The Simpleton of Steel!

If, as Forest Gump liked to say, stupid is as stupid does, then our favorite Kryptonian is a prize idiot in Superboy #105 (June 1963). On the other hand, we might just find there's method to the madness of "The Simpleton of Steel."

Jerry Siegel pens this 8-pager, illustrated by the super-talented team of Curt Swan and George Klein, who also provide the cover art.

The story: Superboy rescues a group of trapped coal miners but in the process he accidentally unearths a chunk of red kryptonite, triggering the familiar "tingling" that precedes the strange and unpredictable effects that troublesome element produces.

Shortly afterwards, our hero spots a crowd gathered on a Smallville street corner and looking "pretty upset." Upon investigation he finds that Tommy's Custard Stand has an urgent problem: a "gadget" in the custard-making machine has broken, and customers aren't getting their custard! Luckily Superboy arrives before the National Guard is alerted, and with a quick burst of his heat vision, he manages to fuse the broken part back together.

Unfortunately the procedure has the side effect of melting all the custard, so we're back to square one. Tommy's customer's are not amused.

Hey, lady, your 7-year-old is the one with a caveman's grasp of grammar, so let's not go casting any stones, shall we?

Unfortunately, screwing up something as important, as vital, as life-or-death serious as frozen custard for the learning disabled is just the kind of thing that can ruin a crimefighter's career for good, and sure enough the news of Superboy's humiliating failure spreads quickly through the (apparently gossip-starved) town of Smallville.

I guess it's true you're only as good as your latest super-feat. Sure he saved us from that giant asteroid last week, but today he ruined a kid's custard. The moron oughtta be run out of town, I tell ya.

Later, a "distant swamp" catches fire (as swamps so often do) and for some reason Chief Parker considers it an important matter, summoning Superboy to do something about it. He does do something, just not what you might expect.

As if melted custards and distant swamp fires weren't enough Earth-shaking crises for one day, the president of the Smallville Bank and Trust summons Superboy with a real emergency: "One of our tellers is ill and didn't report to work! Please help out by counting those bills quickly!" (What a great town this is. "Superboy! Superboy! Help! I can't get these stubborn grass stains out of these pants!")

As luck would have it, two crooks named "Specs" McGurk and "Scarface" Malone are loitering about in the bank, and while they and other (legitimate) customers look on in amazement, Superboy goofs yet again, this time counting the bank's money so fast he sets fire to it with super-friction, accidentally destroying $10,000.

As an embarrassed Superboy exits the bank, the president deduces that Superboy's earlier exposure to Red Kryptonite must have rendered him a dimwit. As a result, true blue Lana Lang sees the chance of a lifetime...

"Specs" and "Scarface" follow Lana to her home, where they pull guns and demand the notebook containing Superboy's identity. When Lana screams, Superboy flies in through a window and hauls the crooks away. However, they manage to convince Superboy that they are not crooks but in fact are Secret Service agents, a claim they "prove" with the aid of toy badges purchased from a dime store (and rather conspicuously labeled, "Made in Japan").

Taking the duped Boy of Steel aside, they seek to exploit his sudden stupefaction. "We learned gamblers fixed the auto races tonight!" they lie. "If you were to make Rainbow Car No. 8 win, their car would lose and they'd be taught a lesson!" This sounds reasonable to Stupid-Boy, who cries, "I'll do it!"

The crooks place their bets on the No. 8 car, but their plan backfires on them when the witless Superboy "helps" their car in utterly unsubtle fashion:

Frustrated, the crooks try a new approach. "Memorial Day's coming soon," they say. "Legionnaires are selling artificial poppies to help veterans in need! Go bring us a few tons of real poppies from China. The public deserves something better than fake poppies!"

As Superboy flies off to China to carry out the plan, the crooks look on and gloat...

Wow, am I the only one who finds it a bit jarring to start a story with a broken custard machines and "dumb kid" gags only to veer off into the realm of illegal narcotics? I'm just imagining a young reader in 1963 asking, "Mommy, what's opium?" Anyway, Superboy returns with a train car full of Chinese poppies and the crooks hand him the address of their "big shot pal" with orders to leave deliver the poppies to his warehouse. Just then, real G-Men appear and take Specs and Scarface into custody, as Superboy reveals "my simpleton behavior was just an act!"

It turns out that the Red Kryptonite Superboy encountered in the mine "affected me only slightly," and not in a way that affected his super-brain. Turning the situation to his advantage, he pretended to have been rendered thick-headed, to trick the crooks into tipping their hands. The earlier "swamp fire" had been started by Superboy himself, and the money destroyed at the bank was "old, worn-out currency scheduled to be destroyed by the mint, anyway!"

Okay, eww.

With that settled, the crooks are carted away and all we have left to settle is the little matter of a denouement with Lana.

So now who's the simpleton? BAM!!

This is a perfectly nutty story, as I've come to expect by now from Silver Age Jerry Siegel. At a mere eight pages, it flashes by with agreeable speed, and as "hoax" stories go, it's less outlandish than many. It was nice to see Lana in on the plot, as otherwise the whole "write down your secret ID" scene would have reflected very, very badly on her. As it is, a number of her girlfriends cheer her on, ("Here comes your big moment now, Lana! Gee, he's sure become an awful lamebrain!") Indeed, most of Smallville comes out badly here, making a fuss over stuff that really doesn't matter and calling Superboy every name in the book.

The art is beautiful, but anyone who's been here before already knows of my fondness for the Swan/Klein team. Here they manage to bring to life a varied cast of characters of all ages and walks of life, from kids to old-timers, "pillars of the community" to gangland thugs. Smallville may not be the most loyal or patient town, but in the hands of Swan and Klein it sure looks real.

As Forest Gump might say, comics are like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get. This time out, what we got was extra nutty, but still a treat. But we're poking around in the Silver Age, so proceed with caution. You could bite into the one with that icky orange stuff in the middle at any time...