Bizarro Back Issues: ‘The Return Of Planet Krypton!’ (1953)
It probably goes without saying that here at ComicsAlliance, we've been thinking a lot about shocking returns this week, and not just because they'e a pretty well-worn plot device. We've had some first-hand experience with it over the past few days, and I'm not gonna lie: They can be pretty surreal. Of course, we only have the return of a website to talk about, so I can't even imagine how strange it would be if, say, an entire planet came back from the dead one day.
Fortunately, I don't have to! Turns out that Bill Woolfolk and Wayne Boring already did that way back in 1953 with "The Return of Planet Krypton," and folks, it is a weird one, even before they get to the part where it's an entire planet populated by four dudes in short shorts.For those of you who are somehow not familiar with Superman's origin story -- and if that's you, I really want to know what you were Googling that led you here -- one of the key factors is that Krypton blew up when Superman was a baby. It's kind of the entire reason that he's here on Earth and, to a lesser extent, the reason that various meteors, death rays and Brainiacs have not reduced Metropolis to a smoking crater made of smaller smoking craters. What this story pre-supposes is... what if it didn't?
The whole thing gets started in an observatory, where a scientist with both a monocle and a pointy goatee (so you know he's serious) notices that Krypton has entered our solar system and is steadily approaching us. This is big news, especially considering that Krypton is at least three times bigger than Earth, and since this was well before the advent of Michael Bay, Bruce Willis and soundtracks by Aerosmith, we're all pretty much screwed if it turned out to be on a collision course. As for Superman, he's initially skeptical, but after he sees exactly one (1) picture, he's convinced, and decides to take off to check things out for himself.
What he finds is, well, Krypton, just as it was before it exploded, right down to the smallest detail. Continents, cities, even a science fair medal that his dad won, just in case you were in danger of forgetting that Superman came from a long line of nerds:
The one thing that's off about the New Krypton is that it seems to be completely devoid of actual Kryptonians. Since he doesn't have any powers while he's there, Superman straps on a "solo-rocket tube" that he keeps around for just such an occasion and flies around looking for signs of life. There's nothing to be found, until he finally stumbles on a giant, glittering diamond that opens to reveal a bunch of dudes wearing super tiny pants.
I'm going to go ahead and sidestep the obvious joke here, because what follows is even crazier. The bearded leader of the hot-pants scientists -- who never actually gets a name, so let's just call him Steve -- explains that their planet is actually a duplicate of Krypton that was made to fool space pirates.
I love this for so many reasons. For starters, there's the idea of just building an exact duplicate of your planet, which immediately raises and fails to answer the question of what exactly you're building it from. That's the sort of thing that defies even the tenuous logic of a comic book about a guy who flies around with his super-powered space dog.
The best thing, though, is that the duplicate works because when the space pirates showed up to do their bombing raid, everyone on Krypton just turned off their lights.
You know, because you can't see a planet out in space if everyone has their lights off. It's science.
According to Steve and his running crew, the plan worked, but because they elected to reproduce Krypton exactly, they accidentally included that unstable core that blew up the original Krypton. That kind of dangerous, ultimately self-destructive attention to detail might seem like something that could only happen in a comic book, but really, it's the same thing that leads to stuff like, say, the Wookiepedia article on lightsaber combat.
Go ahead. I'll wait.
Sure enough, the planet starts rumbling as they're chatting, and Steve & Co. decide that the only thing for it is to just cold take over Earth and enslave the human race:
Superman, naturally, is not down with all this racism, but without the super-powers that would give him the ability to punch them into submission, he has to take the coward's way out: trying to reason with them. He decides to go about this by building a tank and then inviting the Steves to try to destroy it, for reasons that are way beyond my comprehension. According to the dialogue, he wants to show them that Earth's defenses actually are capable of defeating Kryptonians, but at this point, nothing in the story is particularly interested in making sense.
It's a moot point anyway, as Steve waits patiently for Superman to finish, then just cold pulls out a gun and blows up the tank in one shot. In the process, Superman gets a mild bruise on his shoulder and then immediately sells out Earth and tells everyone that they need to surrender to their new overlords.
So much for the never-ending battle.
Okay, now this is where things start to get a little crazy. Superman is all bummed out about telling the people of Earth to just suck it up and become slaves, and while he's stewing about it, Steve walks up and tells Superman to remind them that they need their answer withing "fourteen galactic units." And that is when Superman loses his s**t.
Friends, we have been through some tenuous leaps of logic over the past few pages, but when Superman goes into a wild-eyed fugue state and starts yelling about Einstein and how a dude's wristwatch measures the movement of constellations, we are officially into crazy towne. This is basically a word-for-word transcription of a call to Coast to Coast AM, and the weirdest thing about it is that he's actually right. The thing is, without his powers, he's no match for what are essentially the Reapers from Mass Effect in hot pants and their advanced technology.
Clearly, he's going to have to outsmart them. Or, you know, just say that some stuff is science.
With the bad guys distracted and the page count for the story running out, Superman is able to solve his problem pretty quickly by stumbling across the lever that controls all gravity on the ersatz Krypton, which is just a papier-mache shell with cities on top of it. He turns it off, and straight up murders half the space pirates by sending them to die in the cold vacuum of space.
The rest of them end up blowing themselves up trying to escape. I'm not kidding. Superman is hard.
The story ends with the Fake Krypton being left out in space and Superman thinking about how nice it is to have a full-scale lifeless model of his home planet, which is a pretty weird thought to have even in the best of circumstances. Either way, I think we can all agree that this is a pretty goofy comic.
I mean, what are the odds that something familiar, like, say, America's Most Beloved Comics Website, could return as a hollow shell of itself, maintained by sinister forces with designs on lulling their readers into a false sense of security before destroying them all in one fell swoop? That'd be crazy!
Heh heh heh.