Power Boys and Hyper Men
by John Wells
As he watched the spacecraft hurtle into the atmosphere, the scientist pulled his wife a little closer to him and a rush of optimism washed over him. Their world was coming to an end but, for their only son, a new world awaited. Through him, Atlantis would live on.
The rocket had been aimed at "the asteroid Juno, where our telescopes detected civilization" identical to the human race and was equipped with a suspended animation chamber to protect the infant during the long journey. The unit proved to be an unexpected blessing when it arrived in a remote section of Juno and was soon buried in the world's dense jungle. An incredible 10,000 years passed before an archeologist named Vorne found the vessel and triggered its escape hatch. The fresh air instantly revived the baby boy and the explorer looked on him as the child he and his wife had prayed for.
Ma and Pa Vorne soon realized that young Zarl was an unusual child, one given to balancing heavy furniture in the palm of his hand when he was still in the crawling stage. The gravitational difference between Earth and Juno (presumably in tandem with other unknown factors) had clearly had an effect on the toddler. At the encouragement of his parents, Zarl took the persona of Power-Boy, protecting his home of Midville and defending Juno against its greatest threat, the insidious Creeping Jungle. The ecological nightmare virtually choked half the planet, transforming everything in its path. "Even the stones sprout jungle vegetation." After a variety of options ("fire, acid, bombs") failed, Zarl successfully "used atomic rays to check its advance."
The people of Juno wore an Arabic style of clothing with loose-fitting shirts and pants, vests and turbans partially covered by hoods and short capes. Power-Boy differed from the majority by wearing a more skin-tight green tunic (with a red triangle icon on his chest containing the English letter "P") and red tights along with green boots and the obligatory turban (yellow -- with a jewel) and hood/cape (red). As Zarl, he wore the tradional Juno garb and disguised himself further with eyeglasses. Thanks to an accelerated educational program, Zarl was already part of Juno's workforce as an inventor.
Some fifteen years into Zarl's revival (as time is measured on Earth), the planetoid was chanced upon by Superboy as he returned "from a brief mission in outer space." Almost immediately, he witnessed the world's resident hero destroy an incoming meteor and, after a crash course in Juno's language and history at a library, the Boy of Steel decided to pay a visit to the hero he'd now identified as Power-Boy.
Deducing that his counterpart would also have a secret identity, Superboy isolated him with his x-ray vision and strolled up to Zarl Vorne, addressing him as Power-Boy. Once the Boy of Steel demonstrated his good intentions, he and Power-Boy became fast friends, comparing their parallel origins and going into action together.
The joy of having a super-companion was soon diminished when Power-Boy inexplicably fell ill. Superboy graciously offered to fill in for him but Juno's protector felt compelled to accompany him when the Creeping Jungle made a resurgence. Leaving Power-Boy at the edge of the vined threat, the Boy of Steel conceived a radical cure for the planet's ills. Fashioning an enormous saw blade, he literally cut the planet in half and sent the infested portion hurtling into Juno's sun. Before the surviving portion of Juno could be devastated by the loss of fifty percent of its mass, Superboy "sliced another uninhabited planet in half. I'm now joining a new half to Juno. I'll seal the edges together with super pressure later."
Unknown to Superboy, his companion had been snared by the Creeping Jungle and was plunging towards a fiery doom, as well. Miraculously, Power-Boy's vitality returned to him as the Creeping Jungle reached the rim of the sun. Witnessing the narrow escape with his telescopic vision, the Boy of Steel finally deduced the cause of his friend's strange weakness and made a quick departure. A skywritten message explained everything:
"Juno's magnetic field reacted to my body from Krypton, producing invisible rays which weakened you. Thus, I was responsible for your weakness. Farewell forever."
The events of 1956's Superboy # 52 (by Otto Binder, Curt Swan and Creig Flessel) were echoed months later when Superboy visited the world of Zumoor (1960's Superboy # 85, by Binder and George Papp). A seemingly innocuous capsule of artifacts from that world's "Boy Radio Club" had landed on Earth and Superboy, fearing that "Zumoor may really be a warlike planet scheming to get spy information," decided to pay a cautionary visit in the guise of a native.
