Tuesday, June 27, 2017

TOS: Superboy #98

Superboy #98 (July, 1962)
title: The Boy With Ultra-Powers
writer: Jerry Siegel
penciller: Curt Swan
inker: George Klein
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
editor: Mort Weisinger

Mission Monitor Board: 
Superboy, Ultra Boy

Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Marla Latham, Krypto, Pa Kent, Ma Kent (sort of)

Legion Initiation Test, heart attacks

Ultra Boy and Legion advisor Marla arrive in Smallville. Ultra Boy's initiation into the Legion hinges on his being able to find out Superboy's secret identity. At the same time, Pete Ross is concerned about the diary he keeps, where he admits that he knows Superboy's real identity. When Pete goes to the bank to lock up his diary in a safe deposit box, he is accidentally trapped in the vault. Ultra Boy reveals himself to Superboy and working together, they save Pete.

At Smallville station, a young boy and an older man arrive. They promptly rent a furnished apartment and then strip off their outer clothes to show exotic, matching uniforms. They then report to some unknown "headquarters" via the Cosmic-Scope. They tell someone, and us, that the older man, Marla, will pretend to be Ben Crane, and that the youth, Ultra Boy, will pretend to be Gary Crane. Ultra Boy vows to successfully uncover Superboy's secret identity in the time allotted to him.
The next day "father and son" go to Smallville High School to register "Gary" as a student there. He has no copies of any scholastic records because he comes from "far away."  This makes Pete Ross, office assistant, somewhat suspicious. He tries to be friendly, though, and Ultra Boy begins his investigation by asking Pete if he knows Superboy's secret identity. Pete does, of course, but lies and says that he doesn't. Ultra Boy, using his penetra-vision as a type of lie detector, realizes that Pete is lying, and vows to keep a close eye on him.
After school that day, Ultra Boy watches Pete as he helps out at the Kents' General Store. When a gangster armed with a machine-gun tries to rob them, Pete stands up to the thug. Ultra Boy, unseen by everyone, uses his penetra-vision to melt the bullets as they leave the barrel. Pete and Pa Kent of course think that Superboy saved him. Of course, when Clark hears about it, he's dumb-founded.

The next day, Ultra Boy and Marla cause a large boulder to crash in front of Pete's car. They watch from the mountains as he cannot move it, and ends up being rescued by Superboy. Ultra Boy has to admit that Pete isn't Superboy. Now it's his turn to be confused. Krypto the Super-Dog happens by, and Ultra Boy gives him a hot foot with his penetra-vision, sending him scampering away.
After school the next day, Ultra Boy sees kids bullying Clark. He takes note when Clark's glasses go flying to the concrete but don't break. Ultra Boy looks at Clark with his penetra-vision and is shocked to see Superboy's uniform under Clark's sweater. However, Clark was standing in front of a photography shop when he was "flashed," and Ultra Boy's penetra-vision accidentally destroyed several negatives in the shop. Hearing the complaints of the photographer, Clark looks around and suspects New Kid in Town "Gary." He uses his x-ray vision to check on him, and sees that he is hiding his Ultra Boy uniform underneath his clothes. He decides to keep this knowledge to himself.
That night, Pete realizes that because he talks about Superboy's secret identity in his diary, his book is dangerous. Pete decides to lock it up in a safe deposit box at the bank. The next day, just as he has completed the procedure to open an account, the bank manager has another heart attack. He falls on the bank vault door, trapping Pete in the vault. The police call in Superboy, but he is told that if he tries to break through the vault it will set off an anti-theft exploding device.

Ultra Boy and Marla burst into the bank dressed in their uniforms. Ultra Boy had witnessed Pete's predicament as he and Marla were leaving town, and promises to help if all of the bank employees leave. He then uses his penetra-vision, which can see through the lead vault door, to read the lock combination. With this information Superboy is able to open the door and free Pete.
Ultra Boy then tells Superboy and Pete that he gained his amazing penetra-vision after his space-ship was swallowed by an energy beast and his body absorbed its radiation. He tells them his real name, Jo Nah, and they joke about Jonah and the Whale. Ultra Boy explains that he is an applicant for the Legion of Super-Heroes, and that his Legion initiation test was to learn Superboy's secret identity.

