The great sci-fi and comics writer was born 118 years ago…
By PETER BOSCH
Edmond Hamilton (Oct. 21, 1904-Feb. 1, 1977) was a great science-fiction novelist whose work first appeared in pulp magazines of the 1920s. (His wife, Leigh Brackett, was also a celebrated science-fiction writer and a screenwriter whose film scripts included an early version of The Empire Strikes Back.)
Hamilton also had a 25-year career writing DC comic books, starting in 1942 and continuing until 1966, with stories for Superman (and most of his extended family: Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, and Superboy), the Legion of Super-Heroes and Batman, as well as creating or co-creating the Legion of Substitute Heroes, the Kathy Kane Batwoman and Space Ranger. And though he was one of the finest writers to ever work on Superman, he is relatively unsung for that… which is particularly surprising considering he wrote the very first comic book team-up of Superman and Batman (Superman #76).
Hamilton’s scripts truly deserved the description DC put on many comics: “full-length novel.” His stories were very detailed, containing multi-layered plots (as you will see below) with excellent characterizations, more so than from any other Superman writer of the period. You really got your 12 cents worth with an Edmond Hamilton story. In particular, he wrote a number of memorable stories where Superman was without his powers and he carried on by the use of his brains, his courage and his humanity, even if it meant he might need to sacrifice his own life to save someone else. Hamilton showed why Superman was a hero without equal. And he also showed the humanity that could exist within Lex Luthor, as you will see in several of the 13 stories selected below.
In chronological order:
“The Mightiest Team in the World!” – Superman #76 (May-June 1952). Superman and Batman together! The closest they came before this was sharing a few panels as honorary members of the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics #7 (Oct.-Nov. 1941) and #36 (Aug.-Sept. 1947), and Batman appearing occasionally on The Adventures of Superman radio show. But it was this issue that finally broke down the wall between the Fortress of Solitude and the Batcave.
Onboard a coastal ocean liner are four passengers who are in for an unforgettable voyage: Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, a jewel thief and Lois Lane. Oh, and Superman and Batman who are trying to determine who the thief is, while also attempting to keep Lois from discovering their identities. And it is in this latter plot point where the fun occurs. To distract her, Superman suggests to Batman that he pretend to woo Lois, and he will give off the illusion he is jealous. Unfortunately, Lois overhears them and decides to turn the tables. She makes a play for Batman and continuously snubs Superman, which really does make him jealous. After the crook is caught and the ship is back at the pier, both heroes wait to see who she really prefers, who she will go out to dinner with. Edmond Hamilton’s last laugh in the story has them seeing Lois walk off arm-in-arm with Robin the Boy Wonder!
“The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team!” – World’s Finest Comics #94 (May-June 1958). When Luthor escapes prison, Batman and Robin rush to Metropolis to help Superman, but he dismisses them, saying the masked Powerman is his new partner. Emotionally hurt, Batman follows them as he searches for answers because he and Superman have been friends since the first time they met, when Batman saved Superman from Kryptonite — and risked his own life to do so. (The flashbacks in the story take place before Superman #76, but still fit within that continuity because they did not meet unmasked until the cruise.) Superman continues telling him to stand down. A dejected Batman recalls a time when his friend said he would not want them to endanger themselves just to save him —and Batman suddenly realizes Superman is doing this to protect them! An emotionally rejuvenated Batman rushes into danger to protect his friend, captures Luthor, and Powerman is revealed to be a robot. All good again and buddies forever.
“The Last Days of Superman!” – Superman #156 (Oct. 1962). This is one of the really great Superman stories of the Silver Age by Hamilton, and it requires this extra in-depth coverage to come even partially close to describing the monumental storyline:
A mysterious box from Krypton has made its way to Earth. Like almost every other fragment from Krypton after it exploded, its molecular structure has become Green Kryptonite, so Superman keeps a distance from it. Jimmy, however, senses a scoop and opens it. Superman uses his telescopic vision and sees a Kryptonian scientist’s writing on the lid, which says that inside there is a sample of “Virus-X,” a contagion that kills anyone from Krypton within 30 days.
Superman panics because the wind is blowing any germs his way. Jimmy snaps a photo with his camera when Superman smashes a huge boulder down on the box, sending the danger deep into the earth. However, when he returns to Jimmy, Superman is suddenly dizzy and weak. Later, with Jimmy present, a doctor says he is dying. When Superman is alone, he realizes nothing can save him… but he can still spend the remainder of his days helping others and helping the planet, and he asks other heroes to help him accomplish everything in 30 days what he had hoped to do in a lifetime.
