Monday, March 16, 2015

TOS: Superboy #89 Group Review

featuring
The Legion of Super Bloggers Round-Table Discussion on
Superboy #89 (June, 1961)

title: "Superboy's Big Brother"
writer: Robert Bernstein
artist: George Papp
letterer: Joe Letterese
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan and Stan Kaye

Mission Monitor Board: 
Superboy, Mon-El (1st appearance; not yet in Legion)

Guests:
Martha Kent, Jonathan Kent, Lana Lang, Krypto (cameo), Jor-El (flashback), Lara (flashback)

Opponents:
Some Phantom Zone criminal (flashback)

Synopsis:
When a space ship crashes outside Smallville, Superboy finds an amnesiac, super-powered youth who might be his older brother. He christens him Mon-El and sets him up with a secret identity, but he soon finds evidence that Mon-El is not, in fact, Kryptonian.

Commentary:
(Late night round table discussion between Siskoid, Russell Burbage, Tim Wallace, David Sopko, and the team's biggest Mon-El fan, Kyle Benning)


The meeting is scheduled to start, but Siskoid, who really should be taking minutes, is asleep in his chair. That's what too much monitor duty does to a Legionnaire. The other decide to start without him after failing to wake him up with disturbing pictures of Grimbor's S&M parties.

Kyle: The cover had always been a mixture of creepy mixed with wtf?!
Russell: This is a very sweet story.
Kyle: A Hydra Jack in the box that spews flames?
Russell: Yeah, well, sweet except for the cover.
David: Cover is just creepy to me. The fact that that thing is in the story makes it very wtf?! to me too.
Russell: I think this is one of those stories where the splash page would have made a better cover. Super Baseball with trees and rocks.
David: Yep.
Russell: Awesome!
Kyle: You have a very well drawn Superboy and Mon-El and then this creature thing. If you thought about it toy-wise, it would be like buying 2 DC Direct Figures, but instead of springing for a third figure of villain, you bought a 99 cent pharmacy toy to use instead.
Tim: That's a perfect analogy, Kyle!
Russell: Methinks Kyle actually recreated this scene at some point in his youth.
Kyle: Yes I wonder if this was a case of a cover being commissioned first and then they found a way to shoehorn the ugly hydra thing into the second half of the book after the fact.
David: Okay. Clark is a bit of a show off. Ma tells him to look at the stars and he immediately has to outdo them by using his telescopic vision.
Russell: And there he is changing in the middle of the street, it's a wonder he wasn't seen by more than just Pete.
Tim: He's doing it super fast so no one notices!
Kyle: Great shirt rip though.
Tim: Lightning? Who does he think he is? Captain Marv... I mean Shazam?
Kyle: Umm, lightning in the dark stands out quite a bit. Why didn't he say lightning quick?
Russell: Haha then he talks to the Kents. Dummy.
David: And then Superboy is flying off calling Pa "Pa" out in public. Thankfully nobody else happened to be within a mile or so apparently.
Kyle: Yeah no kidding right, hey JONATHAN KENT I'M GOING TO CALL YOU DAD NOW.
Russell: Silly Silver Age Superboy.
Russell: Love that explanatory thought balloon at the bottom about his Kryptonian rocket, obsessed much?
Kyle: Superboy's thought balloons are so narcissistic the entire story. What if this story is ground zero for breeding a generation of conceited a-holes?
David:
Good job Kal, rip open that rocket without having any idea if the being inside can breathe in Earth's atmosphere.
Tim: Speaking of Kryptonian Russell... What's up with the "Kryptonese" references? I always thought it was just Kryptonian!
Russell: The language is called Kryptonese.
Kyle: Kryptonese was the thing until it was replaced by all things being "Kryptonian" post-Crisis.
Russell: Get it straight, retcons? Haha.
Tim: Wow... Guess I need to brush up on my pre-Crisis Superman terminology more than I thought.
Kyle: I recommend the Superman encyclopedia thing by Martin Pasko.
David: I'm turning Kryptonese, I think I'm turning Kryptonese... I really think so.
Russell: Let me translate that... Wait, I speak Kryptonian. So WTH...? "Let me translate that for the benefit my readers."
David: Love that he happens to have a letter in his pocket from Superboy's parents. That's not convenient, is it?
Kyle: You don't carry around every letter you get from a stranger in hopes that it will benefit someone in another star system?
Russell: Kyle, I know I do that when I travel to Japan. How silly is it that he just assumes that he's his brother?
Tim: Y'know, right out of the gate, Superboy makes a LOT of assumptions... and you know what they say about that, right?
Kyle: There is no doubt that Superboy is an ASS in this story Tim.
David: Why the hell can't Superboy's super intelligence let him know that the route his son's rocket took was referring to him and not Lar?
Russell: But why doesn't he speak Kryptonian to him? "I don't remember" yeah, right.
Tim: Uh... I think you mean Kryptonese, lol.
Russell: Oops, right, my bad, Tim, haha.
David: Good thing Lar just happens to speak English...
Kyle: Well, apparently Mon would have known Kryptonese if he hung out with Jor-El for a bit.
David: OMG! Lar Gand is Daxam's Buck Rogers!
Kyle: I guess otherwise he did a whole Dances with Wolves thing while Mon was on Krypton.
Tim: Ah… amnesia, the oldest convenient plot twist in the book!
Kyle: The origin of the atomic Knights starts that way, ha! As does Viking Prince's. Super Silver Age plot device for character introduction.
David: When in doubt... have the character forget. Speaking of amnesia, glad they then recap Superboy's story... cause I'm sure it's been an issue or two since the last recap.
Russell: Right! haha!
Kyle: How about Jor-El being rebuked by the science council here, don't skip that.
Kyle: "Don't listen to Jor-El, those damn books have rotted his brain!"
Tim: There are a few moments in this story that felt like filler to me
Russell: Damn doomed Krypton...
David: He's too smart... His knowledge has made him stupid.
Kyle: Get that, kids? Reading is bad!

