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Action Comics 251
"The Oldest Man in Metropolis!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND April 1959; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications);

Mort Weisinger, editor.

The lead feature is Superman in "The Oldest Man in Metropolis!" The cover, which looks like Curt Swan/George Klein, depicts a wizened, aged Superman with a long white beard and cane, wobbling in the air and thumbing for a ride with a passing helicopter: "I hope he gives me a hitch *puff*...flying is too much of an effort for me in my old age!"

I was flipping through a book of Silver Age ACTION COMICS covers, and noted that there were two covers within about a year on the theme of a geriatric Superman. The later one depicted an aged Superman and Lois Lane sitting on a park bench; I don't own the issue and don't remember the issue number, though I think the story was reprinted in an ANNUAL or 80 PAGE GIANT. This issue I do own, and I don't recall it being reprinted (perhaps for good reason), so I guess I'll review it.

I don't know the writer; the artist, judging by the style, is Al Plastino. (Curt Swan is considered "the" Superman artist of this period, but I wonder if Plastino didn't actually produce as many or more interior Superman stories?) In the splash, Supergeezer with cane and sore back looks sadly at a set of posters of himself outracing a jet, lifting huge rocks, etc.... "Yes...that's how it used to be when I had ALL my super-powers! Now I'm just a tired old duffer who can hardly stand up!"

Is this a tale taking place in the far-flung future of, say, 1999? No, the scene is the present-- 1959 that is-- as Clark Kent interviews Professor Vance of the Metropolis Research Institute, who intends who has developed a "new vitamin serum [that] may add years to human life" and intends to test it on himself before asking for volunteers. Clark/Superman doesn't want such a "valuable scientist" risking his own life, so he drinks the serum himself, figuring that any harmful effects won't affect him. (But how much of a test will it be, considering that Superman hardly needs a "vitamin serum" in the first place? Apparently Jimmy Olsen wasn't the only one who had a bad habit of drinking strange potions.) After Clark has left, Prof. Vance is shocked to discover that the guinea pigs who got the serum have "grown to old age" overnight. "I--I hope that brave young reporter isn't affected the same way!"

Studying the serum at his Fortress, Superman is mildly disturbed to discover that it contains "isotopes resembling Kryptonite which may even affect ME!" But he literally doesn't lose any sleep over it; he flies back to his Clark Kent apartment in Metropolis and goes to bed. Awakening the next morning, he is shocked to discover his hands are "wrinkled and bony," his body "shriveled and stooped," and his face "wrinkled and bearded." "That vitamin serum...sped up my life cycle until I feel like a man of SEVENTY!" Clark hurries to Prof. Vance, who has some reassuring news; the guinea pigs who were aged by the serum returned to their normal youthful looks after three days. But in the meantime, Clark worries about keeping up his duties as Superman and also about maintaining his secret identity if both Clark Kent and Superman suddenly show up as senior citizens. He's humiliated when he tries to fly as Superman and finds he must hang on to the rear wheel of a passing plane to get anywhere.

Arriving at the Daily Planet as an aged Clark, he finds a rather unsympathetic, ageist Perry White; "Let's hope the professor's right [about returning to normal after 72 hours], because we RETIRE reporters of your age, Clark! Meanwhile, I'll give you only easy assignments!" Shortly afterward, Clark spots with his telescopic visiion "that bizarre gangster, Captain Cutlass, and his pirate crew" attacking a freighter. He tries to send a Superman robot after the pirates, but the robot "reacts crazily" because "the vibrations of my voice are too cracked and weak to transmit the proper signals!" Concluding he must stop the pirates himself, Superman tries first to cut off his long beard, but it's still super-hair and won't cut. Supes then gets an idea how he can stop the modern-day pirates in his new oldster guise. Setting out to chase the pirates, he is humiliated to have to land and hitchhike on a whale, unable to fly the distance. But when he reaches the pirate ship, he wraps himself in bedsheets and seaweed and declares himself to be "THE OLD MAN OF THE SEA... [who] will punish ye with a thousand plagues...unless ye surrender!" Some of the pirates are terrified of the Old Man's supposed "supernatural powers," but Captain Cutlass orders him to walk the plank. Hurled overboard, the "Old Man" reappears alive and withstands a cannon ball fired at him...but Superman is the worse for wear; "Oooooo! That hurt! Now I know what human beings go through when they have a bellyache!" Nonetheless, the pirates are impressed enough to agree to surrender to a Coast Guard ship.

