Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Rocket Trips #7: Superman (vol. 1) #146 - 1961

We're firmly in the Silver Age with this week's entry, "The Complete Story of Superman's Life," which begins much like last week's entry with the claim that "millions want to know" where Superman came from and how he got his amazing abilities. And the title page boasts that some of the facts have been revealed before, but this is the first time that the story has been told in full. So, here's 1961's Superman (vol. 1) #146!

Creative Team: Otto Binder and Al Plastino

All-Star Summary:
Doomed planet. Desperate scientist. Last chance. Kindly couple. 

Key Elements: Superman is Earth's mightiest hero, with many amazing abilities. His story starts on the distant world Krypton, which orbits a red sun. Krypton was home to an advanced civilization with futuristic technology, as well as many fantastic creatures. Krypton is beset by damaging quakes, and Jor-El warns the Council of Scientists that these are signs that the planet will soon explode. Jor-El suggests that they build space arks to evacuate the planet, but the Council laughs at him and throws him out. Jor-El conducts experiments with small rockets, ultimately building one large enough for him and his wife Lara to send their baby son Kal-El to Earth. The rocket escapes just as the planet explodes, and the debris turns into radioactive Kryptonite. 

The rocket lands on Earth, and Kal-El is discovered by farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, a childless couple living near Smallville. They leave the child with an orphanage, but plan to come back to adopt him. At the orphanage, the child displays superhuman strength. The Kents legally adopt him, and name him Clark, after Martha's maiden name. The child demonstrates amazing abilities, and by using the indestructible blankets he was found in, they're able to make clothes that can withstand his powers.

The Kents sell the farm and move to Smallville, where Clark starts school and eventually becomes the teenage superhero Superboy. He keeps his true identity secret, and begins wearing glasses (fashioned from the indestructible remains of his rocket) as a disguise. When neighbor Lana Lang begins to suspect that Clark is Superboy, he takes elaborate steps to protect his dual identity. Eventually he discovers that he came from the planet Krypton, which explains his amazing powers.

Clark grows up and goes to college, but realizes that maintaining a secret identity will require him to pretend to be meek and mild-mannered his whole life.

The Kents die shortly after Clark's graduation from college, but not before Pa instructs him to use his powers for the benefit of humanity. He decides to move to Metropolis, but when Superboy leaves, Smallville comes out to celebrate him. In thanks, Superboy bakes a cake so large that everyone in town can have a slice.

Clark Kent becomes a reporter for the Daily Planet, so he can learn about crimes as they happen. And when they do, he's off to save the world as Superman!

Interesting Deviations: While the story in The Amazing World of Superman mentioned Earth's yellow sun, this is the first origin we've examined that specifically noted the color of Krypton's sun. I'd be interested to know when that bit of lore entered the mythos. Clearly sometime between 1948 and 1961, and I would venture a guess that either Siegel or Binder was behind it.

It's fascinating how the demonstrations of Krypton's advanced civilization have changed over time. Originally it was that they had super powers, in 1948 it was that they could build amazingly fast flying machines, and here it's that they have robotic laborers and that they can remove the pollution from their atmosphere.

Given how Krypton's destruction has become an allegory for ignoring environmental catastrophe, this is an especially interesting element. 

This is the first mention we've had of Krypton's other fauna, in this case a metal-eater kept in a Kryptonian zoo behind glass bars. Ethics of such rudimentary zoos aside, I kind of wish it were a thought-beast instead.

The physics behind Krypton's destruction receive more elaboration here, with Jor-El identifying that the planet's core is made of uranium and that a chain reaction has begun, making Krypton into a "gigantic atomic bomb." Krypton's destruction being used as an allegory for the existential threats facing the contemporary world is, clearly, not a new phenomenon.

The reason for the Council's rejection of Jor-El's predictions has changed considerably from origin to origin, but this one is unique in my experience: the Council possesses a "Cosmic Clock" that predicts disasters, and it says Krypton will be safe.

