jealous of Lana Lang’s starstruck adulation of the Boy of Steel. She won’t even consider dating Pete, as long as Superboy is around.

So when Clark Kent “runs away” and Superboy vows to find him no matter what, Pete avers, “If he never comes back, it’ll be fine with me!”

Of course, the absence of Clark and Superboy from Smallville is the only way Kal-El could come up with to keep Lex from tracking him to the Kent home. But how convenient that both are gone at the same time, Lex figures. So, he offers to work at the Kent store, soon coming up with a counterfeit detector ray and a mechanized inventory system. He ingratiates himself further into the Kent family, until they offer to adopt him. “It’s so easy to fool these kind-hearted people,” Lex thinks to himself, “I feel almost ashamed…but I must carry out my plan!”

Then come the four panels shown here. The Kents’ acceptance and love for him work their wonders, and … Lex Luthor repents! When a lonely Superboy swoops in through the window to visit, Lex sees him too, and swears to keep the secret in the family.

Part One ends with Lex and Clark Kent as fast friends, Lana Lang once again swooning over the Boy of Steel, and Pete Ross nursing resentment into hate: “I’ll hate him for life…and when I’m grown up, I’ll make him wish he’d never taken Lana away from me! Wait and see!”

As you can see by its splash page, Part II is titled “The Defeat of Superman!” Word.

As time passes, the four Kents move from Smallville to Metropolis. Clark gets a job at the Daily Planet and meets a sultry blackheaded gal named Lois Lane. Lex has been offered a post at the Metropolis Scientific Foundation.

At a housewarming party for the Kents, Jonathan Kent tries to match up Lois with Clark; two old friends from Smallville, Lana Lang and Pete Ross, also drop by. As Lex shows off his home lab, Pete attaches a tiny sensor to one of the apparati that is so dangerous, Lex says, that Superman will take it to his Fortress for safekeeping.

A few weeks later, the world is stunned by weird robberies by non-Earthly technology. Swooping in to investigate, Superman is felled by Green Kryptonite studded into one of them, and falls from the sky onto…Lois Lane!

Upon his recovery, Superman finds his Fortress has been looted of various inventions now used in those eerie crimes, including some of brother Lex’s devices. When the Action Ace finds to his relief that Lois will recover from her injuries, he proposes. He’s overheard by Lana, who’d come to visit Lois in the hospital.

Realizing that Superman will never be hers, Lana consents to Pete Ross’s proposal, only to soon discover evidence that Pete is “a big-shot crook, not a business man! And by fixing a tiny radio-impulse transmitter to the invention that Lex Kent was giving to Superman, I discovered the location of his Fortress!”

Part II ends with Lana Lang Ross’s realization that “I still love Superman…and I’ve married his most terrible enemy!”

Man, look at the splash page for part III, “The Luthor-Superman.” That is just creepy! Superman is dead, apparently. And some bald guy – Lex Luthor, in a Superman outfit! -- is about to make a home run on somebody’s noggin with a big ol’ steel girder. I think it’s too late to duck, eh?

Well, let’s wrap this up. Pete Ross kidnaps Lois Kent (any one of Superman’s friends would have done as well) to lure Superman to an underground hideout, where he doses him with huge amounts of Green K. Meanwhile, Lana Ross manages to break out her locked apartment and dash to the Kents’ home, revealing that she too knows Clark’s secret. In a desperate gamble, Lex uses an imperfect invention to give himself temporary superpowers. He tracks Pete, and breaks into the cavern. Talk about just desserts! Pete sure gets his, as shown below.

“The Luthor-Superman” flies out to safety with Lois and Superman, detecting a faint heartbeat as his brother begins to recover from Kryptonite poisoning. The Man of Tomorrow awakens just in time to thank his brother for his life, as Lex body begins to dissolve. After all, the frail body of an Earthman can not long contain the power of a Superman.

Our great Three-Part Imaginary Novel ends with Clark (Superman) Kent in a memorial garden, ruminating before his brother's monument. “Fate is strange! When we were boys, I feared Lex might grow up into a lawless criminal…but instead, he grew up to be the finest person of us all!”

Wow. Pete, in his selfish resentment, came to hate Superboy/Superman. Lana, in her youthful hero-worship, was blind to Pete’s overtures, thus fanning his jealousy. Lex, by worming his way into the Kent family, laid himself wide open to the power of acceptance and unconditional love. By being themselves, Jonathan and Martha Kent saved the world from an evil genius’s influence through simply giving love and family membership to a lonely, obsessed misfit named Lex.

And, redeemed by love and surrounded by pride and acceptance, Lex made a choice to lay down his own life to save his brother’s.

Sure, it’s “just a comics story,” but it also rings true in these echos of real-life sentiments, conflicts, sorrows, and triumphs. Real folks too have the feelings shown by the characters in this tale. I don’t know about you, but I’ve responded ignobly to another’s greater talents; I too have felt the wonders of love dawning into the black sorrows of my dirty heart; I also have experienced the humility of knowing that another, better person has died to save me.
Kinda makes you think, huh?

Tomorrow … how to pronounce Mxyzptlk’s name backwards!

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