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Superman 155
"Superman Under the Green Sun!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND August 1962; DC Comics; Mort Weisinger, editor.

The cover-featured story is "The Downfall of Superman!" And who is responsible for this downfall? Luthor? Brainiac? The Superman Revenge Squad? No.... on the cover by Curt Swan, it's "champion wrestler Antonino Rocca," who manhandles the Man of Steel as Jimmy Olsen, at ringside, exclaims, "WOW! That wrestler, Rocca, has thrown SUPERMAN right through the ropes! This is the greatest sports upset in history!" An additional cover blurb headlines, "Also a great 2-part novel, SUPERMAN UNDER THE GREEN SUN!"

It's the "Green Sun" story, drawn by Wayne Boring, that gets the lead position in this issue. And it has a special place in my memory as well, mainly because of a curious reaction I had when I first read it at the tender age of eight. It creeped me out so much that I hid the comic at the bottom of a stack of my other comics and never looked at it again. (I don't know what finally happened to that copy; the one I'm looking at now I acquired much later, as an adult collector.) Why did the story affect me so much? Well, I'll explain that after I review it..... On the splash panel, Superman rides astride a giant insect, followed by a troop of ragged, caveman-like followers, one of whom declares, "Cheer up, fellow slaves! The mighty SUPERMAN will lead us to freedom!" But in the privacy of his thought balloon, Superman himself is less optimistic; "How can I overthrow the dictator of this world when he's taken away ALL my super-powers?" "One day, as Superman tours outer space, he suddenly sights an impending danger on an alien planet".... a giant, dinosaur-like beast menacing people who, oddly, don't even seem to notice it. Superman swoops down to the rescue, noting that fortunately this world has a yellow sun, so his super-powers will be fully operative. After knocking the monster for a loop, Supes asks why none of the planet's people reacted to it, and discovers the reason is that they are all blind! From scientists named Kall and Aton and a woman named Pera, he learns that an evil, power-mad scientist named Drago (who is Aton's twin brother, though he claims to despise him) exploded a bomb over the planet whose fallout rendered everyone, except Drago and his henchmen with special goggles, sightless. Drago has an "antidote bomb" which will restore the people's sight, but he will use it only if the people first serve as his slaves to carry out a "special project" for him. Superman immediately resolves to tear apart Drago's citadel to locate the antidote bomb. Watching from his citadel, Drago--- who bears a noticeable resemblance to Adolf Hitler-- spots Superman approaching, but having observed the Man of Steel on Earth through his "super-telescope," he has a plan ready to thwart him. By the touch of a button, Drago activates a "robot-controlled space station," positioned between the planet and its sun, that intercepts the sun's rays through a "blue filter" that turns the sun's yellow rays to green-- and takes away Superman's super-powers. Superman is halted in mid-air on his flight toward Drago's citadel and falls to the ground, but fortunately lands safely thanks to "odd, rubbery plants" found on the surface of the planet. Discovering that his powers are completely gone, Non-Superman wonders how he will keep his promise to free the enslaved populace; but he reflects, "I have friends in the Justice League who have no super-powers, but that hasn't stopped them from fighting evil! If they can do it, so can I!" After noting with interest the strange variety of plant life existing on this planet, Superman comes upon a work site where blind slaves are forced to dig in the ground, spurred on by Drago's henchmen riding on insect-like robot vehicles which they control by means of electronic helmets. Hurling a plant pod that contains sneezing pollen, Supes fells one of the slavedrivers from his buglike mount and takes it over, then knocks out the other guard with a mighty though non-super punch, after luring the guard into range by pretending to be felled by his "stinger" weapon. The slaves flock to Superman, and he promises to lead them to freedom-- though he does not reveal that he has lost his galactically famous super-powers, fearing this may cause the people to lose hope. After leading the fugitive slaves to a mountain cabin hideout, the next problem is how to feed them. The staple food on this planet is seaweed, and the people think the mighty Superman will have no difficulty gathering them a supply... but to do so, he must again take advantage of the world's plant life, forming the transparent pods and broad leaves of a plant into a makeshift skin diver's outfit. With it, he raids one of the planet's underwater farms and manages to evade an undersea monster that attacks. His next problem is how to carry out his original plan to invade Drago's citadel and obtain the blindness antidote bomb. But in the meantime, Drago has put out the word that Superman must be captured dead or alive before he can interfere further with the dictator's mysterious project; and before our hero can even reach Drago's citadel, he is surrounded by guards who subdue him with weapons that shoot paralyzing energy rings. Dragged off to Drago's lair, Superman hears the tinkling of bell-like flowers and reflects gloomily, ""*Sigh* it's almost as if they're tolling my doom-- and the death knell of my promise to the blind people!" Back at Aton's lab, Aton and Kall wonder if Superman has failed them, but Aton declares that even if he has, he, Aton, will still work on his own antidote. When Superman is brought before Drago, the tyrant declares, "I could kill you now, but I'd rather have the satisfaction of seeing the great Superman finally humbled!" A gas is released into the chamber in which Superman is imprisoned, and, shortly; "I can't see! I'm blind! I'M BLIND!"