As he'd done on Juno, Superboy studied the planet's culture at a Zumoor library, assisted by a blonde, bespectacled teenager named Zarl Kazzan. Here, Clark learned that "a small planet with Zumoor's low gravity would be unable to keep its air from evaporating into space. But fortunately, pressure rays from our golden moon force the atmosphere down." Fashion on Zumoor was subject to volatile changes, with the world's current Victorian mode of dress preceded by designs evocative of Juno's Arabic designs and ancient Greece's togas.
An impending monorail crash caught Superboy's attention but, before he could react, a blonde flying teenager had arrived at the scene, accompanied by an orange dog he called Rovo. Mighty Boy wore a yellow shirt (with a red and black chest symbol) and boots with a lavender cape, tights and wrist bands. He proved himself to be Superboy's equal, demonstrating the powers of flight, strength and heat vision as he resolved the crisis.
As he'd done with Zarl Vorne, Superboy toyed with Zarl Kazzan by referring to him as Mighty Boy. The Boy of Steel was stunned to learn that Mighty Boy, like Power-Boy had originated on Earth! In roughly the same time period that Krypton had exploded, a rocket scientist named Charles Keith had "moved to a tiny tropical island to prevent any spying on his scientific research." When an unexpected tidal wave destroyed their motorboat and threatened to engulf the island, Mr. and Mrs. Keith desperately put their son Tom into their experimental rocket and fired towards the United States coast.
Tom's puppy had leaped into the craft, throwing the aiming mechanism out of kilter and sending the rocket soaring into outer space. Arriving on tiny Zumoor, Tom was found and adopted by Chad and Vela Kazzan. The combination of the world's lower gravity and "the golden energy rays of Zumoor's moon" transformed the rechristened Zarl Kazzan into a super-being.
Assured that "there really is a Boy Radio Club on this world" and that Zarl was a member, Superboy shook hands with his new friend and prepared to make his departure when a new crisis struck. As a woman fell from a building, Mighty Boy discovered that he'd been overcome by paralysis and the Boy of Steel was forced to act in his stead. Convinced that the temporary disorder was a sign of problems to come, Superboy decided to extend his visit.
Superboy found a number of similarities with his own life, including a trophy room/workshop equipped with robotic duplicates and Zarl's snoopy red-haired girl friend Charise Kaan. Just as the Boy of Steel had observed an "LL" motif among his friends and enemies, Mighty Boy had accumulated a number of "CK"s, including his birth and adoptive fathers, his girl friend and now Clark Kent.
Zumoor had a number of exotic details that were unique to the planet, though. A "living jewel" from the desert displayed previously unheard-of properties when it temporarily evolved Zarl into a Future Boy. A race of fire people and ice creatures also coexisted with the human inhabitants of Zumoor. And war had been eliminated in Mighty Boy's lifetime, with all of the planet's weapons buried deep in the ocean.
Just when Superboy began to think that he'd overreacted, Mighty Boy and Zarl Kazzan spontaneously split into separate -- and powerless -- entities. Rovo underwent his own transformation, momentarily becoming a giant dog. The Boy of Steel had finally accumulated enough evidence to diagnose the problem -- it was him! Each time he touched Zarl, beginning with the handshake, he unwittingly triggered a different effect in his friend's body. "Don't you see, Mighty Boy ? I'm your human red kryptonite!"
"My theory is that your moon's golden rays react peculiarly on my Kryptonian skin. This 'charges' me with an invisible force that has the same effect on you as 'Red Kryptonite' radiations have on me. Instead of a trophy or a mineral, I'm the thing that's dangerous to you. Once I leave, your troubles will be over. And I can never come back, Mighty Boy." Once more, Superboy was forced to grieve the separation of a super- companion.
As time went on, of course, Superboy formed enduring friendships with the members of the Legion of Super-Heroes and, as an adult, with the Justice League of America. The phenomenon that he'd experienced with his boyhood friends was destined to recur again, this time with a potential lover.
In the spring of 1962, Supergirl's thoughts had turned to love and she was determined to find a mate for her cousin Superman (Action Comics # 289, by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney). Kal-El insisted that "if I ever did marry, it would be to someone super and lovable like ... you!" Inspired, the Girl of Steel used the Fortress of Solitude's computer. "Screening all possibility-factors," she explained. "It indicates a Superwoman duplicate of me exists on the planet Staryl. I beg you to go there, Superman. You owe it to yourself to discover if she's the mate for you."
