The Ghost of Jor-El!

Okay, so here's the set-up. The ghost of Jor-El materializes to warn Superboy of the terrible "Curse of the Kents" and commands him to leave his foster parents. Superboy tells Ma and Pa "It's a real ghost, not a trick!"

Wow, conflicted loyalties to two fathers, a visitor from beyond the grave, a mysterious "curse"...sounds like one heckuva story, doesn't it?

Too bad, 'cause that's not what you get. Instead, "The Ghost of Jor-El" (Superboy #78, Aug. 1964) is really an "origin" story for Mr. Mxyzptlk, who's pretty much the antithesis of everything spooky, suspenseful or psychologically complex.

We open in the 5th Dimension (in a land that will later be known as "Zrfff"), where Mxyzptlk's parent's are debating what to do about their mischievous child. Yes, I said parents; this story is set in Superboy's time, and Mxyzptlk, like Clark Kent, is a young teen. Why a 5th-Dimensional imp should have to age in the same way as a human is anyone's guess, but whatever.

Anyway, Mxy finally goes too far with a prank he plays on the family pet:

This early (first?) appearance of Mxyzptlk's homeworld runs counter to later portrayals of Zrff as a place where mischief and pranks are encouraged and celebrated. It also doesn't make a lot of sense; why have a race of magical creatures if using that magic is considered bad behavior?

Confined to his room, Mxy decides his parents don't love him any more and runs away from home, flying through "the space warp" to Earth (another concept that won't appear again). On Earth, he spots Superboy doing a good deed and decides to amuse himself by ruining the Boy of Steel's reputation. Donning (dorky) Earth clothes, he reports to Smallville High, where we meet one of the heretofore unsung heroes of Smallville, schoolteacher "Miss Miller"...

Wow, really? "The boy with the glasses"? Nice. Of course there's an empty seat next to him; who wants to sit next to a "four-eyes"? Nice system Miss Miller's got for remembering her youthful charges; besides "Goggles Kent" of course there's "Charlie Ziffel, the fat kid" and "Sally, the girl with bad skin." In the next panel, Clark asks his new classmate, "What's your name?"...which means Miss Miller never bothered to ask. But then, why should she? Obviously it's easier to remember him as "Red-Headed Pinocchio Boy." (Also, it's worth noting Clark is not at all surprised to hear the kid's name is "Mxyzptlk." Maybe he figures it's Polish.)

Miss Miller sends Clark on an errand to the principal's office and three other children are asked to write historical facts on the board. When no one's looking, Mxy changes them to say, "Columbus discovered a hole in his shoe in 1492...Yankee Doodle was our first president...Alexander Graham Bell invented the hot dog." Miss Miller does not take it well...

That's right, you're all STUPID! Extra points for making "Lana, the snooty girl" cry. I know who's getting my vote for Teacher of the Year.

Mxyzptlk tells Miss Miller he felt a sudden breeze and the brush of a cloak when the answers were changed. Maybe Superboy...

At that, Superboy flies in to clear his name. Fashioning a giant magnifying glass from sand in the schoolyard, he reveals the original, erased answers under the new ones, clearing his classmates and himself. After school, Clark decides to keep an eye on this "fibbing" new kid and notices Mxy's colorblind when he tries to cross the street against the traffic light.

Flying over Smallville later in the day, Superboy suddenly finds a giant egg floating in his path and is doused when it cracks open, to the amusement of Mxyzptlk and a nearby group of picnicking youngsters.

"Ha, ha!" laughs one kid, "Funniest thing I ever saw!" "Ho, Ho!" chortles his pal. Watching from a tree, Mxy thinks, "When those picnicking kids tell their friends, Superboy will become the laughing stock of Smallville!"

Ooookay, so let's imagine that conversation, shall we?

"So we're sitting there waiting for our burgers when a giant egg materializes in the air above us, right? Then Superboy comes along..."

"Wait a minute, did you say a giant egg?"

"Yeah, a giant egg. So Superboy comes along..."

"It doesn't strike you as a bit odd that a giant egg is just floating in the AIR?"

"Well now that you mention it..."

"What if it had fallen on you?"

"I...uh...never really thought..."

"Dude, you're lucky to be alive!"

"Gosh, you're right! Superboy is my hero!"

As the broken egg falls to Earth, Superboy analyzes the yolk with his x-ray vision and determines it's safe to eat, so he cooks it with heat vision and serves a giant omelet to the kids. His reputation is saved: It's delicious!

Next Mxyzptlk stumbles upon a robbery in progress and pretends to be a "midget detective." He offers to let the crooks go if they agree to put on a play with him at Smallville High (hey, it could happen!). The crooks dress as Samson, Hercules and Atlas, with Mxy as "Superboy". As the play begins, Clark smells a rat and asks to be excused. Mxy's play portrays Superboy as a coward afraid to face the other strongmen, to the amusement of the school kids (fickle creeps!). He runs comically from the room, only to pass the real Superboy on his way in. Superboy arrests the crooks on the spot.

Visiting the "Life on Krypton" exhibit at the Superboy Museum, Mxyzptlk hits on a new plan. He conjures up "a phantom likeness of Jor-El" and commands it to wreck Superboy's career. So it is that "the Ghost of Jor-El" makes his appearance, ordering Superboy to scram...

Later, the radio reports that astronomers have seen Superboy flying off for another galaxy, abandoning Earth. Mxyzptlk gloats, but not for long, as Superboy swoops down into his path. "I only pretended to leave Earth," he says, having realized it was Mxy who'd been causing his recent troubles. He saw through the "ghost" ruse because "the red and green my father's 'ghost' wore were reversed! Whoever created the fake ghost was color-blind! And I happen to know that you are!" (remember the incident with the traffic light?). For once, the Kryptonian tradition of wearing the same clothes every freaking day of the year pays off.

Mxyzptlk denies he's color-blind, and Superboy challenges him to prove it. He holds out two bricks, one red and one green, and tells Mxy to read what's written on the red one. He reads the wrong one, but it doesn't matter as they both are inscribed with Mxyzptlk's name spelled backwards, and he's sent home to the 5th dimension. Back at the Kent home, Superboy tells Ma and Pa he received a message from the 5th dimension telling him how to defeat Mxyzptlk, a message sent by the imp's parents. In the last panel, Mxy is headed for punishment at the business end of dad's hairbrush, and squawks, "Ooo-ooh! That super-crumb! From now on, it's war!"

Wow, where to begin with a story like this? It's pretty much par for the course as a Mxyzptlk tale, and about as kooky as you'd expect from Jerry Seigel, source of the nuttiest tales of the Weisinger years. Still, it seems more than a little disingenuous to draw in readers with that cover promising something spooky and/or life-changing, only to find this silliness. If Mxyzptlk is so great a character, why not mention him on the cover? Wouldn't it be a big deal that they're "revealing" the "first encounter" of these two adversaries? As it is, "the ghost of Jor-El" shows up for all of three panels, and never at any point is the reader under any illusion that he's an actual ghost, making this easily one of the most inaccurately named stories of all time. ghosts, but in its own way it's still a spooky story, what with an apparition that at least looks like Superboy's dead father, a teacher who makes Cruella DeVille look like Pollyanna and a town full of kids ready to turn on their "hero" at a moment's notice. And you can't tell me you wouldn't be a little scared if a kid who looked like this sat next to you in school...