Thursday, August 3, 2017

Superman #215 (1969)


Superman #215 (April, 1969)
"Lois Lane... Dead... Yet Alive"
"Superman's First Exploit"
Writers - Otto Binder & Edmond Hamilton
Pencillers - Curt Swan & Wayne Boring
Inkers - Jack Abel & Stan Kaye
Colorist(s) - unknown
Letterers - Ben Oda & Pat Gordon
Cover Price: $0.12

Welcome, one and all... to Earth-215, where we ignore the words "Imaginary Novel" on the cover and just accept that this story is occurring on one of the Infinite Earths in the pre-Crisis DC Multiverse.

I might need to explain.




These past few weeks to coincide with our Cosmic Treadmill podcast's FIFTIETH episode, we wanted to do something special.  We decided to celebrate our fiftieth by discussing... DC Comics' fiftieth.  Part of our research demanded we dive headfirst into the Infinite Earths... and by using a number of resources, including The Crisis Compendium which came as part of Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Absolute Edition (2005) we learned just how many formerly "imaginary stories" were designated their own Earth!

One of those we're going to discuss today... but it's hardly our first.

We learned...
Prez actually occurred on Earth-72.
Superboy #134 (December, 1966) occurred on Earth-134.
The Super-Sons stories occurred on Earth-216.
Captain Thunder from Superman #276 (June, 1974) hailed from Earth-276.
The Inferior 5, Jerry Lewis, and Bob Hope hailed from Earth-11... or was it Earth-B?
Hell, it was even suggested by Mark Evanier that post-Kirby Fourth World stories all happened on Earth-14!
... but who knows...

Oh well, let's add another Earth to our seemingly infinite pile.

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We open on a funeral scene... Superman and pals (and daughter!) are huddled around tombstone of... Lois Lane!  The dialogue here is kinda wacky... and hard to play straight.  We learn that Superman was married to Lois... that's right, Superman... not Clark Kent.  Jimmy and Perry are like "Ooh, he's taking this hard", well... no kidding.  In a bit that is pretty heartbreaking, Superman and Lois' daughter, Lanie attempts to jump onto the casket as it's being lowered into the ground to say goodbye one last time.


Superman reveals that the burial is purely symbolic... as when Lois perished, there were no remains left to be buried.  Okay, now get ready... this is supposed to be a tragic scene, but it's just too wacky.  Superman and Lois are sitting in their living-room... Superman's reading the paper (in costume) while Lois knits.  Supervillain, the Dimension Master pops his head in the window and (after announcing his arrival) proceeds to fire his blast ray at Superman.  The blast ricochets off of Superman's chest and vaporizes poor Lois.  Well, this probably isn't the story you want to share with your super-powered tot of a daughter... because now she wants revenge!


Superman scoops Lanie up and tells her they're going to head to the Fortress of Solitude to live... and they'll play "super-games" and have "loads of fun", even without Lois.  I don't know whether to cry or nervously laugh... so weird!  After a few attempts by Lanie to use the Fortress's giant key, they enter.  She goes straight to playing on the super monkey bars, and asks what's behind a particular door.  Superman tells her that she cannot enter that room, no matter what... and even puts a Superman robot at the door to ensure she doesn't.  Talk about Chekhov's door... or a reference I get wrong every time I use it!


Later, at the Daily Planet Perry asks Clark to assist in putting together a scrapbook detailing the Superman/Lois Lane romance so they can present to the Man of Steel as a gift.  He puts on a brave face, as to not cry and reveal that he really is Superman.  I mean, I don't get it... it's pretty clear that (to the civilians) Clark had the hots for Lois... plus, they were friends, I don't think shedding a tear or two would be the big tip-off... but, whattayagonnado?


Over the next year Superman raises Lanie at the Fortress, and they have all sorts'a Wintery fun.  Giant snowmen, sleigh rides, Krypto even gets in on the action.  After a year has passed, however, Superman presents Lanie with a special gift... a robot Lois!


In the days/weeks... I dunno, in the time that passes, Superman begins to fall in love with Robo-Lois.  They have a few make-out sessions, and Superman flies to the highest peaks to procure a bouquet of rare flowers.  It's not until he looks at that scrapbook the Planeteers made for him that he remembers that the real Lois had died.


Luckily to keep his mind off of things, there is some Super-business to be attended to in Metropolis.  It's of the utmost importance that he... judge the Miss Metropolis pageant.  Aye yai yai.  Perry White even suggests he might just find the next Mrs. Superman there!


