Friday, December 19, 2008

Single Issue Review: Superman #159

This was an issue I did not have in my collection as a kid, so my review of the story is not colored by my childhood memories. It's an Imaginary Story, which means that it takes place outside the normal continuity of Superman stories. In this tale, Krypton is saved from exploding by Jor-El (yay!), but Earth is destroyed when the sun goes supernova (gulp!).

Fortunately Lois Lane's father is a scientist, and he sends her to Krypton, after giving her a potion that turns her into a super-powered woman. She lands there, and is adopted by a couple, who name her Kandi Kan (Candy Cane?). They live near young Kal-El and another boy named Len Landor. Kandi assumes another identity as Supermaid (she even does windows!) and true to LL form, Len turns out to be a secret identity pest:

As time goes on we see more mirror images of Superboy's life in Kandi's. She discovers that fragments of her home planet, called Earthite, are poisonous to her, but that she can block them with silver. Her parents die of Virus X, and so she decides to leave Kryptonville for Kryptonopolis.

The story skips ahead a few years, where we learn that Kal-El has become a doctor, while Kandi Kan is a nurse. And the people they work with seem a bit familiar:

Another doctor in the hospital is named Lu Thoria, and we discover that she's got a crush on Kal, but he only has eyes for Supermaid. And when Supermaid defeats Brainiac in his attempt to steal Kandor, she tries to steal his space ship, but is foiled by Kal and Supermaid. Perhaps inevitably:

However, Lu Thoria escapes and she knows that Supermaid is vulnerable to Earthite. Meanwhile Kal has been working on a ray that will give him superpowers, but will shorten greatly his lifespan. He resolves to take the treatment anyway so as to protect Supermaid. But it ends up not doing much in the story, and Jor-El actually saves Supermaid by coating her with silver before she faces Lu Thoria. After subduing her, they discover that she was turned evil accidentally, by a ray. Jor-El has come up with a cure and a hair restorative as well. But in the end, a new form of Earthite has the oddball effect of transferring Supermaid's powers to Kal-El, and the story closes with this bit of humor:

Comments: One of the oddest aspects to the DC universe in the Silver Age is this sense of destiny, which has popped up in other stories. I mentioned before the Batman story where it turned out that Bruce Wayne would have become Batman even if his parents had never died. There's also a story (in Superman #132) where Kal-El would have turned out to be Superman (albeit on Krypton) if Krypton had never exploded.

On the one hand these stories have a very interesting symmetry to them. On the other, as was pointed out in the comments to that Batman post by Thelonius Nick, it tends to undercut much of what was special about the origins of both Batman and Superman.

In this particular story, there are several plot threads that do not get developed adequately. Early on it appears that Len Landor will be a competitor for Supermaid's affections, but that never happens. In addition, Kal's intended sacrifice to save Supermaid amounts to nothing; indeed, it appears mostly so that they could have a scene of her saving Kal-El from falling from a great height, as yet another role reversal. And the ending is far too abrupt and belies Kal's supposed love for Supermaid; are we to believe he only cared for her because she was super?

The artwork is the usual excellent (if slightly sterile) job by Curt Swan.