Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Incompetent Alien Invaders and a Mom who Needs to be Put in a Home.

The above image is the first page of a Superboy story titled "The Stolen Identities," first published in Adventure Comics #270 (March 1960). I'm tempted to say that the story subtly represents any teenager who feels disconnected from his parents or feels they are ruining his life. You could also look at how the aliens do their jobs so poorly and call the story a condemnation of inefficient government bureaucracies.

But I'm not going to go there. It's not impossible that writer Jerry Siegel was consciously dealing with teenage angst, but I would guess that he was primarily just trying to have fun. And in that, he succeeds. This story is quirky, silly fun from start to finish.

By the way, I own this story as a reprint in a 1976 book titled Four Star Spectacular. The story there is credited to Otto Binder. This is apparently a mistake, as every other source I check--including the DC wiki and the Grand Comics Database, credit it to Siegel. I can understand the error, though. The quirkiness of the story does give it an Otto Binder feel.

It all begins with Ma and Pa Kent being teleported to an alien world. The assumption at first is that they are now in another solar system. But actually, they are on a sub-atomic world located somewhere on Earth.

A couple of aliens disguise themselves as the Kents and return to Earth. Their mission is to locate the atom on which their world exists and take it some place safe. It's a reasonable mission, but they don't trust us Earth people enough to ask us for help.

The aliens soon prove to be rather ineffectual. Despite having observed the Kents long enough to be able to create perfect disguises, including voices and mannerisms, they completely missed the fact that the Kents' son is the most powerful being in the world. Also, their teleporter breaks down, so they can't ask for reinforcements.

They finally give themselves away when "Pa Kent" mistakes the toaster for his breakfast and tries to eat it.

Sadly, us Earth people aren't looking that good either. Ma Kent blurts out of nowhere that Superboy is vulnerable to Kryptonite. Yes, Clark, it's time. Sad as it is, it's time to start looking into an assisted living home for your parents.

The aliens find some Red Kryptonite without knowing this isn't the deadly kind and load it into a ray gun. They repeatedly zap Superboy in hopes that they'll destroy him, but instead the Red K just does a series of bizarre things to the Boy of Steel. First he's turned fat, which costs him a date with Lana. (Gee whiz, Lana, a bit shallow there, aren't you?) Then he's turned tiny. Then he's turned into a giant.

I actually think there's a continuity error here concerning Superboy's mythology. A particular piece of Red K is only supposed to affect him once. But maybe the alien ray gun altered the radiation somehow, so what the heck.

While all this is happening, Superboy learns about the atomic world. Using his Super Vision, he locates the appropriate atom at the top of the Empire State Building and gives it a safe resting place at the bottom of the ocean. The aliens are grateful and, after finally repairing their teleporter, send the Kents back home.

I love this story. Yes, it's silly, but it unashamedly embraces its silliness and jumps wildly from one plot point to another--but does so without ever seriously violating its own internal logic.

Stories like "The Stolen Identities" are models for why I love comic books from this era. These are stories that knew a superhero universe could never truly be realistic and that it was wrong to even try to make it so. These are stories that will walk down whatever path Comic Book Logic leads them, holding their heads high, feeling neither shame nor embarrassment as Superboy gets turned into a fat kid by aliens pretending to be his parents.

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