The Man of Steel travelled to the world in orbit around a blue sun and, defying the odds, he fell in love with Luma Lynai, the planetary heroine of Staryl. As predicted, she had the blonde hair and features of an adult Supergirl and wore a one-piece white costume broken up by a black belt. Her gloves, boots and cape were green and her chest shield featured an "S"-like symbol.
The whirlwind romance ended with a marriage proposal from Superman and an invitation to accompany him to his own world. As they entered Earth's solar system, Luma was wracked with pain and felt her strength fade away. Bitter experience left no doubt in the Man of Steel's mind as to the cause of the problem. Noting that Luma Lynai derived her powers from Staryl's blue sun, Superman explained that Earth's yellow sun had an alternately toxic effect on her. "You can never ... live on Earth," he choked. "I'll stay here!"
Fighting back tears, Luma refused to permit it. "No! Earth needs you. Go! -- Forget me!" Even as he complied she silently sobbed that "I'll always love you."
Kal-El's lost friends are lovers weren't quite forgotten. Luma Lynai was glimpsed one more time in Superman # 157 (five months after her debut) and was remembered as an image in Lois Lane # 97 and the more recent The Kingdom: Planet Krypton one-shot. Her debut, which included an early appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes, has been reprinted three times as of this writing. The Power-Boy and Mighty Boy episodes were each reprinted once, in Superboy Annual # 1 (1964) and Superman Annual # 6 (1962) respectively.
And, as many of you may have noticed, the Power-Boy and Mighty Boy stories are awfully similar, just one example of Mort Weisinger's penchant for recycling old plots for new stories. Weisinger acknowledged the similarities in a thought balloon at the end of the 1964 Power-Boy reprint. Superboy thinks, "This is the second time I've lost a super-pal from Earth," while a footnote identifies Mighty Boy, last seen in the 1962 reprint.
Power-Boy has since made an unidentified cameo in the crowd scene at the opening of Superboy & The Ravers # 5. And one can't help but be struck by the contrast of his origin with the post-Crisis history of another DC character. Like Zarl Vorne, she was an Atlantean refugee placed in suspended animation for millennia and revived with super-powers (Secret Origins # 11). Her name is Power Girl.
Planetary Perils of the Hardluck Hyper-Man
Valeron was a relatively advanced world situated in the "Sombrero Hat" Galaxy, with technology that one might anticipate on Earth in another few centuries. But it was not Earth, despite the presence of a dominant humanoid race. A glance into the sky revealed two orbs, a pair of suns and a pair of lunar satellites, possibly known as the Dadra Moons. The atmosphere was composed of 60 % oxygen (versus 20 % on Earth). Open flames were discouraged on Valeron.
Valeron also had a planetary champion in the form of Vartox, a hirsute man who wore a brown vest, black and yellow bikini briefs and long boots ... and nothing else. Although his origins are unknown, Vartox seems to gained his enhanced abilities as a young adult.
His so-called hyper-powers were "psychic in nature" and mostly directed through his hands. Aside from the powers of super-strength, flight, super-sight, intangibility, teleportation and telekinesis, he was capable of generating blasts of heat and cold and could place his adversaries in suspended animation. His "hyper-charge" amounted to a virtual death-bolt. He could also manipulate his hyper-energy into forming nets, ropes, force bubbles or other basic objects. With hyper-hypnosis, he could manipulate crowds into seeing whatever he wished. At one point, he even "defied all the laws of physics and turned a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional one." His ultimate exploitation of his abilities temporarily "converted (his) molecular structure into pure hyper-energy," generating a staggering burst of destructive force.
His celebrity soon attracted the attention of a beautiful blonde named Syreena and the young Vartox was thrown for a loop. "She was like no other woman I had ever encountered," Vartox recalled. "For the first time in my life, I knew what it was to love with a passion ... and be passionately loved back in return. As our romance flourished, she gave me a dazzling pendant to wear close to my heart -- as she put it, a glowing testament to our everlasting love."
The same time frame saw Valeron wracked by "wanton, cold-blooded attacks directed against public utilities and services owned and operated by the planetary government. Many lives were lost -- snuffed out by an anonymous extortionist cold-blooded enough to commit multiple murder to insure his payment demands were met." Inevitably, Vartox captured the super-powered terrorist and was horrified to learn that it was Syreena, who'd used the pendant "to siphon surpluses of hyper-energy from (his) body to hers."