There's a tendency in these origins to make it seem like Jor-El is a bit of a crank and a doomsayer, but I like that this story pushes in the opposite direction, making the Council look like fanatics, blindly trusting in this mechanical Nostradamus. You can see shades of how Brainiac gets involved in Krypton's destruction in The Animated Series.

It's 1961, and we've met another survivor of Krypton at this point, so we get a panel of Jor-El discussing his theories with his brother Zor-El, and a surprisingly lengthy editor's note linking the exchange to Supergirl's origin.

Also, assuming the Kryptonian calendar is like the American one, Krypton blew up on a Tuesday.

Speaking of 1961, the existence of the Space Race means that Jor-El's methods have come to mirror that of Earth space agencies. We see Krypto here for the first time in an origin story, and a mention that Krypto's rocket isn't the first test flight Jor-El has conducted. Beppo the Super-Monkey was introduced three years earlier.

We've seen in a couple of origins that Kryptonians were familiar with Earth, but here Jor-El discovers it himself. There's no mention here of trying to build it large enough to hold Lara as well. I think this is also the first origin we've looked at where Kal-El was verbal before he was launched into space.

Not only do we see Kryptonite mentioned here, but also the origins of Red Kryptonite.

Unlike most versions of the origin, here Kal-El is thrown from the rocket when it lands, but is unharmed because anything from Krypton is indestructible on Earth. Anyrhing except the rocket, which explodes due to its super-fuel, all of which seems like a pretty tremendous oversight on Jor-El's part. The rocket being destroyed was a frequent element in Golden Age origins, but I'm surprised to see it happening here in the era of "indestructible blankets became the Superboy costume." Though there's enough of it left for the Kents to recognize it as a space ship.

Kal is left on the doorstep of the orphanage under the cover of night. We see some of the classic feats of strength at the orphanage that we've seen before, but here they go unnoticed by the staff. The Kents, on the other hand, start cataloging his powers immediately. Though the sheer number of otherwise life-threatening situations the Kents allow Clark to get into makes them look pretty negligent.

We see the further influence of the popularity of Superboy stories here, as the Kents sell the farm and buy a general store in Smallville before Clark begins school. Clark adopts his Superboy identity after mastering all of his powers except flying, which he eventually conquers with the help of Pa Kent, some weather balloons, and a rope.

The story introduces the super-robots, Clark's secret tunnel out of town and the secret rooms he built in the Kent house, and his reunion with Krypto.

Clark's discovery of his abilities is notable first in that it repeats the justification given all the way back in Action Comics #1, using an ant and a grasshopper as Earth examples of creatures with strength like Superman's, and second in that it distinguishes between the powers he has due to Earth's weaker gravity, and the powers he has due to the yellow sun.

At the end, we get a neat little space-age addition to the old "It's a bird!" exclamation, inserting "a rocket" in there.

Additional Commentary: The issue starts with a brief run-down of Superman's powers and character, which culminates in this neat little panel. I'm always down for Superman, champion of the underdog.

The scenes of Clark leaving Smallville are almost verbatim what we'd see in The Amazing World of Superman, down to people saving their slice of cake and Superman becoming a citizen of the world.

It wouldn’t be entirely surprising that the 1973 origin would hew so closely to this one, except that the last section is really the only place where it does. The biggest deviation is Superman pledging his loyalty to the United States in this version, likely speaking to the greater Cold War tensions in 1961 than 1973.

The Rocket: We'll see variations on this version of this red-and-blue rocket in several origins, and to be honest we see at least a couple of variations (differing mostly in how pointed the nosecone is) in these panels. It's not particularly distinctive, but at least it has those retro fins and the color scheme. Three out of five exploding Kryptons.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Rocket Trips #6: More Fun Comics #101 - 1945

In the modern age, it's easy to think about how common superhero origin retellings are. We see new spins on old origin stories all the time, usually from different creative teams or in different media. It's strange to think about a time when a popular character's origin might not have been well-known. It's stranger still to think about the original creative team taking multiple cracks at a character's origin. To my knowledge, Lee and Ditko only ever did the one origin story for Spider-Man, for instance. But Siegel and Shuster told Superman's origin at least four times across the comics and newspaper strips. This is, as far as I can tell from a cursory search, also the last time they'd tackle the story together. So, without further ado, here's 1945's More Fun Comics #101, the first appearance of Superboy!

