Recurring themes of the Legion of Super-Heroes part 2: Super-Babies and Mystery Legionnaires

This is the second installment of my look at recurring plots, imagery and character-types in the Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes stories published by DC Comics during the Silver Age.

As I explained in the first part, Mort Weisinger, the editor of the Superman family of titles throughout the 1950s and 60s, often encouraged his writers & artists to reuse old elements.  This was due to the fairly regular turnover in the young readership during those two decades. Looking back at these stories it’s interesting to see these patterns.

This time around we are looking at super-babies and mystery Legionnaires!

As acclaimed comic book writer Roger Stern observed in his introduction to Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Volume 6:

“stories in which heroes are turned into infants were one of [editor Mort] Weisinger’s strange fascinations.”

These three issues of Adventure Comics are only just the “heroes transformed to babies” stories featuring the Legion. Quite a few others appeared periodically throughout the other Superman-related series during Weisinger’s editorial tenure.

Each of these covers was penciled by Curt Swan, inked by George Klein & lettered by Ira Schnapp.

Adventure Comics #317 (February 1964) written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by John Forte. This is the introduction of the prophetic Dream Girl, who is seemingly plotting to destroy the Legion from within, although of course there’s a twist ending revealing her true motive. Among Dream Girl’s methods of sabotaging the Legion, she transforms several of the team into infants.

Adventure Comics #338 (November 1965) written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by John Forte. The villainous Time Trapper attempt to de-age the Legion members into nothingness. When they instead get stuck as infants, the Trapper tricks them into committing various crimes.

Adventure Comics #356 (May 1967) written by E. Nelson Bridwell and drawn by Curt Swan & George Klein. The five members of the Legion who are orphans regressed to toddlers. It’s all part of a screwy scheme by the inhabitants of a planet whose own children were wiped out by a plague.

Another plot device that editor Mort Weisinger directed his writers to utilize on several occasions was having mysterious or disguised individuals joining the Legion under suspicious circumstances.

Adventure Comics #307 (April 1963) cover by Curt Swan & George Klein, written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by John Forte. Mystery Lad is soon revealed to be Element Lad, who goes on to become a longtime member of the team.

Adventure Comics #330 (March 1965) written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Jim Mooney. The Mystery Legionnaire, aka Dynamo Boy, is actually Vorn, a member of a gang of space pirates who infiltrates the team in order to destroy it; unlike Dream Girl from a year earlier, Dynamo Boy really intends to go through with this dastardly plan.

Adventure Comics #334 (July 1965) cover by Curt Swan & George Klein, written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by John Forte & Sheldon Moldoff. Who is the Unknown Legionnaire? Who? WHO??? Okay, okay, I’ll tell you… it’s Supergirl, who after exposure to Red Kryptonite loses her memory and assumes a new masked identity.

Adventure Comics #350 (Nov 1966) written by E. Nelson Bridwell and drawn by Curt Swan & George Klein. When a cloud of Green Kryptonite encircles the Earth in the 30th Century, both Superboy and Supergirl are forced to resign from the Legion and return to the present day. But before leaving they chose their own replacements: the masked, armored Sir Prize and Miss Terious! The next issue reveals them to be former members Star Boy and Dream Girl, who rejoin the team.

Adventure Comics #355 (April 1967) written by Jim Shooter and drawn by Curt Swan & George Klein. When the adult members of the Legion face off against their opposite numbers in the Legion of Super-Villains, two masked, armored figures leap into the fray. But whose side are they on? It turns out they’re the 30th Century descendants of Lex Luthor and Mr. Mxyzptlk, who have become heroes to atone for the crimes of their ancestors.

There are also at least a couple of other Legion stories utilizing the Mysterious Unknown Masked Legionnaire trope in the Bronze Age. It seems to be a popular idea to return to again and again.

Next time I’ll be looking at one of the most iconic images in the history of the Legion, and some of the numerous homages, swipes & parodies of it that have appeared throughout the decades. I really hope you’ll vote “Yes” to checking out our next installment!

Kurt Schaffenberger: The Definitive Lois Lane Artist of the Silver Age

Welcome to the latest round of Super Blog Team-Up. We actually have TWO topics this time, “What If?” and Creators. I decided to spotlight a creator, because coming up with “What If” scenarios for how certain comic book stories could (or should) have gone is just too depressing. (What if Armageddon 2001 had used the original planned ending where Monarch was revealed to be Captain Atom? Sheesh, don’t get me started, we’ll be here all day!)

