Tuesday, June 13, 2017

TOS: Adventure Comics #290 Point-Counterpoint

The Legion of Super Bloggers Point-Counterpoint Review of
Adventure Comics #290 (November, 1961)
title: The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero!
writer: Robert Bernstein (?)
artist: George Papp
letterer: Milton Snapinn
cover: Curt Swan & Stan Kaye
editor: Mort Weisinger

Mission Monitor Board: 
Superboy, Sun Boy, cameos of Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl, Cosmic Boy

Ma Kent, Lana Lang, Krypto, Police Chief Parker

Clark Kent lookalike Tom Tanner, Sun Boy impersonator, Cyclops robot

Sun Boy comes back to Smallville to work with Superboy in re-assembling a dangerous criminal weapon. At the same time, a runaway from the state reform school who resembles Clark Kent arrives in Smallville and impersonates him as Superboy is busy with Sun Boy. Sun Boy turns out to be an imposter, as well, and the two imposter plot-lines come together in a surprising way.

One fine day, juvenile delinquent Tom Tanner is spotted "riding the rails" during a brief stop at Smallville. Chief of Police Parker sees him and mistakes him for Clark. The milk man sees him trying to steal milk and directs him to the Kents' house. Ma has just washed her hair so doesn't see him well, so she lets him in. He snarfs down his breakfast and then heads off to school with Lana. 

Russell: Yes friends, strange as it seems, here is a boy who looks just like Clark Kent riding right into this month's issue! Sheesh. Atleast the writer recognizes that this is a cliched plot right from the get-go. And by the way, which train-line clothed their men in bright pink jumpsuits? The Love Train!!

Mike: No matter what else happens here, my favorite character is going to be the friendly milk man. Nothing plants this story more firmly in its time than having a friendly milk man show up. He is even better than the friendly police chief.

Meanwhile, the real Clark is in his basement working on a science project when he hears of a Legion Time Bubble landing outside of town. It has shorted out all of his experimental robots, so he  flies off to investigate without setting up a replacement robot Clark. He meets new member Sun Boy, who happened to leave the door to the Time Bubble open, causing all of the electrical short circuits around town. 

Russell: At first I thought shampoo in her eyes was going to be the excuse for Ma Kent to let a stranger into her home. But no, she rinses her eyes out and STILL doesn't recognize her son. And by the way, where is Pa Kent? Doesn't he always have breakfast with the family before heading out to the Kent Store?
And as a side note, Superboy has robots of himself as both Superboy and Clark, but he also has "experimental" robots of his parents, and....of Lana!?! Uh.....what!?! Moving on...

Mike: At least with Ma Kent they added the detail of the shampoo to explain why she might be too distracted to pick up on this not being Clark even after she cleans her eyes. No one else in Smallville has any excuse and everybody accepts Tom as Clark without hesitation!
Clark's workshop is fun. The robots of his friends and family are a little creepy but also exactly the sort of creepy thing grown-up Clark will keep in his Fortress of Solitude someday. And I love that he catches up on his science homework there. A small bit of normalcy in his life that I found endearing.

Sun Boy explains that he has come back in time in order to collect six lead containers that the Legion hid in 20th Century Earth. Sun Boy asks Superboy to help him collect the chests, which if put together forms a terrible weapon. 

Russell: I have a question. Why in the world would the Legion decide to hide their "terrible weapon" on 20th Century Earth? Why didn't they just destroy those parts? Very silly plot device, this.

Mike: Silly and incredibly dangerous! I think its been established by this point in Superman comics that time travel cannot change history, but they seem to really be tempting fate. Just like it would not be a good idea for time travelers from our era to leave parts for building machine guns or rocket launchers in the 15th Century, no matter how well hidden they may be. Not their most responsible moment.
Superboy flies back to his house to tell Ma what is going on, but is surprised to see Tom has taken his place. He lets Tom have free reign as he flies around the world collecting the weapon's pieces. Tom, of course, does not act as meek and mild as Clark usually does, even punching a guy on the chin for trying to cut his hair. 

Russell: For two pages we get Tom-as-Clark action at Smallville High. Except for the one scene of him in History class lapping it up, this is a fun scenario. It's almost like an Elseworlds Clark or something. On the other hand, how big is Smallville anyway? In a town of that size, with Clark acting weird all the time, wouldn't SOMEBODY catch on that he really probably was Superboy?

Mike: The subplot of Tom-as-Clark gets incredibly corny but I still liked it. Even the scene of him getting so excited in history class. It is absolutely perfect for a 1961 DC comic to have an escaped juvenile delinquent discover the rewards of schoolwork and team sports while hiding out in Smallville.
Superboy collects all six lead chests and hands them off to Sun Boy, who shakes hands with him and then appears to fly off. Really he comes back to Superboy's time and puts the pieces together. When assembled they become a Cyclops robot. 

