Friday, November 20, 2009

The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman!

This is from Superman 164, dated October 1963. I was seven years old when it came out.

This cover tells it all, to anybody familiar with the Superman family. In the left background is a space-travel bubble. In the right background sets a red sun. Across the rails of a makeshift prize ring hang a white prison shirt and a red cape. Inside, shirtless, two titans rage. A fighting-trim Lex Luthor seems to be knocking the stuffings out of Superman, who already sports a shiner across his left eye.

The dialog confirms what we’ve guessed, what was suggested by both the red sun and the glowing boots Luthor is wearing: This is a giant planet, orbiting a red sun. Superman’s powers are annulled, and in this “fair fight” he seems to be on the losing end!

And the splash page for Part I makes things look even worse. Now Luthor not only has some kind of robot dog after superman, there’s an arena of spectators waiting for the thing to rip Superman’s throat out!

Our story begins, as do many in the 1960s, with Lex Luthor, criminal mastermind, in prison. But not for long! As many crimes as there are to lock him up for, Luthor seems to have as many escape schemes.

Once free and in one of his many lead-lined hideouts, Luthor announces to the world his challenge:

Let Superman meet him man-to-man, without the advantage of superpowers, and let the best man win!

The Man of Steel, being the honorable hero he is, decided to take on this challenge fair and square. He arranges a parole meeting with his foe and they lay out the grounds: They will travel to an oversized planet orbiting a red sun, thereby negating superpowers. Ever the scientist (like his father), Superman has crafted a pair of gravity-defying boots for Luthor to wear, to counteract his heaviness on this new world.

The stage is set, the “prize ring” is assembled, and the punches start flying, bringing about the scene depicted on the cover. Superman, who for decades has trained himself to restrain his strength less he kill an opponent, is driven back, back, back by Luthor’s pile-driving fists.
Until, thank Rao, a little thing called self-preservation kicks in, and in desperation our hero kayos his opponent with a lucky undercut.

Superman staggers away to the space bubble for a drink of water; and when he returns, Luthor is gone. The criminal woke up and recovered enough to stagger away, so our hero sets out after him.

Little does Superman know how ignoble Luthor’s challenge to “a fair fight” really was! Smuggles into his clothes, Luthor has brought all sorts of miniaturized inventions, which he uses to bedevil Superman several times, while staying ahead in the chase.

Before long a sandstorm blows in, and Superman is reduced to crawling along slowly, trying to breathe through his cape. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is cozily holed up in a cave, waiting for the storm to break, so he can finish off Superman once and for all.

Soon, Part Two of this epic tale!
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© by Mark Alfred