Creative Team: Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Ira Schnapp

All-Star Summary:
Doomed planet. Desperate scientist. Last hope. Kindly couple. 

Key Elements: The distant planet Krypton is home to an advanced species of superintelligent humanoids. Krypton's gravitational pull is much stronger than Earth's, such that a Kryptonian transported to Earth would have superhuman abilities. Scientist Jor-El believes that the planet is doomed, but cannot convince the science council to join his plan to build rockets and evacuate the population. The tremors increase in severity, and Jor-El arrives home to tell his wife, Lara, to get in the rocket with their child, but she refuses to leave his side. They launch their son into space just moments before the planet explodes.

The rocket lands on Earth, where it is discovered by a passing motorist, who takes the baby inside to an orphanage. The child astounds the staff with amazing feats of strength, and is eventually adopted by an older couple, the Kents. As Clark Kent grows, so do his amazing abilities, which set him apart from other children. Clark keeps his powers secret to blend in with other children, but when he sees someone in danger, risks revealing his abilities to save an innocent life. To keep people from knowing that Clark Kent has superpowers, he adopts a costumed superhero identity—Superboy!

Interesting Deviations: Well, the first interesting deviation is that this is, technically, the first appearance of this version of Superman. If you remember from Rocket Trips #3, our look at the Secret Origins story about Earth-2/Golden Age Superman, he was never Superboy. So technically this story is the first appearance of the Silver Age Superman. Not that it was intended to be, that's a weird bit of retroactive metacontinuity. This might also be the only entry in this series that neither displays nor names Superman/Superboy on the cover.

This may be the only time the people of Krypton are described as generally possessing "great physical beauty."

We've moved away by this point from the notion that Kryptonians just had superpowers on Krypton, something I suspect is due to the gradual increase in Superman's own abilities (if Kryptonians can fly and survive in space, why didn't they just fly off of the planet?), but here the strong gravity is also credited with their ability to build lightweight, fast-moving aircraft (and eventually, spaceships). I'm not 100% convinced of the physics of that one.

Lending credence to the metaretcon is that we have "Jor-El" and "Lara" as Superman's parents' names. Lowther's novel used those spellings (capitalization aside), but I think this may be the first time they appear in the comics. The novel also described the Council members as wearing red-and-blue togas, and, well, this is how everyone on Krypton dresses:

All the men, anyway. Lara looks like a candy striper.

Here, as in our previous entry, Jor-El specifically suggests that the Kryptonians relocate to Earth. The rocket here is also explicitly large enough for both Lara and Kal-El, and as far as I can tell, this is where that element is introduced. It's worth noting that Kal-El is never given that name here in this story.

The rocket lands gently on Earth, though no additional mention is made of it after the passing motorist finds it. Again, I think this is a new element; prior to this, it was typically depicted as a crash landing and the ship caught fire and disintegrated soon after.

It's worth noting that even this early in the mythos—even under Siegel and Shuster!—the "passing motorist" weaves in and out of the narrative. He's there from the start, in Action #1 and the newspaper strip, but is cut out of the origin in Superman (vol. 1) #1, returns in the Fleischer serial, cut out again in the Lowther novel, and returns again here. I'd love to know the reason for this back-and-forth; I think there's better narrative economy and drama in the Kents finding the ship, and it's strange that this character never returns to the story later on. Like, I've read multiple comics about The Burglar who killed Uncle Ben, there's a whole mythos about the guy who murdered the Waynes, but as far as I know this guy just drops out of continuity forever after this comic.

For perhaps the only time in Superman history, Pa Kent is bald and has a moustache. He looks a little like Teddy Roosevelt. Unlike Clark's Kryptonian parents, who receive their modern names for the first time in this comic, the Kents aren't named individually at all.

Clark seems to decide on his own that he needs to keep his powers secret and blend in, rather than having that strategy suggested to him by his parents.

