Thursday, November 15, 2007

Three-Part Thursday – An Imaginary Classic Tale

From the November 1961 issue of Superman, number 149, a tale ripped from yesterday’s headlines, comes now “The Death of Superman!”

Yep, the Great Carlini was about 35 years late on this idea, kiddies. Of course, the 1995 storyline also wasn’t written by Jerry Siegel and penciled by Curt Swan, like our featured story today. No wonder it took them a year and a half to fall short of this ONE ISSUE.

Our Imaginary Tale, which may not happen, but again, MAY), begins when Lex Luthor discovers a fascinating mineral in the penitentiary rock pile. He calls it “Element Z,” and soon wangles a trip to the prison infirmary and whips up a cure for cancer.

When Superman, thrilled by Luthor’s altruism, speaks up for the scientist at a parole hearing, the entire world is turned on its ear when the Man of Steel sponsors Mrs. Luthor’s boy with a spanking new lab and a pat on the back.

Of course, the underworld decides that the friend of their enemy is now THEIR enemy, and a couple of lugs head out to bump off Superman’s newest pal. End, Part I!

As Part II begins, Superman arrives just in time to save Luthor’s bacon, and in the next days, many more super-rescues ensue after Lex triggers his new Signal Watch in several narrow escapes. After conferring with Supergirl (his unannounced Secret Weapon, you’ll recall), Supes finally builds a shielded orbiting space platform for Luthor’s research.

So Superman doesn’t suspect a thing when Luthor sets off an emergency signal. The Man of Tomorrow waltzes right into a Green Kryptonite trap set by a certain non-reformed criminal mastermind. Yes, gloats Mr. Sadism Incarnate, “I discovered that cancer-cure, in order to be released from jail! I pretended to have reformed, so I could lull you into a false sense of security! The purpose? To catch you off-guard and lure you into this death-trap!”

Then … in front of his best friends from the Daily Planet, kidnaped to serve as witnesses … Superman dies. Luthor dumps the Planet staffers and the body on Earth and ascends into orbit above Earth, gloating, “Soon, I’ll be King of the Earth!” End, Part II!

Part III, called “The Death of Superman,” covers the universe’s mourning of Superman, and his legacy. The Curt Swan art is great throughout the tale, but especially in these final Imaginary pages, the varied expressions of shock and sadness on familiar and new faces, coupled with (temporarily) non-florid expressions of grief penned by Superman’s co-creator Siegel, lend a real and emotionally moving pathos to the narrative.

The whole world, and extraterrestrial races from worlds yet unknown, come to pay tribute to the late Man of Steel as he lies in state in Metropolis Chapel.

Meanwhile, Luthor has descended Earthside to gloat and preen before adoring mobsters and other such lowlifes. When one of the mugs asks, “Tell us EVERYTHING!” Luthor crows, “He wriggled and twisted like a worm on a hook! He sweated and turned green! The last thing he ever saw was my grinning face!”

Then, as all of Metropolis’s gangland toasts him, the glee is interrupted as … Superman bursts through the wall! “To the astonishment of the cringing gangsters, the super-powerful form flexes mighty muscles, then …” Supergirl appears to the world for the first time!

In the name of Krypton, she arrests the criminal genius for murder, and swiftly drags him to appear before the only extant Kryptonian court of justices, in … Kandor!

The last pages of this mighty tale alternate between damning testimony (as if it were necessary) to Luthor’s deviltry, alternating between panels where we readers can tell the smug scientist is sure that he’s got something up his sleeve that will save his butt, no matter the verdict.

Sure enough, Luthor is found guilty, and he offers to enlarge Kandor in exchange for his freedom. Imagine his shock when he finds that justice, however delayed, cannot be purchased! The judge says, “We Kandorians don’t make deals with murderers! – Executioner, send this wretch into the Phantom Zone, immediately! He is the greatest criminal since Adolf Eichmann!”

Back on Earth, Krypton joins Supergirl on Earth patrol, and they fly by Superman’s tomb, drawing inspiration from the great heart of Krypton’s last son.

Wow, what a story! If they couldn’t have gotten Alan Moore to write the last adventure of Superman in 1986, they could have reprinted this thundering tale. If you’re not moved by this story, then I will have to award you a No-Heart Prize!

See you next time. Do good, and you too can be a Superman.

1 comment:

Allen Ross said...

Thanks for the memories of this issue. I think I still got choked up the last time I read it!

This has only been reprinted 5 times so far (in 46 years):

1. Superman (1939 series) #193 [G-31] (January-February 1967)
2. Best of DC (1979 series) #1 (September-October 1979)
3. The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (1987 series) #nn (1987)
4. DC Presents the Greatest Imaginary Stories Ever Told (2005 series) #nn (2005)
5. Showcase Presents Superman (2005 series) vol. 3 (2007)

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© by Mark Alfred