Monday, June 3, 2013
Review: Action Comics # 47: "POWERSTONE!"
By Jerry Siegel and John Sikela from Action Comics #47, April 1942
By the early 40's, Jerry Siegel had begun moving up the levels of Superman's foes, along with the usual gangsters and corrupt businessmen, he had brought in various supervillains, including the first ever comics supervillain, the Ultra-Humanite. Other foes were also brought in like the Archer, the Domino and the Lightening Master, but with Action Comics #23 Siegel brought in the greatest of all Superman foes: Luthor.
In those first days, Luthor (no first name given in the Golden Age) was a red-haired mad scientist and conqueror, possibly of Eastern European origin. By 1941 due to a mixup by artist Leo Novak, the famous bald Luthor came into the series with no explanation. Luthor always challenged Superman to games of wits, but of course always came out the loser. With this story, Luthor sought to even the odds.
The story opens with Luthor smashing out of his lab and demonstrating to his henchmen his newfound strength, derived from electricity. Although he has become substantially powerful, he is still not yet powerful enough to defeat the Man of Tomorrow.
Luthor hatches a scheme to force Superman to aid him in getting the Powerstone, creating havoc in Metropolis that results in a slugfest between Superman and the newly powered Luthor which is cut short when the police interfere by shooting at Superman, who at this late date (after Batman was officially deputized by Commissioner Gordon) was still considered a vigilante. Luthor skips out, but then arranges a meeting with many of the wealthiest people in the nation by forcing a young millionaire to announce he is giving away his fortune to one of them. This attracts huge media attention, which of course brings Lois into the story.
Once the meeting starts, Luthor shows up and shocks the lot unconscious then threatens to kill all of them (including Lois) unless Superman brings him the Powerstone from the lost mountain of Krowak in Skull Valley. Our hero of course makes quick work of this feat, and brings back the jewel to a gloating Luthor...who finds it is powerless, because in classic Superman manner, Superman thought ahead and substituted a fake. A few quick punches and Luthor's electrical treatments wear off, and off to prison he goes, with Clark of course beating Lois to the punch with the story somehow.
This is a fantastic story, some of the most energetic and imaginative writing of Siegel's Golden Age career, and it shows real ambition in bringing Superman greater challenges. The art by Shuster studio member John Sikela is probably the best of his career, with very tight renderings and clean action. Luthor and Superman both look impressive throughout. It also set up the next chapter of the Powerstone Saga, :"When Titans Clash", which we will be reviewing here next week.
A lot of the superhero slugfest stories of later years can be traced back to this and other early stories, as the writers and artists knew they needed to up the ante to keep readers interested. Much of what was developed here was realized much later on by Marvel in the 60's as they developed strong villains for many of their major characters. It's a shame the powers Luthor developed here were not expanded upon later on, but over the years Superman comics became less and less Action-orientated and more of morality plays, which while keeping the away from being mindless fight scenes for a while also created the opinion that Superman lacks good foes. Instead there needs to be a balance of stories and challenges for the Man of Steel that can push him physically and morally. Too often the comics have pushed one over the other, but the best Superman writers know the character is flexible enough for any story.
Again, this story is a real classic and the Powerstone itself is a great MacGuffin that DC has never taken real advantage of, apart from Roy Thomas use of it in All-Star Squadron, which will also be discussed in a future post.