Siskoid wakes up with a start. Probably shocked awake by how little's been covered so far. Grabs gavel. Groggy: "Point of order!"

Russell: Hello, Dream Girl!
Kyle: Hey welcome aboard dude! Just in time for one of the strong moral lessons of the book! Reading & learning are bad! Coming soon: Don't try your best!
Tim: Recap - Superboy just tried burning his new friend/possible brother to death.
Russell: I like the super-deeds. They do to prove Mon is his brother.
Tim: I wonder what Superboy would have done if Mon-El had burned?
Russell: "Walk into the flames... go ahead, try it..." It WOULD have been funny if Mon had tried to fly and flopped.
Kyle: I hate this DC Silver Age trope. I feel like a broken record because it seems like I talk about it every episode of my podcast, but here you have 6 square panels a page with absolutely no storytelling happening with the art, text galore describing exactly what you're looking at. Gee, Mon-El can lift the boat just like me. Golly, I'm sure glad we're brothers.
Siskoid: Silver Age trope? It's practically a Bendis-scripted book.
David: There it is. That one page would have been a whole issue under Bendis.
Russell: Well in Clark's defense, it's not like he knows a legion of super powered teens who... hey... waitaminute... yeah, Clark's an idiot.
David: I just met this alien. He has a convenient note from my dead parents, so I think I will take him to my old adoptive parents...
Tim: Yeah, David... How many strays has Clark brought home to Ma and Pa?
Kyle: Yeah no kidding, then he leaves him there! Hey, you two get acquainted while in gone, please don't melt my mom's face thanks.
Russell: "Can we keep him?" In Mon's defense, his look on page 6 while Clark is talking is all "REALLY!? Hmm...."
Siskoid: "Now Clark, we let you keep that dog, and he's always coming back with asteroids."
David: And can't Clark see things on a molecular level to tell that Lar is not his "flesh and blood?"
Siskoid: With his power to jump to tall conclusions in a single bound. He wants a brother SO BADLY!
Russell: Yes, that part of the story IS sweet.
Tim: So did I growing up, but I never dragged another kid home with me... That would be like kidnapping!
David: Dad sent you first and figured he failed miserably... so he made me a better rocket. Dad liked me best! Nyah!
Kyle: What's funny is that Silver Age Superboy suffers from all of the obsessive compulsions that the freaks of the week did on the show Smallville. He shoulda been locked up in Belle Reve, cuz he's crazy.
Tim: He's probably crazy from being taunted by those pesky kids from the future... Join our club that we made because of you... just kidding!
Russell: "I just want to be loved." Poor sad Clark
Russell: More filler on page 7. Six panels for two panels worth of story.
Kyle: Yeah wtf is up with the traveling salesman? I mean, was that really a thing still in the 1960's?
David: ...and they make appointments.
Kyle: In the Midwest? In the late 50's early 60's?
Tim: I just watched an "Andy Griffith Show" rerun... It had a traveling salesman.
Russell: Speaking of Andy Griffith, Ma looks like Aunt Bea.
David: Does that make Pete Goober?
Kyle: Superboy says traveling salesmen are ALWAYS coming into town. Really?
David: I don't think Pa likes Mon-El much either, given the suit he dressed him up as. And Bob Cobb? Really?
Russell: Cobb was his bro-in-law's name fer shizzle.
Kyle: Page 8 is exciting, it marks the first time since the opening splash that they broke away from the 6 square panel page layout.
David: Let's not stop the truck slowly... I'll just stand right in front of it and let it go from 60 to 0 in .4 seconds. Probably kill the driver, but oh well.
David: Superboy cannot just lift cars... He has to juggle them.
Russell: Super Show Off.
Kyle: I can't imagine those cars' suspensions are still in working order.
Siskoid: Like so many broken juggle-cars, the clues keep piling up, like the fact that Krypto doesn't like Mon-El. Is there any reason friendly, lovable Krypto wouldn't like Mon-El? He's not a vampire or anything.
Russell: Ghost. Dogs never like ghosts.
Siskoid: Right, for vampires, it's cats. Where's Streaky when you need to spot-check your possible brother from space?