Syreena insisted that, whatever her motives had originally been, she'd truly fallen in love with Vartox and begged him to release her. Crushing the pendant, he delivered her to Valeron's Punishment Bureau and she was given the maximum sentence. Typically, a lawbreaker was sentenced, accelerated in age by the world's futuristic technology and released instantly. Syreena would be given a life sentence, however, and would be forced to live the rest of her days in confinement (Superman # 374).
In the years to come, Vartox continued to be haunted by the betrayal of the great love of his life and threw himself into the role of hero, not just on Valeron but throughout his galaxy. Now approaching middle-age and with sideburns and a receding hairline, Vartox finally found a new love, a reddish-blonde named Elyra. Within weeks of his marriage, the hero of Valeron would find his new bride dead in their bedchamber. The death of their planetary champion's lover sent all of Valeron into a state of mourning and its medical authorities vowed to determine the cause of death.
Vartox recalled that "for years she suffered from mysterious pains and ailments" and the autopsiscan confirmed that there was a connection. The hero was stunned to learn that Elyra had been "biologically linked" to a woman from Earth. When her "bionic twin" died, Elyra had perished, as well. Using a time-scanscope of his own invention, Vartox discovered that his wife's twin had been ruthlessly gunned down by an armed robber on Earth named Frank Sykes. Even more ghastly was that, thanks to a legal loophole, Sykes would not even be punished for the crime.
Vartox vowed to bring Sykes to Valeron for punishment but concluded that a direct approach was not an option. "By hyper-powers, (he) mentally projected what would most likely happen if (he) carried out such a battle-plan -- a clash between Superman and (himself) ... ending in the death of the woman he loves." Instead, Vartox met Sykes in the guise of a fellow criminal, manipulated him into stealing a jewel and convinced him to return to Valeron for more riches. Despite the hero of Valeron's best precautions, Superman spotted Sykes snatching the gem and attempted to intervene. Still hoping to avoid a potentially distrastrous confrontation with the Man of Steel, Vartox funnelled some of his power into Sykes, who sent Superman spinning away like "a human corkscrew."
Superman raced after the duo, now travelling 7 & 1/2 light years back to Valeron via a teleport-beam, and literally outraced the ray to destroy "a fragment of a white dwarf star" in its path. On his home planet, Vartox placed the killer under arrest and explained that "not a law was broken, Sykes. I carefully worked out my plan so you'd come of your own free will. And thanks to your greed, you did." He confirmed to Superman that "I planted the gem (in the jewelry store) myself. I could not let Sykes steal one of the store-jewels -- that would be breaking a law."
Though the Man of Steel was sympathetic, he was concerned about the confinement of an Earthman on another world for the sixty years that Valeron's law dictated. The hyper-man was accomodating, noting that "he has already served his time. As you can see, Sykes' age has been accelerated by 60 years. Now that our laws have dealt with him, I can accept my wife's death in peace." Heading home with the 90-year-old Sykes, Superman noted that "the scales of justice have balanced out. Frank Sykes got away with murder on one world ... only to pay the penalty for it on another" (1974's Superman # 281, by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Bob Oksner).
Vartox has his origins in a 1974 film called "Zardoz," a critically-blasted science fiction adventure that featured Sean Connery as a character in a costume disturbingly close to the one worn by Vartox. Connery had made a few other appearances in DC comics of the past (in the James Bond/"Dr. No" issue of Showcase # 43 in 1963 and as a Gil Kane-designed co-star in the futuristic "Jan Vern" strip from 1965's Mystery In Space # 100 and 102) but it would be Cary Bates' take-off on one of the actor's most unusual film roles that was destined to leave him immortalized in the Superman mythology.
Vartox wasn't getting any younger and, after enduring a particularly rough hit by a criminal's "z-charge" gun, the hero had to acknowledge that "the specter of age is finally taking its toll on my hyper-powers." For the sake of his world, he felt compelled to find a solution. Via his transcope, he sought ideas from watching Superman on Earth and believed he had found one in the form of Karb-Brak, an alien being who'd fled to Earth after developing an allergy to the super-powers that all of his own planet's people possessed. Superman had found a partial cure for Karb-Brak that enabled him to live on Earth in the guise of a human (as documented in 1976's Action Comics # 460-463).
