Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Black Orchid Wednesday: Bullet Review Superman #149

Welcome to Black Orchid Wednesdays where I have been exploring the fan rumor in the 70s that Black Orchid was actually Supergirl. I am nearing the end of this side mission with but 2 more pre-Crisis Black Orchid stories to cover. Alas, while I have purchased said issues, I don't have them yet. 

But I have been a bit more creative recently on this little musing. At first I was looking at ways that the Black Orchid stories could have been Supergirl. But more recently, I have been more intrigued in looking at Supergirl stories from the Silver and Bronze Age that seem to fit Black Orchid's tales.

And so I bring you one of the craziest imaginary tales of all time, Superman #149 and 'The Death of Superman'. Written by Superman creator Jerry Siegel with art by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye, this has one of the most brutal scenes in comics I have read. 

It also has one of my favorite Supergirl moments in it, at the very end.

And, fitting for this, it has a moment that feels like a Black Orchid moment. I will also reiterate that this is an Imaginary Story meaning that applying the events here to an 'in continuity' fan rumor could be considered troublesome. 

I am surprised that 14 years into this blog that I had not covered this story yet. But here we are. This will be a bullet review with brief coverage because this story deserves to be read in full. I'll hit the high points I promise.

And a word of warning, my copy of this is from 'The Greatest Superman Story Ever Told' trade paperback, which has a very tight binding making scans less than perfect. Apologies up front!

On to the tale.

The issue starts with Lex Luthor in jail. He has discovered Element Z, which when included in a compound of Lex's making, will cure cancer.

It seems that Luthor has changed his ways and wants to repent and help the world. Despite his new attitude, he is rebuffed at a parole hearing ... that is, until Superman speaks on Luthor's behalf. Superman feels that everyone deserves another chance.

Luthor stays true to his word, smashing his evil lab (which has effigies to history's greatest villains) and working towards more altruistic experiments. His new ways irritate his old criminal cronies who feel that Lex has betrayed them. They begin to gun for him. 

I love that this story unfolds because of Superman's optimism.

To protect Luthor from future assassination attempts (many are shown), Superman sets Lex up in a floating satellite base. 

When Superman hears the alarm go off, he flies to rescue what he thinks is an imperiled Luthor. But it turns out to be a trap. Lex never thought differently and set up the murder attempts. All this was to trap Superman here where a Kryptonite death chamber has been set up.

For multiple pages we see Superman writhing and yelling in pain, all while his friends are forced to watch, until finally the Man of Steel succumbs.

These are rough pages to read. 

Back on Earth, Lex is feted as a hero by the criminal world.

Then Superman arrives to bring Luthor to justice.

Except it is Superman's 'secret weapon' Supergirl. This was 3 months before she is revealed in Action Comics #285.

But check out that third panel! A plastic mask and a full body costume ... very much like Black Orchid! She always has been someone willing to disguise herself!

And what a way to reveal herself in this timeline, by declaring who she is and flying Luthor away!

While the world. Kandor, and indeed the whole universe mourns, Luthor is taken to Kandor where he stands trial. 

But even there he is smug. He has figured out how to safely enlarge the city and will do so if he is pardoned.

He doesn't understand the idea of justice. They refuse his offer and condemn him to the Phantom Zone.

I really think this is a fitting end to this story. 

But wait there's more.

With Superman dead. Supergirl reveals herself to the world and is accepted and embraced as his replacement. People are glad she is there to take over. She is wears the mantle of the S-shield and the becomes the protector of Metropolis and the world. 

She should be his legacy. Unfortunately, that only seems to happen in imaginary tales.

I think this is one of the better imaginary tales out there. The brutal death scene. Supergirl's emergence. The Kandor's sense of justice. It all just works.

And heck, if you want to believe that Supergirl is Black Orchid, seeing her doff a plastic mask that fooled everyone is a pretty good scene too.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

WOW, what a flash back! My copy is from Superman 80-page giant #193.
I remember reading it.

Steve said...

When you're having trouble scanning, you can always get an online copy and copy and crop the screen. I've done that when I need to post a particular image.

Anonymous said...

