Ghost of Jor-El!
Okay, so here's the set-up. The ghost of Jor-El
materializes to warn Superboy of the terrible "Curse
of the Kents" and commands him to leave his foster
parents. Superboy tells Ma and Pa "It's a real ghost,
not a trick!"
Wow, conflicted loyalties to two fathers, a visitor from
beyond the grave, a mysterious "curse"...sounds
like one heckuva story, doesn't it?
Too bad, 'cause that's not what you get. Instead, "The
Ghost of Jor-El" (Superboy #78, Aug. 1964) is really
an "origin" story for Mr. Mxyzptlk,
who's pretty much the antithesis of everything spooky, suspenseful
or psychologically complex.
We open in the 5th Dimension (in a land that will later
be known as "Zrfff"), where Mxyzptlk's parent's
are debating what to do about their mischievous child. Yes,
I said parents; this story is set in Superboy's time, and
Mxyzptlk, like Clark Kent, is a young teen. Why a 5th-Dimensional
imp should have to age in the same way as a human is anyone's
guess, but whatever.
Anyway, Mxy finally goes too far with a prank he plays
on the family pet:
This early (first?) appearance of Mxyzptlk's homeworld
runs counter to later portrayals of Zrff as a place where
mischief and pranks are encouraged and celebrated. It also
doesn't make a lot of sense; why have a race of magical
creatures if using that magic is considered bad behavior?
Confined to his room, Mxy decides his parents don't love
him any more and runs away from home, flying through "the
space warp" to Earth (another concept that won't appear
again). On Earth, he spots Superboy doing a good deed and
decides to amuse himself by ruining the Boy of Steel's reputation.
Donning (dorky) Earth clothes, he reports to Smallville
High, where we meet one of the heretofore unsung heroes
of Smallville, schoolteacher "Miss Miller"...
Wow, really? "The boy with the glasses"? Nice.
Of course there's an empty seat next to him; who wants to
sit next to a "four-eyes"? Nice system Miss Miller's
got for remembering her youthful charges; besides "Goggles
Kent" of course there's "Charlie Ziffel, the fat
kid" and "Sally, the girl with bad skin."
In the next panel, Clark asks his new classmate, "What's
your name?"...which means Miss Miller never bothered
to ask. But then, why should she? Obviously it's easier
to remember him as "Red-Headed Pinocchio Boy."
(Also, it's worth noting Clark is not at all surprised to
hear the kid's name is "Mxyzptlk." Maybe he figures
Miss Miller sends Clark on an errand to the principal's
office and three other children are asked to write historical
facts on the board. When no one's looking, Mxy changes them
to say, "Columbus discovered a hole in his shoe in
1492...Yankee Doodle was our first president...Alexander
Graham Bell invented the hot dog." Miss Miller does
not take it well...
That's right, you're all STUPID! Extra
points for making "Lana, the snooty girl" cry.
I know who's getting my vote for Teacher of the Year.
Mxyzptlk tells Miss Miller he felt a sudden breeze and
the brush of a cloak when the answers were changed. Maybe
At that, Superboy flies in to clear his name. Fashioning
a giant magnifying glass from sand in the schoolyard, he
reveals the original, erased answers under the new ones,
clearing his classmates and himself. After school, Clark
decides to keep an eye on this "fibbing" new kid
and notices Mxy's colorblind when he tries to cross the
street against the traffic light.
Flying over Smallville later in the day, Superboy suddenly
finds a giant egg floating in his path and is doused when
it cracks open, to the amusement of Mxyzptlk and a nearby
group of picnicking youngsters.
"Ha, ha!" laughs one kid, "Funniest thing
I ever saw!" "Ho, Ho!" chortles his pal.
Watching from a tree, Mxy thinks, "When those picnicking
kids tell their friends, Superboy will become the laughing
stock of Smallville!"
Ooookay, so let's imagine that conversation, shall we?
As the broken egg falls to Earth, Superboy analyzes the
yolk with his x-ray vision and determines it's safe to eat,
so he cooks it with heat vision and serves a giant omelet
to the kids. His reputation is saved: It's delicious!
Next Mxyzptlk stumbles upon a robbery in progress and pretends
to be a "midget detective." He offers to let the
crooks go if they agree to put on a play with him at Smallville
High (hey, it could happen!). The crooks dress as Samson,
Hercules and Atlas, with Mxy as "Superboy". As
the play begins, Clark smells a rat and asks to be excused.
Mxy's play portrays Superboy as a coward afraid to face
the other strongmen, to the amusement of the school kids
(fickle creeps!). He runs comically from the room, only
to pass the real Superboy on his way in. Superboy arrests
the crooks on the spot.
Visiting the "Life on Krypton" exhibit at the
Superboy Museum, Mxyzptlk hits on a new plan. He conjures
up "a phantom likeness of Jor-El" and commands
it to wreck Superboy's career. So it is that "the Ghost
of Jor-El" makes his appearance, ordering Superboy
Later, the radio reports that astronomers have seen Superboy
flying off for another galaxy, abandoning Earth. Mxyzptlk
gloats, but not for long, as Superboy swoops down into his
path. "I only pretended to leave Earth," he says,
having realized it was Mxy who'd been causing his recent
troubles. He saw through the "ghost" ruse because
"the red and green my father's 'ghost' wore were reversed!
Whoever created the fake ghost was color-blind!
And I happen to know that you are!" (remember the incident
with the traffic light?). For once, the Kryptonian tradition
of wearing the same clothes every freaking day of the
year pays off.
Mxyzptlk denies he's color-blind, and Superboy challenges
him to prove it. He holds out two bricks, one red and one
green, and tells Mxy to read what's written on the red one.
He reads the wrong one, but it doesn't matter as they both
are inscribed with Mxyzptlk's name spelled backwards, and
he's sent home to the 5th dimension. Back at the Kent home,
Superboy tells Ma and Pa he received a message from the
5th dimension telling him how to defeat Mxyzptlk, a message
sent by the imp's parents. In the last panel, Mxy is headed
for punishment at the business end of dad's hairbrush, and
squawks, "Ooo-ooh! That super-crumb! From now on, it's
Wow, where to begin with a story like this? It's pretty
much par for the course as a Mxyzptlk tale, and about as
kooky as you'd expect from Jerry Seigel, source of the nuttiest
tales of the Weisinger years. Still, it seems more than
a little disingenuous to draw in readers with that cover
promising something spooky and/or life-changing, only to
find this silliness. If Mxyzptlk is so great a character,
why not mention him on the cover? Wouldn't it be a big deal
that they're "revealing" the "first encounter"
of these two adversaries? As it is, "the ghost of Jor-El"
shows up for all of three panels, and never at any point
is the reader under any illusion that he's an actual ghost,
making this easily one of the most inaccurately named stories
of all time.
So...no ghosts, but in its own way it's still a spooky
story, what with an apparition that at least looks like
Superboy's dead father, a teacher who makes Cruella DeVille
look like Pollyanna and a town full of kids ready to turn
on their "hero" at a moment's notice. And you
can't tell me you wouldn't be a little scared if a kid who
looked like this sat next to you in school...