Perry's next assignment for Granpa Clark is to send him to write a feature on "I Lived in An Old Man's Home!", where he is revolted by the typical meal of "mush, soft-boiled eggs and hot milk". But again his telescopic vision (which is pretty good for an old guy) alerts him to a criminal plot, and in order to keep an eye on thieves scheming to rob Stacy's Department Store, he takes a job as the store Santa Claus, where he impresses the kids by reading their Christmas lists with his X-ray vision. When the robbers strike, his super-strength isn't up to the task of capturing them, but he manages to use some of the toys in the store to stop them. Back at the Old Men's Home, Clark helps a 100-year-old resident get his birthday wish by using his remaining super-breath to help blow out his birthday cake candles.

Next, the Old Man of Steel manages to capture a villain known as "The Clock," who is "obsessed with time", by pretending to be "Father Time" out to avenge the Clock's abuse of his element. But his greatest challenge remains...as Superman, he has promised to do a "Human Cannonball" act for charity, and with his invulnerability nearly gone, he knows he cannot survive being a projectile. Will he allow himself to be killed, or confess his superannuated Clark Kent identity? Neither...instead, he cheats, disconnecting the cannon's firing mechanism so that the cannon firing is delayed by an hour-- just time enough for the 72 hours to elapse and for Superman to be instantly restored to his normal youth and super-vigor. Being shot out of a cannon is a breeze. But his evening date as Clark with Lois is traumatic, for she wants to attend "the new hit musical, RIP VAN WINKLE!" "It's enough to turn ANY man's hair grey!...OHHHH!"

The second feature in the issue is the shocking tale of "Congorilla, Outlaw!" Art by Howard Sherman, I think. In the splash panel, outraged natives hurl spears at the Golden Gorilla as he pries a giant ruby from the eye of their idol. "They don't understand! I MUST steal these rubies! My life depends on it!" A warning flashes over the radio that Corliss Hyde, a passenger on a Trans-Congo plane from Nairobi to Leopoldville, is a criminal and a killer. To avoid capture on landing, Hyde forces the pilot to land the plane in the jungle, where it ends up teetering on a cliff edge. "The plane must be dragged back to safety...I know WHO'S got the strength to do it!", Congo Bill realizes. Rubbing his magic ring to trade minds with Congorilla, who pulls the plane to safety and then gives medical aid to the unconscious crew and passengers. But Hyde is conscious and observes Congorilla acting very un-simian. Realizing Congorilla has human intelligence, Hyde attacks him with sleeping gas and then fastens a bomb to a collar around the ape's neck-- and demands that Congorilla rob for him, or he will detonate the bomb. Unable to return to Congo Bill's body because an hour has not elapsed since he rubbed the ring (Hyde must really have moved fast getting that bomb set up), Congorilla is forced to steal the ruby eyes from the Migawi natives' idol and then he steals a load of diamonds from a mine and dives into a river to escape. He returns to Hyde but refuses to hand the loot over to the outlaw. Outraged, Hyde pushes the button to detonate the bomb-collar, but nothing happens; "The water I dived into ruined the electrical connections in my collar! He can't blow me up!" Hyde tries to shoot Congorilla, but the bullets ricochet off the iron collar, breaking it, and kill Hyde instead. "Destiny has spared the law the job of executing Hyde for his crimes!" Later, Congorilla returns the rubies and diamonds to their puzzled owners, and a satisfied Congo Bill reflects, "Hyde reaped his just reward and Congorilla's 'crime' career is over!"

