Jerry Siegel and George Papp
In January 1960, when this book probably came out, I was barely 7 years old, 5 months into second grade, walking the 5 (long) blocks to school by myself (though there usually was some parent at the corner of Willow and Cedar Hill to make sure no body got killed trying to cross this incredibly busy street), and dealing with my very first teacher from Hell. (Not sure I knew that word then.)
Mrs. Wilson was pleasant enough, I suppose, as long as you did everything exactly her way and agreed with her every notion on how life was supposed to run, but throw any sand in the gears and boy, did she let you have it. Mrs. Wilson was a firm believer in discipline via public ridicule. By the end of my two year stint in her regiment (she arranged to teach me in third grade too, somehow) I'd learned never to open my mouth in class unless I was forced to.
Because of this, many future teachers decided I was shy. I wasn't shy, I just wasn't going to give any satisfaction to the enemy. If they wanted my name, rank and serial number they could look it up.
Anyhow, on this particular occasion (no matter how I spell that word it looks wrong- at least it doesn't have a red line under it.) Mom had given me a quarter for school. I was supposed to turn that quarter over to the dreaded martinet for something or other. But I couldn't turn it over unless she announced she was gonna collect them. Which she didn't - for a week! Finally, this damn quarter burning a hole in my pocket, I raised my hand out of turn and asked her about it.
After being made to feel like a complete moron in front of everybody for throwing off her train of thought, I went home with the quarter still in my pocket. Now I'm in a really bad mood. I got yelled at for nothing. I got a quarter in my pocket that nobody wants.....
Well what would you have done with it?
I went down to Vinnie's Soda Shop and bought two comic books! (and probably a candy bar). One was Superboy 79 and the other was Detective 276 (The Return of Bat-Mite)!
Unfortunately I was a lousy sneak, and an even worse liar. I managed to finish the Superboy before my mother caught me, but the Detective was history before I got to it. I got yelled at again, for (in my opinion) no reason at all, was incarcerated in my room (no problem, I was sulking anyway) and decided that all adults were crazy and from now on I wasn't talking to any of them ever again.
Sadly, I still don't have a copy of Detective 276, though I'm sure I've read it at some point, but the miracle of E-bay has restored little baby Kal-El to my hot little hands, so I can decide whether it was worth all that long ago angst and aggravation.
We start off with one of those great Mort Weisinger covers, showing baby Kal-El in his mother's arms, as his evil father, blasts his poor doggy into outer space! Jor-El looks grim, Krypto looks pitiful, Lara looks ready to kill, Jor-El's dressed in green, the rocket is yellow, Kal is blue. There are tears all over the place. A marketing dream of a cover. Probably sold over a quarter million copies. (Eat your heart out Paul Levitz.)
The story begins, like almost all Superbaby stories, in the "present". (1932? Superboy's timeframe was never really clear back then) Superboy has invented a mind-prober ray, designed to drag his youngest baby memories from deep in his subconscious, so that he can dictate them to Mom and Dad Kent and reconstruct his "Life on Krypton". Later it would be stated that he needed this because repeated exposure to Kryptonite had made it hard for him to remember what happened to him as a baby. This change must have been in response to some know-it-all fan letter that questioned this flaw in Superman's invincible "super memory." But for now, it was just a frame work to get us into the baby story, and it provided a neat visual of Superboy with his head stuck into a cosmic hair dryer while Ma and Pa looked on with wrapt astonishment.
We begin with some random Kryptonian vignettes, designed to show how wonderful life was in paradise, before the fall. Kal-El's baby crib has a mechanical arm that will automatically catch him if he falls out. His Kryptonian bubble pipe can blow any shaped bubbles: pyramids, cubes, dumbbells, etc. He watches 3 dimensional TV, the home weather machine projects a waterproof dome over the house, so Kal can play in the rain. He has a rocket ride that looks like it belongs in an amusement park in the backyard.
