Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Superboy #123

As I have mentioned in the past, if DC had two top stars prior to the arrival of the Batman TV series in 1966, they were Superman and Superboy. Superboy held down two series in that era; his self-titled magazine and Adventure Comics, much as Superman and Batman had their own series and Action Comics and Detective Comics respectively.

But really there was no comparison between Superboy and Batman. Superboy regularly outsold Batman by about 150,000-200,000 copies per issue, as did Adventure over Detective. Of course, the way things developed Batman became a huge star, and Superboy (at least, Kal El) mostly faded away in the comics, possibly because DC's ownership of the character is tenuous at best.

This particular issue was (briefly) the oldest comic in my collection. As I have mentioned I first really started collecting comics in 1968, although I had a few issues left over from the start of Batmania in 1966.

The opening story is An Untold Tale of Superboy, called There Is No Superboy. The tale takes place in that brief period of time after Superboy's existence was known to the people of Smallville, but not the world at large. He travels to the nearby (but old western) town of Gulchdale, where the local sheriff needs some assistance. As it turns out, some outlaws from other states have taken up residence there, but the sheriff is frustrated in his attempts to run them in because:

The humor in the piece comes because the local residents have never heard of Superboy, so they do as crooks would in the Golden Age with Superman:

As it turns out, Superboy is cooperating with the sheriff to get a total of 25 prisoners in jail, because the governor of the state has promised a new jail if he can get that number. And although the crooks had not broken the law against attempted murder (because Superboy was invulnerable), they had violated many other ordinances:

Comments: Entertaining tale playing on the unknown Superboy, which arguably makes it a very early story in the Superman chronicles. Of course, Superboy is played as a teenager, which conflicts with many Silver and Golden Age Superboy tales where he was show as an early adolescent at the oldest.

The second story features Ronnie Vayle, in When Krypto Was Sold. We learn that Vayle's money doesn't buy him friendship:

But it buys just about everything else, from his imported cloth jacket to his 25-jewel watch. So Clark and Krypto decide to teach him a lesson. Clark shows off his amazing pet:

Which Ronnie, needing the best in everything, offers to pay $100 for. Krypto starts giving him lessons:

Which cures him of his habit of driving too fast. And when he brags about how brave his dog is, Krypto pulls him in front of some chained elephants:

Krypto uses a sound amplifier to let Ronnie know what other people think of him: spoiled and conceited. And he resolves to change his ways:

And, thanks to the sound amplifier, he hears some crooks breaking into Smallville High to steal the school athletic fund. He tries to stop them but they knock him out, and Superboy and Krypto foil the robbery, but let Ronnie take the credit:

And in the end he gives "Spot" back to Clark, showing that he has indeed learned his lesson.

Comments: A nice little morality play; there were quite a few stories about rich brats being brought down a peg in the Superboy canon. I particularly liked that Krypto got to be the agent of change in this story.

The final story in the issue is the cover feature, and it's definitely a wild tale. It starts back in Egypt, with the weakling son of the local magician, and his gal pal, Neferti, daughter of the Pharaoh. Ahton, the mage, consults the goddess of magic, who reveals a secret in her magic shield:

She tells him how to mix up a potion that will give him the powers of Superboy, and before you know it, Ahton's son is flying around in a Superboy costume (with the S remade as a snake). And Neferti starts acting like Lana Lang:

She consults with a rival magician as to how to get Ahton's son to fall in love with her. He gives her a magical scarab, which will doom the lad:

They both die. Ahton inscribes a warning to the Superboy of the future on their tomb, but is unable to complete his message.

Fast forward to the present day, where Clark and Lana are working on an archaeological dig for Professor Lang. They uncover the tomb shown on the cover:

Superboy finds himself subconsciously endangering Lana, and every time he saves her he gets a pain in his heart.

Lana translates the hieroglyphics and realizes she's in danger. Meanwhile, Superboy consults the shield and finds out the real truth:

Comments: Entertaining, but wacky as heck. The death of Seth and Neferti comes as something of a surprise, especially as there is no indication in the text that the rival magician paid for his part in their passing. Of course, Neferti was probably named after Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, who (by some theories) was the mother of King Tut. The art on all the first two stories was done by longtime Superboy artist George Papp, with Curt Swan on the finale. The writers were (respectively) E. Nelson Bridwell, Edmond Hamilton and Leo Dorfman.