Also, while his ensemble of a red sweater over a white collared shirt and blue pants would be the canonical Young Clark Kent look into the '80s, he notably doesn't wear glasses. Flipping through subsequent issues, it looks like he first puts on specs in More Fun Comics #107, just in time to make the jump over to Adventure Comics with the other superhero features.

Clark sees a man pinned under a car, and lifts it off of him. To the children who witnessed the act of heroism, Clark nervously suggests that "something happened just for a minute to give me super-strength," which is about as flimsy as explanations get. This spurs him to develop the Superboy identity, and notably, a caption tells us that he fashions the costume himself. It seems the idea that Ma Kent wove it out of indestructible Kryptonian blankets would come later.

The last major deviation here is just how young Superboy is. Typically, Superboy's adventures are "Superman when he was a teen," but Clark seems to be more like 10-12 here. Certainly not high school hijinks like we'd see later on.

Additional Commentary: In a world where Superman's origin gets told so often that I can build a whole blog series about it, it's hard to imagine anyone, let alone "thousands of followers," asking about it.

Flowery language describing Krypton shows up a few times in these early origins, and though the prose is positively ultraviolet, I really enjoy it.

I've covered most of the other interesting stuff in the Deviations section, but this is an interesting artifact. While its relationship to the Silver Age is mostly due to retcon, you can see some of the seeds here. "Kid superhero who isn't a sidekick and has solo adventures" would become a major feature in the Silver Age, kicking off with the Legion of Super-Heroes and finding their apotheosis in Spider-Man. While Clark here is closer to what you'd see in a Boy Commandos or Newsboy Legion comic in terms of age and artistic influence, this really is one of the impulses that ushers in the next age of comics.

The Rocket: Hoo boy, look at this monstrosity. Dig the fins, but why a yellow-and-green color scheme? It looks like a fish. One exploding Krypton.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Rocket Trips #5: The Amazing World of Superman (Metropolis Edition) - 1973

Today's entry is an interesting one. It was originally published in black-and-white in The Amazing World of Superman (Metropolis Edition), an oversized magazine published to coincide with the opening of a World of Superman Theme Park in Metropolis, IL, which sadly never opened.

The book features a bunch of interesting content, including a Superman drawing guide by Curt Swan, a review of the Broadway musical, a step-by-step description of how comics were made in the early 1970s, and this brand new retelling of Superman's origin, which would eventually be colored and reprinted a bunch of times, most recently in the Superman Through the Ages one-shot, which we'll be revisiting at least once in this series. I'll be pulling some of the color images for the post from Secret Origins of the Super DC Heroes.

Creative Team: E. Nelson Bridwell, Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, and Gaspar Saladino.

All-Star Summary: Doomed planet. Desperate parents. Last hope. Kindly couple.

Key Elements: The distant planet Krypton is home to a highly-advanced civilization of super-intelligent humanoids. The scientist Jor-El believes that the planet is going to explode, but the Science Council dismisses his concerns. He returns to his wife Lara and their infant son Kal-El, and builds a functioning model space-ship.

As the planet begins its final destruction, the distraught parents place their child in the rocket and send it into space.

I've always loved this particular shot, which Byrne recreates in Man of Steel
The rocket lands on Earth and is discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent, an older couple who are driving by when they see it crash. They rescue the child and bring it to an orphanage in Smallville. The child displays superhuman abilities, and the Kents return to adopt him. They name him Clark after Martha's maiden name.

Clark's powers develop as he grows older, including invulnerability, super-speed, amazing leaping abilities, and X-Ray vision. Eventually he becomes a costumed hero named Superboy, and his parents die of an illness. On his deathbed, Jonathan tells Clark to use his powers for good. Clark is distraught that for all his power, he wasn't able to save his adopted parents.

Clark leaves Smallville, attends Metropolis University, and gets a job at the Daily Planet, so that he can easily keep tabs on crimes and disasters as they happen. And when they happen, he's off to save the world as Superman. 