Vartox realized that "the energy toxins which caused Karb-Brak's dread super-hero allergy contained the vital elements (that he) needed to revitalize himself." The hyper-man travelled to Earth, secretly reactivated his allergy and, while Karb-Brak fought Superman in "his fever-rage," Vartox "absorb(ed) those vital elements." Intoxicated by the energies in his system and suffering "enormous guilt for endangering Karb-Brak's life," Vartox convinced himself that it was Superman who had been losing his powers, not himself.
In a one-on-one battle, the Man of Steel soon realized he was no match for the addled hyper-man. His only option was a psychological tactic. Disguised as Elyra, Lois Lane called on Superman to abandon the fight and return home to her. Tears streaming down his cheeks, Vartox insisted that "she is not your wife -- she is mine!" The plan had worked and a contrite Vartox told Superman to "consider yourself fortunate, old friend, to know the love of Lois Lane. Never take her for granted." In the company of Karb-Brak, whom he'd unwittingly cured as he recharged his powers, Vartox headed homeward (1977's Action Comics # 475-476, by Bates, Kurt Schaffenberger and Frank Chiaramonte & Vince Colletta).
For all the tragedy that his life had seen to date, Vartox could scarcely have imagined what lie ahead. Returning to Valeron from a routine patrol of the galaxy, he was soaking in the sights and sounds of his beloved world when his "hyper-senses detect(ed) a violent vibratory flux spreading rapidly across the planet." In a matter of moments, the world had detonated like a bomb!
With nowhere else to turn, the inconsolable hyper-man travelled to Earth, where he choked out the details of the tragedy to Superman. "Though the Man of Steel still endures the scars of immeasurable grief from losing his own home world when he was a mere infant, he cannot begin to comprehend the weight of the pain and agony that must now weigh upon his comrade's mighty shoulders." Deep in the grasp of survivor's guilt, Vartox found himself suffering visions of his people blaming him for their deaths.
Regaining his composure, the hero displayed several radioactive fragments of Valeron and asked Superman if he might use the equipment of his Fortress of Solitude to analyze the rocks for clues to his world's destruction. The Man of Steel was agreeable to the proposal but insisted that his friend set up roots in Metropolis and mingle with other human beings rather than pull away from society in his grief.
WGBS sportscaster and eternal jerk Steve Lombard got a first-hand taste of the legendary Vartox style when Galaxy Broadcasting security officer Vernon O'Valeron responded to one of his perioidic pranks on Clark Kent by shoving his face in the garbage disposal. Clark Kent's co-anchor (and childhood girl friend) Lana Lang took an immediate liking to the masculine security officer and Vartox responded in kind. He'd originally taken the guise of O'Valeron only to satisfy Superman but, thanks to Lana, it was "rapidly growing more and more appealing."
Vartox's love-life abruptly took a backseat when his investigation of the radioactive rocks yielded a heart-sickening conclusion. He'd unwittingly "picked up an undetectable space-element" while he'd been on galactic patrol, "an element with a violent reaction to oxygen." Thanks to Valeron's oxygen-rich atmosphere, the world exploded within minutes of Vartox's return. Earth now seemed destined for the same end, a fate that many on Earth suddenly seemed to share. The hyper-man belatedly realized that, given the psychic base of his powers, he was subconsciously "broadcasting my dread of Earth's impending doom at a telepathic level so intense, Earth people are being overwhelmed by my fears."
From within the Fortress, Superman insisted that his friend's fears were unfounded, noting that his microscopic assessment of the oxygen atoms around him displayed no disintegration. Vartox would not be deterred, even reenacting Jor-El's futile warnings to Krypton's Science Council about his own world's impending doom. Momentarily shaken, the Man of Steel burst out of the Fortress and was stunned to realize that he could now see the atoms of oxygen being destroyed.
Thinking quickly, Superman realized that the radioactive fragments of Valeron had somehow negated the oxygen effect within the Fortress. At super-speed, the heroes gathered every chunk of Valeron that they could locate, "proceeding to pulverize the world-saving fragments into streams of microscopic particles to be spread throughout the atmosphere until the crisis passes -- and Earth's oxygen is stable again."
That night, Vartox kissed Lana Lang goodbye. She'd been stunned by the fact that she'd fallen for another super-hero, sighing, "You know, it's funny -- deep down, I guess I always suspected you were too good to be true, 'Mr. Vernon O'Valeron.'"
