Monday, April 19, 2021

United Planets Superwatch Spotlight: Vidal

Adventure Comics #260 (May, 1959)
Title: "The Kents' Second Super-Son!"
Writer: Otto Binder
Penciller and Inker: John Sikela
Cover: Curt Swan & Stan Kaye
Editor: Mort Weisinger

I decided to follow up on my post about the United Planets Superwatch from The Green Lantern by doing reviews and analysis on the first appearances of every individual member. Unfortunately, none of them had features in the Legion's Who's Who series, so I thought this'd be a good way to talk about the UPS's line-up.

I planned to start the series with Vidal but due to the bugs after the blog was updated the draft kept freezing. Thankfully it seems to have gone back to normal so I can finish this uninterrupted. Vidal, alias Alan Greene, originated as one of many superpowered boy heroes who graced the pages of the Silver Age Superboy comics. While his debut (and only appearance) originated from Adventure Comics #260, I read about him in the reprinted version from Superboy #129 (which also featured Superboy meeting Mon-El and Supergirl).

The story initially sets up the idea of Vidal acting as Ma and Pa Kent's replacement for Superboy as their son. Actually, the story's a study in tension as the Kents fear Vidal's people have done something horrible to their boy!



Our story begins with Superboy watching in horror as another superpowered boy is helping his parents Jonathan and Martha Kent with dinner. And the Kents are acting like THIS boy is their son! What's happened? Have the Kents finally decided to trade up kids? Did Martha have enough of Lana Lang digging through their trash searching for proof of Clark being Superboy? Was Jonathan pushed past his limit when Krypto's alien dog pee destroyed their crops again?

Or could all this be a giant misunderstanding?

(P.S. No Krypto never did that I'm joking)

...anyway, we cut to Ma and Pa Kent going on a drive through town. The Kents helpfully mention how lonely it's been since Clark was called off-planet for some big emergency as Superboy while their neighbors assume Clark's away visiting his grandparents.

The Kents drive by the Smallville County Orphanage and notice a sign offering one-month adoptions while the facility gains a new annex.

That, that is, I genuinely cannot figure out if this is a thing any orphanage in real life has done. The thought of a one-month adoption seems kind of cruel. I mean, I know about temporary foster homes but wording it as "adopting a kid for a month" makes it sound like people can rent a kid.

Regardless, Ma and Pa have the same idea and decide to offer a boy their home for a short while. The orphanage director advises the Kents to hurry and find a kid because all the good ones are being snatched up fast. If only business was like this when the kids don't have a return date.

Both of the Kents notice a sad looking young man standing in the back of the room. He just seems so... strange. So... different. The Kents can't adopt the boy fast enough.

The orphanage director introduces the Kents to young Allen Greene, assuring the Kents will be marvelous parents... for a month. Allen awkwardly starts referring to the Kents as "Ma" and "Dad."

On the drive home, Allen remains rather quiet and withdrawn but the Kents are determined to give him a loving home while thinking how interesting it'll be to have a normal boy for a son.


Well apparently Ma jinxed it, because the moment the Kents return home Allen reveals to them his dark secret. Allen's a superpowered alien boy, too! Oh, and his real name's Vidal. Donning an orange-and-green costume, Vidal explains to the Kents he'd been sent to Earth on a secret mission. He infiltrated the Smallville Orphanage by blending in with a bunch of kids who recently lost their parents in a nearby disaster. The Kents are asked to keep Vidal's identity and powers a secret for his mission.

Agreeing to secrecy, the Kents are momentarily distracted when Vidal sees a flaming plane hurtling towards the center of Smallville! Before he leaves to save the day, Vidal swaps his costume to dress up as Superboy. The Kents don't understand, and Vidal only states the disguise is necessary for his mission.

The Kents are immediately scared of Vidal and what he could be capable of. Who is he? Why's he on Earth? And what could happen if Superboy's not around to stop Vidal?

Nevertheless, the Kents watch as Vidal guides the burning plane into the sea by flying in front of the vehicle and manipulating air currents. Back in the Kent abode, Vidal explains he doesn't quite have the same abilities as Superboy. He couldn't touch the plane because he's not completely invulnerable. Since the plane's been taken care of, Vidal says he'll go back to being "Allen Greene" and help around the house like a good son. Well that's totally not a creepy thing to say or do.

Vidal uses a puff of super-breath to clear away the leaves in the Kents' backyard, right as Lana Lang walks by! The gears in Lana's head start turning so it's up to Ma to cover for her second son. Hoisting up a vacuum cleaner, Ma has the machine let out of a burst of air in Lana's direction. Ma "apologizes" claiming she hit the switch the wrong way. Thinking the leaves got blown away by Ma's vacuum, Lana can't believe how her mind works. First she thinks Clark's Superboy, now she thinks this new kid's Superboy too. Girls, what can you do?


'Kay, I felt gross typing that; sorry.

Vidal thanks Ma for covering and announces he's going to bed. Pa's too anxious to sleep and stays up to keep watch in case Vidal tries anything. Pa's suspicions seemingly prove true when he sees Vidal constructing a rocket from scrap metal in the backyard. But wait, what's that message Vidal's including?

Gasp! Vidal's sending a note on the rocket advising his people to keep Superboy off Earth! Has Superboy been kidnapped? What's Vidal planning? Will the Kents ever see Clark again?

