It’s time for the first ever Freak Comics Retro-Review. From time to time I will be reviewing really old comic books in detail.
For my first Retro-Review I’ve decided to take a look at Action Comics #241: The Super-key to Fort Superman. Put on your X-Ray glasses and prepare for simpler times!
Action Comics #241 was first released in June of 1958… and it shows, for this was an easier time for ol’ supes. No brain washing or doomsday. No Crisis on Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis to deal with. In fact, Superman’s main concern throughout this comic happens to involve stealing time away from the American public and conducting fairly useless and half-way creepy experiments and projects in his Fortress of Solitude.
The day starts out like any other for Clark Kent: perusing the business district of downtown Metropolis with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen as the two lust after various expensive objects. Lois: a perl necklace (priced at $32,500!), and Jimmy: an imported custom sports car.
Even Superman needs time off.
Two panels later and Clark’s “reporter” work is done. He sheds his street clothes for his Super-duds and says:
“I have the rest of the day free, so I may as well work on those gifts now… and pay a little visit I’ve been looking forward to!”
And here I thought Superman helped people out by saving their lives and fixing up their roofs and getting their cats out of trees… you know, trivial things like that. All this time I had over looked the fact that Superman has much more important matters to attend to, such as flying to the bottom of the Ocean to find pearls in oysters with his X-Ray vision in order to make a necklace for Lois. I’m an idiot!
Superman eventually flys to the arctic and retrieves a gigantic novelty sized key with which he unlocks a gigantic novelty sized door which lets him in to his mighty Fortress of Solitude… which is filled with gigantic novelty sized trophies from times past when he actually fought crime in is spare time.
So that’s why old sports cars were so slow… they were made of pure steel!
For the rest of the comic Superman spends his time working on Lois’ necklace, a crime fighting computer for Batman, and a sports car for Jimmy (he makes the bumper out of steel… that should allow Olsen to get about 3 miles to the gallon. Good thinking Supes!).
The kicker is: Superman is secretly planning to give these items to his friends as gifts… but only if he dies! Nice thinking, you jerk! Superman is the strongest being on Earth with only one weakness which he manages to avoid his entire life. He will outlive all of his friends because he ages slower… yet he plans to give these much coveted presents that his friends could never acquire on their own on the condition that he kicks the bucket.
Well you know what? He does kick the bucket down the line when Doomsday beats the life out him, but I don’t recall any gift giving. In fact, how could there be? No one knows the location of his fortress, and even if they did they couldn’t get in to claim their gifts. Superman did not think this one out.
Actually there is one person who knows the location of Superman’s Fort, and in the course of this story he makes his way in to the palace, leaving written messages for Superman to see.
It turns out that the mystery guest is Batman, the only other person in the universe that knows Superman’s secrets. How did he sneak in to the hide-out? And why?
Simple, really: Batman decided to sneak up to the Arctic one day with an “acetylene torch and some tools”, with which he opened up the hollow end of the giant key, attached some hinges and climbed inside.
When Superman came to the fortress and opened it with his key, Batman hopped out when Superman was distracted and hid behind a giant penny (one of the many bizarre crime trophies). It was made of lead so Superman couldn’t see Batman hiding.
So Batman (not Bruce Wayne) just walks in to Macy’s, cape and all, and walks up to the cheap novelty games left over from Christmas to find a present for Superman. Weird…
That’s the how… what about the why? It was a prank, of course! Batman wanted to get a gift for the anniversary of Superman’s arrival on Earth from Krypton. Batman knows how much Superman loves puzzles (since when?) so he scared the crap out of him with his elaborate joke. Batman really did a number on Superman too: First off, he made the Man of Steel think that someone had discovered not only his hideout, but also his secret identity. Secondly Bats wrecked some of Superman’s prized possessions, such as the wax Batman figure, as well as a painting of a martian landscape Superman had been working on for a while. Not to mention the hinges in the key. Brilliant!
Superman, not to be outdone, made sure he pranked Bats back… by causing an earthquake which trapped them in a cave with some phony Kryptonite. As Superman lay dying on the floor and their only escape was block by miles of stone, it became evident that the two vigilantes would die thousands of miles away from civilization. Batman was almost in tears! Way to go Superman, you showed him!
So let’s review:
Superman and Batman, Earths greatest heroes, take several days out of their schedules to play childish pranks on one another. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people die because Superman isn’t around to save them, but it’s OK because we get to see the inside of Superman’s mighty fort!
The lesson of the story is this:
The best pranks are the kind that play with people’s emotions and make them fear for their life. Also: do not screw with Superman. He absolutely will reduce you to a sniveling little girl in the most humiliating of ways.
I really enjoyed reading this comic. It was funny and campy and made me remember some of the retro Superman tales I would read as a kid. I used to pick them up from the public library. I always loved the tales that didn’t involve horrible super villains or earth shattering events. The light-hearted fanciful adventures were always the best… and this was one of those tales!
These days comics are pretty dark and have a very realistic human element in them. Sometimes it’s fun to take a step back in time and see what it was like before continuity and sense were introduced in to comic books.
Of course the art and story are at best crap, but that’s what makes it so fun. I wouldn’t change a thing! I would like to see more of this care-free story telling in modern day superman tales, and it seems that may be exactly where things are headed. Lex Luthor is back to his old, over-the-top scheming self, and Superman has just reconstructed his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic. We just may be seeing a restoration of the Golden Age and I for one will welcome it with open arms.