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Superman #62: Black Magic on Mars (DC, 1950)

Superman #62: Black Magic on Mars (DC, 1950) cover. Click for larger image.

The pairing of Superman and Orson Welles must rate as one of the oddest crossover comics ever created, but how this came about is probably lost in the mists of time. I can find no reference in any biography of Welles to indicate that DC Comics sought permission for the use of his name and likeness, nor that he had any input or interest in the project. Equally, there is little to be found concerning the comic itself. Even the name of the artist is a matter of conjecture. There are no credits in my reprinted copy and apparently little to go on in the original Jan/Feb 1950 issue (Superman #62), though Wayne Boring is the artist generally proposed and Stan Kaye the inker. Of the name of the writer, I can't even speculate.

There are a number of weird connections between Orson Welles and Superman. Superman was created by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938, the same year that Welles scared America with his War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Welles was also the radio voice of The Shadow, a mysterious crime fighter with vaguely supernatural abilities to cloud the minds of men. There is some speculation that Shuster and Siegal took inspiration from the Shadow for the names of their key characters. The Shadow went by the alto-ego of Kent Allard, hence Superman's disguise as reporter Clarke Kent, and the oft-imperilled Lois Lane was derived from the Shadow's agent, Margot Lane. There however other theories to explain the inspiration for the characters.

The story featuring Orson Welles is called "Black Magic on Mars" and this does offer a clue that Welles or his publicists had a hand in the creation of the comic, for just as is recounted in the comic book, Black Magic movie poster starring Orson Welles. Click for larger image.Welles was in Italy at the time, acting in a movie called "Black Magic". So this may well have been an early piece of creative cross-promotion, or equally plausible, the writer may just have read about Welles' project and decided to incorporate it. The story opens in Italy, with Welles atop a rooftop in the period costume of 18th century France, and just as in the climax of the film, Welles takes a fatal plunge.

Dusting himself off, Welles and his co-star Nancy Guild (she also was in the film playing Marie Antoinette), set off to attend a fancy dress party in their costumes. Driving through the Alps, they suddenly come across a rocket ship with its hatch open. As any fan of the science fiction of the period will know, this was a pretty common occurrence. Absent minded scientists were always building rocket ships in obscure locations and leaving the door open, and sure enough, curiosity gets the better of Welles, and he finds himself trapped in the rocket as it sets off for Mars.

Superman #62: Black Magic on Mars (DC, 1950) Welles warns Earth. Click for larger image.Two hours late (that was some rocket engine), and Welles is stepping out onto the surface of Mars, where he is swiftly assailed by the Martians and brought before their leader, the Great Martler. The Martians speak English and goose step about like Nazi's, for Martler is an admirer of Hitler and has modelled his dictatorship after Nazi Germany, in which case, why don't they speak German? This linguistic peculiarity aside, Welles has arrived on the eve of a Martian invasion, and turning down Martler's offer of a job as propaganda minister on the soon to be conquered Earth, he uses his prop sword to seize control of a radio and broadcast a warning. Of course no one believes a word of it back on Earth, for as the listeners say, Superman #62: Black Magic on Mars (DC, 1950.) Welles is not believed. Click for larger image.Welles has fooled America once before with his earlier broadcast. But Superman is not about to take any chances and speeds off to Mars, arriving just in time to prevent Welles getting disintegrated for his troubles.

The story goes into overdrive from here on, with Superman facing a fleet of one hundred thousand warships. It's a mighty challenge even for the Man of Steel, but Orson has a plan, and a pretty insane one at that. Plucking one of the moons of Mars from its orbit, Superman fashions a slingshot from the thousands of miles of runways used to launch the fleet. Wrapping it round the moon, he sends it careering into the path of the invasion fleet, where they are helplessly snagged by its gravity and go harmlessly into orbit about it. Welles then sits a comatose Martler on his knee and performs an impromptu ventriloquism act to persuade his followers to give up on the plan of conquest. The Earth is saved, but poor Orson will never be believed.

So not the most realistic story imaginable, but enormous fun in its simplistic disregard of the laws of physics and nature. Boring, if he is the artist, does a credible job of capturing the likeness of Welles and the references to the 1938 broadcast are interesting, in that it seems memories of the event were still very fresh in 1950. To get the original issue, number 62, would very likely cost you hundreds of dollars, so the best way to get a look at this story is in the pages of "Superman from the 30's to the 70's", a hardcover reprint of many classic Superman stories.

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