Deep down, one also suspects that Vartox may have wanted him to deny himself happiness in penance for his unwitting destruction of Valeron. Officially, though, he felt that his powers would be wasted on a world like Earth that was full of super-heroes and vowed to find another planet, "a struggling civilization in desperate need of a champion. Such is my destiny, Lana -- but it cannot diminish the love I will always feel for you. Perhaps, if all goes well ... and if you are willing to wait ... I could even come back some day."
Choking back tears, Lana sniffled, "that might just be the best offer I've had in a lifetime" (1979's Action # 498-499, by Bates, Swan and Chiaramonte & Colletta).
A year and a half later, Vartox returned to Lana just long enough to let her know that he'd finally found the world he'd been seeking -- a planet of orange-skinned humanoid beings known as Tynola. Indeed, Tynola seemed to be struck by catastrophes on such a regular basis that he'd begun to wonder how its people had ever survived without him. The answer, which he'd concealed from Lana, was a disturbing one. The hyper-man chanced upon a secret Tynolan ritual of chants and invocations that they were using to create "each and every 'menace' (he'd) 'saved' them from since (he) arrived." Under the pretense of saying goodbye to his friends, Vartox had made a quick journey to Earth and, fearing that the aliens were monitoring him, covertly asked Superman to follow him back.
The Tynolans watched with interest as their newfound champion fought and defeated a genuine "menace" called Superman. Ostensibly a prisoner of the Tynolans, the Man of Steel was now free to eavesdrop with his super-vision and hearing. He quickly learned that a godlike entity known as Moxumbra was looming just beyond the planet. The gaseous being was composed of green and yellow clouds prone to almost non-stop electrical discharges and resembled nothing so much as a huge, gaping serpentine mouth.
In exchange for periodic sacrifices of super-beings, Moxumbra, from the aliens' viewpoint at least, bestowed its "divine radiation" on them and gave them the "Power of the Chant." The Tynolans had been secretly bathing Vartox in "mosmic additives" to make him palatable to their god. Superman, they were disappointed to learn, had powers "of an entirely different nature from Vartox's hyper-powers" and was judged incompatible for Moxumbra.
The Man of Steel would, however, make good bait to lure Vartox into the jaws of the god and, claiming to be executing the notorious villain, they fired Superman's body into space on a direct course with Moxumbra. As anticipated, Vartox attempted to rescue Superman and was caught fast by the creature before the Man of Steel could warn him otherwise. Vartox began to dissolve and, realizing that he couldn't be pulled free, Superman begged him to use his hyper-energy to transfer the mosmic energy to his body. Moxumbra discovered that the new sacrifice was inedible and bolted from the planetary system "with the most colossal 'stomach-ache' in the universe."
Superman was understandly thunderstruck when he learned that Vartox intended to remain on Tynola. The hyper-man was adamant, though, observing that "with Moxumbra gone, the Tynolans have lost the chanting powers which warped their moral judgment. Ironically, now they truly do need a super-champion to guide them, to help them back on the path of self-reliance" (1980's Superman # 356-357, by Bates, Swan and Chiaramonte).
The post-Moxumbra era on Tynola was considerably less perilous, though, and Vartox now felt comfortable in taking extended vacations to Earth to visit Lana. Although she was frustrated by the pattern that was emerging ("A few precious days of bliss, and then we'll say our goodbyes"), Lana was genuinely touched by his insistence that she not abandon her life and friends on his behalf. "In spite of all your awesome powers," she told him, "You've always treated me as nothing less than an equal. You don't know what a rare quality that is in the men I meet. The ones who aren't trying to dominate me feel threatened by my successful career as a TV journalist."
Admittedly, as Vartox confided in his Kryptonian friend, it would have been difficult for Lana to join him on Tynola, anyway. Its "atmosphere would soon prove fatal to her or anyone else with an Earth-based physiology." That suddenly became a moot point when a ghostly being bestowed a protective aura on Lana and erased her memory of the encounter. Vartox and Superman were astonished when they found her apartment filled with a poisonous gas, something that the hyper-man recognized instantly as the Tynolan atmosphere. Having discovered that the blue glow around her body had somehow immunized her, Lana realized that there were no longer any barriers to prevent her from joining the man she loved on his adoptive world.
