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Action Comics 182
"The Return of Planet Krypton!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND July 1953; DC Comics (National Comics Publications); Whitney Ellsworth credited as editor. (Were Mort Weisinger and /or Jack Schiff doing the hands-on editing at this point?)

One more in my series of ACTION reviews... this one of the second-oldest issue of ACTION I own (and published in the year I was born). It's technically off-topic for the list, being pre-Silver Age, but hopefully will be of interest anyway.

Early 1950's Superman comics stories are often described as mundane affairs with the Man of Steel using his mighty powers against common earthly crooks and schemers, similar to those appearing in the low-budget TV series... but this story was certainly spectacular and science-fictional enough-- if a bit lacking in plausibility and story logic. The cover, unmistakably drawn by Wayne Boring, depicts Superman in flight over a futuristic cityscape (with lots of Russian-looking onion domes) as a ray-gun blast strikes his chest and he declares, "I-I thought my native planet Krypton was destroyed-- but HERE it is-- and its inhabitants are shooting at me!" The cover design includes a small corner head-shot of Superman and a blurb above the logo, "Ride Thrilling Western Trails with the VIGILANTE"...but no Comics Code symbol.

The story inside, also drawn by Boring, starts with another splash of a bemused Superman flying over Krypton. "Like a ghost from a celestial tomb, a familiar planet swings back into its accustomed orbit! And Superman sets forth on a strange journey to discover the weird secret of...THE RETURN OF PLANET KRYPTON!" Astronomers observe "a new planet entering our solar system," and they soon announce that it is none other than Krypton. How they determine this is unclear, but when Clark Kent accompanies Lois Lane to a press conference, he is startled to find that magnified photos of the new planet do resemble his former homeworld. Clark changes to Superman and rockets into space past Mars, Jupiter and Saturn-- "I'll pay this planet a personal visit-- as SUPERMAN!" He reflects in flight, "No danger of me being overcome even if this planet is a solid mass of Kryptonite! I'm only vulnerable to floating fragments of Kryptonite that were atomically charged when Krypton exploded!" Glad we cleared that up. Arriving on the planet he is astonished to discover that it really is Krypton, matching what he saw during a trip through the time barrier to the past, and awed to walk in his father Jor-El's laboratory. However, Superman has to don a "solo rocket tube" to fly in search of any survivors-- "I can't fly on Krypton since its tremendous gravitational powers neutralizes my strength!"-- and he also finds his X-ray vision useless because of Krypton's "greater atmospheric density".

Not-quite-so-Superman searches land and sea for signs of life, but finds nothing until he reaches a "queer-looking" crystalline tower, where he finds "people living here! Inhabitants of the planet Krypton!" They greet Superman and allow as how this planet is not the real, original Krypton... it is an imitation Krypton built "many decades ago" by the real Kryptonians as a decoy to divert the attacks of "space raiders from another galaxy". (Building a whole new planet as a ruse of war is quite a feat, but then, as the caption tells us, "The scientists of Krypton were possessed of unusual talents!") The men Superman meets were assigned to the duplicate planet to maintain it in case of another space attack; when the real Krypton exploded, the fake was knocked out of its orbit and its caretaker staff sought refuge in a "state of catalepsy" in the crystal tower. However, the Kryptonian survivors fear their artificial planet is such a good imitation that it will explode like the real Krypton, and an earthquake provides evidence for this. But no problem; the Kryptonians will escape to Earth. "We can conquer the primitive Earth people and rule over them!" Superman tries to persuade them to approach Earth as friends instead, but, "We cannot be friends with weaklings, people who are our inferiors!" Superman tries to prove Earth's defensive potential by building a "super-tank," but one blast from a Kryptonian "gamma gun" turns Superman green and his costume purple.... no, actually, it blasts the tank apart and wounds the now-vulnerable Superman. Convinced of the Kryptonians' superiority, Superman actually agrees despondently to beam a message by "teleplanetary projector" to the whole Earth; "You have no chance against the invaders! To resist means ruin-- the annihilation of all human life on Earth!"

