When I was a kid and just getting into comics, my dad let me have all of his comics from when he was a kid. His collection was comprised of a few dozen comics from the early 60s to the late 70s, chiefly made up of DC titles. Superman and Batman books outnumbered all the rest by a hefty margin, with assorted one-offs also present. There were a few Justice League books, Jimmy Olsen stories, and a limited collection of Marvel stuff. The second largest collection of titles was horror comics across a few publishers and a series called Illustrated Classics, which were comic adaptations of classic literature.
Now, I love comics. I love reading about the up-and-down history of the industry and the iconic characters created. I think comics are an amazing medium of artistic expression, blending visual and written storytelling. I firmly believe that the industry has produced real works of literature worthy of appreciation and study. I think that creator owned comics out there today are wonderful, taking comics where they’ve never been before.
All the same, old comics are just plain weird. As much as people try to cover up many comics of the past and raise up The Sandman and Watchmen as the epitome of the medium, there is no hiding the sheer stupidity of the content in many old comics.
The Silver Age of Comics, the period of time in which most of my dad’s comics came from, were home to the most bizarre and far-fetched stories imaginable. Most comics had heroes turning evil for whatever contrived reason, or getting fat or turning into apes or whatever strange transformations the creators cooked up to get the comics out to print on time.
What I’m saying is, I loved these old comics. There’s something endearing in how weird they could be and there was certainly a childlike energy to the tales. This was an era where comics really were for children and they didn’t cater to an older audience. While many people would rather forget this lighthearted, strange age of comics in favor of darker and more “mature” stories, I think that both deserve a welcome place. There’s nothing wrong with oddball tales now and then, the kinds that only appear in comics.
All of that to say, this will be the start of an on-and-off series about weird comics from the past. Each installment will feature a different story from a comic, all of which containing Silver Age insanity. I thought folks here might get a kick out of these old comics and how bizarre they could be.
To start things off, this is Superman #226, published in May of 1970. As you can see, this issue has retained its value very well through the years. If you weren’t sure what I meant by ‘Silver Age weirdness’, this is a prime example of the crazy stuff that happened in the majority of issues back then. See, not only is Superman evil, I guess, he’s also… big? I don’t mean to be a stickler, Lois, but Superman isn’t technically human. I know he told her that in the old Donner Superman movie, but I’m not versed enough in the comics to know if let her know, but I’m assuming he did. So, what led to these outrageous events? Just pay the newspaper vendor his 15… 10… er, 7 cents and we’ll be on our way.
Most of the comics I found had this sort of story framework: the first splash page would feature some outrageous scene that takes place mid-story and serves to draw you in. Here we have Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen lamenting Superman’s imprisonment on what looks like the National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial. If he really is such a threat, shouldn’t he be chained up, I don’t know, somewhere away from the public? Also, if he really did something wrong, I’m not sure he should be chained up so close to the houses of the Federal government. All in all, this is really dang weird.
Our story begins in earnest when Clark Kent and his friends from the Daily Planet stop to see the latest King Kong film. I thought this scenario was interesting, because there often aren’t many real-world references in comics of the era, particularly to other entertainment mediums. Considering when this comic was released, I’m assuming they’re watching King Kong Escapes, an American/Japanese coproduction released in the US in 1968. With the cover a clear reference to the original King Kong film, I thought this somehow tied into the remake of the film, but that wasn’t released until 1976.
Back when Cracker Jacks had more than little paper puzzles, I think.
The trio sits down to watch the movie, but Clark begins to feel strange. He believes he has been affected by Red Kryptonite and leaves the theater. For those unaware, Red Kryptonite is something a bit different than regular green kryptonite. Its effects are varied and most like spinning a roulette wheel and seeing where things fall. In other stories, Red Kryptonite makes Superman evil, crazy, or had some other strange effect.
Looking at himself in a mirror, Clark discovers that he is growing into a giant. For the sake of decency, only his civilian clothes are torn off. I didn’t know his costume could grow with him, but I’m not really a fan of Superman, so there’s probably a lot I don’t know. Basically, Superman is having a bad trip on some Red K.
Running out into the street, Lois and Jimmy see that Superman is no longer himself, but acts as though he’s King Kong. (Remember that, folks. It’ll be important later.)
I really want to know what that growl sounds like. Does he really sound like an ape, or is it more of a human yell?
The police quickly arrive and take matters into their own hands. One officer incorrectly declares that the giant couldn’t possibly be Superman, in part because he doesn’t know he lives in a Silver Age comic, where this kind of stuff is the norm. But, uh, I don’t know if I would be firing my gun at Superman, considering 1) he has a civilian in his grasp, seemingly right where the second officer seems to be firing, and 2) HE’S A GIANT SUPERMAN. I don’t think I would piss him off.
Oh, so they do it and it’s only a miracle Lois isn’t hit and there’s a dead civilian on their hands. Plus, Superman raised his hand to deflect the bullets, which it looks like would have flown safely over his head. After almost killing a civilian, the police suddenly believe that the giant has to be Superman, because only he could deflect bullets like that. Even for a Silver Age comic, that is some shaky logic. They live in a world filled with all kinds of super-people, so the giant being an alien or robot isn’t that far-fetched.