In Part 2, "The Blind Superman!", our now-sightless hero is dragged off to join Drago's hordes of blind slaves, and "becomes a beaten man, helpless and depressed! But then he finds new inspiration within himself, and he fights back even though he is still sightless!" Sent to join the other slaves in endless digging, Superman is subjected to the same endless toil, thirst, and jolts from the guards' cruel "stingers". As days pass, the no longer Man of Steel loses hope and reflects ironically, "I'm like my other identity, Clark Kent....meek, submissive...." But then during a brief rest period a fellow slave offers a word of hope; "Do not despair, my friend! A stranger from another world has come to help us! The stranger has super-powers!" "Why-- he's talking about ME!" Instead of telling the other man that his last hope is now as blind and helpless as himself, Superman resolves to justify his faith, stands tall once more and prepares to resume his fight for freedom. He begins making escape plans, and, some nights later, he pretends to stumble and fall to his doom in the rapids of a river. But actually he saves himself by clutching reeds in the river, and, reaching dry ground, follows the sound of the tinkling bell-plants to locate the cavern where he previously hid the gang of slaves that he freed-- and the bug-vehicle he captured. Seeking out the tool kit on the bug, he reflects, "Since the electronic helmet transmits thought-images to the eyes and robot-brain of the craft, I must REVERSE the function!" Succeeding, he finds that by wearing the helmet he can "see" through the mechanical eyes of the bug and use it as a kind of "seeing-eye insect". Superman flies the bug to Drago's citadel, knocks out a guard, and manages to locate the crucial switch that controls the solar filter space-station. Destroying the satellite, Superman finds his super-powers restored and his sight as well. "I feel as if I've been reborn!" In short order, he locates and explodes Drago's "antidote bomb" to cure the people's blindness. But the dictator Drago-- seemingly imitating his lookalike Hitler-- commits suicide by blowing up his citadel. From a trophy he rescued from the destruction, Superman learns the purpose of Drago's mysterious digging project; to convert the very face of the planet into a model of Drago's face, visible from space. But that's not all; Supes unmasks Aton, Drago's supposed brother, as actually being Drago himself, who led a double life and escaped the citadel explosion. It seems that after Drago's supposed death, Aton planned to "invent" an antidote to the blindness and become the planetary hero as Aton, so that they would keep the world showing his face which is also Aton's face. But Superman saw through the plot because he noticed that "Aton" wore a watch which had a glass crystal over the face-- whereas a real blind person would wear a watch without a crystal so that he could feel the hands. Despairing, "My dream of an eternal monument is gone forever," Aton/Drago dies of the shock. In a hurry to return to Earth, Superman leaves before the antidote bomb has completely finished restoring the people's sight; the beautiful Pera can remember his features only by touch. But on a return visit to the planet months later, Superman is startled to find that it still bears a human face; not Drago's but his own. Based on Pera's memory of the shape of his face, the people of the planet again remodeled their world to serve as "an eternal tribute to their great liberator--- SUPERMAN!"

So why did this particular story scare and upset me so much as a child? Well, I was heavily near-sighted (still am) and had a fear of actually going blind, and felt somehow that if the mighty Superman could lose his sight, even temporarily, maybe I could too. (I know there were earlier Silver Age stories in which Superman or Superboy went blind, but I guess I didn't run across them.)

