Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A City in a Bottle

You’d think that having a city and its 1,000,000 inhabitants shrunk down by an evil alien and taken away into space would be a bad thing. But since this is what happened to Krypton’s largest city and since that’s what allowed the city and its 1,000,000 inhabitants to survive Krypton’s destruction, I guess you’d have to call it fortuitous.

It was the evil alien Brainiac that stole a miniaturized Kandor—as revealed in the July 1958 story “The Super-Duel in Space.” (Action Comics #242) 

I’ll talk about Brainiac in detail in a future post, since I want to concentrate on Kandor this time around. Suffice to say that Brainiac here is shrinking and stealing cities as part of a plan to repopulate his home world—where everyone else was wiped out by a plague. This and a few other details don’t completely match up with his eventually retcon as a humanoid computer rather than a living being. We’ll discuss balancing internal continuity with good storytelling in that future post.

For now, it’s Kandor that concerns us. Here’s a large and viable population of Kryptonians and—though they’ll be stuck at microscopic size until a 1979 story sees them finally restored to normal size—it means that Krypton’s people and culture have survived. But more importantly for Mort Weisinger and the writers who worked for him, it became a plot device from which they could spin scores of entertaining stories.

“The Super-Duel in Space” was written by Otto Binder (with art by Al Plastino) and you can see Binder’s talent for fun plot construction and fast pacing all through the story. He crams in an awful lot of stuff—the introduction of Brainiac; his fight with Superman centering around his impenetrable force field; his shrinking and capture of Earth cities; Superman’s successive escape from the bottle containing Metropolis and then the bottle containing Kandor; the restoration of Earth’s cities; the people of Kandor sacrificing their chance at restoration to make sure Superman is returned to his proper size. So Kandor now resides in a bottle in the Fortress of Solitude.

It’s a fine story—following the odd logic of Silver Age DC comics as the plot unfolds. The fight between Supes and Brainiac is a little disappointing—with the hero simply tossing stuff at Brainiac’s force field while the villain laughs contemptuously. And Brainiac’s ship simply flies off at the end with the sleeping alien blissfully unaware all his captive cities have been freed—which is a bit anti-climatic.

But Brainiac’s visual design is striking enough to guarantee his return and his introduction as an important member of Superman’s Rogue’s Gallery.

And Kandor—well, Kandor is an interesting place. Eventually, we’ll meet Superman’s exact double, along with doubles of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang and Perry Mason. There will be a Superman Emergency Squad—Kandorians who dress as Superman and fly out of the bottle (thus gaining superpowers) to help him out despite their small size. A Kandorian parole board will help Superman decide when to let criminals out of the Phantom Zone. Superman’s efforts to discover a way to restore Kandor is itself grist for several good tales.

In fact, of all the elements to Superman’s mythology being added during Mort Weisinger’s tenure as editor, Kandor is probably outdone only by the Legion of Superheroes as a source of rich storytelling. (And, okay, I’ll admit that it was sometimes contrived storytelling—how many exact doubles of Superman’s close friends would you expect to find in a single city? Heck, they even called themselves the Look Alike Squad.)

So I think we’ll spend one more post examining Kandor, taking a look at the first time Superman and Jimmy Olsen assume the identities of Nightwing and Flamebird to fight Kandorian criminals. 

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