Monday, November 12, 2018

Legion Cameos: Superman #213

Superman #213 (January 1969)
title: "The Most Dangerous Door in the World!"
writer: Cary Bates
penciller: Curt Swan
inkerJack Abel
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Carmine Infantino & Neal Adams 
guest reviewer: Emsley "Ultra Fan" Wyatt

Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and.....??

Lex Luthor and his generic henchmen, and....????

Editor's Note: Here is a second installment of what we call "Legion Cameos." These are stories where the Legion or certain Legionnaires play a small but usually significant role in the proceedings. This time out we have Legion of Substitute Blogger Ultra Fan telling us about a certain Superman vs. Lex Luthor story from 1968. Take it away, Emsley...!

First the cover (inks by Neal Adams).  A seemingly dead Superman lies in front of a vault to be opened only “in the event of my death.”  Shut up and take my twelve cents.  I thought that this was a great cover.

But I didn’t care for the title.  Maybe “The Mystery of Superman’s Vault” would have been better.  But unlike Al Capone’s vault, later made famous by Geraldo Rivera and containing only some old bottles, this vault promises a treasure of incalculable value.

The vault is keyed to Superman’s heartbeat and will only open in the event of his death.  He also makes the point that he is facing a great peril and the vault contains his final bequest to mankind.   The walls are three feet thick of “Supermanium.”™  It is to be buried in a hole in the ground, is surrounded by a special fence that disintegrates anything that comes into contact with it, and patrolled by armed guards 24/7.  It will be impossible to crack, opines the TV reporter covering the story.  But one person watching thinks otherwise…..
But Lex isn't going for it.  He sits surrounded by pictures of his defeats at the hands of Superman and thinks to himself, “I’ve been beaten too often by that muscle-bound bozo.  I’m sitting this one out.”
But while Luthor seems determined not to get involved, Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White have other ideas.
As for Superman himself, well, he seems a little off his game, seemingly busting up a multi-million dollar diamond.
The diamond was a fake, as revealed in the next panel, but still no idea as to what is going on here.
But Luthor hears about the busted diamond on the radio and then becomes furious when he reads the Daily Planet.
So Luthor decides he’s going to do it.  He’s going to kill Superman and steal the contents of the vault.  His plan is brilliant, as you might expect from Lex Luthor.  Trained birds drop canisters of knock-out gas over the area, taking care of the guards, while Luthor burrows up from below in a “mole machine”™.   Gotta love Luthor telling the henchman to “shut up”.
Then he shrinks the vault using a knock-off of Brainiac’s shrinking ray and steals the whole thing.  Luthor triumphantly tosses the miniaturized vault up and down in his hand like a souvenir baseball, then returns to his secret lair where he embiggens it again.  Meanwhile, Superman shows up at the vault site, looks at the empty hole in the ground and basically says, “Oh, well.”  And so ends part one of our tale.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “This is no Legion story.  Why is it even here?”  Well, be patient, we’re getting to that.  Part two begins with three huge robots converging on Metropolis Park.  Superman shows up at the park to confront this menace when the robots shed their lead-foil skins to reveal deadly Kryptonite.  Surrounded by the deadly robots, he seems doomed for sure.
They teleport the body to Luthor’s Lair, establish that Superman is dead, and then they return it to the park as a gesture of triumph.  Supergirl and Jimmy Olsen are waiting.  She gives the body a spray intended as an antidote to “our death-simulating drug”™.  The body, now very much alive, then gets up and asks: “Everything going as planned?”  What is going on here?  OK, clearly we’re not looking at Superman because no drugs would affect him and the Kryptonite would have killed the real Superman anyway.  So who is this imposter?

Back at Luthor’s lair, the henchmen are getting muscle strains trying to open the vault.  Luthor is getting frustrated and decides that if it didn’t open when Superman died, he’s just going to have to do it the hard way.
First intense heat, then intense cold.
Then the big shake-up and finally it yields.  And at last Luthor will get to claim his spoils.  But from the vault emerges…….
At this point it’s all too much for Luthor, who just passes out.  Supergirl asks Superman to explain why he contacted them via super-ventriloquism (yes, that was an actual thing) and had them “stage such an elaborate hoax.”  Superman tells them how he found the vault orbiting Earth and before he knew what was happening he was pulled into it by an unknown force.
Yes, Mordru the Merciless had reached through time and trapped Superman in the vault.  And as for the Superman imposter……

A wig and a fake nosepiece were all it took to pass the adult Brainiac 5 off as Superman (and Clark Kent, too).  One neat piece of data here is that Brainy reveals that the White Witch is destined to join the Legion at some point.

I really liked the twist ending here when Superman emerges from the vault.  The idea that the whole thing was an elaborate sting operation to trick Luthor into helping Superman when he really wants to kill him was hilarious, although I’m not sure that Luthor was his “one chance”.  Was Green Lantern out of town that week?  On top of that, the Legion elements of Mordru and Brainiac 5 serve to remind us of how the Silver Age writers liked to bring in characters from other magazines once in a while.  But I think that Chameleon Man would have been a better choice to impersonate Superman.  He could have done the “green skin bit” easy as pie and might have been able to fool the heart monitor too.  We really don’t know all that much about the internal make up of Durlans, do we?  Using Brainy was really taking a chance that Luthor might not have returned the body so quickly.  But since Chameleon Man wasn’t part of the “Adult Legion” story anyway, we don’t know about his availability.  (Although he was in Action #289-“Superman’s Super Courtship.)

A lot has been said, on this site and elsewhere, about “Silver Age silliness.” But a lot of the elements of that, impersonations and deceptions especially, worked very well in this story.  And using one villain to defeat the plans of another villain isn’t something we see every day.

This story has not yet been reprinted.


  1. Actually I first read this in a DC Blue Ribbon digest, so it was reprinted once.

    1. I mean in the sense of "collected."

    2. DC Blue Ribbon digests are collections. They were small pocket-sized books that collected stories on a particular hero and they often had a common theme or subject, like, say, kryptonite or team-ups. Do you mean "collected" as sequential collections, like DC Archives or Showcase?

  2. I'm a little confused -- if they had Brainiac 5 working on the problem, why did they need Lex Luthor at all?

    Also, is it weird that I feel a little bad for Luthor here? It's basically entrapment. He didn't want anything to do with this stupid vault to begin with! Let the poor bald mad scientist have a few nights out of jail, people. He'll be back soon enough anyway.

  3. "Only super-strength can buckle these walls," so Green Lantern probably wouldn't have succeeded. However, since Mordru's spell encompasses Supergirl, but apparently nobody else, why not simply bring in Mon-El from the 30th century to get Supes out? His power set is on par with Kryptonians and he's in the Legion, so there's not need for a hoax.

    OMG, do 30th century Legion foes hold a grudge or WHAT? Not only does Mordru go after Superman -- in the PAST -- for defeating him as Superboy, but the Time Trapper does the same thing in Action Comics #385-387. Check out those stories - you'll be glad you did. :D

  4. Interesting. I'm usually not a fan of the big S's stories, so I was not aware of this one. Was this the first indication that White Witch was actually going to be a legionnaire instead of just a minor supporting character?