Superman #62

Superman #62, Jan-Feb 1950

“Black Magic on Mars”

Famed actor Orson Welles is filming a new period movie called Black Magic in which he plays a sinister magician. Better get used to that role, Orson…

Orson Welles

After filming stops for the day, Welles drives to a fancy dress ball with fellow actress, Nancy Guild, when they spot a rocket ship in the hills.

Welles goes to take a closer look. He enters the rocket ship, but is startled when it takes off for Mars! Two hours later it arrives at the red planet. Two hours — that’s some rocket! Welles disembarks, sword in hand, looking for all the world like something out of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s fevered imagination — though thankfully he remains fully clothed. The Martians show up and Welles is amazed to find they speak English. It seems they’ve been studying our world in preparation for an invasion.

Orson Welles  broadcasts to save Earth

The Martian dictator, Martler, offers Welles the post of propaganda broadcaster, but, having taken up his position, Welles instead uses the radio equipment to issue a warning about the invasion threat to all the peoples of Earth. Unfortunately, the people of Earth, having been once fooled by Welles’s 1938 War of the Worlds hoax, don’t take his message seriously. “Better than Bob Hope!” cries one listener.

Better than Bob  Hope

Superman heads to Mars to discover the truth. He’s attacked by the Martians, but their rays just bounce harmlessly off him.

Superman invincible

Dictator Martler speaks to Superman and points out that the Man of Steel is too late: the invasion force is already taking off. Superman speeds after the fleet, but finds himself passing harmlessly through the craft: they’re illusions!

Orson Welles overpowers his guard by using a magic trick and switches off the illusion-casting device. Now Superman can see which ships are the real ones, and sets about destroying them. In the meantime, Welles, continues to amaze and confound the Martians with his amazing and confounding magic tricks.

Realising it will take too long to destroy each spaceship in turn, Superman acts on Welles’s suggestion of using one of the Martian moons as a weapon. He winds a length of runway around the moon and uses it as a slingshot, hurling the moon at the invasion fleet. The gravitational pull of the moon attracts the fleet and they helplessly go into orbit around it.

Superman  lassos Mars

Welles impersonates Martler using the smattering of Martian he’s picked up during his stay (after all, he’s been there at least an hour… ). Broadcasting on tv, he convinces the Martian population to give up their warlike ways and live in peace. The Martians rejoice: they’d never much cared for war after all.

Superman and Welles return to Earth, stopping off at a lonely asteroid just long enough to deposit Martler into a life of solitary confinement for his crimes.

Hoax?

Back home in time for the fancy dress ball — the entire adventure has lasted less than eight hours! — Welles sweeps Nancy Guild off her feet. She presses him on his warning of a Martian invasion; was it a hoax or publicity stunt? Welles smiles as he tells her to ask Superman.

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The story is a lot of fun and Welles gets to save the world, making up for his War of the Worlds hoax. Welles was allegedly something of a comics fan, and it’s difficult to imagine this story was done without his knowledge. The writer seems to be unknown, but the art is by the always excellent Wayne Boring. One of the first artists to follow co-creator Joe Shuster, Boring was probably the definitive Superman artist of the 1950s — at least until Curt Swan hit his stride a few years later.

Images ©2011 DC Comics