Superman: 1952: The Second Superman, Chapter 3: Superman’s Mightiest Quest

by Dan Swanson, adapted from Superman #119 by Edmund Hamilton and Wayne Boring

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Faster than light, two powerful figures hurtled across space from Earth to the doom-shadowed planet of Xenon. As they entered the atmosphere, allowing them to speak once more, Kell Orr stammered in disbelief. “My world Xenon — my people — it’s impossible that they can be annihilated, Superman!”

“I know how you feel, Kell Orr,” the Man of Steel replied, sympathy in his voice. “But it can happen. It did happen to Krypton, long ago.”

The two landed and rushed into the laboratory of Zoll Orr, Kell Orr’s father and the leading scientist on Xenon. Zoll sadly confirmed the potential upcoming disaster for his son. “Yes, Kell — it’s true, though no one else on Xenon knows yet. A chain reaction in its core will soon explode our world like a giant bomb.”

Kell buried his head in his hands in unbelieving despair. Superman took to the sky, trying to leave behind some encouraging words. “I’ll check the core again. Maybe the reaction has slowed down. If so, there’s hope.” As he plunged through the planet’s crust, Superman gathered some lead ore and worked it into a giant scoop. He was unpleasantly surprised when he reached a cavern near the core. It should have been pitch black in the cavern, but instead the reaction filled the rugged chamber with bright white light.

Instead of slowing down, the chain reaction is speeding up, he observed and dipped the giant scoop into the molten material making up the core. By getting a sample of the core, Zoll Orr and I can determine how much time we have before Xenon explodes. At super-speed he was quickly back at the lab. Superman and Zoll worked through the night. As the sun was rising, Zoll announced the bad news.

“Yes, Superman. The reaction rate has accelerated. It’ll reach the explosion point in two days.”

Superman took the news stoically, but Kell, who had just come back into the lab, was devastated. Only two days of life left to our world, he thought helplessly. Oh, no! It’s a nightmare, a bad dream.

Meanwhile, Superman heard a knock on the door and used his x-ray vision to see who it was. “Uh-oh! I can see that girl reporter Vana Vair is coming here. She’s outside now.”

“She mustn’t learn the truth,” Zoll Orr said with determination. “It would plunge Xenon into panic to know. Kell, you stall her while Superman gets rid of the radioactive material.”

Kell had to wonder why Vana was out so early in the morning, but her words indicated she’d been staked out watching the house all night. “I glimpsed Superman zooming down into this house again — and I find you here,” she said accusingly, standing with her hands on her hips. “Quite a coincidence.”

Superman must have been careless, when, just a few minutes ago, he’d gone out to fetch some exotic chemicals Zoll Orr had needed to finish his analysis. Kell wasn’t quite sure what to say, so he told the truth. “Er — Superman was here, but has left.” I hope, he added in his thoughts.

And he was right. Taking advantage of Vana’s concentration on Kell Orr, Superman left the lab by a back door and rocketed into orbit, carrying his giant scoop full of the radioactive core material, still liquid from the tremendous heat of the chain reaction it supported.

Nobody must see this radioactive sample, he thought to himself determinedly as he flashed out of the atmosphere. If the truth gets out, there’ll be panic on Xenon and our efforts will be hampered. He continued to zoom away from Xenon, making sure he was far enough away that the core material couldn’t fall back to Xenon as a dangerous meteor. And only two days to work in.

His thought was interrupted as he was hit with unexpected pain. A quick super-vision scan located the source. Kryptonite, in that meteor. Well, that was as good a place as any to dispose of the deadly radioactive fluid. I’ll throw this radioactive sample and it and get back.

But what he saw stopped him, and he used his super-vision to carefully study the reaction of the core sample to the green-hued kryptonite. The kryptonite has neutralized the radioactivity of the sample, he thought in amazement. A plan started to evolve, and he could feel hope rising in his heart. Now to get back and start working on our last hope, he thought as he pushed his super-speed to the limit to return to Xenon. It would take all the time remaining in the next two days to execute the audacious scheme that had just come to him.

“I got rid of Vana Vair, though she still thinks I’m you,” Kell Orr said to the arriving Man of Steel. “But what can we do to save Xenon?”

“The key to saving Xenon can only be found in the cosmic wreckage of its former twin world, Krypton!” Superman said in excitement. “We’re going to search space for the debris of my native world.” He leaped back into the air. “I’ll need to build a big space ship, fast — and to make that ship, I’ll have to mine plenty of lead.

