Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It Came From The Back Issue Box: Superman #338


With a new Kandor suddenly re-grown on Earth, I thought it might be interesting to review the Silver Age issue equivalent. Released in 1979, Superman #338 was titled ‘Let My People Grow’, written by Len Wein and drawn by Superman legend Curt Swan. It had a pretty big impact on both the Superman and Supergirl mythos at the time, removing a fairly crucial piece of lore, the bottle city of Kandor.

It also, thankfully, removed an easy ‘deus ex machina’ from Superman stories. Much like Kryptonite seemed to be a near ubiquitous substance in this time period of stories, the ‘let’s go to Kandor for a super-science answer to our problems’ was also an over-used plot device. Heck, Supergirl even used a Kandorian super-exo-skeleton for a time in Adventure Comics.

This story starts out with Superman in deep space trying to harness the exploding energies from a super-nova at close range.


While he is successful, it turns out that even a Silver Age Kryptonian cannot withstand a super-nova explosion to the face. As he enters Earth’s atmosphere, he passes out from radiation exposure and exhaustion.

Luckily Supergirl is part of the plan here and was scanning the skies for Superman to return. She flies up and catches him, thus saving the collected energy gun from any damage.


Superman awakens without too much of a solar hangover and gleefully tells the Kandorian Science Council that the stored solar energies combined with precious Illium 349 will reverse Brainiac’s shrink ray. The Kandorians are a bit cautious, not willing to chance it. But Superman assuages them by saying that he will test the ray on a living being first.


And rather than risk the life of a single Kandorian citizen, he will test the ray out on himself. While it sounds pretty noble, doesn’t this seem like sort of a bad idea? First Superman has to get shrunk by Brainiac. Then, he has to risk his life with the enlarging ray. Isn’t there any other way? Heck, Van-Zee even volunteers.

Regardless, Superman decides to move forward with his plan, which involves luring Brainiac to Earth and goading him into using his shrink ray. Superman does this by rigging up an electronic beacon tuned to Brainiac’s brain giving Brainiac an incessant migraine. It works too!


In fact Brainiac gets so ticked off, he bathes Metropolis in a tractor beam, shaking the city as if a massive earthquake has hit. I again have to note that this was the down side to Superman’s plan. Let’s say Metropolis got leveled here … would Superman be happy with his plan?


Somehow ... luckily ... the plan works, Superman tricks Brainiac into shooting him with the ray, shrinking him down to bug-size. At this point, Superman’s ‘emergency weapon’ comes into view. Supergirl has been hiding the entire time, awaiting the moment to use the enlarging ray on a shrunken Kal-El.

Brainiac in turn decides to try to shrink Kara. She is able to deflect the shrink ray with a blast from the enlarging ray gun. Brainiac, struck by the full force of his own ray, begins to rapidly shrink.


Here is my favorite scene from the book. As Brainiac realizes he will shrink down to nothingness, effectively killing himself with his own weapon, he begs Kara to save him. But look at the steely look on Supergirl’s face. She calmly tells him that there isn’t enough energy for Superman, Kandor, and Brainiac. In essence, he is out of luck.

She is as cool as the other side of the pillow here.

Even Superman begs her to use the ray to save Brainiac, but she firmly reiterates that she won’t. She almost chastises Superman for thinking it. “Cousin … NO!” That's some intestinal fortitude right there!

Brainiac simply disappears.

I don’t know about you, but I think Supergirl made the right decision here. A tough one … but the right one.

Heading back to the Fortress, Supergirl finally uses the ray on Superman and he grows to normal size with no apparent side effects.


They contact Kandor again with good news and are told that the citizens have chosen a large primitive world orbiting a red sun, much like Krypton.

I wonder if there was an election or if it was a science council mandate. Can you imagine that town meeting ? “Well, we can pick a yellow sun world where we will be near omnipotent and invulnerable or we can choose a back-water red sun world and toil as usual. Can I see a show of hands for yellow-sun?”


