Superboy #153, "Challenge of the Cosmic Invaders!"

SUPERBOY #153, January 1969; DC Comics; Murray Boltinoff, editor; featuring 
"Challenge of the Cosmic Invaders!"  Script by Frank Robbins, pencils by  Bob
Brown, inks by Wally Wood.  On the cover by Neal Adams, Superboy  struggles in
vain to hold back his foster parents, the Kents, from being sucked  into
nothingness by a pinkish mist that has invaded their living room.  (a  scene
which, as we shall see, never precisely appears in the  story)

Review by Bill Henley

An early harbinger of the end of the  Silver Age was Mort Weisinger giving up
the editorship of SUPERBOY to Murray  Boltinoff during 1968, a couple of
years before Weisinger retired altogether.  Boltinoff made an effort to give the
Boy of Steel's title a fresher look. He  assigned newspaper strip veteran Frank
Robbins to the scripts and put more  emphasis on action and suspense rather
than the familiar Weisinger plot  twists.  Art-wise, Boltinoff parted ways with
longtime Superboy artist  George Papp, bringing in Bob Brown and-- on some
issues including this one-- the  legendary Wally Wood, who could make anyone's
pencils, including those of the  competent though unspectacular Brown, look

On the splash page,  a series of panels shows a peaceful but utterly deserted
town of  Smallville.  "The houses are hushed....not even the twitter of birds
disturbs the eerie silence...something is wrong....WHAT?  WHERE ARE THE 
PEOPLE!"  The one person who is still around is Superboy, who is flying his 
patrol high above the town when he sees a U.S. Mail bi-plane (this is supposed  to
be the 1930's, remember) suddenly go into a tailspin.  Superboy rights  the
plane and guides it to the ground, thinking the pilot has fallen  unconscious,,
but he is shocked to find that the cockpit is empty, though he is  certain
the pilot neither bailed nor fell out.  He is further baffled to  find the
airport deserted and an abandoned gas pump filling a plane's tanks to  overflowing.
"Day's beautiful enough to make anyone want to goof off and  go fishing, but
not like THIS...l!  I'm worried!"  He's even more  worried when he arrives
back at the Kent home and finds it too deserted, with a  boiling pot left behind
on the stove.  Rushing out into the streets,  Superboy realizes that the
entire town of Smallville is deserted.  Did they  all evacuate in the face of some
sudden danger?  Spotting a police car  patrolling the outskirts of town,
Superboy accosts the cops and asks them if  they have seen people fleeing. 
"Superboy, we may have little to do when  you're around, but we'd have seen them!" 
But when the police drive back  past the Smallville city limits sign, their
car goes out of control and  crashes-- and Superboy finds that the two officers,
too, have vanished.   Fearing that he is somehow responsible, Superboy
wonders, "Have I been cursed by  some EVIL POWER?  Every human I TOUCH-- or come
into contact with--  VANISHES!"

As Superboy prepares to start another desperate search for  Smallville's
inhabitants, he hears voices emanating from various inanimate  objects, boasting
that they can tell Superboy where his parents and friends have  gone, because
they made them disappear.  "Despite your invulnerability and  incredible power,
you cannot harm US!  WE ARE THE INVISIBLE EMPIRE!"   (The Ku Klux Klan used
to describe themselves that way, but no, this isn't an  early example of a
"relevant" story with super-racists as villains.)    These aliens come originally
from the "dwarf neutron star, Lethos", and they are  disembodied beings, an
"elemental force" inhabiting the very molecules of the  air, the street, and
everything else in Smallville.  And Smallville itself  is the site of their
"pilot project" for the conquest of the entire Earth. (For  a supposedly
small,peacful, typical American town it's remarkable how many alien  invasions, cosmic
disasters,and super-villains Smallville managed to attract  over the years.  At
least the producers of TV's SMALLVILLE came up with the  mutant-creating
Kryptonite meteor storm as an explanation of sorts as to why  that little town was
such a magnet for trouble. Actually, a page or so later  Superboy deduces
that the aliens chose Smallville specifically because of him,  taking his family
and friends hostage in order to neutralize his power and force  his
obedience.)  Moreover, the aliens demand Superboy's help in their  conquest.  "No power
on Earth or in the heavens can force me!"  Not so  fast, the aliens warn; they
hold the entire population of Smallville prisoner in  the form of
"disembodied molecules".  "Only WE have the secret of the  GENETIC CO-LINKAGE LIFE FORCE
which held them together initially!  And only  we can provide the cosmic
adhesive to bring them back into being!  If you  do not do our bidding, they will
remain disembodied for ALL TIME!"