Jor-El has a flair for the dramatic
Interesting Deviations: Kryptonians have studied Earth and the abilities that a Kryptonian would develop on that world, which they attribute to both its weaker gravitational pull and yellow sun. Jor-El proposes "return[ing] to our abandoned space program and build[ing] giant space-arks to carry our people to another world!--Earth!" The Kryptonian Science Council suggests that this plan is an attempted political coup on Jor-El's part.

Jor-El builds his model rocket after meeting with the Council, probably to account for the existence of Krypto and Beppo in this continuity (though we know that this incident isn't the only time he's brought his concerns up to the Council, so it's possible that other versions where the meeting happens closer to the planet's destruction isn't a contradiction). He explicitly states that it's big enough to fit Kal-El and Lara, but Lara chooses to stay behind and die with her husband.

The Kents find Kal-El's rocket directly, and unlike in a lot of the early origins, the rocket remains undamaged and they bring it back home with them. They express desire to adopt the child right away, as opposed to coming back later.

Clark accidentally uses X-Ray vision to find Martha's missing ring behind an opaque object in a scene reminiscent of one in Lowther's Adventures of Superman novel.

Martha and Jonathan die of an illness, and Martha is first to pass in this version. 

Additional Commentary: The Kents have this plan to hide the rocket after they drop baby Kal off at the orphanage, but they drive into and through town with the ship uncovered in the back of their pickup.

It's ambiguous enough in the black-and-white story, but when it's been recolored, the Kents are elderly again when they pass away. Which makes sense, that's how they looked in Superman (vol. 1) #161 when their death (due to the dreaded fever plague, which they contracted from pirate treasure), except that in Superboy (vol. 1) #145 (which came out five years after the Superman issue and five years before this story), the Kents unknowingly drink a youth serum and are "permanently" made twenty years younger. None of this is a problem with this story necessarily, but I'm curious to know if any effort was ever made to reconcile the different flashbacks.

Similarly, the scene where Jonathan tells Clark to use his powers to better mankind is straight out of the Lowther novel, but makes less sense in a continuity where he's been operating as Superboy for years.

This story does a good job of weaving in some of the other popular media hallmarks, starting with the "Faster than a speeding bullet!" opening from the radio show and other programs, and ending with the familiar "Look! Up in the sky!" cry. It's exactly the kind of thing you'd want to have in a book designed to be consumed by the general public who may not be avid comics readers. I've mused about the difficulties caused here and there by the complex continuity that had accumulated up to this point, with different variations on Superman's origin and flashbacks to his adventures as Superboy, but Bridwell, Infantino, & Co. are wise to gloss over it as much as they do. Though they decided to include a kind of strange anecdote about Superboy's farewell to Smallville...

...rather than, say, a single line of dialogue from Lois Lane. But overall, this is a pretty solid retelling of the origin, and one that I think most people would recognize as pretty definitive.

The Rocket: And this is probably the most definitive thing here. When I think about Superman's pre-Crisis rocket, this is the one I'm thinking of. It's got that Superman color scheme (in the reprints, anyway), it's got a shape that's retrofuturistic but distinctive, it's The Rocket.

 Five out of five exploding Kryptons, would ride again.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Rocket Trips #4: Superman Year One #1 - 2019

Today we're tackling the most recent version of Superman's origin, as told in Superman Year One.

Creative Team: Frank Miller, John Romita, Jr., Danny Miki, and Alex Sinclair.

All-Star Summary: Doomed planet. Terrified parents. Last hope. Mesmerized farmer.

Key Elements: As the planet Krypton explodes, a scientist and his wife place their young son in a rocket and launch him into space. He lands on Earth and is found by Jonathan Kent, who brings him home to his wife Martha, and they adopt him. From the start, he has a dense body and superhuman abilities, and these grow as he gets older. He begins using his powers to punish bullies, but learns quickly that his actions sometimes have unintended consequences. When he saves Lana Lang from an attack, he reveals his powers to her and takes her for a flight. He uses his abilities to excel in sports, to Pa's dismay. He decides he needs to leave and see the world. Ma uses the super-durable blankets from his ship to make him a garment.