“But I don’t understand–” Kell protested to his father. What did Superman hope to find that could save Xenon? Zoll was equally as mystified as his son, but the two of them quickly followed the Man of Steel in a flying car to a remote location. It only took him a short time to mine and refine the various metals he would need to construct his spaceship, and he started to work at super-speed. The Orrs watched him with anxious curiosity.

“What secret in the wreckage of long-dead Krypton can save our world?” Kell longed to know. He needed something to restore his hope. Both men were watching the construction so intently that they failed to see a familiar sky car streak to a landing nearby.

“We must have faith in Superman,” Zoll reassured his son. “You help him in his search, and I’ll try to keep our people from learning of the coming doom.”

Vana made a noise as she approached them, and father and son turned in surprise. “It’s Vana!” Kell exclaimed, frustration in his voice. “She trailed us here and overheard.”

“You’re not Superman, after all,” Vana said, pointing at Kell. “But what’s the doom you spoke of?”

By now, Superman had spotted the pesky girl reporter as well and decided not to waste time by trying to fool Vana. “It’s the same fate that overtook my world,” the Man of Steel told her, then quickly gave a concise account of the nightmarish danger faced by Xenon and its people. “And so Kell and I are going to try the one way that may save Xenon. But if the people find out, panic will result and many will perish.”

Even Vana’s desire to break this incredible scoop was overwhelmed by the deadly severity of the situation. “Superman, I’ll do anything to help you and Kell Orr,” she promised earnestly. “Nobody will learn of it from me.

An hour or so later, Kell Orr and Superman climbed into the giant, spherical, lead-armored ship, and it rose majestically from Xenon, starting the Man of Steel on his greatest quest yet — a treasure hunt through the debris of a long-dead planet, searching for the key to prevent the destruction of yet another planet and its people, the great descendants of the civilization of ancient Krypton.

“But even if they find Krypton’s wreckage, what secret can it hold?” Vana asked Zoll in despair.

“I don’t know,” he answered in puzzlement. “I can only hope.” The two watched until the great ship vanished and then silently returned to Zoll Orr’s laboratory, each worrying over the puzzle of the search and the impending doom of Xenon.


On board, the two men looked out through the giant forward viewscreen as Superman gave Kell more details about the ship and the mission. “I had the hull of the ship made with solid lead because the wreckage of Krypton contains kryptonite, formed by the explosion of my world,” the Man of Steel began, showing Kell the controls. “The lead will shield me from its rays.”

“But I don’t need protection,” Kell reminded his friend. “Remember, we found on Earth that kryptonite doesn’t bother me because Xenon’s chemical elements are the reverse isotopes of Krypton’s elements.”

“That’s what I’m counting on,” Superman agreed. “You can help me vitally in this search.” They were even now approaching a swarm of kryptonite meteorites, identified as such by their green color. The Man of Steel manipulated some levers, and through the view screen the two men could see a section of the hull fold out.

“So that’s how you’ll handle the kryptonite debris without touching it,” Kell observed in approval, “by extending that scoop.”

“Yes, Kell,” his friend agreed. “But I’ll need your help in places where the scoop wouldn’t work.”

The hull closed again, and the kryptonite was conveyed into the giant cargo hold, which Superman had shielded with double the thickness of lead he’d used in the hull. Without shielding, the amount of kryptonite they had already collected would kill him almost instantly. Yet it was only a small fraction of the amount he had calculated would be required. They sped onward through space, picking up the random kryptonite meteor, but they needed to find much larger clouds of debris in order to gather enough in time to save Xenon.

And they found a larger deposit of the now-precious green mineral. A giant kryptonite meteor had smashed into a large rocky asteroid. If they could recover that, it would more than double their current cargo. As Kell Orr had regained his powers in the low gravity environment of space, both men went ashore, although Superman maintained a cautious distance. Using super-ventriloquism, which Superman had taught to Kell, the two were able to communicate in the airless vacuum of space.

Kell had planned to pry the meteor loose from the asteroid’s surface and smash it into chunks that would fit into the scoop, but it wasn’t going to be that simple. “That strange space beast,” he said with super-ventriloquism, “it’s eating the kryptonite out of the debris that fell here. We’ll have to drive it off.” The beast looked very much like a classical dragon from Earth, even down to having wings. It must have been adapted to both living in space and flying in the atmosphere of a planet. If they saved Xenon, Kell hoped that beast would never find its way to his home.

But Superman realized he wouldn’t be much help chasing the beast away. The kryptonite which it had already eaten would keep him from approaching it closely. He had another idea. “Hmm… In space, it must use telepathic senses instead of hearing. Maybe a mental command will work on it.” He concentrated all the power of his super-mind into a command. “Go Away! Away!”

