Friday, March 20, 2015

My Favorite Coluan: Superman #213 (Jan. 1969)

The 1st in an occasional series of looks at interesting moments and adventures in the print life of the Legion of Super-Heroes' resident super-genius: Brainiac 5.

(As with all posts on this blog, there's nothing but spoilers, so . . . )

The lead story in Superman #213 from January 1969 is titled by writer Cary Bates 'The Most Dangerous Door in the World,' but I'd like to re-name it 'Superman and His Friends are Dicks - The Entrapment of Lex Luthor.'  It's an unusual story in the Superman canon, in that Superman is really just a guest star in his own book, with much of the action being carried out by a surprise imposter -  it's Brainiac 5 under a spit-curl wig and S-shield.

The story, illustrated by Superman artist extraordinaire, Curt Swan along with Jack Abel (a fantastic art team that did a bunch of Adventure Comics Legion stories together around this time) begins with a public announcement by 'Superman' that the valuable contents of a mysterious vault in his possession will pass on to all mankind in the event of his own death.  Until the day that Superman draws his last breath, the vault will be sealed away underground and heavily guarded.  Watching all of this on television is a sad and bitter Lex Luthor.  Superman's greatest enemy rejects the notion of seizing the vault, perhaps beginning to accept the fact that he's destined to fail against the Man of Steel.

What follows is the blatant provocation of Lex Luthor in the form of a very public display of sudden power-loss in the Man of Steel (an inability to cleave a diamond with his bare hand) and an antagonistic editorial arranged by 'Clark Kent' & friends called "Superman Remembers . . .  the Many Times He's Beaten Luthor."  Luthor erupts with anger at the public humiliation & interprets these signs as an opportunity to 'take it to the 'Man' concocting an overly complicated plan to steal the vault and and obtain its secrets.

'Clark Kent' (& conspirators) provoke Lex, while Superman 5, er . . ., I mean 'Superman' has trouble cutting a diamond
Having been pushed into successful theft of the giant safe, Luthor's coup de grace is the the public execution of the The Man of Tomorrow - to be carried out by 3 giant Kryptonite robots.  With the tell-tale sign of fatal Kryptonite poison setting in (green skin - hmmmm), Superman's lifeless body is teleported into the arms of his friends Jimmy Olsen and Supergirl.  The two Super-friends mysteriously revive the deceased hero with some sort of unexplained antidote spray, and the suddenly spry and smiling 'Superman' asks if everything is going according to plan (according to plan? hmmmmm).

NSFW? Luthor's large unit penetrates the mysteries of the vault
Back at the lab, Luthor and a couple of his goons are finally able to break open the vault, whose secret content is revealed to be -- Superman?!  The true Man of Steel promptly does his best Moe impersonation and slaps out the stooges, just as Jimmy, Supergirl and the other green-skinned Superman arrive on the scene.  Another abject defeat sends Lex into a swoon, and all is explained: Superman discovered the mysterious vault in orbit around the Earth; the vault was a trap by old Legion of Super-Heroes villain, Mordru; Superman figured Lex Luthor was his best bet in cracking open the Super-Safe, so using his 'power' of super-ventroliquism contacts Supergirl, who contacts Brainiac 5 in the far future; it was their plan for Brainiac to masquerade as Superman (his green skin making it easier to feign Kryptonite poisoning, I guess) and to trick (a reluctant, remember) Luthor into 'killing' the imposter and in doing so, freeing the true S-man from his imprisonment.

A curiously green-skinned 'Superman' is revived by his Super-Friends, while a newly-freed Superman gives a big ol' Stooges slap to Larry, Curly & Shemp
All of this ends up being an overly complicated and very circuitous way to deposit Luthor back behind bars.  Entrapment is a crime, people.

Supergirl's boyfriend from the future, Brainiac 5 drops his ultra-acting role while Lex Luthor stews - cue sad trombone
It wasn't common for a member of the LSH to be a single guest-star in another book, so this story is something of an oddball.  In a great DC-Silver Age-y kind of way, it really made no sense for Brainiac 5 to show up from 1000 years in the future, when maybe the Martian Manhunter was available (if all the plan required was green skin), but it was a fun way to incorporate a few disparate elements of the Superman mythos (The Legion, Luthor, Supergirl, etc.) in one 15-page story.

note: I could be wrong, so please correct me, but this might be Cary Bates' first work on a Legion character.  Bates would go on to script many, many Legion stories throughout the 70s.

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