Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Leper of Krypton!

Cover art by Neal Adams

A story arc running from Action Comics #362 through #366 (April - August 1968) reminds us of several important undeniable facts about the world:

1. All ventriloquists are homicidal maniacs
2. All prison wardens are idiots.

Ventor Caine is actually an interesting villain, though he has more of a Batman Rogues' Gallery feel to him. (This is about two decades before another ventriloquist did become a Batman villain.) His twin brother was sent to prison by Superman, then died while behind bars. Now he hauls a life-size mannequin of his brother around and throws his own voice to have conversations with the dummy. He's both convinced himself that his brother is alive AND become obsessed with killing Superman to avenge his brother's death. In other words, he's moved permanently into Crazy Town.

How does a ventriloquist defeat Superman? He captures one of Superman's friends--in this case, Clark Kent. Not wanting to give away his secret identity, Clark allows this to happen. This turns out to be a mistake, since Ventor has developed a super-hypnotism technique that convinces Clark he hates and MUST kill Superman.  

Here's where we get our reminder that you can't get a job as prison warden in the DC universe without first failing an intelligence test. Lex Luthor is allowed to work in the prison's bio-chemistry lab. To be fair, the warden had orders from the governor to get Lex to help find a cure for a cattle epidemic, but Lex is completely unsupervised. This allows him to use Kryptonite to re-create Virus X, a virulent disease that once ravaged Krypton years ago.

Lex smuggles the virus out to Ventor while the ventriloquist is performing at a prison show. (I love that part--Ventor deliberately uses a Superman dummy in the show because he knows the prisoners will react badly and throw things at him. This allows Lex to throw a shoe containing a vial of Virus X without anyone thinking this is odd.).

A confused Clark is given the vial and told to find Superman. Clark ends up spilling the virus on himself. The initial feverish reaction to this snaps him out of the hypnotic trance, but now he's infected with a fatal, incurable and highly contagious disease. He's become the leper from Krypton.

Despite some of the goofy elements, both Neal Adams' cover illustrations and Ross Andru's interior art  are excellent--both artists do a magnificent job of emphasizing just how horrific Superman's situation is.

Lex manages to trick everyone into giving him a million dollars (which he teleports to a hiding place after its delivered) to pretend to cure Supes. Then he and Ventor Caine disappear from the story. This makes for several odd dangling plot threads that, as far as I can find out, are never resolved. There is never a reference to recovering the million dollars and a search of both the Grand Comics Database and the DC wiki turn up no more appearances by Ventor. It's possible all this was referenced in some future issue, but if so, I couldn't find it.

In the meantime, Earth's medical science can't find a cure, the Phantom Zone criminals prevent Superman from entering the Zone to wait for a cure, and he can't go to Kandor without the risk of infecting all of them. He's gonna die. So he climbs into a rocket and shoots himself towards the core of the hottest sun in the galaxy, knowing that in his weakened condition his body and the virus will be destroyed.

Cover art by Neal Adams

Action Comics #365 is largely a brief Superman biography, as Superman's life literally flashes before his eyes in the form of Ross Andru's excellent art. We also get a brief reminder that Supes was quite the ladies' man, as Supergirl brings Lois, Lori Lemaris and Lana Lang to see him one last time.

I enjoy this story enormously and I would argue that its goofier elements are a strength rather than a weakness. But I think the writer, Leo Dorfman, stumbles a little at this point. Superman is saved through the most unlikely combination of dumb luck and comic book science in the history of the superhero genre.

One his way to his fiery end, he just happens to pass near Bizarro World. The reverse logic of the Bizzaros convinces them that the thing to do is throw Red and White Kryptonite at Superman as he flies by. White Kryptonite kills plant life and apparently viruses are a form of plant. So Superman is cured, though he's still weak and unconscious as he plunges into a star. Fortunately, some fire-based alien life forms he once helped as Superboy are nearby to literally pull his fat out of the fire.

Superman returns to Earth and discovers everyone already knows he's alive because someone has been impersonating him. This concludes the story with a brief mystery in which Superman figures out that various members of the Justice League are behind the impersonation in order to squash a crime wave that began after the Man of Steel "died."

I like this story a lot--as I said, I think the goofy elements are a large part of what make it fun. My impression of Leo Dorfman is that he recognized the superhero stories are inherently unrealistic and simply went with that, having fun with comic book logic without any attempt to justify that logic in real life terns. That's really the best way to approach the genre. And that attitude, despite perhaps going a little too far into goofiness at the climax, is what makes the Leper of Krypton story arc so much fun. 

Next week, we'll stick with the Super-family for one more post. There's a Supergirl back-up story in Action Comics #363 that I simply HAVE to write about.


  1. I very much enjoyed the story, but it took a while to get used to Andru's Superman.

  2. Great essay! God bless you Amen!

  3. Thanks a million times for bringING me back the best days in my life.This Superman is the one I'm familiar with. Ross Andru's art and Neal Adams covers. That's what I'm at home with.Thanks again.


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