Saturday, May 20, 2017

Super-Lad Strains the Suspension of Disbelief

Even in 1959, at the age of 5, a guy knew when he was being had.
So Jimmy Olsen just coincidentally happens to be wearing a Superman costume for a fan club meeting when he coincidentally gets stuck on a missile that coincidentally lands on the planet Zolium, where conditions coincidentally grant Earth people super powers — coincidentally, the exact same powers as Superman?
And why couldn’t the cub reporter use his Superman signal watch to summon the Man of Steel to rescue him? Because, coincidentally, those little “zee-zee-zee” signals can’t travel through outer space.
Aw, come on.
Such was the scenario provided for our amusement by writer Robert Bernstein in The Super-Lad of Space!, the cover story in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 39 (Sept. 1959).
Actually, all those coincidences weren’t the annoying part of the story. We were accustomed to those. What was irritating was the Jimmy Olsen, instead being amazed at suddenly being granted the powers of his hero and glorying in his ability to fly and bop monsters on the nose, spends all his time fretting that the Zoliumians (Zoliumites? Zolians? Whatever) can see through the various secret identities he tries to establish.
Bigger picture, Jimmy! This is ultimate wish fulfillment. Enjoy it! Generally, stories suggesting that you might not have to be born on Krypton to acquire super powers stirred fantasies that plunked those dimes down on newsstand counters.
Nevertheless, this was still a favorite story of mine. Why? Two words: Curt Swan.
The famed Superman artist was then approaching the peak of his powers, and flexing the muscles of his creative ingenuity. The detailed verisimilitude of Swan’s style made you believe in the actual existence of impossible things, and this alien setting provided an opportunity for him to go to town drawing giant flying metal-eating monsters, giant twelve-legged borrowing monsters, massive spiraling death rays, a wide variety of exotic alien dress, etc. etc.
More than a half-century later, I can vividly recall those gigantic yellow melons grown underground to feed the population of Zolium.
That, my friends, is called talent.

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