Superman (Vol.1) No. 158
Cover Date: Jan.1963
Written By: ?
Pencils: Curt Swan
Inks: George Klein

It's no exaggeration to say this one's got everything. It begins and ends with all-out battles against superman armies and along the way includes a visit to Kandor, the origins of Nightwing and Flamebird, Superman and Jimmy Olsen's imprisonment in the Phantom Zone, the enlargement of Kandor on Earth (giving the entire populace super-powers!) and the near-execution of Superman by his own people!

This magnum opus unravels in a standard-size issue full of enough twists and turns to fill a year and a half's worth of modern comics. And all for twelve cents! Boy, did kids in the Silver Age have it good, or what?

I recently found it in a small-town antique shop for a whopping four bucks, and even with that kind of inflation it's still a bargain.

Part I: Invasion of The Mystery Supermen!

Superman returns from a mission in space to discover a team of super-powered mystery men stealing rare elements and scientific instruments. They conk Superman over the head with a lead block, confounding his x-ray vision long enough for them to slip away.

On a hunch, Superman (with Jimmy Olsen in tow) flies to his Fortress of Solitude to find its massive door smashed off its hinges from the inside! Testing a theory that the raiders came from the Bottle City of Kandor, the two pals shrink themselves and parachute into that ill-fated city of Krypton (famously shrunken by the villain Brainiac and stored in a bottle like a hobbyist's miniature ship).

Once in the city, Superman is greeted with hostility by rioting Kandorians, who throw jeers -- and worse, stones -- at their former hero. Superman and Jimmy are forced to flee for their lives into the Kandorian forests, with an angry posse in close pursuit, led by a pack of telepathic hounds which can track them by their thought patterns!

Part II: The Dynamic Duo of Kandor!

By sending out thoughts of themselves taking a different course, Superman and Jimmy misdirect the telepathic hounds and elude their pursuers. Our heroes find refuge at the home of Nor Khan, former friend of Superman's parents Jor-El and Lara.

It is revealed that a scientist named Than Ol has found a way to enlarge Kandor, promising the inhabitants a shot at life outside that musty old bottle. The first few men to be enlarged by Than Ol's process were, as Superman had guessed, the super-crooks encountered in part one of the story. Than-Ol has launched a smear campaign against Superman, convincing many Kandorians that Superman has intentionally kept them in the bottle so as to avoid having competition from additional super-powered Kryptonians on Earth. As a result of Than Ol's lies, Superman is now Kandor's Public Enemy Number One.

Deciding to break into Than Ol's lab and learn whether the enlarging process is genuine, the vilified Superman assumes a masked identity to ensure his safety. Taking a page from Batman's book, he becomes the darkly-costumed Nightwing (based on a night-flying Kryptonian bird) and Jimmy becomes his "Robin"-like partner, Flamebird. Flying into town with jet-belts, they spot one of Than-Ol's raiders on his way out of the bottle, engage him in battle and capture his personal enlarging device. After examining it, Superman deduces that Than Ol's technology means doom, not salvation, for Kandor.

Pretending to be his "distant kinsman" and perfect lookalike Van Zee, Superman gains entry to Than Ol's lab and tries to destroy his machinery. However, Than Ol sees through Superman's ruse and knocks him out.

Part III: The City of Super-People!

Back at Nor Khan's house, Jimmy grows concerned when Superman fails to return from his mission. The real Van Zee appears and reports Superman's capture.

Soon after, the Superman Emergency Squad (a team of Kandorians who have saved Superman numerous times in the past) appears at Than Ol's lab and demands that Superman be released into their custody to be tried by the Kandorian courts. Than Ol complies, but suddenly Superman is snatched from the Squad's "custody" by "Nightwing" (actually Van Zee) and Flamebird. The Squad feigns shock, but are actually willing participants in Superman's escape plan.

Van Zee and Jimmy fly the injured Superman out of the bottle into the Fortress of Solitude, where he regains his powers and instantly recovers from his injuries. He and Jimmy return to normal size and, realizing the raiders will be along shortly, buy some time by projecting themselves into the Phantom Zone! The raiders do indeed appear, enlarge themselves and smash out of the Fortress, taking the bottle city with them and setting out to enlarge it somewhere on Earth.

In a short while, a timing device releases Superman and Jimmy from the Zone. Enlarging a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower, Superman demontrates what will happen when Kandor is enlarged: all buildings and living creatures will disintegrate in three hours!

In an unhabited area, Than Ol succeeds in enlarging Kandor, and its citizens revel in their new super powers. Superman shows up with Brainiac's reducing ray gun in a desperate attempt to shrink Kandor once more. The Kandorians resist, attacking him with kryptonite bazookas. Suffering a direct hit, Superman is weakened and placed before an execution squad. At the last moment, he gets a reprieve when the three-hour deadline arrives and Kandor begins to crumble. Acting quickly, Superman manages to shrink the city and return it to the bottle. The grateful (and no doubt embarassed) Kandorians ask forgivenes for their disloyalty and erect a statue in honor of Nightwing and Flamebird. For his part, Superman vows "I'll never cease trying to find a safe way to make you normal!"

My Thoughts

What's really wild is that this issue was pretty standard for the time: during this period there were no limits on where you might go or what you might see in a Superman story. Where other comic book characters were limping along with formula stories and maybe one or two memorable villains, Superman had an embarassment of riches, a sort of "Superverse" so big and populous he didn't really need to even interact with any costumed characters outside his "family" of titles. At one point in this tale, Superman ducks underwater to elude some super-powered enemies, and even though he's only submerged for one panel, he runs into mermaid Lori Lemaris and her fellow Atlanteans, who offer to help!

Of course there are some big flaws with the story. First, if Superman suspected trouble from Kandor, why didn't he just contact the ruling council from outside the bottle, instead of parachuting right in? Once he confirmed that the raiders were from Kandor, he could've just put a better stopper on the bottle! Second, if he knew he'd need a disguise to enter the city, why not disguise himself as an old man or a beggar or something equally low-key, instead of as a flashy superhero, a concept presumably new and amazing to the people of Kandor, and sure to attract attention? Third, hiding in the Phantom Zone may not have been such a good idea. If the raiders had decided to smash the projector, Superman and Jimmy would've been stuck in there forever. Fourth, why waste three hours demonstrating the negative effects of the enlarging ray to Jimmy, when it's crucial to stop the raiders ASAP? Finally, if all Kandorians are enlarged and powered at story's end, then why don't the Emergency Squad, Nor Khan and Van Zee fly to Superman's aid in the final battle?

Then again, if you're gonna be that nit-picky, you'll never have any fun. One great detail here is that even in Kandor, Superman is something of a genius, analyzing Than Ol's technology as efficiently as Batman might have, or more to the point, as Jor-El would have. This seems to prove that Superman's brilliance is not dependent on a yellow-sun environment. Among the oddities here are the lack of hyphens in Kryptonian names (Van-Zee becomes Van Zee, for exampe) and the unusual outfits of the Emergency Squad, who in their earliest appearances wore Kryptonian "street clothes" and later switched to miniature Superman suits. In this story they have a sort of "Transitional" outfit of standard Kryptonian tunics and pants, but all of them in blue with red trim and sporting a skinny, triangular variation on the "Superman S."

Anyway, this book's lots of fun. Providing you allow yourself to read it with the wonder and open-mindedness of a twelve-year-old circa 1963, you can't help but have a blast.


UPDATE! -- READ "Superman in Kandor" at "Superman Through The Ages"!!!