Interesting Deviations: Baby Kal is old enough to be standing and walking when he arrives on Earth. Jonathan Kent is alone when he finds Kal. It's heavily implied that Kal has some kind of psychic ability, and that he uses it to influence Jonathan to take him home. The Smallville High team is the Wolves here, which is an interesting choice. I don't think that one's been done before. They were the Crows on the "Smallville" TV series and the Spartans in "Man of Steel" as a nod to the director. 

Additional Commentary: I know it's probably cliché to criticize Miller's overwrought narration, but it's laid on pretty thick here, switching from baby Kal's perspective to third-person narration of various degrees of omniscience on a page-by-page basis.

Ma and Pa Kent talk like a very stereotypical, old-timey kind of farmer.

It's pretty clear that Frank Miller doesn't know what age high school freshmen are, since both the class and the kids are written as though they're in elementary school (when they're not being written as bizarrely anachronistic old men).

Later we see that Clark and Lana are conversant in Plato and Aristotle and Freud and Jung, none of whom are commonly read in high school courses. We know that Clark uses his abilities to speed-read, but it's Lana who brings up the topic. Also, I would have killed for a forty-five minute lunch period.

It's nice to see Clark being friends with a bunch of outcasts and misfits, though it would be nicer if Lana were part of the friend circle, since she's introduced as being somehow connected with Clark, but we don't actually see them interacting until considerably later, as a prelude to...well, to the unpleasantness that really didn't need to happen.

I appreciate having thought balloons here, but it's a really strange lettering choice not to make them into the typical scalloped thought balloon shape. And this is John Workman on letters!

And all the sound effects in this comic look like this, which is...a choice, for sure.

Speaking of strange choices: green oatmeal?

It's also a strange choice for Clark Kent to be reading Doc Savage. I suppose there hasn't been a clear indication of when this story is taking place, but there's no time I'm aware of when both goths and 1930s pulp fiction were commonplace. It's one of many places where this book feels adrift in time, not contemporary enough to feel like a modern retelling, not classic enough to feel like a period piece.

I could have done without Clark Kent peeing, but I guess this is a Black Label book, so.

The bit of this that got the most pre-release controversy is the idea that Clark would join the military (here, the Navy). Jonathan is surprised that he's decided not to go to college, but Martha expresses quite reasonably a fear of his prodigious power being turned toward war. That's still contrasted with Clark's glee at seeing an F-35 flying overhead—complete with a "Look! Up in the sky!" caption—when he arrives on base.
The F-35 is an interesting choice to compare so directly with Superman, one originally intended to be the super-powerful champion of the oppressed, the other a bloated, ineffectual example of government waste and the military industrial complex run amok. As with the Superman in the military angle, it'll be interesting to see how much of this is intentional commentary and how much...isn't.

As a bit of a final thought here, people were (justifiably) skeptical of this book before it was released. Frank Miller hasn't exactly had a great track record for the last (checks watch) eighteen years or so, and "the origin of Superman" is such well-worn territory that some chuckleheads have dedicated whole blog series to examining it. Heck, we just had a problematic dude writing a new, modernized exploration of Superman's origins four years ago. When the previews showed Clark joining the military, it's no surprise that there was some backlash. Awareness of the problems with the military—in how it's used, how its members are treated, and how it uses pop culture and superhero media as a recruitment tool—is at a high point in the last couple of decades, and people were uncertain how the guy who wrote Holy Terror was going to handle that relatively sensitive topic.

And one issue in, we still don't really have an idea. There's a definite "recruitment commercial" feel to the last few pages of the book, but Martha's vocalization of a lot of fans' fears gives me some hope that it won't all be rah-rah jingoism. As to the rest of the book? I'm interested to see where it goes as a fan of the character, but there's just...not a lot here. From the writing to the art to the letters and coloring, everything about this book feels phoned in. Miller and Romita in particular feel like they're parodies of themselves, and if you'd told me that this was lettered by someone brand new to the industry and not the legend who put words to Simonson's Thor run, I'd believe you. For the "definitive origin of Superman," this just kind of...exists. What's interesting isn't new, and what's new isn't interesting.