Finally we have Tommy Tomorrow battling "The Giant Amoeba of Space!" in a story drawn by Jim Mooney. The splash has Tommy, with space suit and rocket pack, firing a raygun uselessly at a giant pink blob which has engulfed assorted spaceships, buildings, asteroids, and even a statue which looks like some sort of alien Statue of Liberty. The opening caption declares, "No science fiction writer of 1959 ever dared to imagine the incredible species of life that Col. Tommy Tomorrow is pitted against!" If that's true, it would only be because by 1959 any self-respecting SF writer would be embarrassed to come up with something as lame as a giant space amoeba (though STAR TREK did a giant amoeba episode a few years later).

A Planeteer ship discovers a giant pink object in space and discovers it is a living thing which absorbs whatever it encounters. Of course the space amoeba is headed straight for Earth, and the Planeteers consider hitting the blob with an "ultra-bomb"...but Tommy Tomorrow warns that a "science fiction movie" he once saw depicted aliens fighting a creature like the amoeba by hurling bombs at it. The bombs only caused it to split into many more creatures which finally "wiped out their universe...the last scientist sent this film in a messenger rocket...now we know that wasn't just a MOVIE, but the REAL THING...a warning for us not to make the same mistake!" Abandoning the bomb plan, the Planeteers send "robot commandos' against the amoeba, but they are absorbed by its tentacles and squeezed to destruction. A "guided comet" fails when the amoeba opens up a hole in its structure to allow the comet to pass through harmlessly. The creature oozes through an electrically charged net, and when a harpoon is fired from the Martian moon Phobos, the amoeba actually pulls Phobos out of orbit. Finally Earth's last hope is Tommy Tomorrow himself, who invades the amoeba in a special spacesuit designed to "resist absorption for five minutes". On the inside, Tommy "releases liquified helium which has a temperature of 459 degrees below zero! It will FREEZE the creature solid!" His comrades fear he has sacrificed himself, as the helium also freezes his flying jets...but Tommy emerges safely as the amoeba is towed away to remain in suspended animation forever on frozen Pluto. How did Tommy escape? He produces a jar of itching powder, borrowed from a practical-joke-loving Planeteer. "When I sprinkled this inside the creature, just before it froze solid, it, er, SNEEZED ME OUT!"

The "Metropolis Mailbag" lettercol just happens to include a letter from one Lillian Stevens of Seattle, Wash;, asking if Superman will ever show signs of age with "grey temples and a few wrinkles here and there"...somehow I suspect this may have been one of Uncle Mort's famous planted letters. There's also a word of praise from Ben Kalb of London, England, for Congorilla, calling him "the greatest gorilla since King Kong!" And an interesting question from Victor Wheatman of New York; "I remember a somewhat similar [to Superman] character many years ago named Captain Marvel. Could you tell me what happened to Captain Marvel?" Uncle Mort replies, "Captain Marvel, obviously not as invulnerable as SUPERMAN, passed into limbo some years ago when the magazine which featured his adventures expired." Mort tactfully neglects to mention the role which DC's lawsuit played in bringing this turn of events about....

The lettercol also mentions that the Tommy Tomorrow feature will be moving over to WORLD'S FINEST COMICS. The reason is explained in a full page promo ad in between the Superman and Congorilla stories; "Introducing the GIRL OF STEEL! Here is the heroine thousands of DC readers have been requesting for years! At last she comes to life in the May issue of ACTION COMICS! What is the story of her origin? How did she survive the explosion of the Planet Krypton? How will she use her powers of flying, x-ray vision and super-strength? Will she be an ALLY or RIVAL of SUPERMAN?" The ad previews the cover scene for the next issue, ACTION #252, with Supergirl leaping out of her crashed rocket and declaring to a bemused Superman, "It's me, Superman... and I'm real!" So this, technically, was the first appearance of Supergirl... and the start of the process of non-Super features like Tommy Tomorrow and Congorilla being squeezed out of ACTION COMICS, and later ADVENTURE as well, in favor of "Superman family" features.