Friday, November 15, 2019

Superboy's Brothers Halk Kar and Mon-El

“Twice Told Tales” or “Haven’t I read this comic before?”
A "double-header" review by Emsley Wyatt

“Superman’s Big Brother”
Superman #80 (Jan/Feb 1953)
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Artist: Al Plastino
"Superboy’s Big Brother” 
Superboy #89 (June 1961)
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: George Papp

It was not uncommon back in the early days of comics for stories to be, err, recycled after a period of time.  The thinking was that folks only read comics for a period of a few years and that nobody would ever notice and so what if they did.
The idea that the ephemeral medium of comic books would ever be subjected to in-depth analysis would have been inconceivable to the publishers and editors of the Fifties and Sixties.  Usually the “in house plagiarism” was limited to plot points or story elements but you would get those instances where the entire story was retold with only minor changes.  A couple examples of this involved the initial featured appearances of two members of the Legion of Super Heroes, Mon-El and Sun Boy.  This review concerns the former; we’ll get to the latter on another occasion.



First: The covers.
The similarity between Halk Kar and Mon-El even goes as far as almost identical costumes, color-reversed from Superman’s, although the guy on the left goes more for a pinkish rather than conventional red.

Our stories open with Clark Kent becoming aware of an incoming rocket ship.  (All panels on the left are from the Superman story.  Those on the right are from Superboy.)

He flies into space and encounters the ship.

He brin down to Earth, noting that it’s about to burst into flames.

He finds a note.

Here one panel from the Superman story does the work of two in the Superboy tale.  Well, that was a double-length story.

The occupant of the ship comes to.

But now it’s time for a little background as our hero fills in the newcomer on the fate of Krypton.

At least, though, they could have written some new dialog.  So, which Jor-El look do you prefer?  Do you like the short-sleeved purple caped number or the more traditional red and green ensemble that is pretty much the Silver Age standard look for Superman’s father?

Next we have a little more exposition.

Here the stories start to diverge a bit.  Halk Kar, the character in the Superman story, appears not to be quite as super as Superman, while Mon-El exhibits every bit of the Boy of Steel’s might.

The divergence further continues here.  Superman takes Halk Kar back to Metropolis to acquaint him with the role of super-hero, while Superboy takes Mon-El back to the Kent home to introduce him to his foster parents.  This is where he assumes the secret identity of “Bob Cobb” and adopts the name Mon-El.  But when Krypto doesn’t recognize Mon-El, Superboy starts to get suspicious.  He exposes Mon-El to Kryptonite, with no effect.  There’s a silly side-plot where Superboy goes back in time to do some research on the origin of Cinderella, but like I said it’s a double-length story.  There is a scene in both stories where the supposed brother of the hero seems to be coming on to Lois (in the Superman story) and Lana (in the Superboy tale) allowing our hero to display a little old-fashioned jealousy.

Then Superman and Superboy take their “older brothers” out with them for some crime fighting.  But both display weakness at inopportune times.

The bad guys notice that Halk Kar is having trouble keeping up with them, so they do a U-turn and hit him with their car.  Meanwhile, Superboy is preparing to expose Mon-El in what will be the biggest blunder of his life.

The crooks chain Halk Kar to a chair (he’s not strong enough to break the chains) and are preparing to electrocute him unless Superman leaves town.  Halk Kar finds the strength to break the chains after all and gets zapped by a jolt of electricity.  Superboy’s fake Kryptonite meteors come raining down on the asteroid where he and Mon-El have gone to play super-baseball and bust up the alien two-headed jack-in-the-box.  But the effect is the same in both cases.

Both stories now show “flashback scenes” in which, among other things, the existence of the notes from Jor-El are explained.

It is revealed that Halk Kar is from the planet Thoron, larger than Earth but smaller than Krypton.  This accounts for Halk Kar possessing powers lesser than those of Superman.  This is where our stories come to a close.  Halk Kar gets a happy ending, returning to Thoron in a new rocket ship built by Superman.  But Mon-El gets sent to the Phantom Zone for a thousand years, (or fifteen months, when Adventure 300 came out).

I can be forgiven not knowing about the Halk Kar story, what with being in diapers at the time, but I do remember reading the Mon-El story as a kid.  Sure wish I still had that book today as it would fetch a nice price.  I’ve got no problem with honest reprints, the old Annuals, the Digests, etc.  They expose readers to stories that they might never have seen or never would see.  But reprints are one thing, retreads are another.  Repackaging an old story and fobbing it off as new strikes me as fundamentally dishonest.  But still, had they not done so then that Halk Kar story wouldn’t even be an answer in a Superman trivia contest and we would have been denied Mon-El, one of the Legion’s greatest and mightiest heroes.  What do you think?

8 comments:

  1. I don’t think it’s really limited to just the Silver Age, honestly. In 2006, we were getting stories about Lois and Clark raising a son... and then in Rebirth we got them raising a son of the same approximate age (albeit much better stories with a much more compelling character); now Bendis is supposedly going to “out” Clark as Superman... which was the same direction they took during the end of the New 52... and was itself basically an expansion of any third Silver Age story where Clark gets outed and has to find a way to put the genie back in the bottle. Silver Age was just a little more blatant with their recycling.

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  2. When the earlier story was reprinted in an 80-page giant, there was a lot of fannish discussion as to whether Halk Kar should be considered the Earth-2 Mon-El. Of course, that ignored the story's Earth-1 identifiers, such as Superman's father being styled as Jor-El, rather that Jor-L, and Clark Kent working at the Daily Planet, vice the Daily Star. (Of course 95% of Golden Age Superman stories used the Daily Planet despite later editorial decisions as to where the Earth-One/Two split was.) These days, I simply assume there was an "Earth 1.5" where these anomalous stories took place -- The Mars Boy stories which later got rewritten for Ultra Boy probably fall in this zone as well.

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    1. I'd forgotten the "Mars Boy" story. Looks like this series just got a third entry.

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    2. Refreshing my memory, it turns out that the Mars Boy story that was re-written to feature the Legion spotlighted Star Boy, not Ultra Boy. Ooops.

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  3. I don't really see it as dishonest, since back then, with the belief of fandom's short turnaround, why not use again what worked once, if the theory is that the initial audience won't be around?

    Kind of like when you watch a sitcom (or a drama I suppose), and years later, another sitcom uses nearly exactly the same plot. I've noticed this many times over the years. For example: when a story that happened on "FRIENDS" seems to get twisted ever so slightly, and is then retold on another show like "How I Met Your Mother" or "The Big Bang Theory".

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  5. It's a funny coincidence that a spam comment linking to a page to find "your hidden name meaning" would be in the comments to this post. I think it's funny since Mon-El is a name with a hidden meaning, although not the one most people think. If you don't already know it, perhaps you'll think it's funny too. In story, it's because Superboy meets him on a Monday, but I have to think that that was a response to the "real" hidden meaning. I speculate that an editor at DC came across a reference to monel, a nickel-based metal alloy, and thought that it sounded like both a good name for a relative of Superman/Superboy AND was amused to think about the man/boy of steel having a relative that was the man/boy of monel. Many a silver age story was based on less. I know it amused me when I discovered that monel was an actual metal!

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