Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Superman No. 36: Inscrutable

I understand many things. Quantum physics.  Greek plays.  Modern art. The works of Bach.

You know what I don't understand? This cover:

I'm sure Grant Morrison has planned an unpublished mini-series based on it.

I've been contemplating this cover for 50 years and it remains inscrutable and semiotically inaccessible.  Not even a bursting shell can penetrate its meaning.  I even stared at an original copy in person to make sure there wasn't some foil-based double-imagery built in that I couldn't perceive that had news-stand owners and seven-year-old boys laughing their heads off.  Nada.

Why is Lois Aunt Fritzie?  Why is she holding a tiny hammer like Dr. Maxwell?  Why is Superman dirty-sanchezing an icemaker?  Why does Lois keep bananas in the refrigerator? And on the floor?  Did she label those jars herself? Does ace investigative reporter Lois Lane put up preserves?  Why is Superman in her kitchen? What is he laughing about? Why is Lois angry?  Is that a ham, or part of Lois' latest victim?  Did old-timey fridges even HAVE icemakers?  Why is Superman letting ice cubes spit out and melt on the floor?  Why is there an apple on the floor? Is the apple a surrealist inclusion? Is the entire cover a surrealistic exercise? Doesn't Superman have anything better to do? And how can Lois not realize the man one yard from her nose is her closest co-worker?

If you can explain, you 50 years smarter than I.


Matthew E said...

You’re right.

Here’s my best guess.

This is an old-time icebox, the kind where a guy had to come by and deliver ice for you to put in it. Lois, in the middle of everything else she has to do, was a to use the ice hammer to chip off a few pieces of ice for some purpose or other. Superman beats her to it and shows off his super-strength by chipping off some ice with his pinky finger. Lois is exasperated because a) he’s showing off, and b) he’s making a mess.

But it’s not obvious.

I was distracted for a while by the possibility that Superman’s hand is posed like that because he’s holding another banana that’s been miscoloured to blend in with the bottle behind it, but I abandoned that idea.

Scipio said...

Well, that;s the best I've ever heard, at least.

John C said...

Option #1: It's a prophecy foretelling the establishment of the Justice League of America. You have Superman standing around being...less than useful. Lois represents Batman, for we can see that she has Got Ham, reinforced by the hammer with its two little pointy claws like a certain cowl; this is where the idea of Batman keeping files of weaknesses of his teammates originates. The apple, notably green, represents Hal Jordan before his creation, bruised from his sudden inability to defy gravity and scurrying away from the yellow banana. Superman's coke-snorting pinky nail is chipping away at ice, creating a veritable ocean for Aquaman to join in. The mysterious two-necked green bottle can only be the Martian Manhunter. The hipster mason jar pairings are analogous to Wonder Woman's bracelets. And the fried chicken legs in front of the rogue banana are our Flash. Despero's original plan was to banish the Leaguers one by one into the crisper drawer.

Option #2: Lois's fridge is actually home to a tiny but advanced civilization of food-borne microbes from another world who are ransoming the ice tray. Superman is demonstrating what a tough negotiator he is by razing the ground (well, fruit) that the terrorists stand on and killing the hostages so that the dirty microbes don't have any leverage.

Option #3: Some (particularly lousy) boys pull on pigtails to get girls' attention. Some (awful) adults use "negging." In Smallville, guys passively-aggressively fling ice cubes and produce around the kitchen while pretending to be looking for a snack. Earth-2 John Kent's death was, in point of fact, traced to a mishap with one of those pumpkin-throwing devices in an ill-advised attempt to recapture the spark in his marriage...

Scipio said...

I think I remember that third one from a back-up in 'World of Smallville"

Dave said...

Okay, here's the deal.

Lois was going to defrost her refrigerator because you used to have to do that every so often, as it would freeze over and jam the ice tray, hence the hammer (and trust me; I've done this). Superman, despite how jamed the ice drawer is, is strong enough to pull it out with a pinky.

All the produce was in the fridge--including the bananas, which many people did (and do) keep in the refrigerator.

In spite of the fact that it's perfectly safe (although it does turn them black), the original Chiquita banana jingle encouraged people to not refrigerate them ("But, bananas like the climate of the very, very tropical equator / So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator"), not for esthetic or dietary reasons, but a banana in a refrigerator lasts longer, and people who have a handy supply of bananas don't go out and buy new bunches.

It's a gag that lost its currency in the 70s, when refrigerators no longer used freon to make ice.

Scipio said...

Hm. Okay, I guess.
But it still doesn't put them at odds, except for the fact that "Superman is a dick" and Lois always resents him for saving her. That's all just THEIR fault.

I do remember how those old freezers work, and, yes, defrosting is definitely at the heart of this.

Anonymous said...

I feel like the defrosting explanation fits well, if you put yourself in the position of a person who was routinely vexed by ice buildup. If you were doing Superman cover work, you'd probably be frustrated enough to depict your wish fulfillment fantasy of being able to defeat the ice with your pinky.

Dave said...

She's pissed off at him because he's always pulling shit like this on his supposed friends. How many times did he pull pointless pranks on them to teach them cruel and useless lessons?

On a level of rationalization, it's probably part of his plan to make sure Lois likes Clark more than she likes Superman.

Yeah. That's it.

Dick McGee said...

Late to the party, but that is not a really ancient fridge or it would have a cooling unit on top. It is, however, plenty old enough (going by the interior layout) to need defrosting, as already mentioned. The reason Lois looks so pissed of is because Superman is letting the ice chips he's pulled loose hit the floor and melt, which is dickish and i doubt he'll be the one to have to clean it up. That "apple" looks like a lime to me, and both it and the bananas on the floor are probably more dickery - when he yanked the ice tray loose from its frozen tomb he probably rocked the fridge enough to make them fall out. And while you can keep bananas fresh for a few extra days by sticking them in a fridge (as said above) if they're not fully ripe when you chill them then they'll never ripen, even if you take them out later. The jars might well have been purchased with the crude labels on. You could find all sorts of home preserves, pickles, onions, etc in small groceries back when this book was new - our local Agway feed store still sells pickled eggs that way. You even got a deposit back if you returned the jars intact. As for Lois not recognizing Clark - well hell, she wouldn't be Lois if she did.

It's still not a funny cover, but if you're in your late fifties or sixties there's nothing particularly baffling about it other than the choice to have it drawn in the first place.