Superman climbs up the Empire St-… whatever Metropolis/not New York City’s equivalent is, and we’re right back to the cover. Thinking Lois is only collateral damage, planes fire at Superman just like in that movie.
Losing his balance, Superman falls, but has the wherewithal to safely put Lois on a ledge. I’m not a big expert on physics and momentum, but I think Lois would probably have some broken bones at least or be killed after that sudden of a stop. And so, Superman falls to his death, because it was beauty that killed the-
He lives, because he’s invulnerable and all that. Also, I think he just killed someone in that car.
Doing a crap ton of damage, Superman goes into the harbor and out to sea. Where does his destination lie?
At this point, the effects of Red Kryptonite have begun to wear off. His mind begins to clear, though he is still a giant. He can’t speak, but knows he must communicate with people somehow. Though he has just caused millions in damage, he realizes he must communicate with people without scaring them. So, how does he accomplish this?
Oh, just by RIPPING THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT RIGHT OUT OF THE GROUND. His mind must not be totally clear at this point, because there is no possible way that would NOT scare people. I mean seriously, what is he thinking? By defacing a national monument, he thinks people are going to be cool with that? Those people definitely don't look frightened.
In a colossal waste of resources, Superman uses the Washington Monument as a dang pencil, writing a message out on the National Mall. Okay, it makes sense to write a message since he can’t speak, but why use that as a pencil? The Washington Monument is almost 550 feet high. He is holding about 480-500 feet of that. Imagine using a pencil and holding just the very tip of it, the very, tip top of it. It’s more like you’re holding the graphite and somehow writing with it. How about one of those flagpoles? Or using your hand? There’s plenty of ways to write a message without defacing a national monument and freaking people out even more.
“It’s okay, Lois. This totally isn’t what it looks like.”
Continuing to prove himself as the master of subtlety, Superman, after just tearing apart a national monument, tries to communicate with Lois. You know Supes, I’m sure you didn’t mean to frighten her, but your delivery could use some improvement.
A kryptonite bomb is dropped on Washington DC, which I don’t really see the logic in, considering there are explosives inside which would definitely hurt people. Luckily, we have Superman to selflessly stop the bomb and let himself be taken down in the process.
Jimmy Olsen flies by and is apparently the only person to see this message. I’m sure there would be other copters in the area, considering this is probably big news. Also, what happened to the Washington Monument? Superman dropped it on the National Mall, so it should still be there. I doubt something like that could be easily moved.
Considering all the damage Superman has caused, I would have thought the military would have set up his prison in a less busy area. Somehow, Jimmy is able to fly right up to Superman and help him out. And uh, Jimmy? You should probably see a doctor after that, considering handling lead like that is very unhealthy for you. Still, this was the 70’s, before they knew better.
Superman is freed and makes it back to the ocean without any trouble. I assume the military just let him go or wasn’t watching.
“Clark, weren’t you back in Metropolis? Are we still in DC or what? Is this comic almost over?”
When Clark rejoins the scene, we get the same old song and dance of ‘Is Clark really Superman?’ Still, this situation is really stretching things. Lois and Jimmy saw Superman as a giant and a normal-sized Clark shows up. There’s an obvious size difference here.
Suddenly, we see what looks like Superman fly out of the ocean, as Clark is happy to point out. Considering all the weirdness that’s gone on in this issue, I really don’t know if Lois is being serious or not. For all she knows, Clark is a mild-mannered reporter. Where on earth would he get the money or resources to build a giant Superman robot? Still, she has had a very traumatic day, so the suggestion is forgivable.
If Clark is standing on the shore, who is that flying into the sky? Is it really a Superman robot?
Apparently Lois and Jimmy really need glasses because I think it’s a stretch they wouldn’t be able to tell the ‘Superman’ was a real giant ape from the shore, fog accounted for. Also, where the heck did a real giant ape come from? Superman is ready to fill us in.
It turns out that a piece of Red Kryptonite made its way into Jimmy’s box of Cracker Jacks. One, I’m having a hard time believing a red marble was mistaken for a red space rock. As cheap as the toys included in Cracker Jacks are, how on earth would a rare space rock make it into a box? Furthermore, why would they include a real rock where edible food is packaged? Two, Jimmy Olsen has been exposed to malevolent space rocks and a high amount of lead all in one day. He needs to visit his doctor yesterday.
Somehow, Superman had enough time to fly to the Planet of Giants and bring Titano back to earth, all before people noticed he was gone. If you look back, there was a boat right next to where the giant ape flew into the sky. Surely someone on that boat saw the truth? I don’t know how far away the Planet of Giants is, but I’m still calling BS.
So, Superman used his big costume on Titano, who happened to be the same size as his giant self, all to hide his secret identity from the supposed basic reasoning skills of Lois and Jimmy. Superman promised to make everything better than it was before, concluding the heaviest Red K trip in history.