While there he sees... Lois Lane!  Whaaaa?  He investigates further with his x-ray vision and learns that she has the same signs of having broken her left forearm... it's gotta be Lois!  Superman flies over to her, and it's revealed that... No, it's not Lois... but the wife of Dimension Master, Chameleon Queen!


The Dimension Master pops in to mock the mourning Man of Steel.  Their sole purpose in life is tormenting Superman... which isn't very cool.  It's so uncool, in fact, that Lex Luthor and Brainiac show up to take them down!  Wha--?  Lex and Brainiac tell Superman that they're not friends... but they respect him!  They snap up the baddies... er, the other baddies... and take them to the Space Police Headquarters!


Back at the Fortress, li'l Lanie is getting super-curious about what could be behind that one verboten door.  She concocts a plan where she sends a doll that looks like her flying into the Super-Lab, starting a fire!  The Superman robot runs in to check on her, leaving the door unguarded.  Lanie enters, and what she finds is... Kryptonite!  Ruh-roh.  She proceeds to dig through the Red variety.


Superman returns home just as Lanie is vanishing from sight.  He rushes to hook the Red-K up to the Super-Computer to see what effects it might have.  Remember, Red-K is unpredictable in how it messes with a Kryptonian.  He learns that Lanie was sent to a parallel Earth (Earth-43, even!).  And so, Superman exposes himself to the stuff... and away he goes!


He finds Lanie in a South American jungle... and snaps her up to deliver her to this Earth's Fortress of Solitude.  While on the way, a thought pops into his head... perhaps on this Earth, Lois Lane is still alive!  Annnnnd, she totally is!


She still works for the Daily Planet, and is set to test out a "Gill Serum" which will allow her to breathe underwater for several hours.  Sounds like a good idea for a story, I suppose.  She heads unduh da sea, and runs, err swims right into a giant squid!  Luckily, Superman is nearby to save her... and immediately propose marriage!  She's totally down with it... which is all well and good, buuuut, what Superman has forgotten is... there's probably another Superman on this Earth too!


It's not long before Superman meets Superman... and Superman tells Superman... err, make that Superman-215 (the one we've been following all this time) tells Superman-43 (more on him in a bit) all about marrying, procreating with, and losing Lois on his Earth.  Superman-43 has zero interest in marrying Lois... and tells Superman-215 that he'd best do whatever he can to "get him out of this"... just wait.


Superman-215 marries Lois and takes her to the Fortress of Solitude, where he drops the next surprise in her lap... hey, guess what Lo', you've got a daughter... that looks just like you... and is named after you!  Lois immediately accepts this new reality and agrees to adopt the super-tot.  What she doesn't know is that this isn't "her" Superman.


Ya see, the Superman of Earth-43 decided to switch places with Superman-215... and we leave him wondering if Lana Lang might be available on this Earth.


Think we're done?  Nope... we got a back-up to discuss!  Here we meet Dr. Reece Kearns, a scientist who is desperate to know the first exploit of Superman.  This causes Superman's super-sense to tingle.  Why would some scientist want to know, if not to suss out his secret identity?  He refuses to play ball and answer any of the doc's questions.


And so, Kearns heads to... where else, the Daily Planet!  They set up a contest to see who can name Superman's earliest exploit.  In the days that follow, stories of Superman's early feats begin rolling in... was it a mobbed-up warehouse robbery he foiled?


Or maybe it was saving a metal refinery from being coated in molten steel?  By the way, this flashback might feature the first time (canonically) that someone refers to Superman as a "Man of Steel".


Back at the Planet, Perry's all "Doy, Superman was Superboy first... maybe we oughta ask people in Smallville."  Yeah, no kidding, Chief!  A story comes in about a super-powered tot tipping over a lamppost.  Surely, that's Superman/boy/baby's first feat!


But no.  No, it's not.  Superman flashes back to... that fateful day where he was loaded into a tiny rocket and blasted off the doomed planet Krypton.  Along the way... and he was playing with his toys the entire trip... he becomes distracted by a shiny light on an meteor.  Soooo, he ejects himself from the rocket and hops onto it to check it out.


On the meteor stands a... crystal-looking insect.  Superbaby punches it on the nose and sends it flying before hopping back into the rocket.


