The Triumph of Luthor and Brainiac!

Superman #173 (November 1964) gives us another example of tough love for Jimmy Olsen in "The Triumph of Luthor and Brainiac."

As the story begins, a spaceship lands on the Daily Planet roof, broadcasting a message to Superman for help. With Superman away on a mission, Jimmy decides to climb aboard the spaceship in his place. As he does so, he recalls that Superman recently reprimanded him for acting impulsively and recklessly, but he's sure that a solo space mission will convince Superman Jimmy can take care of himself. "My signal watch is being repaired," he muses, "but I'm sure I won't need it."

Speeding off to a remote planet, Jimmy's ship is met by Luthor and Brainiac, who were hoping to trap Superman but instead have snared his peril-prone pal. Before rubbing him out, the villains decide to show Jimmy around the alien world, where he's shocked to learn the locals have erected a "Luthor-Brainiac Hall of Fame" (perhaps more surprising is the fact that Brainiac has agreed to second billing). Within the Hall are statues honoring not only these two villains, but also The Joker, Mxyzptlk and...Clayface? Then there is the "Rogue's Gallery" with images of "the vile brats of the Legion of Super-Heroes" and "the rascally members of the Justice League of America."

Rounding out this wall of infamy are pictures of the two most reviled personages of all, the World's Finest team themselves...

Holy Dementia, what is up with those creepy eyes!?! Okay, so maybe they've got their heroes and villains reversed, but you can hardly blame the aliens for fearing a mug like that. With all due respect to Berni Wrightson, Neal Adams, Kelly Jones, Frank Miller and all others who've labored to make Batman a "dread figure of the night," nothing beats wild-eyed Bat-Manson here for sheer nightmare potential. But stay tuned, there's a reason for this break in the "no eyes showing" tradition of Batman art.

Okay, so moving along on our bizarre tour we find these mannequins which "accurately" predict the effects of aging on the members of the Legion of Super-Heroes...

Of course the years catch up with all of us sooner or later, but it's a little disconcerting to learn the Legion members will apparently insist on wearing spandex well into their dotage, and go by "boy" and "girl" even in the nursing home. And while I''ll admit Wilford Brimley is an inspired choice to play the AARP-eligible Bouncing Boy, it's nonetheless disappointing to learn that even in the 30th Century, we won't have anything better to fight hearing loss with than a tin ear trumpet.

Moving right along then, Luthor and Brainiac use an "Earth monitor" to make sure Superman hasn't yet noticed Jimmy's absence, and in the process they just happen to witness Superman donning his Clark Kent disguise (hence this month's cover). Then in celebration, they place Jimmy in a cell and subject him to a perverse "entertainment" on a viewscreen. With a crowd cheering them on, they use Brainiac's shrinking ray to reduce neighboring planets to the size of basketballs and then blast them to pieces with heat-ray howitzers. Jimmy's robot guard explains, "The contestant who destroys the most worlds in five minutes...wins!"

Next match: Dan Didio versus Joe Quesada for the title.

Left a plate of food and drink, Jimmy short-circuits his robot guard by tossing a glass of water into its open control panel. Escaping from his cell, he's ready when Luthor and Brainiac return. Using an alien device to change gold into Kryptonite, Jimmy causes Luthor to back away in pain. He has correctly guessed that "Luthor" is actually Superman (he was the only one not sweating in the presence of the murderous heat-rays, so he must have been wearing a mask...right?) and "Brainiac" is Batman. Superman confesses that yes, he has been trying to teach Jimmy a lesson for "risking his life unnecessarily" by coming to this world alone.

Now that the joke's over, Superman assures Jimmy that "those phoney 'shrunken world' targets weren't really inhabited." Reassuring to know he didn't actually kill billions to prove a point. Meanwhile, Batman is curious to know how Jimmy guessed he was "Brainiac." Jimmy explains, "I realized the eyes of the fake 'Brainiac' were blue, instead of green like the eyes of the genuine Brainiac! Thinking back to the picture of Batman I saw in the 'Rogue's Gallery' I recalled Batman had blue eyes! And so I knew the fake blue-eyed 'Brainiac' was probably you, Batman!" Impressed, the World's Greatest Detective chortles, "HaHa! Clever deducing, lad!" Right, because how many blue eyed people could there be in the world, anyway?

So now we know why Batman was drawn with eyeballs. Whoever wrote the story obviously didn't realize they aren't usually seen.

Cleaning up loose ends, Superman says, "That space monitor picture of me switching to my 'secret identity of Clark Kent' was a faked tape, of course!" Naturally. How could Clark Kent be Superman? Hahahahaha.

A pretty mean trick all around, and an elaborate waste of time for two founding Justice League members you'd think might have better things to do. But then again, it's par for the course in the Silver Age, where Superman and his friends lived by the motto "it's kind to be cruel."

I can just imagine Superman and Jimmy reminiscing about this adventure over a beer in their old age:

SUPERMAN: "Hey, remember that time you went off to an alien planet with no idea where you were going and no signal watch to call for help? Haha! You were such a schmuck back then!"

JIMMY: "Ha ha, yeah, that was a bone-headed move, wasn't it? But I should be mad at you for giving me a scare with that Luthor impersonation!"

SUPERMAN: "Ho ho! I'd almost forgotten that part! Remember when Batman and I pretended to destroy billions of lives on those fake planets?"

JIMMY: "Ha, yeah, good times. And you sure made fools out of your pals in the Legion with those statues! Saturn Girl looked like the 'lunch lady' back in my school cafeteria!"

SUPERMAN: "Ha ha, yeah, it was pretty hilarious, til you exposed me to deadly kryptonite, you pooser! "

JIMMY: "You know, I always wondered, though. How did you talk Batman into helping you on that prank?"

SUPERMAN: "Huh? Oh, I just grabbed him and took him with me. He was just sneaking around after Killer Moth or something anyway, I'm sure he didn't mind. He was always good for a prank on you or Lois, or a trip to some kooky new dimension."

JIMMY: "Yeah, I guess. Hey, whatever happened to that guy, anyway?"

SUPERMAN: "Huh? Oh, Batman? Yeahhh...well...he, uh...he went crazy.

JIMMY: "Yeah..."