In outer space, two adult men dressed in costumes similar to Vidal's have received his message. The men have no issue keeping Superboy occupied and fire a missile into deep space. Turns out Superboy's mission was to stop an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. The asteroid's emitting radiation powerful enough to kill every living thing on Earth...


Or so Superboy thinks! Vidal's comrades used "super-science" to make the asteroid appear deadly to lure Superboy into space. They fire a missile at the asteroid, breaking up into smaller parts heading in all directions. Now Superboy has to collect the smaller fragments before they do any harm.

Back in Smallville, Pa Kent ruefully laments he can't contact the local authorities about Vidal out of fear of his otherworldly abilities. Vidal answers the store phone; a local named Jim Hastings wants Pa to relay a message to his wife Mrs. Hastings. Seems there's a crack in the local dam and Jim'll be stuck working there, but Vidal plans to fix the dam himself.

Vidal's careless once again as puts on his Superboy costume near a two-way mirror, letting some guys outside see him. Pa quickly "thanks" his new foster son for trying out a Superboy costume the Kents plan to sell in the store. Great material, machine washable too! The guys think it's a great ad campaign. They almost thought the kid really was Superboy!

Vidal thanks "dad" for his help and then goes off to fix the dam. Pa still wonders just who or what he's helped.

Dressed as Superboy, Vidal uses super strength to crush a steel girder into a giant ball. Vidal then hurls the ball at the crack in the dam, the friction from the toss heating and melting the metal. The melted metal splatters over the crack in the dam, sealing the hole until a more permanent fix is administered.



Another sleepless night for Ma and Pa Kent follows into another busy day when the radio announces the formerly dormant Kilma Volcano has started erupting... and it's spewing GREEN lava! This looks like a job for "Superboy!"

Vidal arrives on the scene with a huge storage tank that has multiple holes in it, slamming the tank on top of the volcano. It's stopping the lava from getting out, while the holes are allowing the pressure to be harmlessly released. I... don't know if that makes sense, but whatever.

Unfortunately, Vidal arrives back at the store totally green! And Lana catches him! Bemoaning again his loathed foster son's carelessness, Pa has to once again create a cover story. Switching on the store's neon sign, Pa watches as the flashing lights turn Vidal red, then turns Vidal AND Lana green. Lana again falls for it.

Back in space, the real Superboy finishes destroying the rest of the meteor fragments. Now he starts investigating the world where that missile originated from to find out who fired it and why. Superboy deduces from the architecture the inhabitants are far advanced when his X-ray vision reveals a giant TV screen... with his parents and another Superboy on it! Having no context to what he's seeing, Superboy figures he has to get back to Earth pronto.

Well it's a good thing too, cuz at that moment Vidal's finally being honest with the Kents.


THE BIG REVEAL: Vidal's part of an Intergalactic Patrol with similarly powered individuals from his solar system. He was given a mission to fill in for Superboy while the real Superboy was kept busy in space. They made him dress as Superboy to keep his identity secret, and he had to find a foster family to live with.

Vidal explains he was lucky enough to be raised by a loving mother and father who taught him how to use his powers responsibly and for the good of mankind. Superboy, however, is an orphan and therefore must be very lonely without parents. Vidal was sent to find a good foster home for Superboy, and the Kents passed every test to prove they'd be wonderful parents. Therefore, Vidal asks if Ma and Pa would consider adopting Superboy and have him be Clark Kent's brother.

The Kents' reaction:


Uh, sure, Vidal. They'd, um, love to adopt Superboy.

That settled, Vidal asks the Kents tell Clark to keep Superboy's identity a secret to protect his future foster brother from exposure.


Meanwhile, Superboy arrives back to Earth just as Vidal's leaving. Vidal announces he's finished his mission and found Superboy great parents. If Supes ever needs help in the future, he can give Vidal a call. But hey, it's best to hide your identity from Clark Kent. Superboy's sure to do that.

Well, Clark's grateful Vidal's thinking of him, but he knows better than anyone how great Ma and Pa Kent are.

--

I apologize for how late this was and my lack of contributions to Super-Bloggers the last several months. It's been legitimately difficult to get excited about Legion related stuff with how utterly draining and depressing it is thinking about Bendis's Legion. It also doesn't help that in my case, well, life just got in the way. And not in a good way.

That said, I simply can't get over how well-meaning and inept Vidal's group is. Nor could I imagine how terrifying this must've been for the Kents. We're led to believe this'll be a misunderstanding and Superboy feeling left out when his parents adopt another kid. Instead it's emotional and mental exhaustion as the Kents are left terrified for their son's well being while having to placate a person who may've done something awful to Clark. Jonathan and Martha Kent really don't get enough credit for supporting a child like Superboy.

4 comments:

  1. Joseph Brian ScottApril 19, 2021 at 2:12 PM

    People actually believed the Kents' parents were still alive? They look like Clark's grandparents! And how appropriate is it that this weird, convoluted story featuring a hero who wears the Devil's Trident on his costume ends and the next thing the reader sees is a horror clown.

    All kidding aside, I enjoyed the synopsis a lot; thanks for making it.

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  2. I laughed out loud at that explanation (and don’t recall it from when I read this story when it was reprinted in the 1966 Giant). I imagine it was something the Kents made up on the spur of the moment and when Clark finally showed up again in Smallville and was asked about his visit to his grandparents he said something like, “Are you crazy? They died years ago!”

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  3. Welcome back Jude. Hopefully life has calmed down.

    Cool synopsis. I can see how this would be a interesting story for an 8 year old, but yeah, it's REALLY creepy from an older perspective.

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