*AHEM!* So which comic book creator am I going to be spotlighting? The answer is Kurt Schaffenberger.

Kurt Schaffenberger, whose career stretched from 1941 to 1995, was born on December 15, 1920, meaning that TODAY is the 100th anniversary of his birth. I could not think of a more appropriate creator to blog about.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #42 (July 1963) written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

Much of Schaffenberger’s work for the first decade and a half of his career was for Fawcett Publications, drawing Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, the Marvel Family, Ibis the Invincible and other features. Regrettably, due to the lawsuit by DC Comics alleging that Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman, Fawcett ceased publication in late 1953. For the next few years Schaffenberger found work at publishers Lev Gleason, Premier Magazines and American Comics Group.

Then in 1957 Schaffenberger was offered work by none other than DC Comics, the company that had put his previous regular employer out of business. Otto Binder, who had been one of the best writers at Fawcett, quickly found work at DC (the irony of DC suing Fawcett because Captain Marvel was supposedly too similar to Superman, and then hiring the main writer of Captain Marvel to work on Superman, has been noted over the years). Binder then went on suggest that DC also hire Schaffenberger.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #1 (March-April 1958) written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

Schaffenberger’s first assignment at DC was drawing Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane commencing with its debut issue, cover-dated March-April 1958. Schaffenberger drew nearly every issue of Lois Lane up to #81, a decade-long run. It was Schaffenberger’s work on this title that gained him a great many fans, and he is often regarded as the best Lois Lane artist of the Silver Age.

I have to admit, I am typically not a huge fan of the Superman stories from the Silver Age edited by Mort Weisinger. A significant part of my dislike is due to the depiction of Lois Lane. The character had started out in the late 1930s as a tough, intelligent, driven investigative journalist. However, by the 1950s, no doubt due to the conservative political & social climate in the United States, Lois had been reduced to a shrill, catty, manipulative shrew who constantly schemed to trick Superman into marrying her.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #65 (January 1965) cover by Kurt Schaffenberger

Having said all that, I feel that Schaffenberger’s fun, cartoony style was a really good fit for all of the zany antics that occurred with alarming regularity in those Superman stories of the Silver Age. So I love Schaffenberger’s art on Lois Lane. The stories in that series were so ridiculous and over-the-top that they definitely benefited from his style.

Personally speaking, I find the crazy, dysfunctional misadventures Lois and Superman and everyone else got up to during the Silver Age a lot more palatable when drawn by Schaffenberger, because his artwork makes all of it feel genuinely comedic.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #44 (October 1963) drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

Even when Lois and Lana Lang were acting horribly bitchy towards each other, fighting over which of them would get to marry Superman, as rendered by Schaffenberger their quarrels felt more humorous than sexist.

Schaffenberger certainly made Lois a very expressive character, investing her with a great deal of personality. This is very well demonstrated thru the model sheet of Lois by Schaffenberger seen below that saw print in Superman Family #164 (April-May 1974). It showcases how he drew the character throughout the 1960s. Schaffenberger definitely gave Lois a wide range of emotions.

The many faces of Lois Lane, courtesy of Kurt Schaffenberger

Also, Schaffenberger’s depictions of Lois were beautiful. Considering the fact that he had to work within the very restrained standards of the newly-established Comics Code Authority, and the staid fashions Lois typically wore (soooo many damn pillbox hats!) he was very successful at drawing a genuinely sexy Lois.

Stories would occasionally see Lois dressing in various period costumes. Schaffenberger always did a superb job on these, investing them with rich detail. For example, in “Lois Lane — Queen and Superman – Commoner” written by Leo Dorfman from issue #67 (Aug 1966), as part of a really convoluted scheme a gang of crooks kidnap Lois’ sister Lucy and force Lois dress up and act like famous historical monarchs. Schaffenberger excels at drawing her as these various queens. His depiction of Lois in the guise of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile is especially alluring.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #67 (August 1966) written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

By the time Schaffenberger’s run on Lois Lane concluded it was the late 1960s and American societal mores had definitely loosened. Schaffenberger began drawing Lois wearing less-conservative clothing.

