This infamously bizarre two-parter runs in Action Comics vol.1 Nos.311 and 312, starting with Clark and Superman being separated by a freak Red K exposure. The Red K also appears to turn Superman evil, and sees him establishing a worldwide empire with himself as King Superman. In the short timeframe of this story, Superman unseats the United Nations, establishes himself as regent, establishes all sorts of insane tribute laws, while Clark Kent launches a resistance, is almost subsequently killed, and is transformed into a Metallo by Atlantean science.
In the end it turns out that Superman had never become evil, but was engaging in the subterfuge to fool an invading alien fleet. He hadn’t shared this with his Red K-generated twin – who vanishes in a timely fashion just before the Green K murders the Man of Steel – because, being mortal, Clark might have spilled the beans.
Once reunited, Superman explains everything to everyone and fixes the world and there are no subsequent consequences. It’s worth mentioning that, along with dozens of equally insane stories, this is neither a hoax, nor a dream nor an imaginary story. This is in canon, even if it was conveniently ignored in the following decades.
The Composite Superman – easily the most powerful villain ever faced by Superman and Batman – debuts in World’s Finest vol.1 No.142. Composite Supes doesn’t make many appearances after his first – how could he, he’s almost impossible to beat!
Boasting the combined powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes (at the time, as it were) and probably the most striking – if somewhat baffling – appearance among the characters’ collective rogues, Composite Superman at least made a terrific impact, even if he was frequently shelved.
Brainiac’s origin is updated to take advantage of (or spare itself litigation from) another “Brainiac” product, in Superman vol.1 No.167. The backmatter explains the reasoning for the new origin – and plugs the unintended namesake – while the story reveals Brainiac’s role as a servant of the computers which ruled his world, his subterfuge involved at playing a human superfiend, and even the origin of the organic Brainiac line which terminates with Brainiac 5.
While he’s nowhere close to the first evil-opposite of the Man of Steel, the Kryptonite-powered Ultraman proves to be one of the most enduring – despite the fact that he and his allies spend the better part of the next decade-and-change trapped in a bubble in limbo, out of their goody two-shoes alternate selves’ hair. (Justice League of America vol.1 No.29)
Sometimes I call out some of my favorite stories, when we stumble across them. For fairness’ sake, here’s what is likely my least-favorite story of the Silver Age.
Superman’s pals in the Justice League attract Superman’s attention to show him a recently discovered tape from Krypton, featuring Superman’s father Jor-El. Seems that Jor-El did some speculative investigation as to what his son’s life might be like on other worlds, before he settled on sending Kal-El to Earth.
Turns out that what happens is he’ll become a different kind of superhero on every different world, eerily similar to his JLA allies. Each life comes with some sort of drawback – his Green Arrow existence would be on a backwards world, free of technology and scientific advancement. His Atom existence would require him to be the size of a baby bird, compared to his giant peers. He’d be lonely for land on the water world upon which he was a sort-of Aquaman and he’d just straight-up die if he became the Flash (long story).
It’s corny and more far-fetched than most stories, even in this far-fetched age, but it also stretches the already tense and tattered period during which Jor-El had time to build the rocket which saved his son’s life. If only he hadn’t been sending all of his son’s pets into space, hanging out with space visitors, locking away space weapons and Kryptonian toychests, jousting with time-travelling earthlings from his son’s adult circle of friends, and running computer simulations as to possible superhero careers for his boy, he might’ve been able to build a bigger ship in the first place.
Even the imaginary offspring of Superman and Luthor* end up getting a serialized storyline, here in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane vol.1 No.46. The evil scion of a reformed Lex Luthor and his wife Lois Lane is wooed and reformed himself by Joan, a.k.a. Supermaid, the super-powered daughter of Superman and his bride Lana Lang.
*By which I mean individually, not with one another…
The sole new Legionnaire of 1964 (at least the sole actual recruit) appears in Adventure Comics vol.1 No.327 – Brin Londo, a.k.a. Lone Wolf (later “Timber Wolf”). Believing himself to be an android created by the man who is actually his biological father, Lone Wolf rejects Legion membership at first, and only accepts when it’s proven conclusively that he’s actually human and the man who adopted his identity was actually the android. 30th Century problems, am I right?
Although Light Lass unilaterally inducts Lone Wolf into the Legion, he isn’t seen in the comics for a few more years. The massive roster of the Legion may have precluded any new members in the short term.
Also, if the brooding, handsome Brin Londo wasn’t inspired by young Marlon Brando, I’ll eat my cool biker hat.
Sally Selwyn returns in Superman vol.1 No.169, falling for a man who resembles identically Clark Kent – and therefore “Jim White,” the identity adopted by Superman when he was powerless and afflicted with amnesia. It still doesn’t end up happily for Sally…
With its roster stabilized at a plentiful rank, the Legion of Super-Heroes is profiled in this multi-page segment from Adventure Comics vol.1 No.316. Despite lacking a few upcoming Silver Age members, this is largely the “classic” Legion as fans recall it.
While new Legionnaires are few and far between in 1964 and 1965, the Heroes of Lallor are introduced in Adventure Comics vol.1 No.324. The world of the 30th century has expanded sufficiently that there can be a rival/fellow super-team operating outside of the Legion’s purview – it is a whole wide universe, after all!
Kryptonite continues to be a wildly popular story element – or, alternatively, an ubiquitous one – in the assorted Superman titles. Of the established varieties, red and green continue to dominate the roster, while the other three (white, blue and gold, although I assume I didn’t need to tell you that) make scant appearances when required.
But not even the unpredictable effects of Red K or the mortal menace of Green K seems to satisfy the appetite for new Kryptonite innovations. Superman’s becoming a monster or turning evil every other month, thanks to Red K, but there’s obviously an urge to create and confirm the existence of more varieties.
In 1963, the hoax of Silver Kryptonite made a singular appearance, and here it’s Jewel Kryptonite. Possibly the only part of planetary material not made dangerously radioactive in the explosion which claimed Krypton, Jewel Kryptonite – a fragment of the Jewel Mountains which are sent into space thanks to the machinations of a time-travelling Jax-Ur in Action Comics vol.1 No.310 – has no deleterious effect on the Man of Steel. Instead, it focuses and enhances the psychic powers of the Phantom Zone inmates, which is itself an unexpected benefit of the extra-dimensional internment.
(While Jewel K never really entered the exclusive five-part Kryptonite catalog of the Pre-Crisis era, it will pop up again in, well, a few decades from now…)
Zigi and Zagi, mischievous but well-meaning twins from Alpha Centauri, are introduced in Action Comics vol.1 Nos.315/316 (along with their sister Zyra, who is briefly infatuated with the Man of Steel). While they were obviously intended in the vein of other minor menaces (who nonetheless cause Superman big headaches) such as Mxyzptlk, Toyman, Prankster, Wolfingham and so on, they didn’t enjoy the same longevity.
Dev-Em, the Juvenile Delinquent from Krypton, returns in Adventure Comics vol.1 No.320. Having ventured to the 30th century in order to, as it were, ditch that square Superboy, something happens which reforms the Rebel Without a Homeworld. The audience never really enjoys the journey Dev-Em took from antagonist to agent, as it all happens between issues. Dev-Em is also offered Legion membership (although my understanding of the Legion Constituion would have prohibited his joining, inasmuch as he possessed no unique powers), but he turns it down handily. The Legion is probably too big at this point to accept a new member…