Kyle: How terrible of a dog is Krypto? He just growls at every stranger he doesn't know? He'd be banned from America nowadays for that.
Tim: I love that all it takes is Krypto shying away from a stranger to send Superboy off the deep end... Hmmm… Something’s not quite right. I know, I’ll try to kill him in his sleep!
Siskoid: Krypto doesn't know him, his belt buckle isn't from Krypton, and that KRYPTONITE GUN CLARK KEEPS IN HIS ROOM doesn't affect him.
David: Why does he even have a Kryptonite gun?
Siskoid: To kill any Kryptonians who show up on Earth, obviously. Unless it's his brother, then he wants him there, except he doesn't, and soon grows suspicious. And finds reasons to kill him.
Kyle: Why the hell isn't the freaking lead box doing the same damage to Mon-El the Kryptonite should?!?! He should be reacting to the lead!
Russell: Kyle, yeah, you're right, Mon should be dead because of the lead box.
Siskoid: "Leaden"... is there a difference?
David: Clark has serious mental issues. Dev-Em survived the psycho though. The dog told me to kill him, Sheriff.
Kyle: He is Lenny from Mice and Men, he wants a brother, but if they're bad, they're dead. No, he's like Bill Paxton in that movie where he hunts demons.
Tim: That was a great movie Kyle!
Kyle: Hey I think you're my brother, but um, just wanna make sure, "you're not a demon are ya?"
Tim: Kyle, maybe he needs an ax and magic gloves from the old barn?
David: I now suspect this guy is not who I say he is... but I am not going to say anything to my family about it. Screw them.
Siskoid: Bottom page 9: Is he an impostor and should I strangle him with this towel right now?
Kyle: What a stupid name idea. Why would you make up a Kryptonian name for him?
Tim: Yeah, I call shenanigans! Mon-El never claimed to be Kryptonian OR his brother… That’s all on Superboy! The only thing Monday of the House of El ever claimed was amnesia!
David: Good thing for Lar he did not show up on Tuesday...Tue-El.
Siskoid: Wed-El, Thur-El, Fri-El, Sat-El, Sun-El... which is worst?
Russell: It was years before I read this story, so I always called him MAHN-El. According to this I should call him MUN-el. But I just can't.
Siskoid: No I call him MAHN-EL too
Kyle: If his amnesia wears off, is he gonna drop the name?!? Just call him like Power Boy or something super-heroic.
Siskoid: We'll soon find out
Kyle: I mean you've already dubbed him Bob Cobb. He needs a superhero identity, why would you make up a "birth name" for him that is going to get ditched the instant his amnesia wears off?
Siskoid: As we head into Part 2, can we skip the strange interlude where Superboy does badly on a test on purpose, and goes for a drink of water during that test to fly back in time to meet the Egyptian Cinderella?
David: But I love the two-page irrelevant story about Cinderella thrown in for no reason!
Tim: Yes, the whole Cinderella thing feels like filler to me, just like the Superboy origin back in part one!
Russell: More filler. I DO like the second splash page, though.
David: Yeah.
Kyle: Still, we have to mention Superboy's narcissistic thought balloons. I love the "If I don't try my best to avoid suspicion" because... SUSPICION FROM WHAT?!?!? No other superheroes exist. Just because you do well in school means you have to be Superboy?! Hey kids, remember science and reading make you stupid and don't try your best in school!
Siskoid: It's a theme, presumably, because Mon-El, despite all his powers, just uses them to sell hair brushes.
David: He could sell vacuums, but that might arouse suspicion.
David: Clark gives Bob the side eye. Steal my girl, you two-bit phony??! Hah!
Tim: Hey Mon-El... Take on this traveling salesman identity so I can accuse you of trying to steal my girl!
David: Sure Clark... You were checking out Lana's purse.
Russell: Kyle, there's your moral - "Don't try your best."
Siskoid: Why are we talking about Man of Steel, all of a sudden?
David: Don't forget to jump to quick conclusions about strangers and then try to kill them when your dog does not like them. Hey, how do the Kents explain the flashing lamp to their guests?
Russell: David, I thought about that too. "Oh, this old thing blinks all the time." "Honesty is the best policy" is NOT the moral, haha!
