John Kahane (jkahane) wrote,
John Kahane
jkahane

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The Real Mon-El: Superboy Vol 1 #89

After re-reading the latest two issues of the current run of Legion of Super-Heroes, I thought I should remind folks what the *real* Mon-El was like and his origin. Enjoy! :)






Superboy Vol 1 #89
June, 1961
"Superboy's Big Brother!"
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciller: George Papp
Inker: George Papp
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Colourist: Uncredited
Cover: Curt Swan (penciller) and Stan Kay (inks)
Editor: Mort Weisinger


Featuring:
Superboy

Guest Star:
Mon-El (not yet in Legion)

Supporting Cast:
Martha and Jonathan Kent; Lana Lang; Krypto (cameo)

Opposition:
None, other than Superboy's own suspicions; Phantom Zone criminals (in flashback)


Synopsis:
In Part 1, "Superboy’s Big Brother!", while out with Ma and Pa Kent, Clark notices a rocket in space heading for Earth and about to crash. Investigating it as Superboy, the Boy of Steel manages to grab the rocketship and land it safely on Earth. He sees the occupant inside is a dark-haired youth wearing a costume that is the reverse of his own. Taking the unconscious figure out of the rocketship, Superboy is shocked to find that he has a star chart in a pocket inside his and wears a medallion around his neck, both from his own father, Jor-El, about his apparent son. Believing that this person is a previously unknown and long lost brother, Superboy is disappointed to learn that the occupant has amnesia.

Superboy explains to the youth about his own origins on Krypton and how the planet was destroyed but that his father sent him in a rocketship to Earth. Believing the youth to be his brother, Superboy has him test his powers to see if he's Kryptonian. He has him stand in the flames of the burning woods near the rocketship, and sees that the youth is unharmed by them. The youth then sees the wreck of a ship in the river below using x-ray vision and how another vessel is about to hit it. Superboy and the youth save the approaching ship, and remove the underwater wreck using flight and super-strength. Convinced that the youth is from Krypton and his brother, Superboy takes him back to the Kents using the secret tunnel that he created for that purpose.

Leaving his new brother at the house with Ma Kent, Clark goes to the store to tell his father the good news that he has an older brother. Based on a travelling salesman who arrives at the store, Clark and Pa Kent set up the newcomer with the guise of Bob Cobb, a travelling brush salesman, so that he can assume a civilian life in Smallville. In addition, using Kryptonian naming conventions, Superboy and the Kents name him Mon-El, based partially on the day of the week that he landed on Earth. After school the next day, Clark and Bob meet up but are forced into their guises as Superboy and Mon-El to stop a car carrier trailer that is running out of control, While Superboy juggles the vehicles that it carries, Mon-El stops the vehicle in its tracks. Shortly after, when Krypto arrives at Superboy's summons, the Kryptonian pet growls at Mon-El in a most unfriendly manner, and departs as quickly as he showed up. That night, as Clark and Bob prepare for bed, Clark notices that Mon-El's belt buckle is not made of any Kryptonian metal. His suspicions aroused, Clark uses a fragment of Green Kryptonite that he keeps locked in a lead box in the cellar to test Mon-El's being Kryptonian, but the sleeping youth is unaffected by the Green K. Convinced that Mon-El isn't from Krypton and is not his brother, he wonders who the imposter is and what he wants on Earth.

In Part 2, "The Secret of Mon-El!", the next day, after eating breakfast with his "brother," Clark goes to school and has to write a test. One of the questions is about the origins of faerie tales. Excusing himself for a drink of water, Clark changes to Superboy and time travels back 6,000 years to ancient Egypt. As he watches a young woman bathe in the Nile, an eagle swoops down and snatches up her fur slipper. Following the eagle, Superboy arrives in Memphis in time to watch the eagle drop the slipper at the feet of the king of Memphis. The king declares he must find the owner of the slipper. Six months later, Superboy sees the king find the girl to whom the slipper belonged, Rhodopis, and honours her by building the third pyramid at Giza. This is the origin of the story of Cinderella! He returns to the modern day, and finishes the test.

After Clark has used his super-breath to help Lana practice some ballet moves, giving her confidence, Mon-El tries to show up Clark for Lana's affections, and sells her a brush. Later, after returning to the Kents, Superboy is alerted by Chief Parker that lead balls are raining down on the Smallville Bank. Mon-El confirms this, but Superboy sees something else: there are criminals in the hills outside the city using a catapult to rain them down. Superboy tells Mon-El that he'll stop the rain of lead balls and that Mon-El should take care of the crooks. On the ridge outside of town, Superboy takes care of the criminals with ease. However, at the bank, Mon-El is unable to stop the crooks, feeling weakened and very dizzy. Superboy arrives, and is convinced that Mon-El is faking his weakness and is in cahoots with the crooks. Superboy suggests a change of atmosphere, and they arrange a meeting place in space for some super-exercise. He agrees to meet Mon-El there in 10 minutes, after he rounds up the escaped crooks.

