Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Review: Superman #156

I continue to navigate the current COVID-19 world of no new comics by dipping into the collection and covering interesting back issues. If they include some sort of infection, it's a bonus.

A couple of weeks ago, I covered Action Comics #366 in which Superman being cured from his infection with Virus X, So I figured why not cover Superman #156, 'The Last Days of Superman', the first appearance of Virus X, as far as I can tell.

It is a classic Silver Age story, deemed on the cover to be 'Not a Hoax' and 'Not a Dream' but real! The cover is certainly a grabber. Superman is in some isolation booth, saying goodbye to Supergirl, Krypto, and the Kandorians. he is dying from Virus X. And he needs his friends to heed his last wishes. His will is unfurled before him. You can see the concern on Kara's face, This is a winner by Curt Swan.

As for Virus X, it is as deadly as it seemed to be in the other story. It cannot be destroyed by heat, cold, the vacuum of space, or time. It is impervious.

One thing that I love about this issue is that Supergirl is really the star here. You will see how she is in charge of enacting Superman's wishes, executing his will, and still working tirelessly to try and cure her cousin. Kudos to writer Edmond Hamilton for giving Kara the space here to shine.

Can you figure out how Superman survives this before the ending?

On to the book.

An added bonus to the story is that it is told in three parts. Most issues back then had multiple stories in them. But this is a novel-length tale, encompassing the entire issue. That means we get three mini-splash pages per chapter. And, interestingly enough, the page number for each chapter starts again at number one.

I wonder if there was a plan to put this in three consecutive issues as opposed to all in one.

Anyways, this is startling image. The dead Superman is being carried by his cape into the Fortress by the Kandorians. There is something rather Christ-like in that pose, isn't there.

The issue starts with one of those horrible Silver Age coincidences.

A rocket capsule is on a collision course with a Kryptonite chest. Knowing he is the only one who can help but has to from a distance, Superman chucks an abandoned booster rocket at the Green K, sending it crashing to Earth and out of the way of our brave astronaut.

Heading back to Earth to deal with the Kryptonite, Superman meets Jimmy who flew their in his mobile newsroom.

Ahhh ... but this is more than Green K. It is a chest holding the only specimens of Virus X, a deadly plague to Kryptonians. Before the wind can blow the germs towards Superman, he throws a huge boulder at it, driving the virus and the Kryptonite deep underground But was it too late?

And isn't throwing a rock at super speed into a germ cloud actually a way to disperse the germ even more?

Virus X jogs a memory in Superman's pre-Crisis brain.

Noted Kryptonian scientist Tharb-El was trying to find a cure for Virus X. As it is basically indestructible, it could have survived all this time in space.

Ironic that it would be something from Krypton that would end Superman's life.

Wracked with pain and feeling weak, it seems Superman is dying. He knows he has 30 days to live.

He also knows he has things he has  to accomplish before he dies. He tells Lois and Jimmy not to publish the story.

And lastly, he knows he cannot see Supergirl or he will expose her to the virus as well. He has to do this on his own. Hooray for social distancing! But also how terrible that he thinks Supergirl won't be able to take care of these threats in the future.

The virus seems to be giving Superman periods of extreme weakness. At other times he seems to be rallying. But as he tries to complete a canal system on his, while Jimmy covers the story for the paper, he is overcome again.

He calls on his Superman robots to build him an isolation chamber so he can communicate with Supergirl safely. He tells her the great threats she needs to take care of before he dies. She knows she is going to need help. So she calls on Krypto, Lori Lemaris, and the Legion to help.

Look at how brave Kara is. There isn't time for tears right now. She has to complete these deeds.

I rarely include full pages in my reviews. But this would be the page I would want to own in this book. Incredible!

End of Part One!!

Part two opens with a great half splash. The Super-Comrades of All Time opens with a scene of Supergirl, Krypto, the Legion time bubble, and the Kandorians flying over Metropolis.

This isn't the Justice League. This isn't Batman.

This is Supergirl leading the way like she should as the one to pick up the mantle of Superman.

As Superman writhes in pain in his chamber, Supergirl gets down to business.

First off,  his  robots dig a vast canal system around Earth.

Next, Superman has calculated that in the distant future an uninhabited planet will veer off course and crash into Earth.

The solution?

Kara destroys that planet now so it can never endanger Earth.

Next, Superman knows that some cloud of intergalactic fungus will cross Earth and kill all Terran plant life. So Supergirl uses super-science and  the abilities of the Legion to create a metal interstellar fungicidal weapon. She then deploys it, saving the Earth again.

Superman is impressed. And when Jimmy needs to take Lois back to Metropolis, he feels a little surge of energy. Enough to head off for one last flight and a personal mission.

