Saturday, May 12, 2012

Superman #215 and Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #91 (Apr 1969)

After far too long, I'm finally sitting down to inaugurate this blog. Like all the comics I will be writing about in this newer blog, I have vivid memories of these issues. But, after more than forty years, my memories were imperfect. In fact, I had conflated the two issues considered here into one, hence the double-issue post to begin with.

In my memory, there was a time when Superman married Lois Lane – actually, one of the many times that happened during the Silver Age of Comics, where “Imaginary Tales” of their marriage became practically a bimonthly staple. “Imaginary Tales” were the Silver-Age DC equivalent of their later “Elseworlds” semi-imprint, whose tag-line – “[H]eroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places – some that have existed, or might have existed, and others that can't, couldn't or shouldn't exist” – would serve here just as well. The particular story that stood out the most for me was the cover image of Superman and a raven-haired little girl, clad also in blue and red, mourning before a tombstone for Lois Lane; Lois being blinded and Superman crafting an engagement ring out of a nut when he proposed to her on the spot; a raven-haired teenaged girl continuing the super-heroic legacy of her father. I would think of these vivid images from time to time over the years. I'm not going to try to self-psychoanalyze as to why.

A few months ago, when I was putting together a back-issue order with an on-line vendor and was coming up a few dollars shy of the $50 order threshold to qualify for free shipping, something brought those images freshly to mind and moved me to explore the wonderful Time Machine at the website, Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics, which allows you to view the comics that were on the stands during any given month. Knowing only the general time frame, most likely the late 1960s-early 1970s, I stepped my way through the months until I hit paydirt in the DC Comics cover-dated April 1969. There was that well-remembered cover. A copy of the issue could be had from my vendor in decent condition for a decent price, just enough to push me over the $50, and I placed my order.
Those were the events out of which was born the idea for this blog.

Since the free shipping offered by my vendor is at an economy rate, it's not terribly fast – which is generally okay with me. It was ten days to two weeks before I got my box of back issues (mostly filling in gaps in runs that I was prepping to have library bound) and looked at the comic with great anticipation. Whereupon I quickly perceived that something wasn't quite right. Yes, there was that well-remembered cover, beautifully rendered by Neal Adams during his earliest days with DC Comics when he did a lot of covers that stand out in my mind, but as I read the story inside the other images I remembered were not to be found. There was no blind Lois; there was no raven-haired teenager but only a little girl, at most four or five years of age. Instead there was a story of young wife and mother Lois being killed leaving Superman to raise their daughter himself, and him ultimately finding and marrying the Lois of an alternate Earth and living happily every after.

There obviously must be another story out there. So it was back to the Time Machine, where, oddly enough during the very same month of April 1969 there was another comic, in the series devoted to Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane, that burst into my memory immediately when my eyes found it. The first time, as soon as I saw that “tombstone” cover, my search was over. I didn't look down one line to see a cover that is almost as memorable, portraying Lois Lane with a hunch-backed “monstrosity” in a tale of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Memories flooded back – blind Lois being courted by the hunch-back while she was in mourning for her dead husband Superman.

It so happened that I needed some other issues to complete another binding project – it seems like I'm always discovering something new that needs to go in whatever volume I'm just about ready to send off – and, this blog having already formed itself in my mind, there were a few other comics from my childhood I had zeroed in on as candidates for these retrospectives, so in short order I had another box of comics coming from my back-issue vendor.

It would be fascinating to know the story behind these two issues, published a week apart in February 1969, each presenting an “imaginary story” of the marriage of Superman and Lois Lane in very different ways.

Here follow overviews of the two issues that so impressed themselves on my seven-years-and-a-couple-of-months-old self:

Cover date: April 1969
Approximate on-sale date: 6 February 1969
Cover by Neal Adams
Edited by Mort Weisinger

We often think of the art on modern comics being so much better than during the Silver Age – and frankly it is in many respects – but the limitation was not generally due to the artistic ability of the illustrator but rather imposed by the medium and printing process, cheap newsprint and a simple four-color palette. Covers were were on somewhat slicker paper and could result in bolder effects. I'm sure that the fact that the cover was meant to hook the prospective buyer also played its role. But the fact is that, in my opinion, the best of Silver Age covers stand right up there beside modern-day comics. They could be equally powerful and moving, as in this case. Look at the subtle gradation in color in the sky, apparently a setting sun. Look at the sadness evident on Superman's face, even in profile, the slightly hunched shoulders, the single tear falling from his eye. Word balloons – a rarer feature today – give us, along with the cover type, some hint of the story to come: little Lanie asking her father, “Daddy … will we ever see Mommy again?” No tear is evident on her face, but there is a tissue clutched in her little hand. Yes, we had the promise of “a GREAT IMAGINARY NOVEL “SUPERMAN'S TRAGIC MARRIAGE!

One other comment regarding this cover: Note the dates on the tombstone – “1938-1969.” Lois Lane first appeared in Action Comics #1, cover-date June 1938.

There are actually two stories in this comic. I have virtually no memory of the backup, which is a reprint from the early 1950s. It's not why I sought out this comic, so I'm not going to deal with it here.

