Action Comics #319 (December, 1964)
“The Condemned Superman!”
Writer – Edmond Hamilton
Pencillers – Curt Swan & Jim Mooney
Letterer – Joe Letterese
Cover Price: $0.12
Our #Action100 Project is taking a pretty deep dive today… to over a half-century ago… and my tattered copy of issue #319 (as seen above).
It’s funny to inspect the wear and tear on your old comics… the bottom of this bugger is really in disrepair. Hell, I think just by my reading it today I lowered the “value” a bunch. I had to train myself to turn the page from the top… because the bottom was far too brittle and would crack. The top, on the other hand… looks perfect! How weird.
Anyhoo… we’re in for a two-fer today, so let’s get right “two” it.
We open on the planet Lexor, where Superman is standing trial for the… murder of Lex Luthor! Now, a little background… Lexor’s a sorta backwards world… not so much like Bizarro World or anything… but they see Lex Luthor as a hero… and, as such view Superman as something of a villainous bully. Anyhoo, Superman pleads his innocence… but the Lexorians don’t wanna hear it. This brings us to a flashback showing what happened upon his arrival.
Ya see, Lex Luthor broke out of jail (again) and bee-lined it to a rocket base where he stowed away to the Red Sun planet of Lexor. Superman gave chase (also by rocket), and was greeted by a Lexorian hunter who would guide him to the city. Along the way, Superman almost walks into the path of a Madness Flower… that’ll be sorta important later. The pair do, however, walk by a Truth Beast… triggering the hunter to reveal that he recognized the evil Superman… and was leading him toward a trap. Anyhoo… Superman finally arrives at the city (where Superman alarms are going off)… and he punches Lex in the face.
Lex hits the ground… dead. Superman is immediately arrested… and since this is a Red Sun planet, he can’t do a whole lot to fight off the guards.
Back in court, we see that Superman has been assigned an attorney… one who seems like he’d rather be anywhere else. He asks Superman if he’d come to Lexor with the express purpose of murdering Lex Luthor… to which he replies no (duh). This causes a near-riot. The day concludes with Superman still proclaiming his innocence.
After the session, Superman is led back to his holding cell. Once he’s found guilty, he will be quickly executed. To really hammer this home, we see another “convict” named Zim Zabo led to the “Stone Room”, where he is… well, turned to stone. Bah golly, did we just watch an execution?! That night Superman dreams of the same thing happening to him.
The following day we return to court where Superman’s lawyers try giving him an “out”. They ask if he’d come into contact with a Madness Flower… in hopes that they could plea temporary insanity. Superman… tells the truth. Yes, he did see a Madness Flower, but he never got close enough to feel its effects. His lawyer is initially annoyed… however, then begins to come around. Superman had an easy “out”, yet chose to tell the truth anyway.
After this session (the second of three in Lexorian tradition) Superman asks his lawyer if he can be released for the evening to do some investigating of his own. This request is obviously turned down. And so, that night… Superman and his lawyer do a bit of clothes-swapping.
Superman heads to Lex Luthor’s Lexorian Laboratory… and comes across some pretty damning evidence. A bottle of “Coma Drug”, which will put anybody who takes one into a five-day long coma… and a “Shock Restorative Chemical” spray to wake up anyone who’s taken the Coma Drug. These drugs are conveniently labelled in English… however, it’s cleverly explained that Lexorians can’t read the language.
And so, Superman heads to the City Square where Lex is laying in-state (his body is on display under glass). Superman sprays his schnozz with the Shock-Chem… waking the bald baddie up. Lex comes clean about taking the Coma Drug in hopes of framing Superman for his murder.
The Lexorians soon gather around… and are convinced that Lex “accidentally” took the Coma Drug. All charges against Superman are dropped… and he heads back to Earth… leaving Lex behind?! Mission Accomplished?
Our second tale stars Supergirl… who is having quite a time with her school rival Donna Storm. Ya see, she’s been cheating to get her super-marks, and now Supergirl’s gotta figure out a way to reveal this… without revealing her secret identity. Sound silly? There’s a reason for that.
We start in math class… where the students have been tasked with a tough assignment. Linda’s little study circle invites Donna over to join them… but she declines. Using her x-ray vision, Linda sees that Donna is punching all of the questions into a *gasp* electronic computer! Looks kinda like a typewriter, which in my experience, was never much help with my math homework… but, whattayagonnado?
I was expecting something more like this…
Oh well. Point is, Donna’s a no-good cheating cheater… Linda knows it, but there ain’t a whole lot she can do about it. The next day we join the kids in Chemistry class. Their assignment has to do with undersea plant-life… and the chemicals needed to make them grow. After class, Donna ducks out and heads to her Daddy’s Plastics Company… where she puts his lab men on the task. Of course, Linda’s telescopic vision sees all.
Also worth noting, the Chemistry Professor seems to be getting the feeling that Ms. Storm might be cheating as well. The Dean, however, suggests he settle his tea kettle… the Storms are big-time patrons of Stanhope College.
That night, Linda uses her super-hearing (this is starting to get creepy, ya?) to listen in on Donna’s study session. She is able to hear her reading aloud from a literature book. The following day, Donna is able to recite everything she’d read the night before. C-c-could Donna have super-powers too?! No silly, she has a miniature recording device stowed away in her earring. I mean, if she can come up with something like that, isn’t she just wasting her time in college? She surely has one helluva future as an inventor… or super-villain!
