The Sweetheart Superman Forgot

And, no, I’m not talking about Wonder Woman. A while back, I did a post about my favorite Superman story from the Silver Age, and enjoyed writing that. I’ve decided to continue that theme with this post which will highlight another Silver Age Superman story that I really love. “The Sweetheart Superman Forgot” from Superman Vol. 1 #165 from November, 1963 (which is not yet digitized on DCUI). According to the DC Wiki, it was written by Robert Bernstein with art by the great Curt Swan, so, yeah, let’s go with that.

First, let me go into my general philosophy regarding Silver Age Superman stories and that is: Often, there is more going on with them than what’s on the surface. The tldr explanation for this being: Editor Mort Weisinger was going through something of an existential crisis during this period and his real-life hang-ups and anxieties leaked into the stories. With that brief explanation of how I read Silver Age Superman out of the way, let’s get on to our story:
The Sweetheart Superman Forgot

“The Sweetheart Superman Forgot” is a Red Kryptonite story. During the Silver Age, Red Kryptonite had a sort of “wild card” effect on Superman. Each time he was exposed to it, it would do something different to him like give him amnesia or cause him to lose his powers or even just grow a really long beard and this effect would last for 48 hours. Essentially, Red Kryptonite was a plot device that allowed the writer to change the rules of Superman just enough so they could tell the story they wanted to tell. In this story, Superman is exposed to Kryptonite and it causes him to lose his powers AND develop amnesia. Fun fact: In their New 52 Action Comics run, Grant Morrison retconned the effects of Red Kryptonite to being something that makes Superman hallucinate. I can definitely see how that retcon works:


Am I Still Hallucinating

Anyway, Superman is wandering around without his powers or his memories when he runs into his new love interest, Sally Selwyn:
Sally Selwyn
Sally gives him a drink, but Superman passes out from exhaustion and/or Kryptonite poisoning. Sally gets him inside her family’s mansion to allow him to recover, and this is when we get the most significant part of the story.

While recovering, Superman has a nightmare:


Now, you might see these panels and say, “That’s the Silver Age for you. It’s ridiculous.” But, let’s really unpack what is happening in this nightmare. First, he’s having a nightmare about BEING Superman. That in and of itself is pretty significant because, in the Silver Age, being Superman meant everything to him. Don’t believe me? Ask Lois:
Supermans Career Comes First

It really means something that his subconscious is telling him that being Superman is like a nightmare. Now, let’s take a closer look at how he sees his role as Superman. In the dream, he sees Superman as being like a movie theater doorman. We don’t have movie theater doormen anymore, but their role was to keep people without tickets out of the theater, to exclude. However, that’s not exactly what Superman is doing here. He’s trying to keep a dragon that has escaped from the movie in. Meaning, his role as doorman is to keep what should be on the inside trapped inside, to suppress. And this is where I go, “Holy $%@#, this is how he sees being Superman.”

This brings me to my rant about the toxic definition of what it means to “be a man” in American culture and especially in American culture in the 1950’s and 60’s. The generally accepted path to “being a man” in classic American culture is pretty straight forward: You get yourself a career, you build that career into a success, you get yourself a wife, and you start a family. That was it. You do those things in that order. To do anything less or anything else made you “less of a man.”

So how does that affect Superman and what exactly is he suppressing? Well, Superman is a bit different. He isn’t just a man in the 50’s and 60’s, he’s THE man. He has THE best career: Being Superman. And, as Lois pointed out, that creates issues. He won’t marry because there’s never going to be a point where that career takes a backseat to a family. Plus, how can he trust that anyone wants to marry him for him and not just because of his career as Superman? How can he know if someone really loves him? Therein lies what makes him the SUPERman in the 50’s and 60’s, what he does overrides everything else.

However, he is afforded a rare opportunity in this story. He doesn’t have his powers and he doesn’t remember he’s Superman. Taking on the name “Jim White” (a combination of Jimmy Olsen and Perry White), Superman gets to know Sally Selwyn and they fall in love. This is great, right? Finally, all the barriers are gone and he’s found a woman who loves him for him. He can finally stop suppressing, right? Wrong. There is always a barrier:


Why Do You Want to Marry Me

Ironically, now that he isn’t THE man and doesn’t have the great career, Superman doesn’t consider himself worthy of marrying Sally. It’s that toxic, classic American culture seeping through: Because he has no career, he’s a lesser man and lesser men don’t deserve to get the girl even when the girl is telling him otherwise.

This has been a long post, so let me finally get to the point. I love this story because it says something honest about the modern American ego. In this story, Superman has trapped himself. In his real life, he’s so ambitious about his career as Superman that he suppresses everything else about himself inside. The cultural wiring that drives this behavior is buried so deep that he can’t even forget it when he has amnesia. This means he can’t be with Lois when he’s Superman and he can’t be with Sally when he’s not. And there is something so tragically relatable to this that it hurts. Have you ever stood in the way of something you wanted because of how you needed society to see you? That’s what this story is about and that’s why it’s one of my favorite Superman stories.

Thanks for reading! What do you think about my interpretation of this story? Are there any other lover interests of Superman’s that you wish he would remember?

