RETRO REVIEW: Superman #62 (January/February 1950)

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I often complain about artists “stunt-casting” comic characters (the process of using a clearly identifiable face, as when Mike Deodato insisted on making Norman Osborn look exactly like Tommy Lee Jones for 12 issues), but there’s another kind of stunt-casting that isn’t seen quite so often anymore:  The use of real-world characters alongside our four-colored heroes.  Who teams up with the Man of Steel this issue?  I’ll give you a hint: It involves a War Of The Worlds.

No, it’s not Tom Cruise.  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

SUMMARY

Pros
Nothin’ like Wayne Boring Superman.
Golden/Atomic Age craziness.
Cons

I have no idea how this particular crossover got green-lighted, nor whom it was supposed to have appealed (save for aficionados of comics memorabilia like me.)

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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Superman62CoverSUPERMAN #62
Writer: Uncredited
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $1600.00

Previously in Superman: Everyone knows the story…  Young outcast with strange powers, ostracized by his friends, and finally given a chance on one foggy Christmas Eve…  Wait, that’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  Superman is that whole thing with rocketed from the dead planet and the powers and abilities far beyond, and everything.  Of course, the more youthful Spoilerites may have more question about the OTHER protagonist of this issue, but the creators take care of that issue by starting in mid action-sequence.

Superman621Astonishingly, it’s Orson Welles, known today as one of the greatest directors of all time, and the man behind films like ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ and ‘Citizen Kane.’  Back at the tail-end of the 40s (remember, comics back in the day were cover-dated well in advance, in the hopes that they’d stay on newsstands longer, so this book was probably distributed in the fall of 1949), Welles was just another rank-and-file actor, albeit a well-regarded one.  On his way to a costume party with his co-star, Welles stumbles upon something shocking…     

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As the ship locks around him, Welles has a few moments to consider the definition of irony, as a man who became notorious for dramatizing a Martian invasion ends up invading Mars himself!  (I think that’s actually known as “situational irony,” but since literally no longer means literally, I’m sticking with it.)  Arriving on the Red Planet, Orson has another shock coming…

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NAZI MARTIANS!  His skills as an actor (and amateur fencer) allow Welles to take over the Martian broadcasting facilities, and begin beaming his signal back to Earth, but his pleas for everyone to mobilize against alien invaders are taken as cries of “Wolf!” and no one believes them…

…no one but SUPERMAN.

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Martler, the Martian Hitler (who sounds like the beginning of a question on Match Game) taunts Superman by launching his fleet towards Earth, but sophisticated illusions stymie even the Man of Steel’s x-ray vision. Fortunately, Orson has a few tricks up his own sleeve, cold-cocking the Martian dictator, and cutting the illusion-field.  While Superman trashes the Martian invasion fleet, the man who was Charles Foster Kane uses his own “powers” to defeat Martler’s foot-soldiers.

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With Martler (Heh) out of commission, Clark and Orson put their heads together to finally put down the invasion fleet once and for all, thanks to Welles’ brains and Supey’s brawn.  Then, things get even weirder…

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Thankfully, the average Martian-in-the-street doesn’t care for Martler’s designs of conquest, and the army quickly disbands.  As for Martian Hitler himself, Welles and Superman have plans for him as well…

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Interestingly, even Superman knows that the events of this story are bug-!@#% crazy, and thus keeps the details of the adventure to himself, while Welles returns to Hollywood and eventually ends up making frozen food commercials while drunk.  (It’s actually a pretty sad story…)  Interestingly, I had never heard of ‘Black Magic’ before this issue came into my possession, and now I kinda want to see it.

One of the most wonderful things about the Golden Age of Comics, though, comes in the fact that the issue isn’t over yet!  After a two-page text story, we find the mighty Last Son of Krypton in the custody of the Metropolis Police Department, being taken in for an unforgivable crime…

Superman628…THE MURDER OF CLARK KENT.  A few days earlier, a gang of thugs and ne’er-do-wells gathers to await the arrival of their ramrod, the mysterious “Ace”, but suddenly discover that they’ve been infiltrated by a member of the press.  Leaping away to transform into his costumed alter-ego, Clark runs headlong into a complication…

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To cover for himself, Superman fakes Clark’s exit, and a horrified Lois witnesses him throwing Clark’s “body” out the window into the river.  The police dredge up Clark Kent’s hat and wallet, and reluctantly charge Superman with capital murder.  The trial is a complicated one, but ultimately…

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Using his powers in a ridiculous way, even for the Golden Age Superman, the villains are brought low.  Since Clark was the only one outside the gang who knew what was up, Superman faked his own death to keep the criminals from coming after his reporter identity, allowing The Ace to escape and possibly exposing his secret.  Having cleaned up the bad dudes, there’s only one loose end…

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…aaaand we take a moment to tweak poor Lois’ nose, just to be mean because it’s 1949 and taunting her is apparently hilarious (there’s a reason a while website is dedicated to the premise that “Superman is a dick.”)  Even so, the vaguely impenetrable second story being utterly forgettable doesn’t change the fact that our lead is Orson Welles and Superman fighting Martian Hitler using super-strength and a ventriloquist’s dummy.  Superman #62 is the very model of Fifties comics gooberosity, but it’s definitely not one that you’ll forget any time soon (and it came out nearly a decade AFTER Citizen Kane) earning 3 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★☆☆