The Rocket: We don't get a really clear glimpse of it, but what we see is nonsense.

Not only does it look like a knockoff of some landspeeder from The Phantom Menace, but it looks an awful lot like it should be large enough to hold more than a baby. It's implied that there's some kind of on-board AI teaching Clark along the way, as in "Superman: The Motion Picture," but the overwrought narration and constant perspective-shifts obscure whether that's intended to be the case. Not a fan. One exploding Krypton for this rocket.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Rocket Trips #3: Secret Origins (vol. 3) #1 - 1985

One of my goals for this project was to hit some versions of the origin that are lesser-known, so here's one that I actually hadn't read before today: Secret Origins #1.

Creative Team: Roy Thomas, Wayne Boring, Jerry Ordway, Gene D'Angelo, and David C. Weiss

All-Star Summary: Doomed planet. Desperate superhumans. Last hope. Kindly couple. 

Key Elements: Krypton is a world of superhuman people. Its uranium core is leading to its destruction, as predicted by scientist Jor-L. Jor-L and Lara launch their child Kal-L toward Earth in a prototype rocket just before the planet exploded. An elderly couple, John and Mary Kent, find the rocket as it lands and rescue him from the rocket before a fire consumes every trace of it. They take Kal-L to an orphanage, where he astounds the staff with his unnatural strength, but come back to adopt him. They name him Clark Kent, and as he grows, he develops amazing powers, which his father instructs him to keep secret, but to use to help other people. After the death of his foster parents, he travels to Metropolis, where he eventually gets a job at the Daily Star newspaper under editor George Taylor and fights crime in a colorful costume made from his baby clothes. He meets intrepid reporter Lois Lane who shuns Clark Kent for his milquetoast personality but is fascinated with Superman.

Interesting Deviations: The Krypton of this universe orbits a star called Negus-12, rather than Rao. We're told that this version of Krypton has three moons, a number that will fluctuate considerably through the ages. The year of Kal-L's rocket landing is pinned down to sometime during World War I. 

Additional Commentary: Despite this issue releasing after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, it's explicitly about the origin of Kal-L, the Golden Age, Earth-2 Superman, and is bookended with captions to justify its existence, given that neither this character nor the world he occupied exist or are remembered. The story proper begins with an entry from the 30th Century edition of "Encyclopedia Galactica," which suggests that Roy Thomas is a Douglas Adams fan.

We're told that his Superman costume is made from his "swaddling clothes," even though he's not at all swaddled when the Kents find him, and the rocket is completely destroyed.

There's an interesting retelling of the events of Action Comics (vol. 1) #1 here, with a new introduction that shows how Superman came to be leaping toward the governor's mansion with a bound woman under his arm. It involves the Man of Steel preventing the lynching of a man who was wrongly accused of murder, and I do feel like Thomas and Boring missed an opportunity by making the victim of that miscarriage of justice a white man. Superman preventing a more typical (by 1930s standards) lynching would have been a nice nod to the character's Klan-smashing history.

When we see that iconic image of Superman smashing Butch Mason's car against a rock in the interior, they've decided to color the car in a reddish-brown for some reason.

This is a really interesting artifact, to be honest. The combination of Ordway and Boring on art produces an interesting style that bridges the gap from the Golden Age to the 1980s, even if you get the feeling that maybe Ordway was doing the bulk of the work on some pages. It's interesting in terms of Superman history as well, since it illustrates some of the differences between the Golden Age Superman and the Superman of Earth-2, who are intended to be the same character. Even this version is replete with retcons, from the names of the Kents to the absence of the passing motorist who originally brought baby Kal-L to the orphanage to the shape of the S-shield to the extent of Superman's powers in his first outing. Details have been massaged even in this relatively faithful retelling of the events of the first two Action Comics issues.

The Rocket: This isn't the last time we'll see this snub-nosed, red-and-blue version of Jor-L's prototype. It's not the version that became the most iconic/long-lasting, but it's on its way there.

Three out of five exploding Kryptons.