The beast was definitely startled to hear something on a deserted asteroid with no atmosphere, and perhaps the sight of the giant spherical ship so much larger than the beast itself, as well as two unfamiliar creatures as well, made it cautious. Rearing up onto its hind feet, it bent its hind knees and sprang into space. Neither of the two men could see how it navigated in space, but it made a course adjustment and headed for another nearby asteroid.

Kell started digging out the mound of meteoric kryptonite, and he realized he’d made a bad mistake by assuming it was solid. The impact with the asteroid had shattered it, and Kell had unwittingly unbalanced the pile. As it started to fall on him, he realized that his partial invulnerability might not protect him. I brought the whole mass down. It’ll crush me, and Superman can’t help with the kryptonite here!

Superman had other ideas. Kryptonite or not, I’ve got to save him. He launched himself at super-speed into the avalanche of the deadly kryptonite. But a huge boulder had already smashed into Kell’s head, stunning him. I’ll shield Kell Orr from the slide, the Man of Steel thought, stiffening as the sharp pain of kryptonite radiation struck him. He managed to smash into Kell Orr, and the two men were knocked from the path of the slide. But — but the kryptonite here is paralyzing me. He fell to the surface alongside Kell, far enough so that the kryptonite wouldn’t kill him instantly.

Kell Orr is stunned — and when more of that debris slides down on us, he’ll be smothered. In his pain, Superman had forgotten that Kell could survive in space just as he could, but the situation was still dire — he couldn’t be sure his friend would come to before he died of kryptonite poisoning. And I can’t move a muscle here, with the kryptonite paralyzing me! Superman was essentially snared in a cosmic trap.

Unable to move, growing weaker every second, and fighting incredible pain, Superman used the only super-power still available to him — his super-mind. The space beast I drove off! It’s my only chance now. If only I can will it to come back. Using every erg of strength he had left, the Man of Steel struggled to ignore the pain and concentrate his mind on projecting a message: “Come back! There is kryptonite here to eat!” Over and over he repeated that message, trying to shout it with his mind, driven by agony and the urgency of approaching death.

For a time, nothing happened, and he started to give way to despair, but then the great beast swooped down to the surface. Landing near the mound of kryptonite, it began eating again. Superman faded into and out of consciousness while it fed, unsure if what he saw was real or a hopeful hallucination, thinking only that, It’s eating the last of the kryptonite. It’ll leave when it’s all devoured. He passed out again, not knowing if he would ever awaken.

When he did awaken some moments later, he felt much better. He could see that the space beast had just left to look for other food elsewhere. As soon as it left, I regained my strength. Now I can get Kell Orr back to the ship. He picked up the young man from Xenon and realized that he was still very weak from kryptonite exposure. There were still scraps and shards of kryptonite that the space beast had not eaten. Ignoring the pain and weakness as best he could, he managed to get Kell back into the ship. Safe from the kryptonite radiation inside the lead-hulled ship, he soon recovered fully, as did Kell Orr.

The Xenonian was despondent. “Superman, I planned to help you, but you saved me!” Kell Orr said ruefully. He felt less than useless, but Superman had an idea how to save something from this misadventure. Kell left the ship and used his super-speed to scour the asteroid for fragments of kryptonite the space beast had overlooked. It only took a few minutes, and shortly afterward he added another ton to their supply of kryptonite. “Now what?” he asked his friend as their mighty ship once more rose into space.

“We lost hours there, and hours are vital,” Superman replied. “We’ve got to find more of Krypton’s wreckage, and I think I know where we can do it.” He drove the mighty ship into a nearby space warp, and when they returned to normal space, Kell was stunned at the view. Space in front of them wasn’t empty; it looked like a floating mountain range that had been used as a dump for thousands of years. Asteroids of all shapes and sizes clustered together, the debris from ancient space ship wrecks — a hull here, a rocket motor there, a skeleton that seemed to be the same species as the space beast they had just met, shattered buildings, and things Kell couldn’t even name — all surrounded by a thin cloud of glittering space dust.

“The currents of space sweep wreckage from all the universe into this region, the ‘Sargasso of Space,'” Superman explained as the two men used their super-vision to examine the cosmic junk pile in fascination.

“But I still don’t see how finding wreckage from Krypton can help save my world, Superman,” a puzzled Kell Orr asked the Man of Steel. Before Superman could answer, though, Kell’s telescopic vision spotted what they needed. “Superman, look!” he excitedly alerted his friend. “There’s much wreckage from Krypton here — mixed with great chunks of kryptonite.”