The story under consideration comes in two parts, a standard practice in the Silver Age, even though the overall length of the story is but fifteen pages. And it was a complete story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Typically, as in Mike's Amazing World, the title of the first part is today considered to serve for the story overall, but each part had in reality its own separate title – or at least subsequent parts merited their own subtitles, whichever way you want to look at it.

During this period, creators were rarely credited in the pages of the comics.  Mike's Amazing World is of great use here, as also for on-sale dates. I know artistic styles well enough that it was apparent to me that the story art was by Curt Swan, who basically established the Silver Age iconography of Superman. That Neal Adams illustrated the cover was, incidentally, pretty apparent to me as well – Adams was my first favorite comic book artist. I depend on Mike to know that the Swan's pencils were inked by Jack Abel, that the story was written by Otto Binder, and that the issue was edited by Mort Weisinger.

I seem to remember a distinct moment when I realized that the flowers below the tombstone formed letters and that the title was not simply “LOIS LANE … DEAD ...

The story opens at Lois' funeral, attended by her and Superman's closest friends and family. Little Laney doesn't understand why she can't “say goodbye to [her] Mommy for the last time.” Superman explains to their daughter that it's a “symbolic burial,” because there is no body:

So Superman is now a single parent.  Laney has inherited her father's powers, but is an untrained, impetuous child whom he fears will be too much for anyone else to handle. (Jonathan and Martha Kent were a rare couple, by any measure!)

There is one chamber of the Fortress, however, that he bars her from, leaving a “Super-robot” on guard as he leaves Laney to play while he returns to his day job as Clark Kent of the Daily Planet, still unknown to the world as Superman, having to maintain a stiff upper lip because he's determined that his secret identity will remain secret even from his closest friends.

“In the months that follow, the Man of Might's one real happiness is returning to his Fortress … and his daughter …,” and we see scenes of them playing inside and out, with Krypto the Super-dog, building a giant snowman, taking supersonic sleigh-rides ….

Then the story turns a little bizarre.

Yes, presumably Lois-bot was “fully functional.” She just needed to be recharged ….

Several days later, it seems Superman's nightmare might be coming to an end. Called upon to judge a beauty contest, secretly thinking to himself that none could possibly hold a candle to Lois, Superman beholds the impossible:

Yes, the Man of Steel just let two of his greatest enemies, Brainiac and Luthor, get away with murder right in front of his very eyes!

Can't say I blame him, though....

Just this once....

Little does he know, however, that back at the Fortress curiosity is getting the better of little Laney....

As Part II takes up, Laney distracts the robotic guard:

That Red Kryptonite was really pesky stuff ... and a much-used plot device.

Unable to resist finding out whether this world's Lois still lives, Superman discovers that she does.  And she is not married. She is just as reckless, however, and he has to save her life.  Some things never change, from dimension to dimension.

Okay, it had already occurred to me that we're forgetting something here – where's this world's Superman?

Contrary to comic book expectations, they don't start duking it out. Rather, they come to an agreement. It turns out that this world's Superman has never considered marriage, being “too busy.” Nevertheless, the wedding of Superman and Lois takes place ….

And they live happily ever after …

… Until Laney spills the beans. Actually, that doesn't happen, but I bet it would!
* * *

Cover date: April 1969
On-sale date: 13 February 1969
Cover by Neal Adams
Edited by Mort Weisinger

Although this cover is also by Neal Adams and I recognized it immediately when I made my second search as described above, it had not impressed itself upon my memories nearly as deeply – although paradoxically many of the story elements and images from inside the issue did merge with my memories of the Superman comic that came out a mere week before – arguably even overwhelmed them. Good though it might be, this cover does not rise to the level of the other, nor does it convey the power of the story it graces.

This time we got a full-length, 23-page story, “LOVE IS BLIND!” Although neither Mike nor either of the other sources I checked (Grand Comics Database and Comic Book Database) list a writer, the pencils were again by Curt Swan, this time under the inks of Mike Esposito.

After a splash page opener that is only symbolically part of the story – i.e. it depicts a scene that does not occur in the issue, a mysterious woman in black appears yet again, as she does every month, to place flowers on the grave of Superman – just as a hoodlum throws a bomb at the monument, determined to destroy it in revenge for Superman's putting him into prison fifteen years ago.

At her daughter's behest, Lois tells again of the day she was present when Superman was foiling a theft, when:

But Earthly medical science cannot restore Lois' sight. They marry – he in his Clark Kent identity – and the Man of Steel builds his bride a home on a remote, secluded beach …

I wonder if those nurses at Metropolis Maternity Hospital put two and two together? – the presence of Superman rather than Clark Kent pacing in the waiting room as the “Kent baby” is born; that newborn's precocious ability to jump even in her crib; Superman's stammering astonishment, “The baby … he's a girl? I mean – it's wonderful! Uh … Clark will be beside himself with joy!” – ? It's obvious: Superman is cuckolding Clark Kent! The scandal!

As the toddler – Lisa – grew into girlhood, her powers quickly waxed. But:

In the next days, the sightless Lois and the mysterious newcomer grow ever closer.