Following "Metropolis Mailbag" and house ads for the latest BATMAN and LOIS LANE ANNUALS, we finally get the cover-featured "Downfall of Superman". (I remember the cover from my childhood reading but not the story... maybe the "Blind Superman" story upset me so much that I hid the comic without even reading the second story.) The story is drawn by Curt Swan and George Klein and the splash panel shows wrestler Rocca lifting two mighty figures out of antiquity, as a bystander notes, "Now that wrestler Antonino Rocca is STRONGER than you, Superman, it's a cinch for him to defeat those two great musclemen of the past-- SAMSON and HERCULES!" Reporters Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are sent out to cover a press conference by wrestler Rocca, who announces that he and Superman will stage an exhibition wrestling bout for charity. Using Clark Kent as a reluctant sparring partner, Rocca demonstrates various wrestling moves and holds, including the "leg trip", "wristlock and scissors hold", and "hook scissors ride". Jimmy allows as how "Tossing Clark around was a cinch for you! But it would be a different story if you took on SUPERMAN!" Meanwhile, a moaning Clark hobbles off claiming to have sprained his ankle-- giving him an excuse for not showing up as Clark for the bout with Superman. In the "jam-packed Metropolis Arena," the next night, the preliminary event is Rocca, in skin-diving gear in an aquarium tank, wrestling an octopus. The crowd is impressed, but not Lois Lane; "Rocca's still a weakling compared to SUPERMAN! He could outfight a DOZEN WHALES and think nothing of it!" But when Superman arrives in the ring, Rocca picks him up and hurls him ignominiously back out of it. As the Man of Steel crashes to the ground, gangster Duke Marple and his henchmen are startled; "Rocca is making a bum outta Superman! if I had bet on Superman, I woulda lost my shirt!" "Gee, I thought NOBODY was stronger than Superman, boss!" Suddenly, there is a new arrival on the scene; Mr. Mxyzptlk, the imp from the 5th dimension, who reveals that he has granted Rocca greater strength than Superman's as one of his anti-Superman magical pranks. Mxy laughs at the chagrined expression on Superman's face, as do the crowd; "Har, har! Superman doesn't like the idea of somebody having GREATER strength! Next, "for some REAL action," Mxy materializes in the ring the ancient strongmen Samson and Hercules, and Rocca takes them on both at once, hurling them into the air and then pinning them to the mat with his pinky fingers. As Myxyzptlk dematerializes the "stumblebums" Herc and Samson and disappears himself, even Superman has to admit he is impressed; "Even I couldn't do better! Your strength is fabulous!"

But in Rocca's locker room after the performance, the wrestler is confronted by Marple and his thugs, who offer him payment to do a job for them. Rocca refuses-- "You're a crook, and I want no part of you or your dirty money!"-- but Marple and his gang offer him no choice; pulling their guns, they point out that Rocca is super-strong but he is not invulnerable like Superman. Rocca is forced to accompany the mobsters to a site in Metropolis' outskirts where an earthquake blocked access to their hidden loot; they want him to lift the giant boulder that blocks access to their hidden loot. Rocca lifts the boulder easily, but once he has his hands on the loot, the treacherous Marple shoots Rocca anyway "to keep him quiet!" But the bullets bounce off the wrestler, who then seizes and crushes Marple's gun. Then some "friends" of Rocca's arrive in a car; they are Superman, Samson and Hercules. As Marple tries to flee in his car, Samson fires lightning bolts from his fingertips to melt the tires, and Hercules pulls the car backwards by means of magnetism. As Superman pulls Marple out of the car, Mr. Mxyzptlk reappears, and Marple begs him to humiliate Superman again by saving him. But Myxyzptlk outfit bursts apart to reveal Krypto the Superdog, who impersonated Mxy and whose "voice" was provided by Superman's super-ventriloquism. And that isn't the only imposture going on, for "Superman" unmasks himself as Antonino Rocca,. "Samson" as Lightning Man, and "Hercules" as Cosmic Man, the latter both of the Adult Legion of Super-Heroes. It seems that Superman learned through the criminal grapevine of how Marple's loot was lost at an unknown site, and, knowing that Marple and his gang were wrestling fans, recruited Rocca's aid (and that of the Legionnaires from the future) to smoke out the location of the loot. It was really Superman who defeated Rocca in the ring, not vice versa. But Rocca is undaunted, wondering as he and Supes shake hands; "I wonder how I'd make out if I were pitted against the REAL SAMSON and HERCULES?" "Maybe some day I'll take you into the past through the time-barrier and we'll find out!" And the final caption promises, "And that's an exciting adventure you won't want to miss, readers! Watch future issues!" But, as far as I know, Rocca never made that return appearance. He was a real-life wrestling star of the 1960's, I gather, though not being a wrestling fan myself, I know little about his career.