Mike: The close-up on Sun Boy's face in the second panel above is a good example of how Papp made sure to give each teenage character a distinctive look. That was also evident with the bully Eddie back at Smallville High. That is a credit to Papp because not all comic artists in this era would bother.
And its nice to see at least a hint of when Superboy realized something is not quite right with Sun Boy.
Superboy flies back to the Kent house just in time to see Ma Kent "out" her son. Tom wants to stay around as Clark, and threatens to divulge his secret if they don't let him stay. 

Russell: I love that look on Ma Kent's face in that last panel here. You can just hear her about to say, "Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!"

Mike: It actually made me sad to see Tom threaten Ma Kent like that. I know it's out of desperation and a sign of how happy he is there, but still, I guess even life in Smallville can't completely reform a delinquent overnight.
Sun Boy sends the Cyclops robot after Superboy in order to turn him evil. We see the robot blast Clark, and then Superboy flying towards Sun Boy with ripped up telephone poles. 

Russell: I would like to think that the readers of this era were smart enough to recognize that in the second panel here the robot blasts Tom instead of Clark.
Also, fake Sun Boy has learned Superboy's secret identity by listening in on the Legionnaires' conversations. But is Superboy/man's secret identity really secret in the 30th Century? Star Boy tried to keep HIS identity a secret last week, and soon we'll have Ultra Boy time-travelling to find out the historical equivalent of "who is buried in Grant's Tomb." For now I guess it's a "thing that makes you go hmmmmm...."

Mike: That is such a great 50s style design on Cyclops the Robot. Great name too. The panel in which Superboy melted him was a bit startling, not because of the act, but because of the word balloon they gave Cyclops. He yelps "Oh-h-h-h!" as he melts, which could suggest the robot is feeling something akin to pain as i'ts being destroyed. Minor detail, but it kind of stood out. I also loved when Superboy had clearly just had enough and so casually chucks Sun Boy into the time bubble.
The robot actually blasted Tom, not Clark. so Superboy has not turned evil. Superboy and Krypto quickly melt the robot and capture the fake Sun Boy. Superboy flies him to the 30th Century and turns him in to the Legion, including the real Sun Boy. It turns out that there is a secret Legion hand-shake, and when the fake Sun Boy didn't use it, Superboy knew he was a fake. Tom, altered by his day masquerading as Clark and by the Cyclops robot, promises to reform. And best of all, he has forgotten Clark's secret! 

Russell: I love how Clark tells Ma at the end, "Let him go, I'll explain it to you later." Like how young people nowadays have to explain cell phones and stuff to old-timers. "See, Ma, there was this Legionnaire named Sun Boy who really wasn't Sun Boy....."
I also love the quick cameo by Krypto. I'm a sucker for the super-dog.

Mike: Ah, a secret handshake! I love any moment that reinforces that feeling that they are as much a kids' club as they are a superhero team. It is a bit odd that the first story focusing on Sun Boy only has the real Sun Boy appear for a three-panel cameo at the end.
Glad to see Tom did ultimately reform, although I couldn't shake the feeling that his outburst at Ma Kent may have tainted the moment a bit. That last panel with Martha trying to speak up and Clark telling her to let it go was a cute moment for them.

Science Police Notes: 
  • This story was published between "The Legion of Super-Villains" Superman #147 (Aug 1961) and "The Legion of Super Traitors" from Adventure Comics #293 (Feb 1962). 
  • There is a secret Legion hand-shake that was never mentioned again. 
  • Pa Kent does not appear in this story. 

Milestones: Sun Boy has been admitted into the Legion after having made his debut as an applicant in Action Comics #276 (May 1961). 


  1. Thank you for the summary! I know I complained about the one last week, but I really enjoyed this one!

    I would have liked it if the writers of this issue had put at least one scene of the Legion's original battle with the Cyclops robot and his master. (hmm... if you guys ever decide to have a Legion of Super-Bloggers contest, maybe having readers write an early Legion story might be an idea)

    1. I'm glad this review was more to your liking. Next week watch out, cuz it's another silly one...!

  2. The juvenile delinquent impersonating Clark was actually recycled from a 1952 story called "The two Clark Kents". Never noticed the robot Lana before. (Kind of makes you wonder, eh?) Would have been nice to have Tom Tanner show up again someday, maybe with his memory restored by a convenient bump on the head.

  3. As for the secret handshake, it's no longer mentioned because it's no longer a SECRET handshake. Once Superboy and Sun Boy revealed it to a criminal, it probably went all through the galaxy from Takron-Galtos and back: "Hey, the best way to fool a Legionnaire is to do the secret handshake. Here's how it's done."