When  Superboy expresses skepticism as to the invaders' abilities, they
demonstrate by  bringing Ma Kent back into corporate existence briefly-- still busy
at her  cookstove-- only to have her vanish again out of Superboy's arms. The
Boy of  Steel concedes defeat and asks what the aliens expect him to do.  The
answer is, since they are limited in their mobility, they want Superboy to
bring  to them in Smallville the "leaders of the Earth's great nations", so
that they  can "iinfiltrate their brain cells and thereby destroy their leaders! 
Then...the WORLD IS OURS!" 

As Superboy flies off to gather the  world leaders, the aliens warn, "No
tricks!", but a trick is just what our hero  has in mind.  He speeds first to
Madame Tussaud's famous Wax Museum in  London, where he finds and absconds with
utterly lifelife wax figures of leaders  such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Winston
Churchill  (Remember, again, this is  the 1930's.  Or is it the 40's?  It's
not clear if World War II is  already supposed to be in progress, but before the
war started, Churchill wasn't  a "world leader", just an out-of-office
British politician.)  Seeking to  make these fake leaders "convincing enough to fool
the most brilliant assemblage  of brain-power in the universe", Superboy
provides them with robot brains and  simulated internal organs, and then imbues
them with pseudo-life by means of a  Frankensteinish "nuclear-energizing power
source" that shoots the wax figures  with lightning-like bolts.  His first
creation, "Benito Mussolini", gives a  lifelike fascist salute and shouts, "I am
Il Duce...VIVA IL DUCE!  I build  a new Roman Empire...I am the new Caesar! 
HAIL CAESAR!" to which Superboy  replies, "Don't take yourself too seriously,
Musso!  You're just  WAX!" 

Assembling his creations back at Smallville town hall,  Superboy announces to
the alien invaders that he has fulfilled his  mission.  The aliens want to
insure that the leaders are not merely "clever  replicas", but their suspicions
are lulled when each leader stands and (with the  aid of Superboy's
super-ventriloquism) gives a tupical spiel; "I am HIROHITO,  emperor and supreme ruler
of Nippon, land of the rising sun!"  "I am  Stalin!  Arise, workers, and cast
off your chains!"  "I am Der  Fuehrer!  Today we conquer all Europe...tomorrow
the world!"  As his  creations do their act, Superboy muses, "I'm not sure the
world wouldn't be  better off if the cosmic invaders did take over from the
REAL dictators!"   (Though Mort Weisinger established early in the Silver Age
that Superboy's  exploits took place during the 1930's, he rarely if ever made
any reference in  the stories to real world events of that time.... perhaps to
forestall readers  wondering why, if Superboy grew up during the rise of
Hitler, he didn't take a  more direct hand in stopping that ultimate
super-villain.  Apparently  Boltinoff and Robbins here, in their attempt to give Superboy's
adventures a new  look, decided to try to tie his exploits more into the
history of this  time.  Later in Boltinoff's run on SUPERBOY, however, in
collusion with new  Superman editor Julius Schwartz, he jumped Superboy's time period
two decades  ahead into the mid 1950's, so that the Superman of the 1970's
would not be  approaching Social Security age.) 

Before he will allow the aliens  to take over the brains of the world
leaders, Superboy insists that they keep  their word and restore the population of
Smallville to corporate  existence.  And so they do, as Ma Kent reappears at her
stove.  And  then the aliens enter their new bodies, and at first are quite
satisfied with  the deal they have made, not realizing they inhabit bodies of
wax, not flesh;  "Hail Il Duce!  I feel at home here!"  "Da!  Also is
comfortable  in here!"  But then "Hitler" wonders just who another figure on hand, not 
identifiable as any world leader, is.  "He's unknown to you!  But he  will
determine your DESTINIES!  Meet Professor MESMER...the worlds first  and
greatest hypnotist!"  As the waxen Professor begins to fix his gaze on  the other wax
figures and swing his watch chain, Superboy directs, "Okay,  Professor, do
your stuff!  MESMERIZE!"   And "Mesmer"'s spell  causes each of the other wax
being, inhabited by the aliens, to fall into a  deep, unbreakable sleep.  But as
a satisfied Superboy prepares to return  the wax figures-- with their new
"guests"-- to the confines of the wax museum, a  single alien, inhabiting the
eagle-head top of a flagpole, declares, "You may  have betrayed the OTHERS, but I
was too QUICK!"  "For want of a nail, a  kingdom was lost!  Will this one
slip-up cost Superboy the world he  loves?"

