In 1938, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, via National Publications, would give the world a superhero icon that is still remembered and love to this day, Superman! The Man of Steel would burst from the pages of the anthology Action Comics to his own title a year later and win the hearts of kids of all ages for centuries to come.
In recent years, we’ve come to know the mineral known as “Kryptonite“, a piece of the planet Krypton, and deadly only to someone from that world, like Superman. Also, the infamous joke of how girl reporter Lois Lane could never tell that the man she supposedly loved was the same geeky reporter who kept asking her out or boring her were one and the same, would eventually become so stale after decades that even rebooting the DC Universe couldn’t save it. Now they are happily married, although none of the current writers seem to remember or care, and some former writers had planned to make Mxyzptlk into Mephisto to undo it. Oh, I’ll get to “Superman 2000” someday.
Funny that I mention that project, because it was while looking into it that I would learn that at one time there was an earlier plan to introduce Kryptonite, as well as open a new chapter in Lois and Clark’s relationship. 1940, to be exact.
Imagine if the scenario dramatized here had not occurred.
Well, thanks to the work of numerous parties and the website Superman Through The Ages, this story will finally be told! They have gotten hold of Seigel’s original script, and most of the artwork produced by Shuster Studios. There has been a mission to restore this comic, and bring it to life. Although 3 pages remain unfinished (including one page that’s only a script), I dare you to read the story that, had 1941 seen it hit the newsstands, would have changed Superman as we know it.
Don’t forget to read through all the fascinating backstory links when your done. Or just come back here for the cliff notes and my commentary.
The world’s first exposure to Kryptonite would come some years later, in the Superman radio dramas, where the name was created. It was based on the “K-Metal” in this story. Much like the “meteor rocks” of Smallville, the recent live action re-imagining, Clark would become weak near it, but other humans would gain super powers. Whether or not it would bestow different powers to different people, like in Smallville (remember that Red Kryptonite also has different, one-time only effects on Superman pre-Crisis), or it would grant everyone the same powers (we only see super strength on display) is unknown. As this story was rejected, this was never explored.
Also never explored was how Clark and Lois’s relationship would change. Now Lois would have acted as a confidant for Clark, and with the possibility that Clark would learn more about the planet Krypton, his life and possibly what we would come to know about Krypton, would be different from what we had. Gerald Jones wrote in Men From Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book, one of the resources the restorers used in this project, that this marked the moment when control of Superman’s destiny was taken from the creators and given to the publishers, which has led to the numerous lawsuits of recent years. Historian Will Murray believes that changes in Seigel’s own life, including marriage, may have affected his writing, and thus Superman’s world. He had planned what a number of comic fans (I have no numbers to claim a majority, only that I am among them) have been asking for: true advancement of the characters and their universe.
This comic would have also been the debut of the name “Perry White”, the editor of the Daily Planet. (The paper Clark went to work for was referred to as the “Daily Star” with editor George Taylor in the past. Not sure where that changed came from.) The man who stole the K-Metal may well have turned out to be Lex Luthor or another villain, possibly the first with the superpowers to stand up to Superman. Here we see Superman “sky-leaping”, a precursor to flight. To quote from the site:
In “The K-Metal from Krypton,” as a meteor from Krypton approaches Earth, Superman learns for the very first time what it is like to lose his powers. He goes through confusion, pain, and emotional turmoil like none we have seen in later stories. He debates about whether or not to continue as Superman without his powers. And in a scene showing what truly makes Superman “Superman,” he chooses to continue on with the name and costume even though, as far as he knows, he will remain forever without his Super-Powers.
He also learns, for the first time, that he comes from an alien planet; and that this mysterious substance must be from that same planet.
Some of this would come up in later years (Superman losing his powers is practically a trope at this point for many powered superheroes in general, but for Superman personally as well as most of the Superman analogues to follow), but what other themes would Seigel have sought with the new status quo? The radio dramas used Kryptonite as a plot device whenever the actor portraying him, Bud Collyer (who would also give Kal-El a voice in the Paramount theatrical shorts and later Filmation’s TV series), needed time off. (There weren’t “seasons” like in today’s television, and while the other characters could be not on an episode now and then, it’s a bit tough when your the title character.)
But the biggest change to today’s readers is the much earlier dropping of Lois being in the dark about Superman’s true identity. It’s easy to image than after she calmed down, and Clark was more able to be himself around her, that the two may find love a lot sooner. This was in the days before Jimmy Olsen (who was introduced in the radio show), so the only person they needed to be careful around was Perry, who never interacted with Superman back in those days. (I’m not even sure they met face to face. At the time, Superman was still considered a vigilante, and technically wanted by the police for it.) Lois would have been a great asset, but in most superhero stories over the years the hero has shunned any help, or lacked in confidants because of a desire to keep them safe. The Superman comics helped set that tone (although a number of heroes would have comedic sidekicks in both identities), but imagine if the hero having a network of friends who helped them in not only fighting crime but maintaining their alter ego’s secret had been the norm, and this issue had been the one to lead the way?
So what did happen in Superman #8? According the Grand Comic Database, since I sure as hell never had this issue, stories involved a growth ray, Superman tracking down 5th Columnist spies, Clark and Lois investigating a crooked carnival and later a series of morphine thefts, plus some one or two page fillers. (Note that this was a 68 page comic for 10¢. Compare that to a 32 page comic for $2-3.99 today, kids.)
Interesting stories? Sure, but not nearly as big a game changer as what could have been, not just to Superman but to the comics in general. I hope the remaining pages are completed. Maybe we can convince DC Comics to publish this story. Who wouldn’t want a “lost” Superman story in their collection? I think they’re still working on it, because I remember a few more unfinished pages the last time I read it, so hit the team up with some praise. They’re doing a great service to the comics community and Superman fans everywhere.
EDIT (7/14/2010): Thanks to some extra digging by Webcomic Overlook, who was nice enough to link to this article, it appears that there are no plans to complete the last three pages. That’s too bad, and I’m hoping that some artist or artists are willing to finish that work in their stead.