Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nightwing and Flamebird

As I mentioned in the last Weisinger entry, the bottle city of Kandor was an incredibly rich source of storytelling, adding enormously to Superman’s mythos. My favorite (just beating out the Supermen Emergency Squad by just 0.1 points on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness scale) are Nightwing and Flamebird.

I suspect most readers of my blog already know this—but when I say Nightwing, I’m not talking about the identity adopted by Dick Grayson after he retired as Robin. No, there was a Nightwing before him—an alternate identity used by Superman himself.

It all come about in Superman #158 (January 1963), in a story written by Edmond Hamilton.

If it’s a Hamilton story, then it’s going to be good—I don’t think any other comic book writer ever used comic book “logic” with the same deft skill as Mr. Hamilton. In fact, I will go so far to say that, without Edmond Hamilton and Otto Binder, the Silver Age of Comics would have been 85% less fun than it is. The sheer pleasure generated by following their stories through various contextually believable twists and turns is inexhaustible.

 This particular issue is a perfect example of this. The saga of Nightwing and Flamebird begins when Superman and Supergirl are both off-planet. A gang of crooks with Kryptonian superpowers are going on a rampage, stealing valuables, armored cars and (in at least one case) entire buildings.

It turns out they’re from Kandor, where a scientist has invented an enlarging process. He’s sending out raiders who are temporarily enlarged to steal the stuff he needs to build a device that can enlarge the entire city. He knows the process he’s using is probably flawed and might destroy Kandor, but he’s willing to take the risk. (It turns out, of course, that the process is flawed. Anything made bigger will disintegrate after three hours if not shrunk back down first.)

He’s also told the citizens of Kandor that Superman has known about this process, but didn’t use it because he’s jealous of his status as a super-powered man and doesn’t want to share this with millions of Kandorians. So Supes is now considered a villain by most Kandorians.

Superman doesn’t know this when, after returning to Earth and deducing the raiders are from Kandor, he shrinks down and enters the bottle city to investigate. But he does know he won’t have superpowers while in Kandor, so he brings Jimmy Olson along as back-up. Upon arrival, though, they are attacked by an angry mob.

To continue their investigation without getting lynched, Superman and Jimmy must adopt secret identities. They base their costumes off two Kryptonian birds and—bingo!—Nightwing and Flamebird are born.

What follows is so delightfully convoluted that I can’t do it justice in a brief summery. Nightwing and Flamebird use methods consciously based on Batman and Robin (including a hideout in the “Night Cave”). Before the story is over, it also involves Van-Zee (a distant relative of Superman who happens to be his exact double), the Superman Emergency Squad, the necessity of Jimmy and Superman hiding out in the Phantom Zone, bazookas that fire Kryptonite and our heroes being tracked by telepathic hounds.

By the way, if you’re ever tracked by telepathic hounds, you can fool them by imagining yourself to be somewhere else.

In the end, Kandor is saved in the nick of time. Superman and Jimmy would occasionally have more adventures in Kandor as Nightwing and Flamebird, with the identities eventually being taken over by Van-Zee and another guy. It was a good idea, essentially allowing Hamilton and his successors to write Batman and Robin stories with a science fiction setting.

By the way, the story is available to read online HERE

Next time, we'll take a brief survey of krytonite in all its various colors, then we'll move on to examinations of Superman's villains. I realize, by the way, that we haven't included the Phantom Zone criminals in our look at survivors of Krypton's destruction, but they were a dastardly lot, so we'll be including them among the villains. 


  1. I love telling people there was an original Nightwing.

    looking forward to the K blog- here's what I wrote last year -
    (hope that doesn't ruin your post!)

  2. Fun post, David. I always enjoy your blog. I think there's room for kryptonite posts on two different blogs. Otherwise, we'll have to meet on the street in front of the saloon at High Noon for a showdown.

  3. Well, okay. But I call dibs on being Bugs.

  4. Very cool web page - thanks for sharing


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