Superman and Jimmy Olsen were more troubled by the entire scenario. "Doesn't that weird protective aura and the alien atmosphere test seem more than a little suspicious to you ?" Jimmy wondered aloud. Vartox had rationalized it away, noting that "I've long been aware of an ethereal hyper-body which dwells within my physical essence. On occasion, this 'phantom self' has been dispatched into action without my knowledge -- directed by my own own subconscious wishes." It was, he felt, "the only theory conceivable."
In fact, a far more sinister entity was behind the blue aura, a person who was secretly whipping Vartox into jealous attacks on Superman as his wedding day approached. In a murderous rage, the hyper-man burst into Lana's going-away party -- determined to kill the man he was convinced was trying to steal his fiancee. Firing a lethal hyper-charge at the Man of Steel's chest, Vartox watched helplessly as it ricocheted toward Lana and, reacting with the aura, transformed her into a stone statue.
In a state of shock, Vartox surrendered to authorities. Head in hand, he told Superman from his cell that "I have ceased functioning as a rational super-being. Let us be candid, Superman -- there were warning signs of mental instability." Citing the mental blackouts in which he supposedly endowed Lana with her aura and went into his rages, Vartox insisted that "what happened today is no one's fault but my own -- and whatever penalty your Earth-justice decrees for me will not be severe enough."
Privately, Superman felt otherwise. "Vartox is somewhat older than I am ... and his hyper-powers and vast experience have made him a force for good in the universe ever since I was a super-tot. I don't buy a champion of his caliber suddenly losing his mind over the woman he loves -- not unless an outside force was at work." Microscopically examining photographs that Jimmy Olsen had taken at the reception, the Man of Steel spotted a secondary beam directed at Lana at the moment of her transformation.
Elsewhere, Vartox was being haunted by a ghostly image that he finally identified as Syreena when he noticed that the remains of her crushed pendant (which he still carried after all those years) had begun to glow. Using those fragments, he escaped from prison and trailed Syreena back to her base. She'd anticipated his arrival and activated a long-dormant failsafe that unleashed poison in his lungs. The deathtrap was dealt with immediately by Superman, who told his friend that he'd uncovered evidence implicating Syreena in Lana's death.
Grasping at any possibility, Vartox asked his former lover if she could resuscitate Lana. "Y-yes," she responded. "There is one way. I can save her for you, Var ... so you and she can have the happiness you and I were never meant to share." Working over Lana's stone form, she realized, "Perhaps I do still love you, Var ... far more than I ever knew ... until now! Just promise me you will never forget me."
Vartox began to understand what she was getting at when Lana returned to life. The restoration had only been possible by Syreena "transferring the petrification field from Lana's atoms to her own." The spell had also erased Lana's aura, a small price to pay for her restoration. The hyper-man spent another several days on Earth before returning to Tynola with Syreena's immobile form. "Only a cruel twist of fate could make my wish come true this way," he cursed as he left the planet's atmosphere. "I was hoping to go back to Tynola holding in my arms -- the woman I loved" (1982's Superman # 373-375, by Bates, Swan and Dave Hunt & Dan Adkins).
Superman was understandly concerned when Vartox returned to Earth a year later, once again suffering blackouts and partial amnesia. He couldn't remember Tynola's location -- or even its name -- and headed to the only location in his mind: Earth. With a bit of hesitation, the Man of Steel gave his friend another bit of potentially bad news. As Clark Kent, he'd begun dating Lana Lang.
"It seems, Superman old friend," he grinned, "that I've checked out of my life for longer than might have been prudent."
"Don't talk like that, Vartox ... and especially don't give that to me. I know what kind of problems you can have when you make a career in our line of work."
"No, no, my friend. I am all right, just a little disappointed ... in myself for letting the best things in my life sift through my fingers. I should have married Lana when I had the chance. Besides that ... your alter-ego Clark Kent is a good man in his own right."
"I'm glad you're a friend, Vartox -- and I'm glad you're taking this news well. You have no idea how much I've agonized over this."
"You knew the woman long before I did, Superman, and ... and ... and now -- I will kill you!"
The Man of Steel hadn't seen the hyper-powered slap coming and was helpless as Vartox incinerated him with a blast of hyper-energy. Blinking, Vartox realized that the entire conflict had been in his mind. As Superman left him alone in the Fortress, the hyper-man silently wondered what he had done to deserve such never-ending torment.