To protect Supergirl, Krypto, and the people of Kandor from catching the virus from him, he has a germ-proof, lead-glass, large isolation booth built for himself, by which he can still give out his instructions. Jimmy stays in there with him. Supergirl flies back through the time barrier to Krypton to seek out the scientist whose box this was and hears him tell a colleague there is no cure but he will destroy the sample with the only thing that can do that, Element 202, which is also deadly to any human being.
She flies back to the present and tells Superman, who is in his last minutes of life, that there is no cure — but then Superman realizes that since the scientist destroyed the Virus-X sample, he couldn’t have caught Virus-X. It’s discovered a nugget of Green Kryptonite broke off from the chest when Superman smashed it with the boulder and it imbedded itself in Jimmy’s camera. That was why Superman always got weaker and sicker when Jimmy was there with his ever-present camera.
One last note: Edmond Hamilton was always very careful to make sure there were no plot holes in his stories, but he made a doozy of a mistake here. Supergirl would not have been able to fly back through time to Krypton, land, and then fly back to the present with the information. As soon as she approached Krypton, she would have lost her super powers under the red sun. She would have perished in space or crash-landed on the planet.
“Lois Lane, the Super-Maid from Earth!” – Superman #159 (Feb. 1963). A great “imaginary story” in which Hamilton stands the Superman legend on its head. Lois’ father sends the infant Lois in a rocket to the planet Krypton just before our sun explodes, which destroys Earth. She is found and adopted by a Kryptonian couple who name her Kandi Kan and she becomes friends with young Kal-El, whose father was able to stop Krypton from exploding. When they develop into adults, she becomes the mighty heroine Supermaid and Kal-El falls in love with her but, because she doesn’t wear glasses and Kandi does, he fails to realize they are one and the same.
“The Dynamic Duo of Kandor!” – Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #69 (June 1963). This is a sequel to Superman #158 (Jan. 1963), also by Hamilton, in which Superman and Jimmy Olsen shrank themselves to get inside the bottle city of Kandor and took on the crimefighting costumed identities of Nightwing and Flamebird. This time, they go back to Kandor when a super-powered outlaw loots the city. They put on their costumes and utility belts, and set out from the Nightcave in their Nightmobile to capture the crook. And they take along a telepathic Nighthound, wearing a lead-lined domino mask to help hide his identity. Hamilton could tell a great serious tale but he certainly wasn’t above poking fun at the excesses of the Batman comic books of the time.
“The Super-Sacrifice of the Legionnaires!” – Adventure Comics #312 (Sept. 1963). Lightning Lad was the first member of the Legion of Super-Heroes to die in action, giving up his own life to stop an invasion of Earth in Adventure Comics #304 (Jan. 1963). At the time, DC hinted he may be revived through super-science. In Issue #312, Mon-El comes back from another world where he learned that Lightning Lad can live again through a ceremony but only if someone is willing to exchange his or her own life to do so. Saturn Girl fixes it so her wand is made of a material that will attract lightning first — and she is the one struck and killed. But is it really her? When Lightning Lad returns to life, they discover it is Chameleon Boy’s shape-shifting loyal pet, Proty, who was disguised as Saturn Girl.
“The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman!” – Superman #164 (Oct. 1963). Luthor escapes prison (again) and challenges Superman to a fair fight without his super powers. Superman goes with him in a spaceship to a red-sun planet where Superman barely wins the fight and Luthor runs off. While Superman searches for him, Luthor meets farmers suffering from the planet’s drought and he promises to help them with his scientific knowledge.
He soon discovers there is no more water to be had but, before he can tell them that, Superman catches up with him. The people take Superman prisoner because he is the enemy of their would-be benefactor and a death match is set up for the two men in an arena — where Luthor lets Superman best him. In the spaceship heading toward Earth, Luthor shows his purpose for losing: He asks Superman to stop at an icy planet on the way and use his superpowers to throw large amounts of ice across space to the desert planet. Later, in his cell, he receives a gift from Superman, a telephoto showing a giant statue of Luthor “on the one world where I’m a hero! It was worth coming back to prison for.”
“The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons!” – Superman #166 (Jan. 1964). An “imaginary tale” where Superman and his mortal wife have two boys. However, Jor is super-powered and Kal is not, which leads to a growing inferiority complex for Kal. Seeing this, Superman sends them when they are teens to be educated in Kandor, where neither will have powers. While there, Jor and Kal see a mystery person looting and they don the Nightwing and Flamebird costumes to try to capture him. It becomes clear that Jor may lead the way in athletics but it is Kal who excels with the smarts as he deduces the criminal has a connection to Krypton. When they return to full-size outside the bottle, and Jor is busy helping his father, Kal borrows a time machine the Legion gave his Dad and travels back in time to Krypton. While there, he works for Jor-El and discovers who the criminal is and how to stop him when he returns to the present. The story ends with both boys happy with their own abilities.