Quickly driving the ship to the indicated location, Superman opened the scoop and directed Kell’s attention to an artificial satellite resting among chunks of kryptonite. “That little sphere — I want to examine it. It has no kryptonite in it, so you can bring it inside.”

Kell Orr did so, then began gathering kryptonite and loading the ship. Meanwhile, Superman examined the satellite. Because it was from Krypton, the materials were too tough for him to simply tear it open, and it took some time to figure out how to work the hatch. He had just succeeded when Kell re-entered the ship. As this source of kryptonite was now played out, he launched the ship once more into space to continue their great quest.

“It’s a small unmanned space satellite that scientists of Krypton sent up to circle their world.” The Man of Steel excitedly cataloged the contents of the satellite. “See, it has a camera-projector to take films, weather instruments, and so on.” All the contents were in perfect condition; apparently the explosion of Krypton had blown the small sphere away without damaging it. And because it hadn’t actually been part of the explosion, it had escaped being turned to kryptonite.

“Let’s project the films and take a look,” Kell said. There wasn’t anything they could do until the ship’s instruments located more kryptonite, and he needed something to take his mind off the imminent death of his planet and his people.

One of the cameras in the satellite had been constantly aimed at Krypton, and they were soon witness to an awe-inspiring event — the devastating explosion that shattered Krypton, turning so much of the debris into deadly kryptonite and sending to Earth one of its greatest heroes. “The satellite camera filmed Krypton’s last hours,” Superman said with a choke in his voice, almost overcome with sadness. “Just before it blew up, my father launched me, an infant, toward Earth.” He nodded his head forward and recited a silent Kryptonese prayer he had learned during a time-travel to Krypton, blessing those who had perished in that awful explosion. “The end of Krypton — seen with our own eyes, in this film.”

Kell Orr’s own sense of urgency was heightened by the record of Krypton’s great disaster. “And that’ll happen to Xenon if we fail,” he gently reminded his friend. But he was still puzzled. “Yet, how can we succeed? What secrets in this debris are you after?”

“It’s the kryptonite itself I’m after,” the Man of Steel explained. “We must amass as much of it as we can, and race back to Xenon.”

“How can kryptonite prevent the explosion?” Kell asked incredulously, meanwhile worrying about his friend’s sanity. It’s fantastic. I’m afraid Superman’s mind has been affected by that film. Yet Kell Orr didn’t have a plan of his own, and he remembered that his father trusted this hero. He vowed to himself that he would, too, and if worse came to worst, he would go down fighting for his planet and people.

Superman calculated that the amount of kryptonite they had collected was almost enough, and they turned ship, hoping they would find more on the return to Xenon. They collected another swarm of kryptonite meteors and then made a final stop to collect the very large meteor where Superman had originally dumped the radioactive core material and realized that kryptonite might be the answer that saved Xenon. Kell had to leave the ship and break it into lumps, and as time grew shorter, the two men developed a frantic urgency. Superman calculated that they were now above the critical amount of kryptonite, and they drove the ship at top speed toward the dying planet.


Back on Xenon, Zoll and Vara Orr and Vana Vair were watching a timer count down to the predicted end of the world. Vana was on the verge of panic. “Oh, why don’t Superman and your son Kell come back?” she asked the older couple. “So little time,” she sighed and then fell silent, thinking about the things she wanted to do in the last hours of her life.

Zoll had similar thoughts. “Only six more hours. Six hours of life left for our world.” He turned to Vara, planning to suggest that they should spend some private time together, when the laboratory was rocked with the largest quake so far. The shock went on and on until Vana screamed.

“Have you and Superman calculated wrong?” Her voice was shrill with panic. “Is this the end, already?”

The shaking slowed and then stopped, and the three sighed in relief. A quick glance at one of his instruments galvanized Zoll Orr to action. “No! But it’s a terrific new quake. Its center is not far from this city. We’d better get there fast!” He was hoping he might learn something there that might be useful.

The three of them rushed to Zoll’s sky car. Vara was loath to be separated from her husband, and Vana figured she might as well spend her last hours getting the biggest scoop in the history of Xenon — even if she didn’t get to publish it. Besides, she might get to see Superman and Kell Orr again, and she realized she was developing feelings for both of them. Within minutes, they were flying over a vast chasm. Deep inside, they could see the churning molten core of Xenon, roiled and bubbling as the chain reaction grew in strength.

“Zoll Orr, what is it?” Vana gasped in amazement. The chasm was vaster than anything ever before seen on Xenon, so vast that the human mind had trouble grasping even the concept of so large a tear in the surface of a planet.