Yes, it's the universal Superman Silver Age McGuffin, Red Kryptonite … again.

And so, we have a much more melancholy ending.

Both of these tales are wonderful examples of Silver Age DC story-telling, in which story logic takes a bit of a back seat to bathos. I mean, really – I mean, if the very idea of Superman building a robot to replace his little girl's dead mother were not enough, then he goes and forgets that it's a robot and starts falling in love with it? – Having taken his daughter to the alternate Earth's Fortress of Solitude, he nonetheless forgets that world's Superman and impulsively proposes to that world's Lois Lane? – He doesn't consider that alternate Lois might wonder not just who little “orphan” Laney's mother might be, who looked “very much like” herself, but how the little girl came by super-powers just like Superman's – whom she calls “Daddy!” – Alternate-Superman, on the other hand, is gonna have some 'splainin' to do when Aunt Lucy (and doubtless other friends) start wondering whatever became of that little girl...?  ... In the Lois Lane story, blind Lois seems to get around very well most of the time, but that's relatively minor. Maybe not so minor is that it's stated flat out that when Superman marries Lois in his Clark Kent identity, she “is none the wiser,” and yet she is later in the hospital to give birth to Clark Kent's baby! ...  And I'm sure other instances of Silver Age goofiness could be found. But that's part of the charm of these comics from my childhood. It didn't matter. I read them voraciously. Over and over again.

Both these stories affected me deeply enough that elements of them remained with me, percolating to the surface of my memories from time to time, however imperfect those memories may have been. On rereading, I must say that of the two stories, despite the Superman cover being hands down superior, story-wise that distinction goes to the Lois Lane story by an unknown author. There's a real feeling of tragedy here, and we are left ultimately to wonder if Superlass ever was able to find a cure for her father and reunite her parents.

I must confess one thing, which reading quickly disabused me of – when I first reaquired these issues, and for the first time in forty years realized that it was actually two similarly-themed stories published virtually concurrently, I wondered if there was a way for the stories to be connected, i.e. for the story with the older daughter to be a sequel to that with the younger. Of course, there's not. But it is interesting that they came out so closely together, even by the same penciller, from the same editor – I don't believe by the same writer – and again, I would love to know what the background, the genesis of these stories was. That it was coincidence beggars belief.
* * *
Besides the stories and ads contained in the comics, there were of course the wonderful letter-columns.  It was an honor I attained only once to have my name printed in a DC comic letter-col, in Superboy #202.  Not that I really sent in that many letters.  But many other fans did, commenting on stories, praising stories, criticising stories, offering their own suggestions for stories, pointing out "goofs" in stories (that the editors would as often as not deftly argue their way around).  I may take notice of these letter-columns from time to time, depending totally on my whim.  But in Superman #215 the letter column took up only two-thirds of the page, with the bottom third printing what I believe to have been an annual requirement in the old days:  A "Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation."  The main thing I want to notice here is a very sobering fact.  According to the filing for this title dated 1 October 1968 and printed here, the "Average No. Copies [Paid Circulation] Each Issue During the Preceding 12 Months" was ... a whopping 636,400.  Whoa.  According to the website ICv2, which among many other things offers monthly coverage and analysis of comic book sales, the "Est.Qty." of the issue of Superman published in April 2012 (#8) was 64,486.  And that figure is actually an estimate of the number of issues invoiced by the monopolizing Diamond Distributors to comic specialty shops during the month.  There is no way to know how many of those actually were purchased by consumers.  So, about 10%.  Lo, how the mighty have fallen.  

I have no comment to make on this at this time other than that it saddens me.  But it can't take away my memories of a time when every store it seemed, from convenience store to grocery store to drug store to news stand, had its own spinner-rack full of goodness.
* * *
… And this is how I envision this newer blog to go. Part synopsis, part commentary, part analysis, spiced with a little snark and mild irreverence, but pretty much all revelry in the greatness of these comics in my childhood memories.

Mainly, I hope to bring others some degree of the enjoyment I had reading these comics as a kid, and revisting them as an adult.

This has been quite a time-consuming endeavor, though. So don't expect this blog to be updated terribly often. Well, maybe a bit more often for the next couple of months, while the University is in its summer break, and I have the luxury of more time for fun foolishness like this. Sure, I am teaching – but it's all on-line until the fall semester takes back up mid-late August.

But what do I have planned for the future? Well, once I came up with the idea for this blog, all kinds of comics started coming to mind. Here are just a few I plan to cover ... eventually:
  • Superboy #171
  • Adventure Comics #369-370
  • Aquaman #38
  • Aquaman #40-48
  • … and the one I actually intended to launch this blog with, for April Fool's Day, the great Action Comics #388. A month-and-a-half later, well, that didn't happen, so I'm slating that one for next year.
Cheers! – and Thanks for Reading!


  1. "Love Is Blind" was written by Robert Kanigher, who neverlet a simile go unused if he could help it: "like a blazing bolt of lightning," "like an elemental fury gone berserk." Captions mentioning a heart pounding madly or a heart melting are Kanigher signs as well.

  2. You're undoubtedly correct about that. Thanks for dropping by and adding that bit! - Kent