In between parts 2 and 3 of this Superboy saga, we have house ads  for ANGEL
AND THE APE and BINKY'S BUDDIES (a sign that humor, along with other  genres,
was overtaking superheroes in popularity) and a "Wonderful World of  Comics"
text page written by Mark Hanerfled aka the "Inquiring Fanatic". The  page
contains a short bio of Jay Scott Pike, the artist mainly known for romance 
comics who produced the one-shot career of Dolphin in SHOWCASE #79, and a fan 
letter (actually a compilation "from various letters" inquiring, "Whatever 
happened to....Metamorpho, Dial H for Hero, Plastic Man, Rip Hunter Time Master, 
Secret Origins, House of Secrets, Sea Devils, etc., etc., etc?  Mark  advised,
"All of the above titles and strips have been discontinued, for one  reason or
another."  He went on to explain the various reasons for  cancelling series,
starting with low sales but also allegedly including the  unavailability of a
particular writer-artist team, shortages of production staff  or "press time",
etc.  Yet another fan question on the page was "whether or  not today's
Superman and Batman are the same Superman and Batman that appeared  in the Golden
Age".  Mark replied, "Both the Superman and Batman strips  have changed and
developed in the 30 years of their existence and most of the  fans I know consider
the first few years of each strip to be about the Superman  and Batman of
"Earth-Two".  It helps explain the little inconsistencies,  such as the fact that
Clark Kent worked for the Daily Star in the first few  strips, and that
Luthor was originally depicted as having red hair."

As  we return to Superboy's plight, it seems he has utterly failed to save
his town  or his world, for even though only one alien escaped his "mesmerism"
trap, that  one can "split like an earlhly amoeba...inhabit many bodies!"  And
unless  Superboy carries out his original mission of bringing the real Earth
leaders, "I  will turn Smallville into a human wasteland for all time!  You
have one  hour to comply!"  But as Superboy bitterly muses over his failure,
while  returning the wax "leaders" to their museum, a figure of the midget Tom
Thumb  standing inside a glass bottle gives him an idea for a new plan. Sneaking
back  into Smallville, he asks Ma Kent (who is blissfully unaware of having
been  disassembled) what is the most powerful dye she owns.  "RED!  It's a  very
powerful, aniline dye!"  In his cellar lab, he creates "temperatures  higher
than any known on Earth" I(I'll bet that violates  Smallville fire  codes and 
the terms of the Kents' homeowners insurance) in order to create  out of red
dye and one of the Krypton-glass portholes of his childhood spaceship  a
"vitreious compound as invulnerable as my own skin!"  Warning the  populace of
Smallville to evacuate, he confronts the invisible and intangible  alien alone. 
Chugging down his jug full of reddish compound and then, with  an "explosive
burst of super-breath", spewing it forth over the entire town of  Smallville,
Superboy spots the alien, a sluglike, tentacled creature now made  visible by
the red dye.  (Oddly enough, nothing else in town is tinted red,  just the
creature.)  The exposed alien boasts, "You forget,  Superboy....that I can change
my shape and substance into ANYTHING!  So...I  become a SPREADING RED MIST! 
Something you cannot TOUCH...or FIGHT!"   But Superboy exults, "Just what I'd
HOPED you'd do!" as, "drawing in his mighty  breath with massive suction, " our
hero inhales the misty alien completely into  his invulnerable lungs, from
which it cannot escape.  (If this story were  to be printed for the benefit of
today's youth, it would probably inspire a lot  of schoolyard jokes about how
"Superboy really sucks".)  Back in his cellar  lab, Superboy creates an
indestructible Krypton-glass bulb and exhales the  gaseous alien into it, sealing it
off.  "Hermetically sealed!  Now  you'll remain in an evil
genie...for ALL TIME!"  But though  he has saved Smallville from alien conquest,
Superboy's duty to his hometown is  not quite done, as he groans, "And now I've
got to face the prospect of a  massive cleanup of Smallville's square!"  (Could
it be that scripter  Robbins intended that Superboy's super-breath dye job
did indeed "paint the town  red", and that the colorist didn't follow his