Bizarro Back Issues: Superman Against The Class Of 1962! (1962)
You know that movie, Class of 1984? If you’ve never seen it, the basic idea is that a new teacher comes to a crime ridden urban high school and finds that his students are murderous sociopaths, and ends up having to kill them all with a series of deathtraps while the band plays the 1812 overture. If you have seen it, then you probably thought the same thing I did when I was watching it: “This story would be way better if Superman was in it.”
Well rest easy, friends, because that exact thing has already happened, in a Jerry Siegel / Al Plastino classic with the truly amazing title, “The Three Tough Teen-Agers!”
It’s the lead story of 1962′s Superman #151, and we’re not even out of the opening caption before we start running into trouble. I mean, look, unless you happen to be standing next to Mark Waid, you’re going to have a pretty hard time finding someone who loves Silver Age DC comics as much as I do. That said, if you ever want to know why Marvel was such a huge success with the kids when it came out, consider that this is a story based entirely around the premise of Superman vs. Teens. Seriously. It’s nine pages of Superman teaching tough teens to be more respectful of their elders. Compared to that, Spider-Man cracking wise at J. Jonah Jameson was like the last fifteen minutes of Animal House.
The story begins with Perry White taking a leisurely stroll to the Daily Planet one morning and passing by his alma mater, Public School #84 and kicks off a monologue about how rad his school days were. His reminiscing is interrupted, however, when three tough teen-agers show up and start literally throwing tomatoes at their teachers. I’m not really sure if tomato-throwing was really a popular activity for underage criminals back in the ’60s, but I also have absolutely no concept of what people did for fun before the invention of the Internet, so I’m willing to accept that vegetable-throwing was the scourge of America’s youth. Point being, Perry White suddenly realizes that juvenile delinquency exists.
Naturally, he also decides to use the Planet to solve the problem, and since there was nothing else going on in a major Metropolitan city in 1962, Lois volunteers to go undercover as a teacher. The principal at PS 84 is a little worried at first about how these young ruffians will “treat a lady,” but since he has a teacher out with tomato-related injuries, he agrees to give her a shot.
It does not go well.
At this point, Superman decides to check in on Lois, and this is where the major flaw in the story is. Again, nobody a bigger fan of Jerry Siegel’s Silver Age work than I am, and I realize that Silver Age Lois is way less aggressive and confident than her Golden Age counterpart, but she lasts exactly one panel before she completely caves and Superman has to step in to check in to make sure she’s doing an okay job.
Even then, she still bursts into tears over the whole thing:
Here’s the thing, and I swear this is actually true. My mom’s a teacher, and on her first day, she got stabbed by a kid. First thing in the morning! And she came back the next day! I’m not saying that the Tough Teens aren’t out of hand here or anything, but for Pete’s sake, Lois, it’s an attempted itching powder prank. Keep it together.
With Lois off sobbing about the cruelty of children, Superman decides that it’s time for direct intervention. He asks her to assign them to write a composition based on the theme “What I’d Like To Become,” and promises that Superman will pick three of them and make their wishes come true. Amazingly, these kids who were struggling to mock Superman and could only come up with “Super-Crumb” actually do the assignment — and of course, they get picked as the “winners” in Superman’s scheme to shame them into obedience.
First up, young Maxie Kargan, who responds to the announcement by yelling “Deliver, or shut up!” at a dude who can shoot fire out of his eyes and hide your body on Saturn. He’s a rotten little bastard, sure, but you can’t deny that he’s got a set of stones on him.
Anyway, Maxie wants to be a “big shot,” so of course…
Two things about this page. One: Siegel and Plastino are simultaneously showing Superman’s gleeful retribution on this kid and making it impossible not to sympathize with him by revealing that he has a truly terrible home life involving a mother who tells him he’s doomed to be a worthless failure. Two: Despite that, Superman is still clearly supposed to be terrorizing this kid back onto the straight and narrow, but what he actually does is totally awesome! He sends him into space! In the ’60s! That kid is in rarified company with Yuri Gargarin and John Glenn! He’s going to be able to drop that knowledge on haters for life. Kids those days, though, they don’t appreciate what they got, so you can mark Maxie down as being sufficiently terrorized.
To skip ahead a bit, the third “wish” to be granted belongs to Artie, who wants to become a movie star. And again, it’s pretty predictable:
I do like the idea that Superman just has a radioactive jewel that can instantly disfigure someone, though. That’s the kind of thing he keeps around just in case.
While a Hollywood producer is more than willing to sign Artie to a lucrative $2,000 a week contract, Artie would prefer to not have a face that looks like an off-model Madball. He renounces both his wish and his works as a teacher-bully, and Superman transforms him back into normal by creating a rainbow. I believe that also represents his covenant to never again disfigure a teen with rainbows, but you may want to check with your local theologian.
Now we come to the second student, and the reason that I skipped over him before is that this is one of the all-time craziest things I’ve ever seen in a comic. His name is Louie Mapes, “one of the worst roughnecks in the class.” While his classmates are content with becoming moviestars or big shots, both of which are pretty achievable goals for the Man of Steel, Louie wants to rule over an empire.
That’s a pretty big leap in difficulty, but Superman figures out how to do it pretty easily. He just bundles Louie up and takes him to Venus. This might seem like a threat all to itself, what with that whole thing where Venus has a surface temperature of 850˚ and a clouds made of sulfuric acid, but this is the Silver Age DC Universe.
And their Venus is way more terrifying.
That’s right, Louie! Your tomato-based crimes have come back to haunt you! We shall see who is thrown through the air and made to splatter on the head of an enemy here — in the Venusian Vegetable Empire!!
Needless to say, Louie is freaked right the f**k out by the prospect of ruling over an empire of sentient vegetables, presumably because he understands that once Superman bails out, it won’t be long until he has to resort to eating his subjects as they are drawn ever-nearer by the light of his scepter.
He assures Superman that he’ll give up on hoodlumry, and Superman drags him back to Earth. The Venusian Vegetable people are, to my knowledge, never seen again, although there are plenty of Captain Marvel Adventures comics that I’ll need to read to confirm that.
Thus, juvenile delinquency is solved forever!
And Superman didn’t even have to drop a car on anyone to do it. I think that still happens in those Punisher issues that were based on Class of 1984, though.