Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Kryptonite Nevermore!

There's little doubt that Superman is the iconic superhero. Created in the Golden Age of comics, he led the way as comic books became a staple of society both in America and abroad. DC defended their star with lawsuits that chased away imitators and crippled competitors. Superman as first conceived by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was an alien with a very liberal attitude toward society and the need for the powers that be to tend to the needs of the population. He quickly became a boy scout and a symbol for the status quo. When comics faltered Superman was strong enough to survive, even get his own TV show, and later in the Silver Age he thrived. 

The editor of the Superman books was Mort Weisinger, a pioneer science fiction fan and longtime employee of DC. Under his leadership the Superman "family" had grown with Supergirl, Superboy, Krypto the Super Dog, Streaky the Super Cat, Comet the Super Horse, and, well you get the point. Far from being the sole survivor of Krypton, Superman discovered his kin in the Phantom Zone and in the bottle city of Kandor. To give their most powerful hero something to fear, "Kryptonite" was invented, first on the radio, then in copious amounts and varieties in the comics. The stories were entertaining and competently produced, but a new era of comics was coming into being and when Weisinger retired things began to really change. 

Julie (Be Original) Schwartz took the helm from his longtime friend Weisinger. And in keeping with the way he'd updated Batman some years before, he likewise brought a somewhat less childish approach to Superman. The first step was to rid the world of Kryptonite, a move which empowered Superman all the more. But the transformation came with a cost. The radiation which turned Kryptonite to an inert harmless material also created a weird doppleganger of Superman out of sand. 

As Superman adjusts he discovers he loses his powers from time to time and there seems to be a connection to his duplicate which seems always to be near. Superman's life is made even more complicated when Morgan Edge, the new owner of The Daily Planet and GBS News transfers Clark Kent from the paper to become a TV reporter. (Edge was the creation of Jack Kirby from the pages of Jimmy Olsen and as it turns out he was an agent of Darkseid.)

Superman's powers are further depleted by "The Devil's Harp", a device used by a down and out musician who transforms himself into a version of the god Pan. Denny O'Neil had been tagged by Schwartz to script the comic, bringing some of that famous relevant glamour he'd successfully elicited on Green Lantern. His partner on that book was knocking out some outstanding covers for the Superman series during this period, not the least of which was the amazing image of Superman bursting the Kryptonite chains.

I had read Superman comics before and while this issue was not the first I consider the beginning of my true interest in DC Comics as I bought several DC comics in the month this appeared. The cover is a knockout, a compelling image that demands to be read. The story switches up aliens for real demons and so falls a bit flat given my expectations. Still, it's another handsome story by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. 

Superman is still struggling with is diminished powers when all of sudden he thinks he might be infecting humans with a strange aliment from the stars. He tries to do his duty and save Lois from roving bandits and deadly ants (not kidding), but from a safe distance and that proves largely impossible. 

The conflict between Superman and his sand doppleganger comes to a head when Superman seeks the assistance of his strange counterpart and is rebuffed. Once again, he's battling terrorists and Lois gets herself involved and even creates dangers which the weakened Superman has to contend with. 

The beginning of the end of the storyline starts when Superman fails to stop a building from collapsing, though there was no loss of life. He's labeled a loser by some, but mostly feels that way himself. This story features inks by Dick Giordano and guest stars I Ching the mentor for Diana Prince who had given up her own powers over in the pages of Wonder Woman. Ching is able to fathom the problem, and enhances the "man" part of Superman. 

Things get worse when the identity of the sand "Superman" is revealed to be an alien from the dimension of  Quarm. The creature is only trying to stay alive in our dimension but at a great cost to Superman. A complication arises when another Quarmian arrives in our dimension and inhabits the shape of a Chinese demon. Diana Prince guest stars in this tale. 

It's a three-way battle as Superman must get the help of his sinister double to help defeat the vicious Quarmian. They succeed and then a battle begins between the two "Supermen" which seems to bring bout the very of life on Earth. Suffice it say we get better, and the solution (with the help of I Ching) involves Superman, at least as written by Denny O'Neil making do with fewer powers, which was the point of the storyline to begin with. In an afterward O'Neil says that the changes didn't last long as he left after a year and soon enough Superman was pushing around planets all over again.

Superman is larger than any one story told about him. He's well into his eighties and many is the yarn spun about the man from Krypton. But this tale from 1971 resonates with this particular fan because I was there when some of it originally went down. And it seems to be an above average attempt to make Superman less "Super" and more "Man" and that ain't wrong. 

Rip Off


  1. The Kryptonite Nevermore series was, simply put, one of the very best periods in the mag's history. In fact, I don't think it's ever been bettered - not that I can remember anyway.

    1. It might be my personal bias, but I can't disagree with your assessment. This was a powerful story. I've been wanting to read it again and write about it for years.

  2. I agree this is by far my favourite Superman series as well, and issues 241 and 242 are my favourite Superman issues . Simply put they were comic book gold. Great overview as well Rip .

    1. I bought Superman 241 off the stands, but somehow missed the next issue. It was more than a few years before I could finish that wonderful story.

  3. Though I'm aware that kryptonite got horribly overused in the sixties, I still like the role it plays in the mythology-- and without speaking to the "Nevermore" story specifically, there's no way that the sand-doppelganger was ever going to be an ongoing part of that mythology. IMO the creature was too arbitrary, too confined to what uses Denny O'Neil planned for it, and not something that other writers could run with. I have the impression that Byrne's restrictions of how much kryptonite was around has remained somewhat influential at DC, though I think the Superman cartoons still use it whenever it's needed.

    But then, I have a good "know it all" memory from showing an old sixties JLA cartoon to one of my nieces when she was very little. She was shocked to see Superman suffering, and I got to do the whole "kryptonite is a radioactive mineral from his homeworld that's poisonous to him" thing. Happy times.

    1. Kryptonite is in the lexicon still, as in that's his/her "kryptonite. That's a sign of the impression these books make overall.