Superman 161 – the deaths of Ma and Pa Kent, and Superman joins the invasion

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The cover of Superman 161 (May 1963) makes two claims about the stories it contains.  That Superman will go to war for the first time, and that the Kents will die.  Only one of those truly happens.

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Surprisingly, it’s the deaths of the Kents, as told an an Untold Tale by Dorfman and Plastino.  The fact that his adoptive parents had died shortly before he became Superman (either as a start to his career, or a change from Superboy) had been established right from the start.  But never had the specific circumstances of this been revealed.

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The story is told in flashback, as Clark visits his parents’ graves.  Jonathan and Martha Kent were on a vacation in the Caribbean, and came across a treasure chest belonging to Blackbeard.

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For fun, Superboy brings them back through time, and the Kents watch as the teen plays games with the notorious pirate.

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The Kents fall sick as soon as they get back.  Lana Lang helps the increasingly distressed Clark.  Luthor offers to cure the Kents, but when he fails, claims they aren’t worth saving anyway.  Asshole.

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By the time it occurs to Superboy to put his parents into the Phantom Zone, sunspot activity is preventing the machine to access the Zone from working.  There is nothing Clark can do except watch his parents die.

The coda of the story has him consumed with guilt, until he learns that the Kents were killed by a tropical fever, the spores of which were in the treasure chest they dug up and opened.

Really a pretty good story, avoiding any major villain plots or nonsense like that.

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I think far less of the cover story, despite being by Hamilton, Swan and Klien, my favourite creative team from the era.

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Perry White arranges for Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to play soldiers in a film about an invasion.  But the abandoned island the film is being made on turns out to have soldiers in it, so the war becomes “real.”  Clark fears his identity being exposed, and is frustrated at not being able to use his powers, so Supergirl comes by and “gives” Clark temporary super-powers.

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A huge and preposterous set-up, and the conclusion reveals that the people they are fighting against are really aliens.  So Superman is fighting aliens, as he has done many times before.  He is not fighting to the death, as war would imply.  So nothing special about this story.

 

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