The super-cousins fly a rocket to the planet (remember it is in a red sun galaxy) and then Superman uses the gun with dramatic effect. Sorry about the double page spread, this was the most I could fit on my scanner.
Once enlarged, a different sort of Kara reunion with her parents takes place, one less creepy than the more recent one seen in the New Krypton Special. While she would love to stay and live with her parents, she has made a life on Earth and so will stay there. Alura tells Kara that she has grown into a woman.

But the good times don’t last too long. For some reason, the structures of Kandor cannot withstand the expansion and suddenly collapse into dust.

I hope everyone was out of the buildings and on the ground. Anyone higher than 2 stories is probably hurting right now.

Of course Superman feels pretty lousy about what he perceives to be an error on his part. But Van-Zee takes it all in stride telling Kal that while he destroyed their city he gave them a world. Indeed, another scientist tells Superman that if they cannot tame this world they did not deserve to be enlarged at all.

I don’t know about this. Can you imagine taking a society based on super-science and putting them into a wilderness where they will need to build even the most rudimentary tools? Sounds like a good setting for anarchy.
What about medicine … structures … anything?
Don’t you think there is a subset of people now wishing they were on that yellow-sun planet?


Superman says he will stay to help, but that idea is emphatically shot down by Van-Zee. Look at the glass jaw on Superman, knocked out with one punch. Turns out the Kandorians have felt a bit like pets for some time and wish to get out from under Superman’s watchful eye. They even chose this planet because it lies on a cosmic axis, thus phasing in and out of this dimension.

Man, they really wanted Superman out of their business. But couldn’t they just explain that to him rather than rough him up? Don’t you think Supergirl might have wanted to know this earlier so she could talk to her parents more before being shuffled off the planet?


Superman awakens just in time to see the planet wink out of this dimension. Supergirl puts a optimistic or ominous spin on this finale depending on your viewpoint. “They’ve begun a great adventure – a journey of cosmic discovery. I only pray they some day find whatever it is they are looking for.”

Well, it turns out they did just fine. We saw ‘Rokyn’, planet’s name, a couple of other times as it annually would enter this dimension. Superman even delivered Kara’s body to her parents after her death in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I have to say this is a somewhat important issue for the Silver Age Superman history and is readily available for under $5. For Supergirl fans, the scene with Brainiac alone makes it worth the price, but as this did involve her family, it impacted her greatly as well. It is a worthy part of a Supergirl collection.

If you can overlook some of the bigger problems with the story (luring Brainiac to attack Earth, shrinking yourself without knowing if you can return, Kandorians picking a wild world to live on, and slugging Superman who has kept them safe all this time), it might even merit an ‘A’ grade.

Overall grade: B

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ahhh remember when Superman and Supergirl were a TEAM???

How good we had it.

My only complaint about this issue is Frank Chiarmonte's scratchy little inks...they never suited Curt Swan one bit...other than that one of my faves here.

Heath Edwards said...

mmm, good story.

mspote said...

Your criticisms of the story are well taken, but I would give this story an "A" because it has a very emotionally satisfying conclusion. It does make more than a certain amount of sense that the Kandorians would want to go it on their own, even if on a wild and untamed world (it does give me flashbacks to Khan and "Space Seed" from Star Trek, of course, but...) This is the story (when I read it in the recent "Bottle City of Kandor" TPB) that put me on the track of finding and collecting Bronze Age Superman stories, because it combined the fantastic sci-fi elements of the Silver Age with at least a serious attempt at some emotional heft and real characterization, anticipating developments in the modern age.

Thanks for a great review -- lots of fun to read! This site is fantastic, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

The key line in the script is Zor El's characterization of the Kandorians as Superman's "pets". The red solar system was a way to escape that status and also preserve Krypton's unique civilization.
Oh yeah and please note, when Supes falls to Earth who catches him? Cousin Kara!
One of her many many super-saves from the silver and bronze age...and how do they reward her for saving her cousin's bacon so many times?
They killed Supergirl and expunged HER from continuity and US from DCU fan-dom!
Still rankles after all these years...

