early 60s were such a wonderfully inventive and entertaining
period for Superman comics, you sometimes wonder how the
Silver Age earned a reputation as "silly." Then
comes a story like "The Super Rivals," and all
is made abundantly clear. The lead story in 1961's Action
Comics #279 stands as one of the looniest tales of
all time, hysterically dated and timelessly goofy at the
same time. Fittingly, the artwork for this bit of inspired
madness is John Forte, whose quirky drawings
prefigured the "acid trips" that would prove so
popular later in the decade.
The story begins with Lois Lane and Lana
Lang running into each other at Metropolis Museum,
both bitter that they're without dates and grumbling that
Superman will probably never make up his mind and marry
one of them. Standing by statues of Hercules
and Samson, they wish aloud that the famous
heroes were still around as marriage material.
Creepily, Superman is not only stringing both girls along,
he's also following them and monitoring their conversations.
Hiding behind a pillar at the entrance to the museum, he
overhears their lament and decides to bring those heroes
of "history" to the 20th Century and marry them
off to the girls, getting them out of his hair once and
Streaking back to the time of ancient Greece, Superman
finds Hercules entertaining a crowd with a "tug of
war" against a hundred gladiators at once. The question
is, "entertaining a crowd" of...what? As drawn
by Forte, the walls of the arena are about 7 feet high,
so the little figures comprising the venue's capacity crowd
are presumably housecats.
Superman talks to Hercules using his ability to speak all
languages "living or dead." He needn't have bothered...the
mere fact that the guy goes by the Roman "Hercules"
rather than his native "Herakles" is proof he's
multi-lingual, too. Next, Superman plucks Samson from the
past and takes both heroes to his Fortress of Solitude,
where he teaches them English with a Kryptonian learning
Now it's time to meet the girls. Luckily, each hero is
smitten with a different female (Herc loves Lois, Samson
loves Lana), so there's no fighting. When Lois complains
about the heat, Hercules uproots a shade tree and places
it closer to her. When Lana says she's thirsty, Samson punches
a hole in a rock and reveals a natural spring of cool water.
The formalities of courtship thus completed, the girls take
a half-second of careful consideration before agreeing to
marry the heroes.
But not so fast. The lady at the license bureau can't issue
them a marriage license immediately. ("I heard about
your journey here from the past," she says. Eh, happens
all the time). Metropolis law requires the couples to wait
a whole week for their licenses, which is a bummer for them,
but not that huge an obstacle when you think about it, compared
to, oh let's say the inability of either groom to produce
a birth certificate or proof of residency in any nation
Lana uses her show biz connections to line up jobs for
the boys in TV commercials. The ad man (who like all ad
men sports over-oiled hair, a Ronald Coleman mustache, a
plaid jacket and a spotted bow tie) agrees enthusiastically:
"They'd have terrific appeal endorsing cigars, chewing
gum, breakfast cereal!" Now that's a commercial I'd
pay to see.
Using the advance from these new jobs, the couples purchase
new houses in the middle of nowhere (actually I guess it's
the Metropolis suburbs, but no other houses are in sight).
As it's still the early Sixties, the boys agree to sleep
in hammocks outside.
Cue the laugh track as Lois, being a typical female, can't
decide where on the property her house should go, making
Hercules carry it from one location to the next for her
amusement. ("I changed my mind, try it over there").
Luckily for Herc, this house is drawn by John Forte, and
therefore only slightly larger than the shipping box for
Lana meanwhile has opted to spend even more money, buying
a new car, which as a woman driver she manages to total
on the way home from the showroom. Having by now thoroughly
offended the National Organization for Women, we move on
our next target, PETA. Lana decides she wants an unusual
pet, something no one else has, so Lois will be jealous.
Samson, naturally, tracks down a mountain lion (so common
after all in the suburbs of major cities like Metropolis)
and subdues it with a punch in the face. Dragging the big
cat home by the tail, Samson finds Lana appreciative. "Chain
it up," she says, "and I'll make you dinner."
Alas, the cat wakes and goes after Samson's raw steak.
Lana takes cover behind a chair, but again John Forte comes
to the rescue, making the crouching Lana 15 feet tall, so
the lion is considerably less terrifying than he might have
True to Forte form, the very next frame depicts the lion
as roughly the size of a Clydesdale. He breaks free from
his restraint and runs off with the food, never to be mentioned
again (Lana must be really popular with her neighbors).
Not to be outdone, Lois opts for a pet ostrich, which Hercules
steals from the Metropolis Zoo. Well, apparently it's not
really stealing because he leaves a valuable ruby in its
place. Later a radio broadcast reveals that the ostrich
is subject to lethal colds and so must be kept warm at night.
Interestingly this message is addressed to the bird's "new
owner," suggesting the zookeepers are cool with the
ruby swap. (Lesson for the kids: It's okay to take something
if you leave something else in its place).
Hercules gives up his hammock to the ostrich, which sleeps
on its back. With a pillow. And a blanket. And he snores.
Samson takes up a job with a demolition crew, offering
to tear down a building since he's had some "experience"
at that sort of thing. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Never mind
that any kid who went to Sunday School knows the only building
Samson ever toppled was the temple of the Philistines, after
he'd had his eyes poked out. Oh, and seeing as how
he wasn't invulnerable, he died in the
process. But who's got time for trivia like that? Anyway
the job goes badly as Samson launches a pair of pillars
into the air, nearly killing Perry White at the Daily Planet
offices (he's saved by Superman. Oh yeah, Superman's in
this story, too.)
Hercules has his own problems. He's agreed to help a football
team train, but the players keep hurting themselves against
his invulnerable (?!) hide. The team mascot, a mule, gives
him a kick in the rear, but he doesn't feel it. The mule,
however, is rendered unconcious. Exactly how the animal
could be knocked out by an injury to its feet is unclear,
but we know it's badly hurt because it's lying on its back,
legs in the air, like a dead cockroach.
"Instantly" (the caption says), the assistant
coach declares, "The mascot knocked himself out! Now
our superstitious players won't play because the mule was
their good luck symbol!" Really? You took a poll of
your players in one instant? That's awesome.
The coach takes back Hercules' salary, saying they now intend
to use it for "medical expenses for the mule."
Oh, the indignity.
Like anyone reading this, the heroes have now had enough,
and beg Superman to return them to their own eras so they
can escape life with Lois and Lana. He complies, and in
short order the girls are back to pulling each other's hair
in a squabble over the Man of Steel.
As the scans suggest, I discovered this tale in a copy
of Showcase Presents Superman, Volume 3. The credits
list the author as "unknown," and based on the
evidence at hand, maintaining that anonymity is the single
brightest idea the writer ever had.