Meanwhile, Brainiac 5 has been off on his own trying to find a cure on his own.

He is still plagued by the evil of his ancestor. And, I'm sure, he'd love to impress Supergirl. But it's no use. He is stymied.

Superman is doomed.

End of Part Two!

And so starts Part Three, 'Superman's Last Day of Life'.

Another nice semi-splash as Superman slowly dies in the booth. Meanwhile, grief stricken, Supergirl and the Legion look on. Hmmm. who do we think Vi is leaning on. In my copy, it is someone completely white. I guess Invisible Kid given the headband. Is he invisible?

The next plan on Superman's final task list? Global warming!

Using the Legion again, Supergirl creates a miniature sun at Antarcitica, a way to slowly melt the ice cap so more Earth can be lived on by humanity.

Hmm ... fake news!

With a last surge of strength, Superman thinks revisits Smallville and thinks about his fondest memories.

He says goodbye to Batman and leaves a message for humanity on the moon, including his secret identity

Back in his isolation chamber with  Jimmy, Superman continues to waste away.

Meanwhile, Supergirl continues to check off the boxes Superman left her. She heads underwater to shrink giant sea monsters who might attack cities one day. Remember when Superman was worried she might not be able to take care of these threats in the future? She took care of them in the present!

And she uses her powers to head back to Krypton to try and figure out a cure there.
She learns that 'element 202' can kill the virus but that is as deadly. He destroys the virus.
There truly is no cure. but there is no sample either.

If he did destroy it, why did he keep it in a chest that said 'this houses the only sample of Virus X'?

(As an aside, how does she come back from Krypton with it being under a red sun and all?)

But if Tharb-El destroyed his sample of Virus X, how is Superman dying?

Turns out he isn't dying of Virus X. He is dying because any time he is near Jimmy, he is exposing himself to a chunk of Green K embedded in Olsen's camera. Mon-El from the Phantom Zone tells Saturn telepathically what the real reason behind Superman's affliction!

It neatly explains all the surges of strength which occurred when Jimmy would leave. And the lead glass protected Kara and the Kandorians.

With the camera-K removed, Superman is back to normal in no time.

Luckily, no one saw the moon message so he and Supergirl can erase the bottom line, keeping Clark's identity safe.

Of course, does that mean the canals are still feeding the deserts and the ice cap is still melting. Is that half message still on the moon? Ridiculous!

And how nifty that in a short period of time it is Supergirl who finishes Superman's 'to do' list.

I love this comic.

Supergirl is front and center getting things done. It is a bonkers Silver Age story filled with coincidences, Kryptonian artifacts, the Legion, a Brainy/Kara moment, and both Lois and Lana. It has those classic maudlin panels of Superman crying as he thinks of all the things he hasn't done. It has Lana and Lois swearing to stop harping on each other and instead learning to mourn together.

The art by Swan is so sweet. Supergirl is young and pretty and capable.

But wait, there's more.

You learn how to pronounce Mxyzptlk!

I'd say this is of mild importance for a Supergirl collection just for all the Kara goodness in it and the origin of Virus X. Plus the Mxyzptlk answer! I don't recall how much I paid for my copy. But you never know where you'll find deals these days.

And in this time of pandemic, it is good to know that sometimes a return to normal life can happen!

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of supergirl,

Thank you for this old story, the silver age is always surprising.

Question, when was created the Battle of Kandor ?

Martin Gray said...

This really is one of the true Superman classics, thanks so much for looking back at it. Do you think anyone would have guessed the Jimmy connection?

And boy, Curt Swan and George Klein really did up their always great game, just look at Lois in that spotlight panel! Weird that in the following one Lyla Lerrol’s hair was miscoloured... I suppose she could have been in a role.

So, how many issues would DC get out of this story today? At least six, I suppose... give me short bursts of intense emotion any time, it all felt earned.

Anonymous said...

This was a great story. I love good, old Silver Age where heroes were heroes, Superman and Supergirl were loving relatives, and their backstories weren't rebooted every two years.

"Question, when was created the Battle of Kandor?"

The Bottle City of Kandor first appeared in "Action Comics #242: The Super Duel in Space" (July, 1958). It was also Brainiac's first appearance.

If you're wondering, Kara's first appearance was "Action Comics #252" (May, 1959)

Anonymous said...

The first appearance of virus X was in Superman # 66. The story is practically the same as this one, the difference is that it happened on Earth 2 and Superman # 156 on Earth 1.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

It's amazing to see how much respect Supergirl was getting back then. The way she was able to take charge and rally Superman's friends to carry out his last wishes. If anything had really happened to Superman, Kara could have taken his place, no problem.