John Feerr

Anj said...

Ahhh remember when Superman and Supergirl were a TEAM???

How good we had it.


Thanks for the post.

I think the current creative teams are trying to bring us back to that dynamic. I at least hope so.

Anj said...

It does make more than a certain amount of sense that the Kandorians would want to go it on their own, even if on a wild and untamed world (it does give me flashbacks to Khan and "Space Seed" from Star Trek, of course, but...)

Thanks for a great review -- lots of fun to read! This site is fantastic, keep up the good work.


Thanks for the post. The 'Space Seed' reference is a good one. The truth is that you could easily see something more sinister come from Rokyn, but it did not.

And I am glad you are enjoying the blog. Thanks for reading!

TalOs said...

anj wrote...
Once enlarged, a different sort of Kara reunion with her parents takes place, one less creepy than the more recent one seen in the New Krypton Special. While she would love to stay and live with her parents, she has made a life on Earth and so will stay there. Alura tells Kara that she has grown into a woman.

Now THAT particular family reunion scene touched me more so then that of the current Post-IC DCU so called "New Earth" version featured in New Krypton Special #1 not to long ago now! Here Zor-El actually seemed to be bursting with actual pride for Kara as well as Alura-El and her crying tears of joy in realizing that they actually miraculously have back their sole beloved biological offspring once again as well as gaining the nephew Kal-El/Superman at that!

Actually anj, did you know Planet Rokyn was featured yet again in the Waid/Kitson Supergirl and The Legion of Super-Heroes title itself at the time come One year Later and it too was exactly portrayed to be like that of the Pre-COIE/S-BA E-1 take! Only, Zor-El and Alura were never mentioned during the Legion trying to convince Kara to stay on Rokyn in order to get her faculties together as a result of her being time displaced which lead to her believing her whole time spent with the Legion to be nothing more but that of a mere dream where the Legion thought that by having her be treated by the residents and descendants of Kandor proper would be the best thing for her in the end. (Of course they soon realized what a mistake this was when a high council member/resident of Rokyn said that the Legion could never return to their planet, nor for that matter could Kara ever leave, to where the Legion were forced to kidnap her back with a Kara who was MORE then willing to go along with this to later she even willingly rejoins the Legion as Supergirl and her coming to terms that the time era she had found herself in here was in fact NOT a dream in reality at all.)

Anj said...

Actually anj, did you know Planet Rokyn was featured yet again in the Waid/Kitson Supergirl and The Legion of Super-Heroes title itself at the time come One year Later and it too was exactly portrayed to be like that of the Pre-COIE/S-BA E-1 take!

Thanks for the post. I had completely forgotten about that storyline in Legion. I will have to go dig out those issues for a re-read.

Interesting that the LoSH Kara so eagerly wanted to leave Rokyn for her life on Earth.

TalOs said...

Well, after the way that the 31st Century Planet Rokyn inhabitants presented themselves to both the Legion not to mention how they were more then willing to put down Kara could you really blame her for not wanting to stay there really. :P

You'd think that having the OTHER 21st Century era resident of the house of El wearing the "S" shield would in turn call for them being extremely honored and possibly want to treat her like royalty as i assume they would had it have been Superman here instead. :/

Mart said...

Thanks for a great reminder of a great story - I couldn't believe it was really happening!

Anon, I disagree about Chiaramonte inks being 'scratchy' - look at the delicate detail in the panel with Kara and the space ship.

If you're taking requests, Anj, how about a look at a Superman/Supergirl story that really freaked me out as a kid, Feud of the Titans, from Action Comics #402?

Anonymous said...

Great story. I almost cannot believe Supergirl coolly said "No, I'm not going to save the villain. I'm not going to sacrifice my cousin or Kandor to save freaking Brainiac, of all people." It took guts and I also believe it was the right choice.