Most Dangerous Door In The World!
In Superman #213 (Jan. 1969), Lex Luthor
breaks into an "impenetrable" vault and in so
doing opens "The Most Dangerous Door In the World!"
Writer Cary Bates starts us off at "a
heavily guarded base in the southwest," where Superman
(nicely drawn by Curt
Swan and Jack Abel) is reading
his last will and testament into a network news camera for
live transmission. The last item on the will is a large
vault, the mysterious contents of which are bequeathed "to
all mankind." Displaying the vault for the viewers
at home, Superman explains it is "constructed of three-foot-thick
Supermanium...the hardest metal known, which I discovered."
This formidable container features a time-lock "attuned
to the pulse of my super-heartbeat! It will open only if
I die -- and my heart stops beating!" In the event
of that death, he promises, "the ultimate gift
inside the vault will benefit the world as much as my super-powers
did...it is that valuable!"
With that, he flies off on "urgent business elsewhere,"
leaving a flustered newscaster to document the lowering
of the vault into its specially prepared underground berth.
As an added precaution, the vault will be protected 24 hours
a day by a detail of armed guards, and completely surrounded
by a fence "rigged to disintegrate anything that touches
Among those watching the broadcast is one Lex Luthor,
Evil Genius, and he is decidedly nonplussed, writing the
whole thing off as another play for attention from that
headline-hogging narcissist Superman. At one point in his
career, Lex may have been tempted to break into that vault,
but now he's weary of the game.
The next day Superman conducts a highly publicized gem-cutting
demonstration to a crowd of admirers. Experts have declared
the enormous and world-famous Renwald Diamond too difficult
to cut cleanly into smaller gems with existing tools, so
Superman has volunteered to do it himself...with one precisely-aimed
karate chop of his bare hand. At the last moment, however,
he slips and botches the job, smashing the gem into a thousand
useless fragments and mumbling his apologies as he flies
off in shame.
Meanwhile, Luthor has just read the morning Daily Planet
and he is not a happy camper. The front page feature is
the first of a series of interviews in which Superman promises
to go over each and every defeat he's dealt to his arch-foe.
Fuming, Lex stomps into his laboratory to find his henchmen
gloating over Superman's screw-up with the Renwald Diamond.
Realizing Superman is decidedly off his game lately, and
with his ego dented by the news article, Luthor decides
maybe he'll have a go at that vault, after all.
Soon after, Luthor sends a flock of trained birds to drop
knock-out gas bombs on the vault's guards, then uses a drill-nosed,
tunneling vehicle to pierce, from underground, the outer
shell surrounding the vault. Lex then employs a copy of
Brainiac's patented shrink ray to reduce the vault to the
size of a Rubik's cube and takes it back to his lab.
Later, the vault's guards are surprised to find Superman
decidedly laid back about the whole affair...
Now all that's left for Luthor is to get the vault open,
which means killing Superman. So it is that we find three
giant robots converging on Metropolis Park, a development
which rather predictably leads to an intervention by the
Man of Steel. As soon as he strikes one of the automatons,
however, its "steel" exterior is revealed as a
thin coating of lead, which drops away to reveal an all-Kryptonite
Superman falls to earth and all three Kryptonite robots
interlock in a sort of "piggy pile" to form a
radioactive death chamber around him. Even though there's
a rather large opening on one side of this "trap,"
a growing crowd of rubberneckers does not intervene.
Great town you've picked for yourself there, Supes. Considering
(1) Kryptonite has no effect on humans, (2) the robots are
now inert and (3) everyone is already within spitting distance
anyway, I'm not sure how much "courage" is needed
to just grab the poor schmuck's arm and pull him out, but
however much it is, this crowd ain't got it. Bonus "Useless
Bozo" points to the guy who actually announces how
paralyzed with fear everyone is.
Luthor teleports Superman's body to his lab (we're not
sure how, but I guess it works like the transporter on Star
Trek) and a special heart monitor confirms he's deceased.
Then Lex sends the body back, and Supergirl is able to revive
the Man of Steel anyway...or so it seems.
