Superman #204 (February, 1968)
“The Case of the Lethal Letters”
“The Duplicate Superman!”
“The Fortress of Fear!”
Writers – Cary Bates & Otto Binder
Pencillers – Ross Andru & Al Plastino
Inkers – Mike Esposito & Al Plastino
Cover Price: $0.12
Here’s one from the… “hey, that’s a pretty neat cover” collection! I really considered bolding every single “L” in this piece… before thinking “hey Chris, that’s probably a bad use of your time…” (not that that’s stopped me before).
Anyhoo, let’s find out what lurks behind dem Lethal L’s!
We open on one of those Silver Age skip-aheads that usually wind up spoiling most of our story. Here it’s doesn’t really spoil much… just that Superman has decided to hang up his cape! An unseen figure standing in the foreground comments that everything is going according to plan. But… how did we get here? Well… Clark Kent was a special guest on the popular television talk show, “Point Blank”. Suddenly the host, Lorraine Delon goes into a trance… and delivers a message to Superman that he must quit fighting crime… or else those closest to him will pay the ultimate price! Clark ain’t buyin’ it… nor should he.
After the show, Clark starts to head home via Metropolis’ brand-new monorail. While there, he runs into his old friend (and current TV reporter) Lana Lang. He allows her to board first… however, no sooner does she step foot inside the rail-car, than the doors slam shut and it takes off at ludicrous speed! Fearing a derailment, Clark Supes-up and saves the day… he is, however, unable to find Lana when the dust settles.
Clark… returns home for the evening, which strikes me a bit odd. You’d figure he’d be hot on the trail of whoever kidnapped Lana… but, nah… he’ll just head home and read about the abduction in the evening edition of the Planet. His leisurely reading is interrupted by a telepathic message from Lori Lemaris… who’s having her clock cleaned by a strange-looking (but happy!) undersea menace.
Clark supes-up again… however, arrives just in time to see Lori vanish. Using his super-deductive skills, Superman figures that his foe’s next target will be Lois Lane… because, ya know… LL initials. It’s all very scientific.
And so, the following day… instead of trying to rescue Lana and Lori, Superman spends the entire day flying the skies of Metropolis with Lois in his arms. Lois is pleased to see that Superman’s hunch didn’t come true. Welp, not so fast kemo sabe… suddenly a sniper takes aim, and blasts the skybound twosome. The shot causes Superman to flail… and Lois to vanish!
It’s now that we rejoin the opening bit, where Superman is about to announce his retirement. Waitasec, isn’t he out of LL friends? Is he worried the bad-guy might get confused and kidnap Lex Luthor next? Well, probably not worth thinking too hard about. Anyhoo, it’s here that we learn that the super-secret foe was actually… talk show host Lorraine Delon!
Before we know it… like seriously, I was afraid my copy was missing some pages… Superman bursts through a wall, and finds himself stood before a GIANT pair of L’s. Like, where would a bad guy even get something like this made? Maybe Lex Luthor would be ridiculous enough to have a giant set of initials hanging about… but c’mon. Anyhoo, the initials burst into flames… just like on the cover! And yes, this will be very important.
We learn that the flames actually consist of something called Q-Energy… something strong enough to kill Superman (and will likely never be mentioned again). Superman crawls toward the baddie, who removes her wig and glasses revealing herself to be… Lorraine Lewis! Wait, who? Well, Superman recognizes her… so that’s all that matters.
While Superman lay dying, she (thankfully) fills us in on her backstory. Ya see, she is a brilliant (female) scientist who had the hots for Superman… and so, she set to impressing him by helping him with his super-exploits… ya know, like creating a ray to send bad guys to the Phantom Zone! Wouldn’tcha know it, while lining up her shot Lois Lane jumped in with some Gold Kryptonite to save the day! Lorraine still sent Bal-Gra back to the Zone… but nobody was really paying attention.
Next, during an assembly introducing Lorraine Lewis’s “healing ray” a lunatic pulls a gun and attempts to destroy it. Before Lorraine could act, Lana Lang shoves the would-be shooter down. Once again… another L.L. girl has stolen her thunder!
Finally… some stuff was going down unduh-da-sea… and by the time Lorraine arrived, Lori Lemaris and her Atlantean buddies have already saved the day. I mean, c’mon Lorraine… they live there, of course they’re going to get their first! Anyhoo, now Lorraine’s decided that if she can’t join him… beat him (and ya know, take on a new identity and become a successful talk show host), and so… she created this nebulous Q-Energy.
Superman realizes that the warehouse they’re in has weak floors… and so, with his last bit of energy, he bashes through them. This somehow causes Lorraine to fall backwards into the Lethal Letters, where she disintegrates into a pile of dust! Wow, that just got real. Superman rescues his friends… and they happily skip off, thankful that justice has been done.
Well… if that wasn’t strange enough, let’s check out a Demand Classic, reprinting a tale from Action Comics #222 (November, 1956). We open with the military testing a brand new Cobalt Bomb… which is apparently a hundred-times stronger than a hydrogen bomb. Think about that for a second! That’s one big-ass bomb. It’s all moot, however… turns out the C-Bomb (that’s what they call me when I breakdance!) was a dud (also, that)… and so, Superman is called in to retrieve it. Of course, it blows up right in his face.
What he doesn’t realize is that it also blew him into two separate beings! This results in an unintentionally hilarious scene of the Supermen bumping into each other in an alley… testing each other’s powers… and even bathing in hot lava to prove their superpowers.