But a casual reference to "galactic units" of time makes Superman suspicious; "That's not how time was measured on Krypton! [or] anywhere in this solar system! Galactic units could only be used by beings from another galaxy-- who according to Einstein's theory would have a different RELATIVE time than our own!" Caught in that gaffe, the "Kryptonian" aggressors admit that they are not Kryptonians at all, but the "space raiders" the duplicate Krypton was originally built to deter. "You helped us to persuade Earth to surrender peacefully-- but your reward shall be DEATH!" But Superman eludes his would-be executioners by triggering an underground geyser, and then finds the "gravitational machinery" that maintains the super-gravity of the fake Krypton-- which is actually hollow. He turns off the artificial gravity, and the antigravity belts worn by some of the raiders hurl them into space where they "find doom in the empty void" (which would seem to be a violation of the code against killing established in later Superman stories). Other raiders battle Superman with their gamma guns, but "the gravity of this hollow planet is LESS than that of Earth now! I'm STRONGER than I ever was!" The raiders flee the power of Super-Superman, but miscalculating their takeoff from the hollow planet, they crash into another planetoid.and are destroyed. Heading back towards Earth, Superman looks back at faux-Krypton and muses, "Somehow, I'm glad there is a replica of the planet where I was born! Goodbye, Krypton! I'll be back-- someday..." Back on Earth, he reassures Earth that the threat from space is ended, and Lois Lane tells Clark Kent, "I always knew Superman wouldn't fail us!" Clark thinks, "Lois was more confident than Superman! I hope no one on Earth ever finds out how close a call it really was!"

At this point in time ACTION, along with a few other top DC titles, was 44 pages, allowing room for three backup features rather than just two. The first in this issue was Congo Bill, not yet Congorilla, who had merely human abilities to cope with "The Quiz Show of Death!" In what sounds like a preview of today's "Survivor", Congo Bill agrees as a game show stunt for charity to spend five days unarmed in a "deadly jungle" which is actually a tame animal reservation. However, an enemy schemes to transport Bill to a real jungle full of deadly beasts and dangers. Nonetheless, my namesake manages to survive poisoned water holes, rampaging tigers and stampeding elephants which trample the evil Drogo underfoot, catching him in his own trap.

Tommy Tomorrow is next with "The Jinx Planet," drawn (it looks like) by Jim Mooney. After Tommy names a newly discovered planet "Asteroid 13" , spacemen become convinced that the asteroid is jinxed, and visitors and would-be colonists consistently fall victim to bad luck. But Tommy is determined to prove there is no such thing as a jinx, and ultimately he discovers that the "bad luck" is a plot by gambling racketeer John Chance, who wanted the asteroid as a safe, isolated hideout for himself and his ill-gotten gains. Tommy declares he knew 13 could not be a jinx, for "my own name contains 13 letters-- and it's never been bad luck to anyone but crooks!"

Finally, the Vigilante has to solve "The Amazing Crimes of the Lariat!" This Western evildoer uses a variety of rope tricks and trick ropes to thwart the law-- robbing a stagecoach with a "slingshot lariat", robbing a bank with a "blindfold lariat", and spooking the Vigilante and Stuff's horses with a "snake lariat". Nonetheless the Vig manages to catch up with the Lariat and disarm him in a battle of rope tricks. But the Lariat has one "last chance lariat"-- attached to a bottle of high explosive. The Vig spots a bluff, however, when he notices a horse licking at powder spilled from the "explosive" bottle; it must not be actual explosive, but harmless sugar. The Vig soon has the Lariat roped and branded for the sheriff. Oddly, though Vigilante was normally a series set in the present day, this story might as well have been in the Old West-- neither Vig's motorcycle nor anything else modern was on view. Regardless of the time era, though, the Vigilante's time was starting to run out-- he had only a little over a year left before a shrinking ACTION page count would send him to the last roundup.