Trial of Superman
Among the many things that separated Silver Age comics
from their modern day counterparts was their mission to
educate as well as entertain. The sleuths, scientists and
space travelers who populated DC's roster were forever slipping
us useful tidbits of information about chemistry, astronomy,
geology, meteorology, zoology, mythology, history, you name
it. The stories expanded our vocabularies, while sidebars
and text pieces threw in science lessons and "hobby
hints" features taught us how to build kites or bird
houses. To paraphrase Bill Cosby, if you weren't careful,
you just might have learned something.
So it is with"The Trial of Superman," Edmund
Hamilton and Al Plastino's contribution
to Action Comics 301 (June 1963). On the surface,
it's a typical Silver Age Superman "mystery,"
but along the way it has all kinds of things to teach us.
In a nutshell, Superman convinces Lois he's killed Clark
Kent, because Clark has been caught eavesdropping on crooks
who plan to sell military secrets to an enemy spy. The idea
is that if they think Clark is dead, they'll go ahead with
their plans and Superman will have a chance to nab the spy.
But meanwhile poor Lois believes Superman has committed
murder and so the Man of Steel is put on trial and eventually
found guilty. Everything works out in the end of course,
but along the way I picked up at least a dozen helpful facts
in as many pages...
Fact #1: Acid, when applied to glass, leaves markings
that are invisible until exposed to x-rays.
Superman's employment of this little-known fact in turn
reveals additional facts:
Fact #2: Acid cannot harm paint brushes.
Fact #3: With a bit of skill, your acid-on-glass
painting can duplicate every color in Superman's costume,
hair, flesh and eyes.
Fact #4: Superman has a LOT of skill.
His super-speed painting is so lifelike, it fools a roomful
of thugs into thinking it's alive and speaking, despite
the fact that its lips don't move.
Fact #5: Superman admits to making "a
super-fast trip for a certain acid," which
makes him the first superhero to take an acid trip. Ahem.
As the trial gets under way, the members of the jury share
their personal stories and bring us even more enlightenment.
For instance we learn:
Fact #6: Just because you let your baby play on the sill
of an open window in your skyscraper apartment doesn't mean
he's not the most important thing in the world to you.
For the alert reader, this one fascinating panel yields
even more information:
Fact #7: Babies will not always respond
to your verbal commands
Fact #8: Whether you want to assign an
actual name to your baby is entirely up
The trial is speedy and rather one-sided, as Superman refuses
to say anything in his defense, but along the way we gain
a useful education in the workings of the legal system.
Fact #9: In a court trial the prosecutor
gets to tell the defense attorney what to do and when to
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when Clark Kent shows
up in Superman's cell, alive and well, the enemy agent having
been captured and Superman's elaborate hoax now at an end.
And so we learn...
Fact #10: It's okay to fake a murder,
mislead a judge and jury and basically make a mockery of
the legal system as long as your motives are pure.
Yep, no harm done, except maybe to poor Lois, who's spent
the last few days (or more, it's not quite clear) mourning
Clark Kent and dealing with the anguish of testifying against
the man she loves on charges that could send him to prison
for the rest of his life. Oh well, she'll get over it, but
not before we learn...
Fact #11: Jimmy Olsen is kind of a jerk.
But what the heck, the old gal is already pretty cracked
as it is. Indeed, the last panel shows us...
Fact #12: Even Lois Lane doesn't understand
the workings of Lois Lane's mind.
I don't know about you, but I feel smarter just for having
read this story.