Pardon me, friends, but I’m afraid things got a little bit away from me over the holidays. Thus, today we’re offering up a classic little essay originally presented over at Hembeck.com back on November 22nd, 2004, one I cleverly titled:
“…But How Did Like You Dallas OTHERWISE, Mrs. Kennedy?…”
But, as I mention in the piece’s opening line, to fully grasp what’s what, you need to first go and read the story I scanned in just for the occasion, one from the very comic you see below. Do that, and then come back and begin reading my, ahem, ageless commentary, okay? Thanks!
If you haven’t already done so, you might just want to go and read “The Infamous Four” before tackling the following frank and open discussion of this shock-laden mid-sixties Superman Family entry! Go - NOW!! Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Okay - everybody back? Are you all comfortably sitting down, freshly used smelling salts at your side, the breath that was knocked out of you by the story’s stunning finale gradually re-entering your collapsed lungs? Good. NOW we can pick away mercilessly at our featured presentation, “The Infamous Four”, written by Jerry Siegel, drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger, and originally published in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen number 89 (December 1965, but going on sale earlier that Fall in late October).
By now, you’ve been able to surmise my reason for posting it on this very specific date, as it deal’s with events taking place in Superman’s Metropolis exactly 59 years from today. Yup, folks in Supes adopted home town are still stricken by the tragic assassination that had taken place precisely a century earlier, which, frankly, may’ve been a bit of wishful thinking on the part of the comics field’s most blatant JFK groupie, Superman uber-editor Mort Weisinger. After all, wasn’t the very year THIS story was published, 1965, the hundredth anniversary of the shooting of one of our OTHER most beloved presidents, Abraham Lincoln?
And yet, thinking back, I can recall no special ceremonies when THAT dark day rolled around (heck, I don’t even know WHICH day it was!…), and certainly nobody took five minutes off to stare, stone-like, at the front of a five dollar bill (the technology to project an image of a bearded chief executive into the ether not having been invented as yet)! Instead, we twelve-year olds were more likely to crack our black-humored “…but besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how’d you like the play?…” jibes as to pay tribute to a fallen hero (hence the above title).
The handsome young President appeared in a score of stories overseen by DC editorial honcho Weisinger during the three brief years Kennedy was responsible for the country’s welfare - a survey for another day, people - but as best I can determine, this was his third, and final posthumous cameo in one of Mort’s magazines. (The first was his ill-timed stand-in gig for the Man Of Steel in Action Comics #309’s lead tale, which hit the stands just weeks - and perhaps only days - after the stunning assassination. You can read a more thorough examination of this infamous episode accompanying my Classic Cover Redo of said issue’s frontispiece by going here - and view JFK’s two panel gig by cueing up the November 22nd, 2004 “Fred Sez” entry. The second turned up in Superman #168, a story that was in the works when the shooting occurred but which was finished and printed at the behest of President Johnson (so it was said) concerning one of the slain leader’s pet projects, promoting physical fitness among the nation’s youth, a story that wound up doubling as a tribute to JFK as well. And then, there was THIS story, the one everyone invariably overlooks. Which brings me to one of my slightly off-kilter, long-festering personal anecdotes…)
Mort Weisinger’s Superman Family of titles were primarily responsible for sparking my interest in adventure-themed comics in 1961, when I was eight. Four short years later, the bloom was definitely off the rose: Marvel Comics had come along in the intervening time, and by late 1965, DC was desperately trying to seem hip, as both their surprisingly new (yet old) competitor - AND the decade’s rapidly evolving styles, mores, and attitudes - were making their fifties-based approach (once the industry model) seem stale by comparison virtually overnight. To that end, DC was only a month or so away from their lamentable Go-Go Checks era, which would tarnish the uppermost reaches of the cover of the very next issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Even a quick look at this cover is a clear indication of how the clueless National Comics big-wigs were flailing about, trying to hop aboard any available band-wagon in the hopes of not being left too far behind. The times, they WERE a-changin’ - even, it would seem, in the halls of four-color fantasy publishers.
I make this point to explain how, in later years when I’d grown older and became warmly nostalgic for the comics of my youth - including the very mockable but nonetheless lovable Weisinger line - I invariably pulled out an early sixties issue to wax goofy-eyed over. Reliving the red-headed cub reporter’s antics in his recurring guise of Giant Turtle Olsen was SO much more fun than seeing him attempt to one up James Bond. Fact is, over the years, I’ve rarely cracked open many post-1964 Weisinger comics (I even stopped buying em’ all early in 1967, unhappy with the direction the line was taking, though I ultimately rescued many of these skipped issues from a score of quarter boxes during my Comicon tours of the eighties - but that’s a whole ‘NOTHER story altogether…). This, patient readers, is all a partial explanation serving as a prelude to the story that (finally) follows…
Come the mid-seventies. Having grown up with friends who weren’t at all interested in comics, I was lucky enough to eventually meet a kindred spirit while attending college by the name of Charlie Johnson. Though we soon became great pals, he lived 30 miles away from me in those days, so our visits were severely limited by the excessive distance. When we did manage to get together at my parents house, we’d gleefully go down into the basement and enthusiastically rifle through the piles and piles of comics, discussing, celebrating, and - the most fun of all - good naturedly mock them!! And there was this one story in particular I was near desperate to show him - it was this bizarre Jimmy Olsen story that ended with a snap ending, one that ALSO served to memorialize JFK!