It looks like they’re both the real deal… however, upon deeper inspection, they discover that they’re each missing a single power. One cannot use his telescopic vision, and the other is missing his x-ray vision. And so, they decide to name themselves… Superman-X (for the one with x-ray vision) and Superman-T (for he who can telescope his vision). This is starting to feel like a story I would have written back in elementary school! They also flip a coin to see who gets to be Clark Kent first. Ay yai yai.
The winning flipper heads off to have dinner with Lois, where he “absent-mindedly” holds on to a match for too long, which should have burnt his skin… but didn’t. Lois is convinced that Clark Kent is Superman… again. Suddenly (the other) Superman arrives, mostly to make her look like an idiot… again.
Over the next few pages, each Superman is put in situations that exploit their one missing power. This forces them to creatively use their remaining powers to get the job done. These are some pretty neat scenes. Along the way, Superman-T notices that his skin has began to tingle (I guess the T can stand for both telescopic and tingly… wow, that sounded vulgar).
Superman-T then goes on to steal a gold idol from the museum (with a $25,000 value!). Superman-X hears the news from a radio broadcast, and decides to check it out and confront his imperfect dupe.
And they fight!
|The banter might be the most painful thing here|
Until Superman-T engages in some supertrickery to convince Superman-X that a fire rages in the distance.
|Made ya look!|
Now it gets weird… er. Superman-T unwraps the gold idol, revealing it’s lead casting underneath. He makes a shield out of it… then flies into outer space to stop a Kryptonite meteor from crashing into the Earth! Suddenly, Superman-X’s telescopic vision returns… and he knows that his “other half” is no more. He sheds a single tear… and I’m just confused.
Our final tale definitely doesn’t live up to the two we just read. Superman’s having a “day off” at the Fortress of Solitude… only to find it’s been taken over by… something. Why, he can’t even settle in for a game of Super-Chess with his terrifying humanoid assistant!
Before long, the entire Fortress has gone nuts. Superman receives a warning from his Super-Computer… well, a partial warning. Then the interplanetary zoo opens releasing all manner of beast!
The foe reveals itself as being from Pluto… the coldest outermost planet of the solar system. Kind of thinking small here, no? I figure Superman’s met critters from further out than Pluto! Anyhoo, this proclamation reveals the baddie’s weakness… heat!
And so, Superman heat-visions it… loads it into an inescapable glass container… and hurls it into space where it can’t hurt anybody ever again. Another one of those “fates worse than death” that Superman loves to foist on his enemies…
|What, no Phantom Zone Projector?|
Had more fun with this than I expected… even if the third story was kind of a dud.
Let’s start with the first one, because I have the least to say about it. I always wonder what’s going on in a writer’s head when they have Superman punish a baddie by imprisoning them for all eternity. I’ve said it before, and likely will again… these punishments are worse than death! Imagine that poor Plutonian today… still floating in space… in a glass tube. No hope of escape… no hope for death (unless it can starve to death… and if that’s the case, Superman comes off looking even worse!).
Some of the visuals at the Fortress were kinda neat. I dig the idea of Superman settling in for some Super-Chess with some crazy robot… but overall, I could’ve done without this one.
Still working backwards, let’s chat up our Demand Classic from the mid-fifties. We could probably start with the question… could the planet survive this proposed “Cobalt Bomb”? In my (ever so) brief research on the subject… it was kinda raised as a “thought experiment” on a theoretical “doomsday device” capable of ending all human life on Earth by physicist Leo Szilard back in 1950. Yeah, yeah… this is comics… nevermind.
The fallout resulting in Superman getting a dupe reminded me a bit of Kryptonite Nevermore, wherein a Sand Superman emerges after a Kryptonite-Powered engine explodes in Superman’s face. I wonder if Denny O’Neil might’ve borrowed a bit from this story… eh, probably not.
We’ve talked before about how some of these old Superman stories really overcomplicate things… and this is no exception. The ending… with Superman-T pretending to have gone rogue, so he could sacrifice himself is something that would’ve made Rube Goldberg shake his head. Why go to such great lengths? And… is the golden idol the only thing on the planet that contains enough lead to make a shield from? Why not just go get some lead… make a shield, and fly into space without engaging with Superman-X?
I gotta say though… we didn’t see a body for Superman-T. I wonder if he’s still out there somewhere… he might’ve been a better pick for Mr. Oz! Definitely a deeper cut… but, if we’re being honest… there are probably Superman clones littered throughout the Golden and Silver Age… I’m sure Superman-T ain’t the best of ’em.
Our opening story was… this might sound mean… it really felt like something a kid might write. Hell, all three of these stories feel that way. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just hinders a jerk from 2017’s ability to fairly analyze them.
The LL’s is something that maybe shouldn’t have been mentioned in canon. I mean, as fans, we all realize that much of Superman’s cast… and most of his love interests have the same initials. This didn’t really need to become part of the story. This would be like all the alliterative characters at Marvel getting snuffed out. It’s kinda silly… okay, it’s completely silly. That being said… I still had a blast.
Speaking of “blasts”… wow, poor Lorraine! I find it funny that watching a woman disintegrate into powder didn’t seem to affect Superman, nor any of the LL’s. I’d figure I’d have to be hospitalized after seeing such a thing! Instead, the good guys all skip happily away…
Gotta figure there’d be some explaining to do though, right? I mean, Lorraine Whatsherface was a public figure… I think people might notice that one of the top-rated talk show hosts disappeared. Again… this is just me thinking too hard/too much.
Overall… a really fun first two stories, with a dud for a capper. Still something I’d encourage any Super-fans to check out!
(Not the) Letters Page:
|If you get your butt kicked while using our self-defense techniques, you’ll getchure buck and a quarter back!|