Marla introduces himself as the Legion's Senior Advisor. As he and the other boys are talking, Ultra Boy uses his penetra-vision to find out why Pete was saving his diary in the bank vault in the first place. He then realizes that Pete knows Clark's secret after all. Impressed by his honesty and integrity, Marla gives Pete an entry coin to Legion head-quarters, making him an Honorary Legionnaire.
This is one of the greatest Silver Age Superboy stories that I've ever read.....but I haven't read very many! Every time I re-read it I wonder what it must have been like to read this for the first time in 1962 when you had no idea who Ultra Boy and Marla were. Were they menaces, or what? Now of course the "twist" of the story has been spoiled and no one can read it as anything other than an innocent meeting between two characters who ended up becoming good friends.

Also, it's hard to understand the whole point of the story, because in the last Silver Age Superboy story that featured a Legionnaire from less than a year ago ("The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero", from Adventure Comics #290, Nov 1961) it's made quite clear that Superboy's secret identity is NOT a secret in the 30th Century! It's especially off-setting to read these stories back to back, where the plot device is 180 degrees different. Hmmm.....moving on.

Ultra Boy's uniform has to be one of the all-time great designs for a super-hero. It was so good, that he of all the Legionnaires never ever got a brand-new uniform. Even when Dave Cockrum and Keith Giffen re-designed nearly all of the other Legionnaires, they left Ultra Boy (basically) alone. THAT'S a classic design. I hope it was Curt Swan who created it, but of course there is no background information on who did the character design.

The robbery scene at the General Store confuses me. First of all, why in the world does Pete Ross work there!? I don't remember ever seeing him there before or again. When your son is Superboy, why in the world do you need more "help"? Also, a mobster comes to rob the place, in the hometown of Superboy!? You would think that criminals like this would have kept far away from Smallville, and spend more time in, say, Gotham, maybe? I hear Gotham has gotten worse in the last few years.

Speaking of scenes I don't understand, the scene where Ultra Boy uses his penetra-vision to give Krypto a hot foot seems unnecessarily mean. I guess it was there to make us suspect Ultra Boy of being Evil, but....it's still kind of a mean thing to do. I wonder if Krypto ever got him back for this.

Pete Ross keeps a diary....? Well, they're called "journals" now, so I guess that's okay. Still, when he suddenly realizes that he shouldn't be writing out clearly that Clark is Superboy, (duh!) why doesn't he tear out that page and burn it? And then can't Pete write in code? This plot device seems especially contrived to get him stuck in a bank vault. (And from now on, he goes to the bank every day and writes in his diary at the bank!?!)

I love how Smallville has a Superboy Flag that they raise to get his attention. And that the bank vault has a built-in explosive device. Clearly bank robbers are NOT staying away from Smallville. Idiots.

And that leaves the iconic cover, and Ultra Boy's penetra-vision. It surprised me as a long-term Legion fan to realize that the ONLY power that Ultra Boy exhibits in this story is his penetra-vision. So, really, he was allowed into the Legion based on his ability to melt lead. That's really weird. My interest piqued, I looked into his next few appearances and it will be quite a few stories before we see that Ultra Boy has any other abilities!

Science Police Notes: 
  • Nothing like the splash scene at a "Superboy Fair" where Ultra Boy knocks over Superboy's statue occurs in this story. 
  • Except for the splash page, Ma Kent does not appear in this story. 
  • Pete learned Superboy's secret identity in Superboy #90
  • Marla introduces himself in this story and is then not seen for another fifteen years, when he reappears in Superboy/Legion #239
  • This story appeared between "Superman's Super-Courtship" (Action Comics #289) and "The Face Behind The Lead Mask!" (Adventure Comics #300). Ultra Boy is therefore the last Legionnaire to be added to the ranks before the start of the Legion's main series. 
This story has been reprinted in Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 1, Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol 1, and Adventure Comics (digest) #497. 

First appearance of Ultra Boy and Marla Latham. Ultra Boy passes his initiation in this story and becomes the newest Legionnaire. Pete Ross is made an Honorary Legionnaire in this story. 


  1. Two teenage boys with X-Ray powers, staring at each other's undergarments, and Lana's RIGHT THERE?!? FAIL!!! ;-)


    1. There are a few x-rated versions of this scene out there, too. :-)

  2. Funny how "allowing him to attend meetings" escalated into "honorary membership".

  3. Ultra Boy's powers are without a doubt cool and his being able to use only one at a time leaves him vulnerable ( When he's not using invulnerability) but I'd like to see him re imagined with five different powers .