One of my favorite things about the San Diego Comic-Con is the annual back-issue crawl that t Chris Ryall and I make on Sunday afternoon. Quickly filing through aisles and aisles of quarter and dollar longboxes, it’s the most prime example of comic-book Darwinism. Each comic-book cover has maybe a second and a half to make a visual impact, enough to make me pull it out of the box and throw it on the stack. And nothing is better than plucking out some prime Silver Age nuttiness
Here’s a great case in point: Take a look at this cover of a comic I picked up at this year’s Comic-Con, from ACTION COMICS #286 (March 1962):
It’s a fairly typical Weisinger-era cover, with Superman caught in an untenable situation, this time being held against his will in a kangaroo court and declared guilty of a nameless crime by a jury of his enemies. However, what really caught my eye was a particular member of the jury. This juror, to be precise:
Who is that guy?
The rest of the jury makes sense. Naturally, you have your Luthor and Brainiac, and the Legion of Super-Villains, Saturn Queen, Lightning Lord and Cosmic King would pop in from the future from time to time and make trouble for the Man of Steel. But who was the new guy? The helpful inscription on the jury box lists him as “Electro.” This was news to me. I had to know more. One dollar later, the issue was mine. However, the answers weren’t so quick in coming.
The splash page was promising, a slightly expanded version of the cover, showing the jury casting their votes with a collection of Superman figurines (no doubt ordered from the Fortress of Solitude’s gift shop), while Superman, constrained by a set of Kryptonite handcuffs, stands helplessly in a big glass box.
And there was Electro again, this time in a profile shot, seemingly so excited to be casting his vote to convict Superman that he can barely keep his seat. Once again, who was this guy?
Unfortunately, the story itself took an unexpectedly unsatisfying turn. We begin on the planet Wexr II, where a group of “tyrannical space pirates” calling themselves the Superman Revenge Squad meet to discuss — you guessed it — how to get their revenge on Superman.
These intergalactic thugs have discovered three new strains of Red Kryptonite (each exposure of which creates a different freakish effect on Superman), and in order to test them out, have kidnapped Krypto in order to expose him to the Red K. Kidnapping a guy’s dog. Doesn’t get much lower than that.
The first two chunks of Red K don’t do much; one turns Krypton temporarily insubstantial, while the other gives him a brief dose of tiger stripes. But the third knocks him right out, and his whimpering indicates gives him horrible nightmares, as confirmed by the Revenge Squad’s dream projector, a handy bit of hardware to have around. In the nightmare, Krypto is caught between a colossal Streaky the Super-Cat and Titano the Super-Ape, blasting him with his Kryptonite Vision. That is a bad dream…
The Revenge Squad heads to Earth, where Clark Kent is paying a visit to Metropolis’ brand-new Superman Museum with Lois and Jimmy, and Clark makes a critical tactical error: he eats at the snack bar. Little does he know that the ketchup on his hamburger has been “flavored” with grains of Red Kryptonite. I wonder if that gives it a chipotle flavor…
Now dosed with the Red K, Superman heads back to the Fortress of Solitude and promptly dozes off, as his Red Kryptonite-induced nightmare commences. In his nightmare, Superman visits the far future, where he’s tormented by the descendants of his childhood friends from Smallville Pete Ross and Lana Lang, who attack him with Green Kryptonite balloons. The fiends!
Superman is awakened from his nightmare by Jimmy Olsen, but soon passes out again and is back to his futuristic nightmare, this time just in time to stop Luthor and Brainiac from killing a presidential candidiate. However, it was all a ruse, engineered to allow them to kidnap Superman, so they could carry out their sham trial as seen on the cover. And by the way, it must be noted that we see here my personal favorite version of Luthor, the 1960s variety, known around these parts as “I’m-Too-Busy-Trying-to-Kill-Superman-to-Bother-Changing-Out-of-My-Prison-Greys” Luthor.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to see any of the trial, which is what I was there for from the beginning. Nor do we get much more on the mysterious Electro, although he does at least get two more panel appearances, once when Superman’s sentence is announced, to fight his cousin Supergirl in a duel to the death:
And once more as Kal and Kara are dragged by the villains to the Arena of Worlds for the deathmatch:
Come on, give me something, Electro! A witty rejoinder, a pithy comeback, anything! But no. Electro remains mute and mysterious.
As to the Superman/Supergirl deathmatch, it goes on as scheduled, with Supergirl taking the early initiative and trying to crush Superman with a giant globe. However, it was all a ruse, as in a shockingly uncharacteristic move, Supergirl gets close enough to the jury of villains to vaporize them with a blast of her X-ray vision.
Damn. Kara’s playing hardball.
Unfortunately, one member of the jury remained, Lightning Lord, who quickly pulled out a Phantom Zone Projector and banished Supergirl to the Kryptonian prison dimension, then pressed a button on his Blackberry and blew up the Earth. Talk about a sore loser. Bad day for Superman.
Things having gotten just about as bad as they could get, Superman is again awakened by Jimmy Olsen, who’s apparently holding a meeting of the “Orange Checkered Blazer Club”:
And so the story comes to an abrupt end, with the Superman Revenge Squad promising to return next month for their final assault on Superman through his nightmares. All I’ve got to say is, unless Electro is involved, include me out.