Again, Supergirl successfully masquerades as a man, specifically her cousin, fools everyone! Silver Age Supergirl had mad cosplay skills! she also famously spoofed the Legion in Adventure Comics #334 as the masculine coding “Unknown Legionnaire”. What makes this story work is Luthor’s barking mad gloating once Superman is dead, and Supergirl’s muted trepidations about Lex’s so called “reformation”. This makes her inheritance of the super mantle all the more poignant. Luthor’s trial in Kandor vaguely recalls Eichmann’s war crimes trial in Jerusalem, right down to the transparent booth. I guess from a storytelling perspective Lex had to be tried in Kandor since the Comics Code was very chary about depicting the death penalty.

Sadly this is a rare example of Supergirl successfully “inheriting” the role of Earth’s Defender either in or out of continuity. The only other example I can think of is, Action Comics #270, (“Superman’s Old Age”), which is of course another imaginary story.
What all this tells me is, DC Editorial was profoundly ambivalent about the notion of a female, replacing a man in a stereotypical “man’s job” or at least how to sell that to a preadolescent silver ave audience. Nonetheless at least she and Krypto flew off into the sunrise in search of new good deeds and wrongs to for me.


H said...

This is a classic, and rightfully so. I'm a bit surprised you didn't include the most famous panel (or at least, the one most people talk about) with Lex thinking everyone are ants compared to him.

I don't know if Supergirl only taking over for Superman in imaginary stories is about her being female so much as it's the idea of anyone being able to replace Superman. Superman was shown to be active well into old age, and really only slowed down once Lex was truly reformed. His legend lived on for thousands of years, even after other superheroes had faded away. Other imaginary stories about Superman's legacy usually mentioned that future generations weren't as powerful as the original and/or had two generations active at once.

Martin Gray said...

‘…and the chances are a MILLION TO ONE it will NEVER happen.’

That’s not very optimistic, now, is it?

Steve said...

Martin, to quote Pratchett 'magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten'.

Martin Gray said...


Jfeer said...

So to conceptualize this another way, Supergirl’s Chances of Reaching “The A List” are a Million to One, per silver age statistics...:)


Anonymous said...

No, that’s my point. It’s a million to one this story WONT happen, according to that poorly written final line.

William Ashley Vaughan said...

This has always been one of my favorite stories of the Silver Age. Luthor has rarely been more chilling. His arrogant narcissism has never been more perfectly captured than in his attempt to bribe the Kandorian court. The shock on his face when the judge turns down his offer and condemns him to the Phantom Zone is superb even by Curt Swan's stratospheric standards.

Not that I intend to neglect Supergirl in a comment that is supposed to be about her. The ending is perfect. Supergirl should become Superwonan and be Superman's successor.

William Ashley Vaughan said...

I should also mention that thanks to "The Death of Superman" Jerry Siegel's run on the character actually has a conclusion, albeit a bittersweet one. I don't think any other Golden Age creator got to do that for his or her signature creation.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite Superman stories ever, and it includes several great Supergirl moments. That scene where she rips off her disguise, showing an absolutely icy expression? I would be terrified if I was one of the partying crooks.

Nonetheless, it is not an imaginary story. It was initially billed as one, but DC eventually decided it happened in Earth-149.

Anj said...

Thanks for great comments!

Yes, I could have scanned every panel from this story because it is so good. Lex is at his oiliest. And I love how he thinks he'll bargain his way out of the Kandor court.

I didn't know about the Earth 149 bit!

Anonymous said...

Also good to see Supergirl basically determine when and where she reveals her existence to the world, albeit it was triggered by the death of her somewhat overprotective cousin. This is indeed one of Swan’s best drawn stories, definite highlight reel material...and those outrageous expressions in those gloating underworld figures, its a a course in facial expressions unto itself.


Professor Feetlebaum said...

According to DC Database: "The Death of Superman" was originally published as an imaginary story, a story outside of regular continuity. In 'Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Compendium', it was retconned as having happened on another Earth (Earth 149)"

Along those same lines, the story in Jimmy Olsen #57, where Jimmy marries Supergirl, is now considered to have happened on Earth 57. I think it makes things more complicated. What's wrong with just calling them imaginary stories?

Yes, as Superman's creator, it was only fitting and proper that Jerry Siegel write this story. Julius Schwartz originally wanted Siegel to write the last Superman story that he would edit (before John Byrne took over), but something happened and negotiations between Siegel and DC broke down. So the assignment went to Alan Moore.

I was just 7 years old when I first read this story. The Eichmann reference went right over my head at the time. Jerry Siegel was most likely writing this story while the trial was going on in Jerusalem, and was somewhat influenced by it.

One part of this story has come true. Krypto is more or less Supergirl's dog now.