But mostly he seems to wander around alone (except for his doggy) looking for someone to pay attention to him. He wanders into Jor- El's lab and listens to his father dictate into a computer, using voice recognition software. Jor-El predicts Krypton will soon blow up, ending all life. Then Jor-El takes Krypto away from baby Kal and blasts the little mutt into space, (right in front of his bawling son) and as usual, screws up so that Krypto doesn't come back down. Traumatize the kid for life why don't you? No wonder he's incapable of forming a normal relationship!
Lara is so pissed, she takes Kal and returns to Mother's. Mom isn't home though, so they visit a robot show to pass the time, and Kal gets himself locked inside one of the demonstration models. (On Earth, Mom would be in jail for child neglect). Then they go to an amusement park where Kal watches an underwater battle between Lightning fish and cannonball clams. At another exhibit, he visits the planet of 100 moons and then- wonder of wonders!- there's an exhibit showing a typical small town on Earth, which Kryptonian scientists have viewed through their telescopes. (Sort of like a diorama of life in primitive Africa or caveman times you might find at Yale's Peabody Museum) The small town is (wait for it) Smallville!
To make sure they can see it up close, children are outfitted with rocket tubes so they can fly around the exhibit. To protect them from the rocket exhaust they wear fireproof capes. (What protects them from crashing into the ground and breaking their necks I have no idea.) After flying right over Ma and Pa Kent's house (Oh, the irony!), Kal moves on to see the atomic clock. There, scientists ridicule the notions of the mad-scientist, Jor-El, that Krypton will soon blow up. Forgetting that she's left the jerk, Lara rushes to Jor-El's defense. Abandoned again, Kal sneaks away and interferes with an exhibit showing another space rocket being launched. The new rocket, knocked off course by Kal's meddling, hits Krypto's ship in space and sends it careening out of orbit.
After Lara's tearful reunion back home with Jor-El, he explains that Krypto was never supposed to have been launched into space, but the rocket's anchoring chain broke. The ever-gullible Lara forgives him, despite the transparentness of the lie. But all's well that ends well, as Krypto's rocket mysteriously lands back on Krypton. Kal tries to claim credit for rescuing his dog, but of course no one believes him. That's it kid, learn to keep your mouth shut. No one's interested in your opinions anyway.
So the story ends, with a boy and his dog together again. Even if Mom and Dad are complete gits.
But wait a minute? Didn't Krypto actually get sent to Earth? Was Jor-El really stupid enough to try the same trick again?
Keep reading future issues and maybe ol' Uncle Mort will tell you!!!
So what did this seven-year-old think? Well I had mixed feelings. First I was mad because it wasn't a three-part novel. I had thought Life on Krypton worthy of at least that many pages. And the other two stories were awful. (I still think they're awful). Second, the story appeared to be continued. How was I ever going to get the next issue? Especially since that one had already been destroyed? This was too much psychic trauma for a kid to handle. (I was sort of mollified, and mystified, when the story wasn't continued in the next issue. In fact, Life on Krypton stories dribbled out very slowly over the next ten years. I think there were only six of them all together).
But the story itself fascinated me, all those Kryptonian gadgets, and that baby wandering all over the place by itself, getting into all kinds of mischief without being punished. Heck, he even got his dog back! What a life! Let's all move to Krypton, where it doesn't make any difference that all the adults are crazy.
This was, I'm pretty sure, only Kal-El's second appearance as a speaking toddler on Krypton. Up until now, it had been pretty much assumed that ol' Supes had been a babe in arms when he was blasted into space. Now he definitely appeared to be at least two years old.
This finally explained something that had been puzzling readers since the early fifties. How did Superboy know he was from Krypton? There had been that famous story in Superman 61 wherein Superman first encounters Kryptonite and follows the meteor's trail back to Krypton and discovers his origin for the first time, but this story in no way explained how Superboy would know anything about the planet. Yet he clearly did, mentioning Krypton at least as far back as Adventure 170.
Fortunately a seven-year-old who had only been reading comics for 4 years didn't have to worry about stuff like that. I was just glad Superbaby got his doggy back.
(Update: I finally got a copy of Detective 276 and can finish my train of thought...)