The question of how Supergirl could get back from Krypton with it being under a red sun was answered in the letter column of Superman #158, two issues later! A reader, Keith Westerman asked the same question. Rather than answer the question himself, Weisinger referred to another letter on the same page. The other letter writer wrote, in part:

"In Superboy #81, the Boy of Steel encountered a type of Red Kryptonite which restored his super powers when he had lost them on a Krypton-like planet with a red sun. It is quite plausible to assume that he brought it to Earth and when he grew up to become Superman deposited it in his Fortress of Solitude. Then when Supergirl found it necessary to make her time trip back to Krypton, she prepared for her journey by taking a chunk of the Red K with her, in the friction proof pouch of her cape. Thus, when it was time for her to return, exposure to this variety of Red K gave her the needed super-powers to take off, correct?"

Weisinger's answer was "Correct! However, this type of Red K can never again work on her..."

By the way, the letter writer who came up with the answer to Keith Westerman's question was E. Nelson Bridwell.

The story in Superman 156 WAS something of a remake of the story in Superman 66, also titled "The Last Days of Superman!" but there are some differences. There's no reference to Virus X in that story. During a bank robbery, a piece of Kryptonite becomes embedded in the camera of a Daily Planet photographer named Chuck (one of the escaping robbers hits Chuck's camera with a tray of jewelry he was carrying. One of the settings had Kryptonite). It is Clark who becomes weak whenever Chuck is around, and doctors diagnose that Clark is dying of an illness called "Walker's Disease", but Superman believes that he has just been exposed to Kryptonite too many times. With no Supergirl around, Superman has to complete the tasks on his "to do" list by himself. Of course, the piece of Kryptonite is eventually discovered in Chuck's camera.

One question I have is how come Brainiac 5 didn't know that Superman would survive, since he was from the future?

Anonymous said...

As the Late Adam West used to say: "I'll explain all that later, Robin!"
This a crazy story in every way, but I'm a sucker for a silver age schmaltzy ending, especially when the creatives and their readership have no choice but to "fully commit".
Here at least Supergirl is functioning as the "Team Quarterback" in faithfully executing Superman's very long "to do list", she even manages to use her brains (always her most attractive aspect in the silver age, in all her better stories Kara always came off as an ineffably smarter than her cousin, when she wasn't getting seduced by alien androids that is...) to rule out Virus X as the captioned pathogen. And that Swan/Klein artwork, its perfect!!! Swan always had a very rich emotional palate and wide range of facial expressions and body language, almost all of it comes into play at one time or another in this story...the man was a maestro I can pay him no higher praise.
All this stands in mute contrast to the "Virus X" five parter in Action Comics in 1968. Therein Kara gets overwhelmed when crime spikes after Superman's alleged death and goes running to The JLA and the Grandees of Kandor for a replacement Superman, there is never any question of Supergirl finally inheriting the mantle, she promptly attempts to reestablish patriarchy quickly and painlessly waiting for some other shadow to envelope her.
Meh I prattle on, this one was great in every way...I should be satisfied with that.


Anj said...

Thanks so much for great comments. And welcome (belatedly) Fan from France! Thanks for all your comments!

Love this one. The art is great. Love Kara's presence in this as a solid leader and go-getter!

And thanks for Superman #66 info! I'll have to seek that one out!

Anonymous said...

Hello Superfans.

First of all, I'm a noob. Please don't hate me.

I know Supergirl from the movie and the TV series.
I love this Super character even more than Superman. So to get more Supergirl in my life, I opted to read comics of Supergirl. Right now I only have the (omnibus) volumes of Supergirl: The Silver Age.
I wanted to know a bit more about Supergirl comics et voila I came to this blog.
Then I read the reviews of Adventure Comics #414 & Adventure Comics #410. I was like wow, Supergirl was also in Adventure Comics? Is there more info about the time when Supergirl showed up in Adventure Comics? Is this before or after her own series?

Anj said...

Hi there!
Supergirl ran in action comics as a backup feature from 252 into the early 300s.
She then went to Adventure as the headliner from 381-424.
Then her solo series in the 70s, 10 issues.
She then went to Superman Family when that comic became a dollar comic and stayed through the end there.
Then Daring New Adventures of Supergirl in the 80s, 23 issues.
Then the Crisis ...

There as a Supergirl solo title in the 90s, but that wasn’t Kara.
Then the Solo title in the early 2000s.
Then the new 52.
Then Rebirth.

Welcome! Hope the site helps. I have been covering issues from all those eras for a while here.

Anonymous said...

Actually Supergirl's run as a back feature and occasional co-star in Action Comics ran for almost a full decade from Action Comics #252 to Action Comics #376...