In “Get Out of My Life, Superman” written by Dorfman from issue #80 (Jan 1968), Schaffenberger’s penultimate issue, we see Lois, furious at Superman for having forgotten her birthday (the image of a distraught Lois finding Superman sitting in a rainy junkyard pounding old cars into scrap is hysterical) breaks up with him and leaves town. Before departing Metropolis, she buys a whole new wardrobe and modes a few rather (for the time) risqué outfits. As always Schaffenberger does a fine job.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane (January 1968) written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

I am going to quote comic book historian Mark Voger regarding Schaffenberger’s work on the Lois Lane character and comic book…

“Kurt, that rascal, never shied away from rendering the feminine form in all of its natural, linear beauty. Lois had one tight waist, rounded hips and pin-up perfect gams (always in heels). The artist often poked fun at his own heroine when he depicted the gamut of emotions she couldn’t mask: curiosity when on the scent of a “scoop”; jealousy when Superman paid too much attention to rival Lana Lang; anger when confronting him about said crime; elation when wrapped in the Man of Steel’s bulging arms.”

Oh, yes… Schaffenberger also excelled at illustrating the numerous incredibly bizarre circumstances in which Lois regularly found herself embroiled. Seriously, WTF is going on with the cover to issue #73?!?

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #73 (April 1967) cover by Kurt Schaffenberger

In early 1968 DC moved Schaffenberger, against his wishes, over to the Supergirl feature in Action Comics. Even though he was not enthusiastic about his reassignment, he nevertheless continued to do professional work, turning in nice art on those Supergirl stories.

Soon after this, Schaffenberger was unfortunately fired by DC after he supported the attempt by several freelance writers to unionize. In the early 1970s Schaffenberger drew a few stories for Archie, Marvel and Skywald. His aptitude for rendering beautiful women made him a natural fit for romance comic books.

“Mr. and Mrs. Superman” from Superman #327 (September 1978) written by Cary Bates, penciled by Kurt Schaffenberger, inked by Joe Giella, lettered by Jean Simek and colored by Gene D’Angelo

In late 1972 Schaffenberger again gained work from DC, and throughout the Bronze Age he was a regular presence in the various Superman titles, drawing stories featuring various members of the supporting cast. Unlike in the 1950s and 60s, Schaffenberger now often provided only pencils, rather than full artwork. He was paired with several different inkers, often with variable results. This offers another valuable demonstration of the importance of the inker in the look of the finished art.

Schaffenberger finally had the opportunity to once again draw Lois Lane regularly when he became the penciler on the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” back-up stories that starred the Clark Kent and Lois Lane of Earth-2 after they married.  Initially appearing in Superman #327 and #329 (Sept and Nov 1978) the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” feature then migrated to Superman Family, where it ran in nearly every issue for the next five years.

“Mr. and Mrs. Superman” from Superman Family #205 (January 1981) written by E. Nelson Bridwell, penciled by Kurt Schaffenberger, inked by Dan Adkins, lettered by John Workman and colored by Adrienne Roy

“Catch a Falling Star” from Superman Family #205 (Jan 1981) offers a good example of Schaffenberger’s work on the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” stories. Here he is inked by Dan Adkins, probably one of the best embellishers he received during the Bronze Age. Schaffenberger does a fine job penciling E. Nelson Bridwell’s story. Schaffenberger’s storytelling imbues Lois and Clark with a great deal of personality & emotion and effectively communicates the depth of their relationship.

I’ve always found the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” stories to be very enjoyable, and I hope one of these days they DC collects them together in a trade paperback.

Oh, yes, one other thing about Kurt Schaffenberger: even his signature was a work of art! Take a look below…

If you would like more information about Kurt Schaffenberger, I recommend Mark Voger’s book Hero Gets Girl! The Life and Art of Kurt Schaffenberger. It is unfortunately out of print, but a digital edition is still available from TwoMorrows Publishing.  Additionally, the recently released Alter Ego #166, also from TwoMorrows, contains a transcript of an informative panel discussion with Kurt Schaffenberger and his wife Dorothy from the 1996 San Diego Comic-Con.

Also, for the perspective of someone who read some of these comics when they first came out, head on over to Alan Stewart’s excellent blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books for his look back at Lois Lane #62 (Jan 1966).

Kurt Schaffenberger passed away on January 24, 2002 at the age of 81. Schaffenberger is, in my mind, unfortunately a rather underrated artist, and I feel he is due for a reappraisal. I certainly encourage everyone to seek out his work.

Thanks for reading. Here are the other Super Blog Team-Up entries:

SBTU Red

SBTU Gold