We jump ahead to a Geology Field Trip, where the students are asked to search for valuable minerals… with the most valuable receiving the highest marks. That… hmm, that doesn’t seem like a fair assignment, but we’ll allow it. Anyhoo, Donna has stashed a chunk of gold ore behind her back (literally), so she could “find” it and score the best grade. To spoil this, Linda “supes up” and crushes some coal into diamonds. Hmm… I’m not sure that’s not cheating. Worth noting, Linda actually changes into her Supergirl costume to do the crushing… which feels like a bit of overkill.
Then… Biology class… good gravy, how many credit-hours are these kids taking?! Donna sets to cutting out pictures of undersea life from some very expensive texts… figuring those would be of the highest quality… and surely impress the Professor. Linda again spoils her fun by having Supergirl show up with a “glass classroom” to take the entire class unduh da sea… where they get a lecture from Lori Lemaris. I wonder if this hurt Linda’s grade any… since, for all her Professor knows, she was a no-show.
We’re not done yet… we’ve saved the craziest class for last… History. The assignment is a simple essay… now, rather than actually read the textbook, Donna… flies to Hollywood… yes, really… to talk to a director working on a movie about the War of 1812.
Supergirl ups the ante by… taking the entire class back in time to witness the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Hell, Supergirl even attempts to get involved and change the outcome (!)… but it’s to no avail.
Back in the present, Donna’s essay gets a big fat “F”… turns out Hollywood took a few liberties with the real story of the War of 1812. Anyhoo… that night, Donna sneaks into Linda’s dorm in order to plant some stolen jewels (yeah, this has really escalated!). The following day, they are found… and Linda is expelled.
On her way out, Linda runs into Donna… who admits to everything. “Yeah, I framed ya… whaddaya gonna do about it?” sort of stuff. Unfortunately for her… she’s still wearing those transmitter earrings… which somehow broadcast their entire discussion on the public address system. Whoops.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… how did the earrings do that? Well, wouldja believe… the Legionnaire Shrinking Violet had stowed away in one?
We wrap up with a full explanation of what Shrinking Violet did… and the expulsion of Donna Storm, who likely went on to a minimum wage job and a diet-pill addiction.
So… yeah, the Silver-Age is pretty incredible, ain’t it?
I’ll admit, probably like a lot of folks my age… I’m working backwards on my comics library. Where my collection (and working knowledge) gets sparser the further back we go. So these Silver-Agers still have quite a bit of novelty to me. So, apologies in advance if I come across a bit gushy or incredulous.
Let’s start with our first story. Man, how weird is it that we have a planet of Luthor-lovers out there? I will say I would expect them all (even the women) to be bald in tribute… but, whattayagonnado?
I appreciated Superman sticking to his guns and remaining honest during the trial. He was offered a very easy “out” and decided against it. This was important in that it allowed his lawyer to witness his character… and facilitated him not really putting up a fight when Superman decided to try the body-swap gimmick later on.
I gotta wonder… what would’ve happened if he went to Luthor’s lab and found… nothing? Would he have just returned to his cell, or would he have made a run for it back to the rocket base? I know what I would’ve done… but, lemme tell ya, I ain’t no Superman.
I did kinda smirk when the Lexorians refused to accept that Lex took the Coma Drug on purpose. Yeah, sure… he accidentally took one of those pills from the bottle with the strange Earthen-language label. Aye yai yai.
Still, this was a lot of fun.
Onto the back-up… which, wasn’t so much a back-up as a co-feature. I feel like they were similar in length. This was a hoot! So silly… so dumb… but, so much fun.
The stakes really couldn’t be much lower for a Supergirl story. There’s a mean girl at Stanhope who is cheating and using her last name to weasel her way out of any trouble she might find herself in. This irks Linda… and so, she decides to mess with her. I mean, that’s about it… Linda/Supergirl is screwing with this girl simply because she can!
Not that what Donna’s doing is right… or even wise, but when we break it down, what Linda’s doing ain’t all that much better! I mean, she’s using her powers to give herself an edge, right? It’s not every student can take the class on an undersea field trip… or back in freaking time. What a crazy story!
And… looking at it even closer, every time Supergirl arrives she’s all “Linda sent me” and nobody thinks to ask, “Oh yeah, Linda… where is she anyway?”. Also… if Linda isn’t present for these field trips… how is she getting any credit in class? Yeah, textbook overthinking… but, it definitely stuck out to me.
The ending with Donna being expelled… aye yai yai… I guess the punishment ought to fit the crime, but I gotta say… this rivalry escalated much higher than I figured it would! I assumed they’d make nice by the end… Donna would see the error of her ways and sheepishly try and join Linda’s study group. But, noooo… she just gets the boot! How crazy is that?!
Overall… this was a ton of fun. I really need to try and work more Silver Age books into my reading-rotation. If you can get your hands on this for a decent price, definitely do so. The lead-off story has been reprinted in The Best of DC Digest #27 (1979), and the back-up has been collected as part of SHOWCASE Presents Supergirl, Volume 2 (2008). Somewhat surprisingly, this issue is available digitally as well!