The Alien Who Conquered Superman!

A strange spacecraft lands in Metropolis. The lone occupant is a handsome mystery man with powers to rival those of Superman, but it's unclear whether he will be a new champion or a new menace. An amazed city gasps, "Wow, is it Thursday already?"

Yes, it's Plot #6 from the trusty Superman Playbook, written in this particular instance by Batman co-creator Bill Finger and drawn by Atomic Age Superartists Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye for Action Comics #165 (Feb. 1952)

It all starts, as things so often do, in the offices of the Daily Planet, where editor Perry White assigns Clark Kent to "get the low-down on the new Crime Czar!" Clark says that won't be easy as the crook's identity is a mystery even to his own gang, but Perry will brook no excuses: "This Czar is defying law and order, and we can't let him get away with it...not in our town! I want you to start digging for clues! Get going...NOW!"

Too bad we don't have like, you know, a police department or something to deal with the criminal element, but there's no point wasting time in idle wishing. Anyway, dangerous as it is, the assignment does give Clark an excuse to disappear for the rest of the story, which will come in handy.

"At that moment" (reads the caption) a scientist at a nearby observatory spots a mystery spacecraft bound for Earth. Sure enough, an hour later, it arrives on the outskirts of Metropolis. Even though its origins and purpose are a complete mystery, everyone seems to know exactly where it's going to land, since a crowd has gathered to greet it, including Lois Lane.

Despite Lois' intuition, the alien is indeed human in appearance, albeit with reddish skin ("like an Indian," one bystander notes, because it's 1952 and nobody's heard of political correctness).

The strange visitor from another planet speaks perfect English because "we Mercurians have watched you for centuries..." and though some onlookers are skeptical that he's really from Mercury, that observant old fellow with the spectacles and detachable shirt collar confirms the tale with his impressive mastery of metallurgy.

That's right, my super-sensitive index finger confirms this metal is of extraterrestrial origin. This panel also gives us a better look at that super-accurate illustration of the solar system. You can tell the arrow's pointing at Mercury because as we all know it's the second largest planet in the Solar System, with Saturn of course being the largest. Normally we might base our guess on a planet's position relative to the Sun, but they forgot to draw it.

Superman arrives to welcome the visitor, who identifies himself as Krag. A more official greeting comes from "Fleming, the Mayor's assistant" (because the Mayor is too busy to greet every visitor from another planet himself), and soon after, Krag is honored with a ticker-tape parade in Metropolis.

The festivities are rudely interrupted when a large sign falls toward the crowd, but Krag (pushing Superman aside) saves the day with his super-powers, including super-breath, flight and super-strength as the astonished (and ever-fickle) crowd gasps, "He can match Superman any day!"

Lois is such a gem, isn't she? Hey, new're hunky and have super-powers. That completes the courtship phase, let's get married!

Krag's dialog here reflects the pre-Silver Age assertion that Kryptonians -- and various other races -- derive their super-powers not from yellow suns and the like, but from their achievement of genetic perfection, a reward that someday awaits the people of Earth, if we survive that long. It's a charming notion, but ultimately a bit unsettling as well, with its hints of eugenics and concepts like "race purity." Probably just as well it got dropped.

Yes, wouldn't you know it, Clark is off on that assignment tracking down the most dangerous criminal in all of Metropolis, and probably in mortal danger even as we speak. Blast it, why can't he be here to see this hunk coming on to me? Honestly, life is so unfair.

That night, a group of thugs is trying to break into a safe when Krag flies in and rips the door off for them. "You may as well know the truth," he says. "I want wealth as much as you do! You see, I escaped from a Mercurian prison! On Mercury, I was an outlaw! I came here to organize the underworld!"

The thugs tell Krag they've already got a boss, thanks very much: the Crime Czar. Krag asks to see him, and is told "he don't see nobody!" Krag says he'll earn an audience with the Czar by removing his biggest obstacle...Superman.

The next morning, Krag attaches a smokepot to his back and sky-writes a challenge to Superman to meet him in combat. The Man of Steel shouts out his acceptance, and the two engage in a running battle atypically exciting for the era:

I'm reminded here of the fight scenes in Superman II, with their inconsistent physics: a street lamp bends around the combatants like taffy, but a thrown manhole cover knocks them off their feet. Anyway, it's cool to see Wayne Boring's famously stiff and oddly posed figures duke it out; it's sort of like a fight between plastic action figures.

Though evenly matched at first, Krag eventually pulls out the stops and really lays into Superman, finally delivering a punch that sends our hero flying over the horizon.

Good old Boring strikes again. His Superman "walked" through the sky as often as he "flew" and here he's hurled away by Krag's punch and still manages to look like he's standing at a bus stop.

Victorious, Krag lands next to Lois, who's been watching from atop the Planet building. "Well, pretty one" he asks, "do you not have a kiss for the victor?" She doesn't.

Your newfound loyalty is admirable, Lois, if not your powers of perception. This guy just went toe-to-toe with Superman; what did you think would happen to your hand?

Having kept his word by trouncing Superman, Krag is rewarded with a face-to-face meeting with the Crime Czar himself. The Czar is masked, but Krag rips off the disguise to reveal...gasp!..."Fleming, the Mayor's Assistant!" Wow, the one character we never saw before this story...what are the odds?

Krag proceeds to beat up the Czar and his gang and smash their hideout, and then reveals himself as Superman. Then another "Krag" flies in the window and is revealed as a robot, operated by Superman via remote control and ventriloquism.

You mean you didn't really lose the fight? So you're still the strongest man in Metropolis? In that case, I love only you. What a prize, that Lois.

Back up a minute, though. Remember that even as Perry was telling Clark to go after the Crime Czar, "at that moment" an astronomer was spotting the spacecraft that brought Krag to Earth. That means that Superman put this whole plan together in less than a second, going to Mercury, finding the mystery metal, building the ship and the robot and transporting them to Earth. That's pretty impressive.

Also, as much as I want to hate Lois for swooning over the first muscle-bound stranger who comes along, let's remember that Superman was providing all of Krag's dialog by super-ventriloquism. So in that exchange where Krag says he'd consider marrying Lois, Superman is just messing with her head. Yep, that's a healthy relationship.

So...the mysterious stranger who threatens to replace Superman as champion of Metropolis, only to be revealed as a foe...Superman apparently losing a fight only to reveal the whole thing as a ruse...a super-powered character who turns out to be a robot...all the cliches that will fuel so many Silver Age tales are already in place in 1952.

Which is not to say it isn't fun, as Finger keeps things moving along at a rapid clip and delivers a rare and welcome slugfest for our dime. Wayne Boring is in top form as well, benefiting greatly from the inks of Stan Kaye, who would hang around into the early years of Curt Swan's tenure.