“The Superman Super-Spectacular” – Action Comics #309 (Feb. 1964). Superman is surprised to be the guest on the live premiere show of “Our American Heroes” and his friends are brought out to honor him. Unfortunately, one of them is to be Clark (which Superman didn’t know because Perry White only left a note on Clark’s desk after he left). Unable to use a robot because Lois and Lana have a device that will tell if Clark is not human, Superman asks someone he aided earlier in the story and who, in return, told Superman to call upon him if he ever needed help. On the last page, “Clark” arrives and joins the group. Later, in private, “Clark” takes off his makeup to reveal he is President Kennedy, honoring his promise to help Superman. (Just prior to this issue reaching the newsstand, President Kennedy was assassinated. It is said DC tried to recall the already printed and shipped comic from reaching the newsstand but were unable to do so. )
“The Team of Luthor and Brainiac” – Superman #167 (Feb. 1964). In an attempt to create an ultimate weapon against Superman, Luthor teams up with Brainiac. They go to various worlds to steal materials, including the one that Luthor helped (in Superman #164) and the citizens cheer his return. A young woman — identified as Tharla, but who will be renamed Ardora in future appearances — embraces and kisses him. Luthor tells Brainiac he will not steal anything from these people. Later, the villainous pair returns to Luthor’s Earth hideout, but not without Superman seeing them. His attempt to capture them ends with a gas stripping him of his powers and Brainiac shrinking him to doll size.
When Superman, even powerless and small, disrupts their plans, Brainiac uses a coma-inducing ray on him. Kandorians leave their bottle and capture Brainiac and Luthor, and take them and the comatose Superman back to Kandor. Brainiac is put on trial for shrinking their city so long ago, and Luthor acts as his defense attorney. Brainiac is found guilty, but he makes a deal to revive Superman if he and Luthor are allowed to leave Earth. The judge says that a decision like this is so grave that ALL of Kandor must vote on whether to save Superman from a living death and let Brainiac and Luthor go, or not. The vote comes back unanimous to save Superman. Superman is returned to normal and his greatest enemies are allowed to go free. Brainiac flies Luthor back to the planet where he is loved, and then Brainiac continues on to outer space to plot his next move against Superman.
“The Tyrant Superman” – Superman #172 (Oct. 1964). About to undertake a dangerous task that could cost him his life, Superman trains Ar-Val, a replacement from Kandor to take his place, just in case. Unfortunately, “just in case” happens when Superman survives the task but loses his powers. However, Ar-Val loves the adulation he gets as the new Superman (he even secretly creates emergencies so people will love him even more). When Brainiac frees Luthor from prison, Ar-Val refuses to look into it and it is up to the ex-Superman to stop them. As in other great stories written by Hamilton, Superman’s nobility to sacrifice himself for others makes Ar-Val realize he is not worthy to be Superman and he restores the powers to him by giving up his own life in the doing.
“The Death of Luthor!” and “The Condemned Superman!” – Action Comics #318 (Nov. 1964) and #319 (Dec. 1964). A two-issue story that starts with Luthor returning to Lexor (the planet was renamed in his honor back in Superman #168) and marrying Ardora. Shortly after that, he fakes his own death when Superman (without his super powers) punches him. Luthor pretends to hit his head against a gravestone. Secretly, though, he swallows a pill that will make him look dead for five days, which is enough time under Lexor’s law for Superman to be tried and executed. When Superman catches on to the scheme, he counteracts the drug and brings Luthor suddenly back to life. Superman tells the people how Luthor did it but they choose to believe Luthor accidentally took the pill and there was no dastardly plan. The court declares Superman not guilty, but still banishes him from Lexor.
“Clark Kent’s Brother!” – Superman #175 (Feb. 1965). An excellent “imaginary story” in which teenager Lex Luthor is stopped from becoming a criminal because the Kents adopt him into their family and their love turns him good. He and Clark become brothers and best friends (no trick like in Superman #149). The entire family (Ma and Pa Kent don’t die!) move to Metropolis when Clark gets a cub reporter job at the Daily Planet and Lex lands a research position at the Metropolis Scientific Foundation.
Lana has also moved to the big city and, in one thing that remains true to the canon, she is still in love with Superman:
A major change is that Pete Ross worships Lana and he hates Superman to the point he wants him dead — and he intends to make that happen. There is a tragic finale to the story and it ends with Clark realizing that Lex was “the finest person of us all.”
— 13 SUPER STORIES: A JERRY SIEGEL Birthday Celebration. Click here.
— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite MORT WEISINGER SUPERMAN FAMILY Innovations. Click here.
PETER BOSCH’s first book, American TV Comic Books: 1940s-1980s – From the Small Screen to the Printed Page, has just been published by TwoMorrows. He has written articles and conducted celebrity interviews for various magazines and newspapers. Peter lives in Hollywood.