Bizarro Back Issues: The ‘Rainbow Doom’ of Superman (1955)
DC’s Silver Age comics get a bad rap sometimes. A lot of people look back on them as silly artifacts of a time when comic book stories were knocked out over lunch hours by people who thought catering to an audience of children meant that they didn’t have to make the effort actually make sense, and while that’s certainly the case for a few of them, that really sells things short. These were, after alll, the stories that built many of those characters into the iconic figures that we know today, defining and refining them over the years into heroes that we could look up to and learn from.
But yeah, sometimes Superman sprouted a rainbow around his stomach and started turning people into glass for no reason.That’s more or less what happens in “The Rainbow Doom” from 1955’s Superman #101, an issue that also contains a story where Lex Luthor escapes from prison in a helicopter whose blades have been painted to create a hypnotic pattern so that anyone who looks at him when he’s flying around immediately becomes entranced to do what he says. And what he says, incidentally, is that they should give him a series of objects so that he can create a complicated rebus made of crimes that, if anyone figures it out, will say “Superman: Our Bonehead,” so that Superman will feel bad whenever he looks at the museum the citizens of Metropolis have built to celebrate his exploits.
And seriously? The fact that I’m not writing more about that story should give you an idea of how truly bizarre “The Rainbow Doom” really is.
It features the work of artist Al Plastino, one of the most prolific Superman artists of the decade, and somehow manages to cram an entire year’s worth of complete insanity into a mere eight pages. And it wastes absolutely no time getting started, either. After a splash panel that gives us fair warning that Superman will be “laboring under a weird burdern for the duration of the story, we kick things off with what is possibly the greatest charity fundraiser ever:
Apparently, back before people shipped off their old watches and earrings to Ca$h 4 Gold, they’d just throw it right over a fence into a pile guarded by exactly two (2) uniformed policemen. I’m not even sure where to begin cataloguing the number of ways that this is absolutely amazing. For one thing, even in the often-romanticized ’50s, this is the sort of thing that could only happen in a world where Superman was flying around, because that is the only way that a gigantic pile of gold sits out in a vacant lot for six months without at least seventeen people getting shot. And even then, you just know that guy had to fish Scrooge McDuck out of there three or four times and book him for unlawful swimming.
Also, it’s nice to see that the good citizens of Metropolis were both charitable and financially solvent enough to throw that much jewelry onto the pile just to build a playground. Truly, Metropolis is like Wu-Tang: It’s for the children.
Unfortunately, even with an anti-crime deterrent as compelling as a dude who can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes, the peaceful reign of law and charity couldn’t last. Shortly after Superman melts all the gold down into one gigantic ball that he’s planning to auction off, crooks strike! They make off with the golden ball while Superman is off on patrol elsewhere, and to make matters worse, he can’t find them when he goes looking. Even his x-ray vision doesn’t help.
And this is where things start to get weird.
A short while after Superman fails to find where the giant hunk of gold hiding out, he’s flying around when a fireball starts streaking through the sky towards Metropolis, threatening to burn the entire city to a crisp if he doesn’t do anything about it. In other words, it was Tuesday in Metropolis. But when Superman flies up to kick the fireball back to space where it can go bother the Green Lanterns or whatever, something strange happens:
After shattering the glass core of the fireball, Superman sprouts a rainbow around his stomach like he’s just been crowned Heavyweight Champion of the Land of Oz, and for some reason, this makes everything he gets close to turn to glass. Once again: Tuesday in Metropolis.
Obviously, this is pretty bad news for the Man of Steel, especially once he heads out to Wildkill Grove, a foresty section of Metropolis that was clearly named by Ronnie James Dio, and turns a bunch of bushes and flowers to glass. Even worse, this is witnessed by Lois Lane and Perry White, who have no choice as responsible journalists but to publish the story and warn everyone to stay away from Superman as he exiles himself for their protection.
As you might expect, Lois seems particularly distraught, until she hits on the bright idea of driving her car over to Liberty City and hitting up a Pay-n-Spray to get it coated with lead:
I’m not sure what I like better about this scene: The idea that Lois just assumes that lead is the answer to any atomic-age problem, or the fact that there is apparently an auto shop somewhere in Metroplis where dudes have spray-cans full of molten lead that they use without even bothering to put on goggles.
Superman, meanwhile, is busy turning things to glass and using them to stop criminals. In this case, it’s an abandoned oil storage tank and a length of pipe that he fashions into a sort of glass cage that he drops onto a few ne’er-do-wells as they flee a bank, and believe it or not, this will be important later for underlining just how little sense this story makes.
Once her car has cooled down and/or dried, Lois sets off to go see if her theory works, but when Perry and Jimmy Olsen follow her, it turns out to have been a pretty bad idea:
Lois Lane, fatally glassed at the age of 17. She died as she lived: Chasing Superman and wearing a pillbox hat.
Or did she?! See, once the Daily Planet reports about Lois’s ill-fated attempts to block the Rainbow Doom with lead, the crooks form way back at the beginning of the story finally make their move, trucking the gold ball out of town. And this, it seems, is what Superman has been waiting for, as he descends onto the truck, tears the roof off that em-eff, and throws the crooks in jail.
So. What the hell just happened here? Jimmy, we leave it to you to ask the tough questions:
That’s right, everybody: If you checked off the box marked “Hoax” at the beginning of this article, you got it right. Superman orchestrated this entire thing, which presumably lasted for days, because it was the only way that he could possibly root out the thieves. And the whole thing where things were turned into glass? Those were actually props that he made beforehand and just swapped with the genuine articles when people weren’t looking. Seriously.
This somehow makes this story even weirder than it would be if it had just been some kind of random-ass space radiation, for the simple reason that it relies on Superman spending time creating a glass replica of his girlfriend so that everyone will think he killed her. Which, of course, Lois is absolutely fine with, even though that has to be a warning sign. A warning of what, I’m not sure, but it’s definitely a sign.
And that’s not even getting into the fact that he smashes up those oil tanks and then goes and builds glass versions to keep the ruse going. Even by the standards of the Silver Age, you can go right ahead and file that one under “needlessly elaborate.”