Turns out, this is all Dr. Kearns needed to know!  Ya see, that meteor was on a collision course with Earth... until it was knocked off target by Superbaby.  Kearns had already informed the media that the meteor was coming, and started a false-panic which branded him a hoaxer.  Now that the truth is out, he can return to his good standing in the scientific community... all's well that ends well!


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Whew.

Okay, lots to unpack here... let's get the convoluted stuff out of the way and try to untangle Earths 215 and 43.

Alright, referring back to The Crisis Compendium, Earth-43 first appeared in Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #43 (August, 1963).  In it, Earth-One Lois was struck by lightning and sent to an alternate Earth in which she witnessed Superman and Lex Luthor both dying in battle.  The Superman Emergency Squad hits the scene and replaces the dead Superman with a Kandorian double... or maybe a robot... either way, the world went on believing Superman to be alive.

Still with me?  Okay... so, today's "Lois Lane... Dead... Yet Alive" story takes place on Earth-215.  We see Superman, by way of Red-K, shifted to an alternate Earth... which is Earth-43.  While there he meets and marries the Lois Lane of that Earth, and also trades places with... the Kandorian Superman Dupe.  Sooo, this "imaginary" story ends with Superman-215 shifting to Earth-43 and marrying Lois Lane-43, while Kandorian Superman-Dupe-43 leaves to go to Earth-215.  Easy as pie, right?  Nevermind that folks on Earth-215 might start to wonder what happened to Lanie... that's a problem for someone else!

Whew (again).

Okay, on to the stories themselves.  I gotta say, as silly as they were, I had a blast reading them both.

I've said it before, but my Silver-Age DC game is kinda weak.  These are written so matter of fact... I mean, Dimension Master literally pops his head into the window at Superman's house!  How in the world does that happen?  I guess it serves to further illustrate the danger should Superman ever "take a wife"... but still, funny as all get-out!  The dialogue too... so weird, but so fun.  In Lois' dying breath she mutters "Goodbye, Superman, my darling... Shhhhh!"  I mean, really.

It's hard taking this story as being as tragically sad as it's supposed to be because of how silly it is.  I mean, a daughter not reacting well during her mother's funeral... that's absolutely heart wrenching... but the way they do it, it comes across as silly.  Though, of course I doubt Mr. Binder was expecting some dude in his mid-30's analyzing this almost a half-century later.

Let's talk Luthor.  I almost laughed out loud seeing Lex and Brainiac being all "Not cool, man" to the Dimension Master.  So wild!

Jumping between dimensions really was no big deal back in the day, was it?  I mean, Red-K always has an unpredictable effect... but, I wouldn't expect dimension-hopping to be among them.  Gotta wonder if someone at DC pulled a Peter Sanderson and read the entire output today... how many more "infinite Earths" would be discovered and could be added to the pile?  I'm guessing a bunch!

The business on Earth-43... just as silly as the rest.  I can't get over how quickly Lois just accepts everything.  Wanna get married?  Sure!  Wanna adopt my daughter?  No prob!  Plus... I mean, the "other" Superman, who as of 1969 was intended to be that Earth's actual Superman, was cool with leaving!  Now that's a whole 'nother level of altruism!  Good thing he had the hots for Lana Lang instead of Lois!

I could go on for awhile... but I think I've already gone on long enough... and we still got the back-up!

And so, "Superman's First Exploit".  I think in all the "zany Haney" madness we forget about folks like Edmond Hamilton... this fella might be just as "out there".  Throughout my past several weeks of "infinite Earth" research, I found that so many of these formerly "imaginary" stories added to the canon were written by Hamilton.  His stuff even dwarfs Haney's... though, to be fair, much of the Zany one's work was shuffled into Earth-B (a semi-serious Bob Rozakis idea for a depository for Haney stuffs).

This backup was... ya know, silly... and actually adds something to Superbaby's trip from Krypton to Earth!  That's a pretty big deal, right?  Eh, probably not... but still neat.

Overall, this is a wonderfully fun and mind-bendy (if you let it be) issue.  The lead story has been reprinted both in Best of DC Comics Blue Ribbon Digest #19 (December, 1981) and in the Superman in the Sixties trade paperback.  The back-up is actually a reprint from Superman #106 (July, 1956).  Unfortunately, this issue is not yet available digitally.  A pretty glaring omission to me... I don't see why this wouldn't be.  Anyhoo, if you can find it... it's definitely worth your time!

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