There was only one problem - I had somehow gotten it into my head that it had appeared in an issue the latter day double-sized dollar comic, Superman Family, and thus spent several precious minutes pouring through issue after issue, looking for this story I’d excitedly expounded upon for my fellow funnybook fancier, all in vain. The reason that I was looking in that title? Well, I’d correctly remembered that Kurt Schaffenberger was the story’s artist, and though he’d drawn a few stray episodes in Olsen’s sixties series, most of the art during that era came from the drawing boards of Curt Swan, John Forte, and Pete Costanza. However, when Jimmy was demoted to sharing just a portion of the Superman Family anthology title, Schaffenberger became his regular illustrator - and Kurt, unlike most other cartoonists, never much changed his style once he’d mastered it, so the difference between Schaffenberger from the fifties and Schaffenberger from the eighties was, at best, minimal. Plus, I was sure this tribute had to’ve come a decade after the fact, and NOT so soon after the crime, so, foolishly, I didn’t even think to look in my earlier Olsen issues…
This sad scenario repeated itself over the years, again and again. When my pal Rocco first visited, I described to him what I remembered to be a particularly oddball Jimmy Olsen story, one containing an outrageous denouement, and then I’d proceed to page through issue after issue of Superman Family, always with the same frustrating result - no such story! I was beginning to doubt my own sanity! I hadn’t imagined everything - had I? Repeatedly, this would occur when I’d host any visitor with half an interest in comics - and if that weren’t bad enough, my memory of the tale in question began to strangely morph in my muddled mind.
While that final panel of a saintly John F. Kennedy hovering in the sky remained crystal clear in my mind’s eye, and the key plot element of everyone standing completely still in deference to the moment, thus outing the bad guys who, ignorant of the local’s customs, were running through the streets just as everyone else voluntarily freezes - THAT stayed with me, too. But, vaguely recalling how everyone was dressed, I had somewhere along the line decided that this adventure DIDN’T take place in a future version of Metropolis, a century after the assassination, but instead in the bottle city of Kandor!!
That’s right - the shrunken Kryptonian city that resided in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. In my mistakenly twisted version, I had Jimmy following a group of fleeing Earth crooks seeking refuge in the miniature metropolis, only to be exposed as the (present-day) Kandorians mark the passing of the American leader in this peculiar manner! Well, this only made the story all the more ridiculous to me, and in fact, was the very selling point I used in describing it to the various folks just before I’d inevitably fail to locate it: WHY the heck are the tiny Kryptonians making such a big deal out of commemorating the loss of an EARTH dignitary? Sure, they’re sad and such - I’m certain Superman had told ‘em all about what a swell guy he was and all - but isn’t the whole city-wide statue imitation bit a tad much? C’mon, now - that’d be just plain silly! And I LOVED it all the more because it was…
I’d nursed that pivotal - but apparently mistaken - plot point for over three decades now, and you can’t begin to imagine how deflated I was the other day when I FINALLY located the story and sat down to read it. (How’d I find it? Simple enough - I wrote to my pal, the all-knowing, ever-helpful, Lou Mougin, describing pertinent plot details - including my inadvertent red herring - and he quickly emailed me back with its whereabouts, And soon after I thanked him, I ran downstairs and eagerly fished it out of its longbox home, where it had languished far too long.) Oh, it’s still an interesting little tale, but without the ludicrous Bottle City angle, it loses a hefty chunk of its inherent - or should that be, “invented”? - goofiness. Worse, it killed any chance I might’ve had for titling this essay something snappy like, “Ich Bin Kandorian!”, or “Ask Not What You Can Do For the Bottle City, Ask What The Bottle City Can Do For You!”
So Charlie? Rocco? And anybody else I may’ve once regaled with that crazy JFK/Kandor crossover, here it is. I, um, got a few of the details screwed up - hey, can you really BLAME me? Much as I dearly love Kurt Schaffenberger’s work - and I DO - the futuristic garb his characters are wearing look EXACTLY like the sort of fashions you’d likely find in mid-sixties (not-so-swinging) Kandor, giving me SOME small excuse for my confusion.
Lou informs me that this story’s never been reprinted, and frankly, I doubt it ever will be. Not to play fast and loose with someone else’s property, but when you add in the historical, ahem, importance of this unique entry with my above observation, I think we’re on reasonably solid ground offering this up for your perusal.
As for those OTHER two stories? Well, I’ve gotta save something for the next two November 22nds, don’t I?
And I do hope, that while you’ve been reading this, you’ve remained perfectly, absolutely, and totally still. It’d only be appropriate, don’tcha think?…
(But now you can go on over to Hembeck.com if you like - it’s okay!…)
-Copyright 2006 Fred Hembeck
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