22 Apr 2009

Working The Boxes: SUPERMAN #221

In Working The Boxes we highlight any recent back issue purchases we've found buried in comic boxes or discovered on eBay that we think are worthy of further attention.

By Matt C

A few summers ago I read Gerard Jones exemplary Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (a must-read for anyone with an interest in comics history!) which stoked my interest in the works of Superman creators Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, prompting me to look into the possibility of purchasing issues of any comics credited to them (with the help of this handy page). Some of the more famous books written by Siegel, such as the first appearance of Mon-El in Superboy #89, are way too pricey for me but, with eBay as my friend, I did manage to track down a few relatively cheap issues, and then found myself buying a couple of non-Siegel/Shuster Silver Age gems.

It was often the covers that have me handing over the cash, the more ridiculous the better (any Jimmy Olsen book featuring a gorilla is usually a guaranteed camp classic!). What amazes me, and it's something a more knowledgeable Comics Historian could elucidate on, is how DC continued to pump out a string of books plotted in a relatively puerile manner during the ‘60s while Marvel was continuously pushing the boundaries of what the superhero genre was capable of. But, even though DC's comics lacked the sophistication of their competitors at this point, they did still offer plenty of entertainment value, albeit not always in the way the creators may have intended. Which brings me to an issue I picked up at the Bristol Comic Expo last May, and as this year’s convention is just a couple of weeks away I thought now was as good a time as any to give it a look. I think the cover kind of speaks for itself:


One look at that image, and I knew this comic had to be mine!

The issue contains two stories, the lead tale featuring what was possibly the first and last appearance of Super-Pancho, a former slave on the remote island of Remora who presumably to this day continues to terrorize would-be criminals in a Superman costume given to him by the Man Of Steel himself. Even after being freed from bondage Super-Pancho didn’t feel it necessary to get hold of a razor, perhaps believing his five-day old beard differentiated enough him from the real thing.


But nobody bought this issue for Super-Pancho. What they really wanted to see was Super-Fatso!!

Inexplicably piling on instant pounds during a visit to a space centre in his guise of Clark Kent, Superman learns that an alien race he’d previously befriended, and who had given him a taste of their sacred scarlet nectar, had since discovered said nectar had past its expiry date and become poisonous! Kal-El’s invulnerability saved his life, so instead of killing him the poisoned nectar transforms him into the Man Of Fat!


Weighing himself on a hastily constructed Super-Scale, Superman realises he must lose the pounds by 8am the next day, as only his precise weight can open the vault which contains the Nullifier, a device that will deactivate all weapons within a hundred-mile radius!! The only way to achieve this is through a rigorous bout of super-exercise, interspersed with an occasional feat of derring-do, such as plugging a dam with his butt!


It doesn’t quite live up to the cover (although the 'Man Of Fat' sobriquet is quite awesome) but there’s an extra bonus in this issue in the form of a lovely portrait of the Superman 'Family', with a full page of text explaining who each character is:


Direct your eyes to the bottom left-hand corner and you will see Beppo, the Super-Monkey, described thusly:

Originally a test animal in the laboratory of Jor-El, on Krypton, Beppo stowed away in the rocket that brought baby Kal-El (now Superman) to Earth. Here, under Earth’s yellow sun, Beppo became super. He is now king of the African jungle.

Step aside, Tarzan, there’s a new monarch in town!

Now to the bottom right, to Lori Lemaris, the Mermaid from Atlantis, who is revealed here as a master of disguise (!) attending Metropolis University “using a wheelchair, with a blanket to hide her fish-tail”. Ingenious!

And let us not forget Comet the Superhorse! If, like me, you’re wondering who the hell he is, wonder no longer:

Comet the Superhorse was Biron, a centaur, in ancient Greece, till an evil wizard turned him into a horse. Circe the witch gave him the powers of the gods, but the wizard banished him to a far star. When Supergirl’s rocket passed on the way to Earth, it freed him, and he followed her to this world.

Fantastic!

Reading the above, you’ll probably have a good idea whether you can stomach this kind of thing, and whether your 21st century sensibilities are really attuned to DC's brand of Silver Age wackiness or not. Me, I love it, it’s kind of the last gasp of the 'anything goes' ethos that served DC so well for such a long time before they realised it was time for their comics to grow up.

2 comments:

Ian said...

Awesome stuff. If Grant Morrison had included a super monkey, super horse and a mermaid in Final Crisis he would have come in for even more stick on the Net and yet in the 50s and 60s no-one thought twice about it! Simpler times eh?

Matt C said...

I don't know, I think I might have preferred Final Crisis with a super monkey, a super horse and a mermaid!