Siskoid: I think the moral will be that you should get the lead out, once in a while.
Tim: Lead... I get it!
Russell: Speaking of lead, there sure seems to be a lot of lead balls in Smallville.
Kyle: Didn't you know that raw lead was just as prevalent as Kryptonite in the Silver Age DCU? If you make an appearance in a DC comic, they give you a hunk of Kryptonite and a giant lead ball as a part of your compensation.
Siskoid: Crime of the century - catapulting lead balls at a bank.
Kyle: How much did those lead balls and catapults cost?
Russell: That's why they're robbing the bank, to pay for them.
Kyle: Just use that money for something else. Buy a damn car.
Siskoid: So when Mon-El gets weak, he MUST be faking and in cahoots with the crooks. It can't POSSIBLY be because he hit on Lana. Honest!
Kyle: It's a bank in Smallville, their investment probably didn't equal their return.
David: Clark did all these things to try and kill Lar... and all he needed was a #2 pencil.
Russell: Or he could have said, "Hey man, what's the deal?" Instead he paints lead green and throws them into the atmosphere... killing Hawkman.
David: Again... Where the hell does the jack in the box from hell come from?
Siskoid: Answer in Superboy's next crazy conclusion!
Kyle: Who cares, LETS DESTROY IT!!!
Russell: WTH?!
Siskoid: PROBABLY left behind in a space wreck by a weird race of space people who make crazy toys! PROBABLY.
Russell: It's probably some toy from some aliens... either that or a plot device.
Tim:
It's the prize from the Jack in the Box Kids' Meal!
Siskoid: It's not even a plot device because the plot happens regardless
Kyle: Hey, let's vandalize it! On Earth, I bust people for destroying other people's property, but in space, I do what I want. Holy crap, this is the source material they referenced for MoS. Snyder read this and was like f*** yeah, let's have Superman wreck shit!
Siskoid: I think it's the cover as designed by Our Lord God Weisinger, and the writer then HAS to have it in the story.
David: ...and green paint makes the lead rocks look like kryptonite... and not painted lead rocks?
Russell: Haha!
David: "Cut the act Mon-El... it's not really kryptonite." "Screw you douche bag."
Siskoid: And that's when Mon-El is shocked into remembering everything but his own name.
Kyle: Keep calling me Monday.
Tim: Lead poisoning and almost dying restored his memory? Talk about a life-changing near-death experience!
Siskoid: Well, his life flashed before his eyes. And now it flashes in front of ours.
Russell: "Let me fill six panels with explanatory dialogue before I die!"
Kyle: I guess they could have called him mundane.
Siskoid: Granted, I knew the story before I read it, but it was pretty obvious from the start that Jor-El's letter only ever said "Here, this is the way to Earth where I'm sending my son" not "you're my son, follow this path". Y'know, through the power of syntax. Maybe if Clark stopped flunking tests on purpose and actually LEARNED something.
Tim: I love Superboy's remorse and attempt to make amends..."I’m sorry I nearly killed you, here let me imprison you with criminals in another dimension to make it up to you!" Bad form Superboy… bad form!
Russell: Every time I read this I really really want another panel or two of guilt-ridden Superboy. I would have gladly traded 2 pages of Cinderella for a little bit more emotional ending.
Tim: Exactly, Russell.
David: He's too busy mucking with time and screwing up people's fairy tales.
Kyle: Yeah, the guilt really seemed to be eating Superboy up in the next issue where he's a petty a-hole again.
Russell: And Kyle, here he is again saying, "I won't get to you until I'm Superman." Basically I hear: I won't try.
Tim: So question, having not read a lot of Silver Age Superboy books... is he an ass before the Legion starts hazing him, or only after they broke him?
Kyle: Eh good question, essentially the gimmick of the bulk of the series up to this point is this - somebody is a jerk, but they're either jumping to conclusions or it's really a gag/hoax, and it just kind of rotates between Superboy and his cast on who fills the jerk shoes of the month.
David: ...and if the Els liked Lar... Why not just let him take Kal with him. I mean, there has to be enough room for an infant on that thing.