Meanwhile the vault is still locked tight, and Luthor begins
working on it with mounting frustration. He tries intense
heat, extreme cold and super-strong, robot pincer arms before
the door is finally ripped from its hinges to reveal its
priceless contents...Superman!? Flying out of the vault,
Superman quickly dispatches Luthor's henchmen and when Supergirl
and a second, green-skinned Superman race into the room,
Luthor himself faints dead away in shock.
Now we learn the whole story. Some time earlier, Superman
had encountered an empty vault floating in Earth orbit and,
upon investigation, was pulled inside by a mysterious force
which locked the door behind him. Then came the voice of
Mordru, the immortal wizard foe of the
Legion of Super-Heroes, who explained that
he was locking Superman in the vault as retribution for
the time he himself had been locked in a similar vault by
the Legion. For good measure, he was adding a spell to prevent
Superman from using his super-strength to break free, and
what's more any attempt by Supergirl to free him would result
in her own capture.
So it was that Superman contacted Supergirl from inside
the vault to devise a plan of escape. Reasoning that the
only power on Earth great enough to defeat the vault was
the intellect of Lex Luthor, the Kryptonians -- with an
assist from Brainiac 5 from the 30th Century
-- devised a Mission:Impossible-like ruse to enlist
the villain's unwitting aid.
Supergirl, we learn, gave Brainiac 5 a death-simulating
drug which, combined with his naturally green flesh, convinced
Luthor Superman was dead. And so everything is neatly wrapped
In a pig's eye.
For starters, if it's true that Mordru's vault could only
be opened by super-strength -- a strength Superman and Supergirl
are unable to provide thanks to a magic spell -- why not
simply enlist the aid of the Martian Manhunter
or Wonder Woman? Or, if you're going to
send all the way to the 30th Century for Brainiac 5's assistance,
why not summon Mon-El or Ultra-Boy to simply
yank the door off and be done with it? Heck, even Night
Girl could do it if you turned out the lights.
Even if we pretend for a moment that the rest of the DCU
doesn't exist, and confine ourselves to Superman's cast,
what about the Superman Emergency Squad?
Instead of going to such ridiculous lengths to con Luthor,
why not call on the abilities of a super-strong but easier-to-fool
enemy? Just tell Bizarro or Parasite
that there's something valuable to them inside the vault,
and BAM! problem solved. Or why not simply project the vault
-- Superman and all -- into the Phantom Zone, let Superman
walk through the walls of the vault in his phantom state
and bring him back again, leaving the vault in limbo.
I suppose it's flattering to Luthor, in a way, to acknowledge
the power of his genius, but at the same time it's a slap
in the face to "friendly" geniuses including (but
not limited to) Ray Palmer, Doc Magnus, Niles Caulder
and Prof Haley to assume they couldn't
do just as well as Lex, either individually or combined.
And if all it took in the end was a set of robotic pincer
arms to pry the vault open, why not just let the JLA go
at it with their various arrows, maces, power rings and
super-speed karate chops?
It's also unclear just how much time passes in the course
of this tale. How long would it take someone -- even Luthor
-- to specially train a flock of birds to fly to a specific
destination carrying knock-out bombs, and release them on
cue? Or to build a tunneling vehicle, a duplicate of Brainiac's
shrink ray and three giant robots made of solid Kryptonite?
I sure hope Superman had a Nintendo DS in the hidden pocket
of his cape when he went into that vault.
The last panel shows Luthor in prison, but for what? Stealing
an empty box? Breaking into a pretend military base? I guess
you could charge him with attempted murder, but would that
stick when the "victim" was immune to Kryptonite
anyway? That's like being tried for attempted murder because
you shot a friend with a squirt gun. Could the state even
prosecute Luthor when the "victim," Brainiac 5,
is not a citizen of this or any nation and furthermore hasn't
even been born yet? Any public defender worth his pay could
get Luthor off on any number of technicalities, and counter
with a charge of entrapment on the part of Superman and
As an interesting footnote to all this inanity, the letters
column in this issue includes a missive signed by a young
fan who would in a few short years become known as a Superman
Of course the irony here is that Pasko's letter would see
print in the back pages of a comic with yet another death-obsessed
cover. But never mind Superman; I'm not sure I could survive
many more stories like this, myself.