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While I don’t have anything to add to this interpretation or any interpretation of this story right now, and I don’t have any immediate thoughts regarding the topic at the moment, I just wanted to say I enjoyed this. It was interesting and I liked seeing a kind of analytical essay of a silver age story, thought provoking propositions here.

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Thank you! When I started reading into the Silver Age Superman stories, it was like finding these little miracles that weren’t supposed to be there. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to put these things into words, so I appreciate you reading and enjoying!

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Lori Lemaris.

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Lori and her eventual husband Ronal both popped up in the last season of Young Justice, and I was like: “Okay, you get me…” They also feature in another one of my Silver Age favorites that I may or may not highlight later.

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Lori popping up in Young Justice was one of my fav things about season 4.

You retracted the thumbs-up. No fair. :wink:

Edit: Its back, woo! :partying_face:

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I’ve enjoyed every season of Young Justice, but Season 4 was next level.

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lol, I don’t think I did. DCUI glitch, my guy…

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I’d rank YJ as follows:

  • Season 2
  • Season 4
  • Season 1
  • Season 3

We’ll just pin it on Mxyzptlk. :grin:

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The stuff with Beast Boy and Rocket would make me put Season 4 at the top, but I do love Season 2.

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Mongul was one of my highlights of season 2, along with Black Beetle.

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I love Silver Age Superman (the entire line really). It’s a pity how many are mssing on this service.

Lyla Lerrol, his possible wife had he stayed on an intact Krypton.

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@TheCosmicMoth I read your write-up last night. It was very thoughtful. Funny how the ideas of Clark repressing certain aspects of himself existed decades ago. Kind of confirms that Man of Steel wasn’t completely off base exploring some of Clark’s inner conflicts.

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The Kryptonian Marilyn Monroe! Nice choice…

:laughing: You wanna set me off??? It was never off base to explore inner conflicts within Superman. I bring up moments like these to show he had inner conflicts and relatability before Byrne made Clark Kent his true identity…

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Wasn’t my intention :slightly_smiling_face:. Carry on with your lovely analysis. I wasn’t even here :eyes:.

Side note: I meant Man of Steel the movie btw, not the Byrne comic.

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Same difference :laughing:

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I do want to clarify because I was trying to be tongue-in-cheek and funny with my response, and I’m worried that I came off as dismissive. I certainly don’t want to pretend that you weren’t even here.

To go in depth regarding Snyder’s Man of Steel, I don’t think it was wrong of him to want to explore Superman’s inner conflicts. In general, I think Snyder had good intentions all around. If you watch any of the behind-the-scenes footage of him making those films, Snyder comes across as very passionate and genuine.

The problem I have with his Superman movies is more about the execution. My feeling is that Snyder was so preoccupied with the inner-conflicts that he allowed them to overshadow Superman as a hero and as a symbol of hope. In Snyder’s films, Superman comes off as a very reluctant hero. Even when he’s doing things that should seem heroic or inspiring, you constantly get the feeling that he’s so conflicted about his actions that he doesn’t want to be doing them. That, more than anything else (even the killing of Zod), is what makes those movies difficult for me.

In contrast, yes, you had moments even in the Silver Age of Superman questioning himself, but those moments never really took away from him being a hero or a symbol. They were, mostly, moments for him to overcome and re-establish himself as that inspiring figure. Or, take the first Wonder Woman movie which Snyder had a hand in writing. Diana has some internal conflict (especially at the end) but overcomes it to be a rather inspiring and heroic figure (I joke that, while watching Wonder Woman, I kept saying to myself, “Why couldn’t we have done something like that for Superman?”).

Anyway, those are my general feelings about Snyder’s Superman. He was so preoccupied with his internal conflict that we never really got to see the things that are supposed to make Superman so great. And, yes, those are similar problems that I see with the Post-Byrne Superman.

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No worries. We’re on the internet talking about comic books; no offense taken :slightly_smiling_face:.

I don’t know. Diana kinda regressed and gave up on Man’s World for a while because of the events of the first movie. BvS “brought her back”. In Clark’s case, Lois tells him something along the lines of “If you don’t want the world to know about you, you’re gonna have to stop helping people, and I sense that’s not an option for you.” I never felt that he was defined by his struggles in the movie. He seemed to rise above and overcome them to become a hero; the world engine scene at the end was symbolic of that imo.

Where I will agree with you though is on execution. The movie really worked for me, but I happen to enjoy Snyder over-indulging in his over the top visual style. That style doesn’t work for everyone.

Sorry if I hijacked your thread. I really did enjoy reading your take on that story. At some point in my Superman readings I’ll take up some silver age, and I’ll keep your commentaries in mind when I do :slightly_smiling_face:.

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Nah. I don’t think you did that. Vroom and I went off on a Young Justice tangent, after all…

I mean maaaybe. Though the sequel does have her active in the 80’s so there is some question as to how long that break was and what it was really about (maybe we’ll learn that in the third). I just really like the moment in the first movie where her illusions about mankind were shattered but she decides to save them regardless of their flaws. That was inspiring and really hit me and Snyder’s Superman didn’t have a moment that touched me like that.

Yeah, I feel like that was the intention or how I was supposed to feel. The movie just didn’t get me there, but, hey, I know that Snyder has his fans out there.

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