Russell: It's like frickin' Grand Central Station. Good point, David.
David: "Jor... we haven't had this many visitors in years. Planet destruction is good for tourism."
Kyle: Where was Superboy at sales wise at this point I wonder? I mean you always kind of think of the Superman books from this time period selling really well, so why do they have the most boring and generic art and page layouts? Why wasn't Murphy Anderson or Carmine Infantino drawing this?
Siskoid: Each editor kept a stable of creators, Weisinger couldn't get at Julie Schwartz's guys, presumably.
Siskoid: That ending is nevertheless quite important because it sets Mon-El up as a recurring character. Compare to the OTHER Superman's space brother story, from Superman #80 (1953), where the guy leaves in a rocket instead.
Russell: Did that guy visit Krypton, too?
Siskoid: Yes, same story, Jor-El space chart and everything. Here's a LINK.
David: Well, they did rotate the stories every few years cause they figured the last one was read by kids who had outgrown comics by now.
Siskoid: So we never see Halk-Kar again, but Mon-El becomes a big hero forever.
Russell: He rocketed off you said, right? That's why.
Siskoid: So by putting Mon in the Phantom Zone, they were saying, we'll use this kid again. I wonder how much forethought there was, or if they already had a Superman story in mind. Then they started using Mon as Superboy/man's ally in Phantom Zone stories.
Russell: Lord Rao have mercy. This story was retold better in a recent Action Comics Annual #10 (2007).
Kyle: Yes, the story was much better in the Annual retelling. It kind of kicked off the Superman New Krypton thing; Mon-El returned to the present day DCU to fill the void left by Superman who was off on New Krypton, so they retold the origin in the Annual as a way to kind of bring him into the story without much further explanation on his back story.
David: Okay guys. I'm gonna get going. Tired.
Siskoid: We're at the tail end anyway. But I do want to point out that Superboy keeps the dangerous Phantom Zone Projector underwater, but a Kryptonite Gun in his parents' cellar.
Kyle: I guess he draws the line at dimensional portals.
Tim: I'm crashing too, guys... so I'll leave a final thought. Y'know I say it every time, but for all the mockery, I really do love these stories, and the chance to learn about the Legion from the ground up! Thanks for bringing me along for the ride, guys!
Kyle: Good night David and Tim, glad we made this work, thanks for staying up late on my account!
Russell: I gotta go too LLL! Until we see you again, Mon...
David: LLL!
Siskoid: Since we're about to lose quorum, I've got to ask... Kyle, this has been called your favorite character, so I want to give you the last word. Sing us the praises of Mon-El. And does his origin story do him justice?
Kyle: This story speaks volumes of how altruistic Lar Gand really is. This origin shows how powerful he is, every bit the equal of Superboy and thus Superman in adulthood, making him one of the most physically powerful members of the DCU. And the fact that his "best friend" tries to kill him over a dog growl and a smile from a girl, then sticks him in a prison with the universe's most vile criminals, and yet he still remains a force for good and doesn't hold the slightest grudge towards Superboy, tells me that he is the most pure-hearted and truly good character in the DCU. So the book succeeds in introducing a great character, in the process it may do irreparable damage to the title character of the book.
Siskoid: If he had been created today, he would have gone mad and killed half the DCU by now... I guess he would have been Superboy-Prime. I completely accept your reasoning. Long Live the Legion and Long Live Mon-El!
Kyle: Superboy-Prime or you know... Henry Cavill.
Siskoid: I think that last dig at MoS can be taken as a motion to adjourn the meeting.
Kyle: Haha, that it can!

And it was.

Science Police Notes: 
  • The Legion of Super-Heroes does not appear in this story
  • Mon-El is shunted into the Phantom Zone by story's end, setting up his eventual release in the 30th century.

Milestones: First appearance and origin of Mon-El.

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