Retro Review: Action Comics # 242

Welcome back to the fun that never ends!  It’s time for another RETRO REVIEW, and this week it’s from D C Comics!  And the comic in question is an early Silver Age gem, Action Comics # 242, cover dated July 1958.  I wasn’t actually reading comics back in ’58, but I do remember picking up this issue in the late sixties.

The cover is provided by the great Curt Swan, who provided the pencils and the inks were done by Stan Kaye.  Swan was the definitive D C cover artist during the late fifties and sixties, especially on the Superman family of books!  His covers are as iconic as Neal Adams‘ covers were during the late sixties and the seventies for publisher, D C!

And this issue was a gem, introducing a new villain to face off against Superman.  Take a look:

Action Comics # 242

Action Comics # 242    July 1958

As you can see by the terrific cover the new villain, was none other than, Brainiac!  This is the issue that he was first introduced into the Superman mythos!  The story was written by long time pro, Otto Binder and the interior art, both pencils and inks was done by Al Plastino!  The story is entitled; “The Super-Duel In Space”.

The story begins with Lois Land and Clark Kent aboard The Columbus, “the first experimental spaceship with humans aboard”.  Yep, never before had man gone into space, but here on the very first mission was two Daily Planet reporters!  Not astronauts, but reporters!  Yep, you just got to love the D C Silver Age of comics.  Reality?  Who needs reality!

Anyway the space flight encounters a flying saucer “from Outer Space”!  And onboard, Clark Kent sees a green skinned alien, with a white monkey-like creature on his shoulder, using his X-Ray vision.  He automatically assumes the alien is an enemy and using a convenient space suit flees the spaceship to rocket back to Earth by himself!  Again, you just gotta love the logic of comics at this time!

Once he’s out of sight, he changes into his Superman togs and flies back to take on the alien and the flying saucer, knowing that his secret identity is safe, as no one would think that the fleeing Clark Kent could also be the newly arrived Superman, now could they?  He is unable to break through a force field that surrounds Brainiac’s saucer and Brainiac begins to shrink the cities of Earth and encapsulate them in bottles on his saucer!

It is revealed that Brainiac plans to take the cities back to his home planet and return them to their normal size to repopulate his planet and rule over them, as a plague his wiped out his own people!  I wonder why he needs the cities?  Did the plague destroy his home planet’s cities when it destroyed the population?  Hey, just go with it!  It’s much cooler to shrink a whole city with all it’s buildings, etc, than to just shrink a bunch of people!

Superman faces off against Brainiac but can’t penetrate his personal force field either, so it appears he leaves in disgrace, flying off into space.  But of course, Superman just returns to Earth, and the city of Metropolis, just before Brainiac captures that city, as well, shrinking it and all it’s inhabitants and placing it into another bottle on his flying saucer!  He puts all his captured and shrunk Earth cities in storage near another shrunken city in a bottle, that he got elsewhere, prior to this story.

But unknown to Brainiac, Superman, though tiny, is now within Brainiac’s ship and no longer kept out by the force field!  Superman flies to the top of the bottle city of Metropolis and escapes.  At this moment Brainiac uncorks the mysterious other bottled city and Superman decides to explore it.  Upon flying inside he loses his powers and discovers that the city is Kandor!  A city that Brainiac captured from the planet Krypton, before it exploded.

Superman is met by Professor Kimda, the college roommate of Jor-El, Superman’s father!  Wow, it’s a small world (pun intended!) to happen upon his father’s ex-roommate who also happens to be a scientist in the bottled city of Kandor!  Professor Kimda tells Superman he knows which buttons must be pushed to restore the bottled cities to their correct size and place on their worlds.  He then shows Superman around, like a tourist, while Brainiac makes ready to return to his planet.  Of course, Superman asks for a couple of the items he’s seen within Kandor and used them, a rocket and a metal-eating mole to escape from the bottle holding Kandor when Brainiac puts himself to sleep for the return journey home!

He then does what’s necessary to return all the Earth cities and then has only one charge left to either return himself to the correct size, or to return Kandor to the correct size!  What a dilemma!  Of course, it’s taken out of Superman’s hands, because at that moment Professor Kimda using another rocket pushes the last button and restores Superman to his correct size!

Superman takes the bottled city of Kandor back to his Fortress of Solitude to keep it safe from Brainiac and hopes to one day find a way to restore the city to it’s normal size!  Of course, the one thing the story doesn’t address is what would have happened to Kandor, and all it’s residents, if it had been restored, since Krypton no longer existed.  The Earth cities went back to Earth in their original locations, so wouldn’t have Kandor been restore to Krypton?  Which didn’t exist any longer, and thus been destroyed?

Yikes!  Good thing Professor Kimda saved the day by using Brainiac’s ray machine to restore Superman, before he could use it on Kandor!

Anyway, this 1958, issue of Action Comics, not only gave us, Brainiac, who would be known as one of Superman’s greatest foes, maybe only second to Lex Luthor, but it also gave us the Bottled City of Kandor!  And in only thirteen (13) pages!  I salute Otto Binder and his wonderful imagination!  Thank you sir!  And it truly is amazing to me what the writers of the past could do in so few pages.  Unlike today’s writers, who can, and do, stretch out the same amount of story over ten or twelve issues, not pages!

Anyway, that’s all folks … be seeing you ….

About Greg Turner

Greg Turner (@gregturner16) is Back to the Past’s archivist and an auctioneer. He writes the columns “Fabulous Finds” and “Retro Reviews” on alternating weeks for the website and spins classic 45′s each week for Vinyl Tuesdays.

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