Tuesday, March 31, 2015


None of those other guys mean anything.

The folks in charge of the action figures have always complained that Superman is tough to market, because he lacks alternate costumes and accessories. Well, that’s not exactly true, thanks to “The Day Superman Became the Flash” (Action Comics vol.1 No 314, July 1964), wherein the Man of Steel lives five exciting lives as different superheroes. Sounds like fun? It is not, genuinely not fun in any way, just a real snoozer. Let’s begin!

The story begins with Superman on his regular patrol of the ocean, which I assume he does just in case he comes across a gang of teenaged sharks shaking down a shopkeeper, or a Kraken smoking weed. Clean up that ocean, Superman!

Another reason I hate this story is that this panel
literally just reiterates the two panels that came before it.
In the middle of his mid-Atlantic mission, Green Arrow takes a potshot at the Man of Steel from a nearby deserted island. If you ever wanted to know why Superman cut off Green Arrow’s arm in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, now you fuckin’ know.

Turns out that Green Arrow was merely trying to get Superman’s attention, which must’ve been difficult because a patrol of the oceans requires every ounce of super-concentration that even a man from Krypton can muster. Oh shit, did that breaking wave just mug an old lady? Better make sure the starfish aren’t driving 60 in a school zone, Superman, you idiot.

Anyway, five members of the Justice League are there to show Superman a film which Aquaman had discovered at the bottom of the ocean – a film recorded by Superman’s father, Jor-El, and which all of Superman’s friends watched when he wasn’t around. This is something only the best of friends will do for you. Perhaps they couldn’t reach him because he was out patrolling the goddamn ocean.

The tape, narrated by Jor-El in a tight shot from the chest up like a guy ranking his ten favorite bishoujo figures on YouTube, reveals the process which Superman’s pop had used to decide which planet would receive his infant son. He also goes on to describe to the viewer what would have happened to Superman on each of five potential destinations. Hm, a tedious over-explanation of a process no one but the narrator cares about, courtesy of a middle-aged white man who ought to have better things to do? It IS a YouTube video!

That look.
I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you that, on each of the five worlds, baby Superman grows up to be a superhero distinctly reminiscent of his super-powered pals in the JLA.  I think we can all agree being any other superhero is a real let-down for Superman.

The first candidate world is Xann, where everyone is at least ten times larger than the people of Krypton. That should’ve been enough for Jor-El to pass on the planet, but maybe it was one of the slow “last days of the planet Krypton.” Kal-El, obviously, grows up as a pygmy, pitied by his friends for his diminutive size, although every girl on this planet wears a miniskirt so congratulations tiny Superman.

When crooks take a bunch of hostages, Kal-El decks himself out in an Atom-like costume and defeats the baddies, and the Xannians don’t recognize him as their pal Kal-El because, and I quote here, “It can’t be Kal-El, for this one has terrific powers!” Maybe Jor-El was checking of Xann because of the legendary credulity of its people.

Next up is Valair, either a planet entirely submerged by water or a cheap Central American airline. There, Kal-El grows up to be a super-powered Aquaman, and actually gets along pretty well except he gets lonely for the open air and sometimes builds giant la-z-boy recliners out of coral reefs and stares at the sun. Since Jor-El can’t stand ennui, he moves on to world three.

Ntann-Goats are the Earth-worms of Ntann.
This is Ntann, a world where Superman would grow up without powers amidst a technologically backwards people. He does end up becoming a great archer, and inventor of gimmick arrows, including a lasso arrow with which he captures a “Ntann-Goat” and WHY IS IT CALLED A NTANN GOAT? It’s on Ntann, they don’t have to distinguish it from Earth goats,  and even if they did they’d just call ours “Earth-Goats,” goddamn it. Because they’re so stupid, Jor-El vetoes Ntann.

Saruun is a another world under a red sun, and also an artificial satellite positioned in such a way as to plunge the whole world into eternal darkness, which the Saruunians arranged for some reason. Whatever their logic, I bet it was dumb as hell.

It’s on this world that Kal-El, raised by a criminologist father, is trained to become a dark avenger of the night and also the day which is frankly indistinguishable from the night. Taking his name from a winged mammal, he becomes a dead ringer for Batman except the ears on his mask are all floppy like an old teddy bear’s and he calls himself “The Diro.” He sounds like an avenging muppet.

Lastly, Jor-El checks out Gangor, a world which is basically identical to Earth, except it’s another one of those pesky red sun planets. Turns out Kal-El doesn’t remain powerless for long, tho, as his adoptive dad is also a scientist and, even more coincidentally, just like Jor-El is a really terrible scientist who doesn’t think things through.

"Or, eh, what the heck, this is good enough."
Bathing Kal-El in science rays renders the guy SUPER-FAST, and he decks out in a combination Superman/Flash costume (“The S I put on my costume stands for SPEED” he says, as though that explains everything. Also apparently they speak English on this alien planet). Unfortunately, his speed works out too well, and he runs completely up and out of the atmosphere, dying in space. Jor-El spends a lot of time watching his adult son die and be miserable on his big screen TV, is what I’ve learned from this story.

Anyway, the conclusion is that Jor-El checks out Earth and it’s ju-u-u-u-ust right, hooray! I bet the readers were on the edge of their seats wondering to which of these worlds Superman would be sent by his maniac weirdo of a dad. Does Earth stand a chance? Ooh, I can’t wait to find out.

The story ends with Superman’s pals delighted to have been completely overshadowed by their super-buddy in every aspect of their careers, particularly the Atom who hadda watch Superman be him but with awesome powers. I’m sure it was a great bonding experience but I hope nothing untoward happened to the ocean while Superman was distracted.

1 comment:

wordsmith said...

Are some of the "Ntann-goats" called "Ntanny-goats"?
The splash-page contains several examples of Al Plastino sucking all the dynamism out of super-heroing--he's vanilla ice cream without the sugar.
It's possible that this story partially inspired the Ideal toy company to come up with "Captain Action".
Thanks for leavening my day, Calamity Jon. You're a credit to your race.

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