“An omen of the approaching end,” the scientist replied fatalistically. It seemed as if all hope was gone; Superman and his son were going to be too late. “That quake has uncovered the radioactive core of Xenon, due to the chain reaction taking place.” A geyser of superheated gases and dust show skyward from the massive tear, causing turbulence that forced Zoll to land the sky car. As he set down, Vara noticed a crowd of panicked citizens rushing to escape the devastation in Xenonopolis.

“The shock is bringing a crowd — they’ll learn the truth,” she pointed out to her companions. “The truth that Xenon has but hours to live.” She sounded resigned to her approaching death; at least she would be with the husband she loved so well, surrounded by their people.

“Zoll Orr! Look up there–” Vana pointed through the domed roof of the sky car, hope surging through her voice. “–look! Superman and Kell Orr have come back, with–” The giant spherical ship Superman had constructed was hovering high overhead, surrounded by a glowing green cloud. Superman and Kell Orr had bailed out of the ship and were falling toward Xenon’s surface.

The kryptonite weakened me as soon as I flew outside the lead ship, Superman thought. But I’ll fall outside its influence in a second.

Kell Orr was scanning the ground. “I saw my parents and Vana down there — by that chasm,” he pointed, and as soon as the Man of Steel regained the power of flight, he carried Kell to their side at super-speed. There was no time to waste.

“My son, at least you have come back to be with us when our world dies,” the scientist replied, taking rueful satisfaction that his family would perish together.

Nevertheless, Superman wasn’t ready to admit defeat. “Your world is not doomed!” he insisted. “I thought I’d have to drill a shaft down to the core of Xenon,” he said, knowing that drilling a large enough shaft might have taken more time than they had left, “but dropping it into the chasm caused by that quake will let me get the kryptonite into it fast.”

“But what good will kryptonite do?” asked Zoll Orr, still puzzled. Superman finally revealed his entire scheme; he’d kept it to himself before as he was sure his friends would think he’d lost his mind and lose all hope.

“It will halt the chain reaction,” he revealed. “The chemical action of Xenon’s elements are the reverse of Krypton’s elements. “I know, because when I tried that sample on a kryptonite meteor, the reaction stopped.” Superman smiled at the irony of the very kryptonite meteorite that alerted him to the solution being the same meteor that ensured he had gathered enough kryptonite. He indicated a box which his companion was holding. “Kell Orr can use that remote control device to send our ship and its mass of kryptonite into the core and stop the reaction.” His triumph turned to sadness with his next words. “But I must leave Xenon, never to return, once it is a kryptonite world.”

Zoll Orr shared his sadness. “Never to return? I feel–” he stammered with emotion, “–I feel I am losing a second son.”

Sadly, Superman exchanged embraces with Vara, his newly found “mother,” and Vana, then shook hands with Zoll and Kell. “Goodbye, Kell. You were a swell comrade. I know it was you, not Superman, that Vana was interested in.”

Vana had tears in her eyes, but she admitted, “I — I know now you’re right.” She smiled and took Kell’s hand. “Goodbye, Superman.”

Superman slowly lifted, then turned and reluctantly rocketed into space. Kell Orr touched a button on his remote control panel, and the space ship dived into the chasm at full power. It split and melted when it crashed into the core, releasing millions of tons of kryptonite. As the kryptonite sank in the frantically boiling liquid of the radioactive core, Zoll Orr monitored the chain reaction with a mobile instrument station he’d brought with them from the lab. He was tense as the reaction at first seemed unaffected and then started to slow. Superman was right that kryptonite damped the chain reaction, but was there really enough to bring it to a halt?

Finally he sighed as the reaction dropped below a critical threshold. Superman had calculated correctly and captured enough kryptonite. A short time later, he announced, “The chain reaction has completely stopped! The kryptonite neutralized it.” The core was still deadly radioactive, but the chunks of kryptonite that had floated down into the radioactive fluid were now distributed throughout the core, and it was cooling, solidifying, and locking them in place.

“And to think that Superman, to whom we owe so much, can never return here — will never be rewarded for his feat,” Vara mused sadly as she and Vana moved to the sides of the men they loved to exchange hugs of joy. There was work ahead to rebuild the damaged city of Xenonopolis, but it was work they all looked forward to.

As for Superman, if Vara could have read his thoughts as he flew back to Earth, she would have realized that he had indeed received one of the greatest, most satisfying rewards of his career. No one could prevent my native Krypton from perishing, but Xenon will live. Krypton, through me, reached across space and time to save its twin world. With that satisfied thought, he was energized as he plunged back into his regular life.

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