Both he and the Man of Steel would have been far more concerned if they'd checked into the welfare of Tynola. The former planet Tynola. An otherworldly dybbuk, "an entity capable of occupying someone's body," had been on a systematic quest for power that led it to inhabit and drain the powers of one alien super-champion after another. Srakka, as the parasite was called, was captured only once while in one of his alien hosts and he vowed to have that champion's body as his next conquest -- Vartox. Aware that it could only enter a super-being's body if its prospective host "was suffering the pain and anger of a great loss," Srakka decided that a logical course of action would be the destruction of Tynola!
The plot was all too successful. In a state of fury at losing a second world, Vartox seemed to slay the super-champion, realizing only afterwards that "never before have I deliberately killed a conscious being. I cannot live with that!" Srakka found that his new body "was in not only rage, but self-doubt. Because he thought that he, not I, had killed my previous host, he went wandering confused for a time ... until eventually he himself led me to the home of my next prey."
Having successfully expelled Vartox's spirit from his body, Srakka abducted Lana Lang in the hope of gaining access to Superman's Kryptonian form. When "Vartox" killed Lana, Superman reacted exactly as he'd hoped and went into a frenzy. The parasite emerged from Vartox's body with the intent of taking over the Kryptonian but found himself blocked. The rage had been faked! Holding the now-tangible dybbuk in his hand, Superman flew it deep into space for "a deep freeze on Pluto."
Srakka had reckoned without the psychic aspect of Vartox's abilities, which allowed him to take possession of a willing body and use his hyper-powers through them. That body, ironically, was yet another would-be lover of Lana Lang, an obsessed fan named Wally Gurkheim who'd stalked the TV personality in the past. In Wally's guise, Vartox had alerted Superman to the plot and rescued Lana from seeming death. Speaking from Wally's body, Vartox assured Lana that "were it not for his essential goodness and generosity, I would not have been able to inhabit his body to save you and Superman's sense of loss at your death would not have been faked for the parasite."
Returning to Earth, Superman found Vartox and Wally back in control of their respective bodies and Lana assured him that young Mister Gurkheim would "have a job at WGBS before the day's out."
Thrusting his hand towards the hyper-man, Superman asked, "Friends again ?"
Grabbing the hand, Vartox responded, "Friends forever!" (1983's Superman # 389-392, by Bates, Swan and Hunt)
No one is quite certain what happened to Vartox after that. One account claims that the former champion of Valeron made a final trip to Earth, arriving in the wake of the murder of Lana Lang and the disappearance of Superman (1986's Action # 583). It might also be argued that the hyper-man eventually remarried and started a family, one that extended several centuries into the future when a clean-shaven lookalike named Damos worked with Jan Vern as an agent of Interplanetary Investigations (1965's Mystery In Space # 100 & 102).
Yet another story suggests that Vartox didn't meet Superman until 1999, shortly after the murder of Valeron's green-skinned previous planetary champion, Ontor, at the hands of an otherworldly serial killer known as the Anti-Hero (Team Superman # 1, by Mark Millar, georges Jeanty and Doug Hazelwood).
This incarnation of Vartox, who wore a less-revealing brown body suit with a yellow stripe on the torso, was forced along with other alien heroes to do the bidding of Brainiac or their respective homeworlds would be destroyed. Having developed a deep respect for Superman in the short time that they'd known each other, Vartox used his "invisible hyper-shield" to protect the Man of Steel from a lethal blast from Brainiac. On Earth, Vartox and fellow heroes Paz and Vestion drew a line in the sand and sent the villain into space as they pursued him. "Remain here and take care of your home and your loved ones, Superman," the hyper-man shouted as they teleported away, "for the day may come when you might lose them" (1999's Superman # 148 & 150, by Dan Jurgens, Steve Epting and Joe Rubinstein).
Vartox, in any incarnation, knew the subject of loss all too well.
John "Mikishawm" Wells, the pride of Batavia, Iowa, is a lifelong comics fan, working his way forward from Disneys in 1969 to newspaper strips in 1973 to SHAZAM! and the rest of the DC Universe in 1974. During the 1980s, he began compiling a lists of DC character appearances, a massive database that he's tapped into when writing articles for publications such as the DC Index series, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer’s Guide, Comic Effect, Comic Book Marketplace, It’s A Fanzine, The O‘Neil Observer and, of course, Fanzing. He is Kurt Busiek's unofficial reference guide, as the keen-eyed may have noticed in Power Company #2.
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