Last week I presented my interview with Roy Schwartz about his new book Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero. This time around, let’s take another look at Superman, albeit in a decidedly batshit crazy way.
Rescued from the Bargain Box
Recently, I rescued a copy of Superman #184 from the bargain box at Ravenwood in Utica, NY. This comic, originally from February 1966, sports a cover by Superman stalwarts Curt Swan, George Klein and Ira Schnapp. Or at least ¾ of the cover. I love three-quarter-covers, although this mutilation renders it a pariah by many collectors. We used to see more of these ripped covers in the old days. Before the direct market was established, retailers would be required to send back their unsold comics for credit. After a while, that proved to be too cumbersome, so the practice of sending back only the cover, or only the top logo from the cover, was adopted. The leftover comics were often not destroyed and instead illegally resold at a discount.
While ethically dubious, I’m glad these comics exist. They are a fantastic way to easily and economically read comics that one would otherwise not be exposed to.
The interior Superman story is by Otto Binder and Al Plastino. It’s a bonkers tale filled with nonsensical scientific facts and almost no supporting cast. Essentially, in this issue, Superman flies into outer space to corroborate an astronaut’s claim of seeing a “Zig-Zagging planet” in space. The problem is that this planet has not been observed by any satellites, telescopes or monitoring equipment. Superman is the only person who thinks the astronaut is telling the truth. (Well…the astronaut’s girlfriend thinks so too, but who would believe her?) He needs to right this wrong!
Blinded Me with Science
Superman investigates this “Zig-Zagging planet” and finds a “giant metallic shell existing at the center of this world.” The Man of Tomorrow zooms in to investigate but on the way, he incongruously muses, “If there’s a subterrain hotel inside, I could use a room and bath!” I don’t think I ever remember Superman saying he could use a bath. But he always seemed clean, nonetheless.
Inside this subterranean room, a telepathy tape, left by the “last engineer” explains how he and his cohorts equipped the world, called Zhonda, with a super-powerful gravity drive that sent it careening through the cosmos. And then to add insult to injury, the telepathy tape also explains to Superman how Zhonda was intercepted by a cosmic cloud that filled the atmosphere with a “throwback virus”, wiping out the memories of all the people and reducing them to a primitive state. They essentially forget all about science and now have become a superstitious society.
Here in 2021, as I am surrounded by conspiracy theorists and science deniers, I can’t help but think, “Hasn’t that happened to about thirty percent of the US population over the last few months?”
The Weed Monster
It’s also hard to dismiss the fact that Binder and Plastino weren’t commenting about the now-current acceptance of cannabis. As Superman is casually flying in the skies of Zhonda, he encounters a young couple adrift on a raft in the sea. They are surprised as a giant plant emerges from the sea, complete with “big, horrible eyes”!
“Ohhh! The Weed Monster! Help!,” cries the girl.
Swooping down, Superman saves the day. The Man of Steel ties the Weed Monster into knots. “The flying stranger has tied the Weed Monster into knots!”, the woman exclaims, perfectly describing the panel in case you didn’t get it by looking the picture.
Upon reflection, it’s unclear (1) how this works and (2) why it works, but why think so hard as long as the young couple are saved.
Could these creators have been commenting on their perception of the dangers of weed for future generations? How could they have not been?
In the third act of the story, Superman is captured but rapidly comes up with the wonky solutions to trick the locals and stay safe. As a parting gift, he gives “the wheel” to the populace, in hopes that they can relearn their scientific nature.
The whole adventure promptly wraps up with Superman validating the astronauts claim and sharing a trophy from the rogue planet with his pal, Jimmy Olsen, the only supporting cast member to elbow his way into this planet.
What a fun reading romp for a summer’s day. Well worth the 50-cent investment, wouldn’t you say?