Superboy decides to trick Mon-El into "revealing" himself by orchestrating a Kryptonite meteor hoax while they're playing. Shortly after he gathers some paint from the Kent store, Superboy paints lead balls from the criminals' stash to resemble Green Kryptonite and throws them into space so they'll land on the planetoid he and Mon-El have agreed to meet at. Later, Superboy arrives on the planetoid to find Mon-El only just arrived, as the weakness he suffered slowed him down. The two play some space baseball, and knock the lid off a large, alien jack-in-the-box. They're having fun knocking the two heads of the giant toy when the lead balls disguised as Green K arrive. Superboy pretends to be affected by the "Kryptonite" boulders, but is shocked to discover that Mon-El is really affected by the lead balls as Superboy would be by real Green K. The shock and the pain of dying causes Mon-El's memories to return, and he reveals that his real name is Lar Gand, and that he comes from a world called Daxam. Daxamites are affected by lead in the same manner that Green Kryptonite affects those from Krypton, except the effects never wear off and the damage is permanent. The dying Mon-El tells Superboy that he's not his brother. He is a space traveller who landed on Krypton just before its destruction and befriended Jor-El and Lara before departing the planet. The crash on Earth really did give him amnesia. Since Mon-El is dying, Superboy comes up with the only solution possible to save Mon-El's life: sending him to the Phantom Zone. As Mon-El vanishes into the Zone, Superboy promises that he will find a cure for Mon-El's lead poisoning some day.


Commentary:
This story is not really a Legion story at all, as it introduces the character of Mon-El into Superboy's ongoing cast, also providing his origin at the end, but it's a story that is important to Legion lore and history in so many ways. Once more, this story is based on another tale from Superman Vol 1 #80 from 1953, in which Superman's "brother" leaves in a rocket. The ending of this story sets up Mon-El as a recurrin character, however, one that has a major role to play in the Legion of Super-Heroes timeline. Writer Robert Bernstein's story is full of kindness, jealousy, and betrayal, but also has a pathos to it by the end that makes it a very good, if not great, story.

It's also a weird story in that there's what appears to be several sequences of filler. The first of these is the refresher on Superboy's origin story and how he arrived on Earth. Given that this is done in pretty much every second or third story of the Boy of Steel, it made no sense to add it here, though it does have relevance in terms of Mon-El being Superboy's supposed brother. The filler scene that I really liked is the one where Superboy goes into the past to ancient Egypt and discovers the origin of the faerie tale of Cinderella. It's a scene that has no relevance to the story of Mon-El, but it's a fun scene nevertheless.

Superboy is portrayed very poorly at times in this story. First of all, he makes a lot of assumptions about Mon-El at the beginning of the story, based on the star chart and the letter that Mon-El has from Jor-El and Lara. This is possibly due since Kal-El has always wanted a brother or sister, something with Kryptonian history, to give him the sense of having a family, but let's face it, this will only come when as the adult Superman his cousin Kara, aka Supergirl, arrives on Earth. That said, if he actually believes here that Mon-El is his brother, why doesn't he attempt to speak Kryptonese to him when they first talk? Of course, Mon-El's amnesia, a convenient means of giving the story a bit more mystery, is something that the Silver Age DC universe used a lot of times to drive plots, and this story is no exception; the amnesia might have prevented Mon-El from knowing Kryptonese at this point, but Lar Gand must have spoken it when he spent all that time with Jor-El and Lara on Krypton. The second problem I have here is that Superboy gets suspicious about Mon-El, and I can understand that. However, is that what's really going on there? Superboy states that Mon-El's weakness was fake and that he's in cahoots with the criminals, but isn't this really about Mon-El trying to hit on Lana? And jealousy doesn't really become Superboy, though we've already seen some of that in the Star Boy introduction story in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #282. The trick that he plays on him by painting the lead balls (Mon-El's actual weakness) as Green Kryptonite to find out whether he's Kryptonian or not is pretty cruel. The fact that it backfires on the Boy of Steel in such a terrible fashion is payback in a way for caving in to such petty emotions as jealousy and feelings of betrayal here. I was surprised and quite enjoyed Superboy's remorse and attempt to make amends here, but have to admit that I would have liked to have seen another panel or two of the guilt-ridden Superboy here.

That said, this story very adeptly shows and speaks volumes about how altruistic Lar Gand really is. This origin story shows how powerful he is, every bit the equal of Superboy and thus Superman in adulthood, making him one of the most physically powerful members of the DC Universe at the time. The fact that his "best friend" tries to kill him over a dog growl and a smile from a girl, then sticks him in a prison with the universe's most vile criminals, and yet he still remains a force for good and doesn't hold the slightest grudge towards Superboy tells the reader that he is the most pure-hearted and truly good character in the DC Universe. Thus, this issue succeeds at introducing a great character, but in the process perhaps doing irreparable damage to the title character of the book.

One thing I disliked in this issue when it comes to the art is the DC Silver Age trope of six square panels per page with absolutely no storytelling happening with the art, as the text describes exactly what the art is depicting. It's really a case of, "Gee, Mon-El can lift the boat just like me. Golly, I'm sure glad we're brothers." On the subject of the art and layout of the issue, the cover of this story is just very strange, in that it depicts Superboy and Mon-El dealing with a fire-spewing, alien jack-in-the-box. I've always felt that the splash page, showing the two playing space baseball, would have been a much better choice for the cover of the issue.


Final Notes:
The Legion of Super-Heroes does not appear in this story...

This story introduces Mon-El and provides his origin story...

At the end of the story, Mon-El is transported into the Phantom Zone, which sets up his eventual release in the 30th Century.
Tags: comics hut, legion of super-heroes, legion reread, lll, long live the legion!, lsh, mon-el, review
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