It has often been observed that prior to John Byrne's 1986 revamp of the character, Superman had become so ridiculously powerful that it was difficult for the writers to come up with credible challenges for him. To me, that sounds like a lame excuse for churning out mediocre stories. Still, I suppose there is some truth to it. If Superman #299 is any indication, it certainly seems to have been nigh impossible for Silver and Bronze Age writers to come up with decent villains for him to fight.
"The Double-Or-Nothing Life of Superman" was written by Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin and drawn, it pretty much goes without saying as we are talking about 1970's Superman here, by Curt Swan with inks by Bob Oksner. It is the concluding chapter of a four part epic (that should probably be in quotes) centered around the machinations of Clark Kent's mysterious neighbor, Mr. Xavier. It turns out that Mr. Xavier is really Xviar, an agent of an unnamed alien planet referred to only as "Homeworld" which plans to destroy the Earth in order to make way for a hyperspace by-pass, because, of course, "by-passes have to be built."
That is not just a random Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy allusion that I threw in just for the heck of it. It's the actual plot of the story. Ok, so Bates and Maggin don't call it a "hyperspace by-pass". Instead, its a "teleportation route", but the basic effect is the same.
Anyway, as part of his plan to use Superman's powers to destroy the planet, Xviar rounds up Superman's "9 Deadliest Foes". There's a panel early in the issue where the villains are all convened in Clark Kent's apartment before being dispersed to the far corners of the globe by Xviar. (Funny that none of them questioned why they were summoned to that particular apartment and put two and two together to deduce that Clark Kent just might be Superman.)
Those gathered include:
- Lex Luthor
- The Parasite
- The Toyman
- The Prankster
- Mr. Mxyzptlk
- The Kryptonite Man
This bunch of clowns are Superman's deadliest foes?
Ok, Luthor, the Parasite and Brainiac I can buy. They are legitimate bad asses. The rest, however, are kind of lame. Who's even heard of Amalak? If he was really one of the Man of Steel's "deadliest foes," how come he didn't rate even half a page in Who's Who? Furthermore, I've never really thought of Mxyzptlk as a "fearsome super-villain" but as more of a pain in the tuchus.
And why only nine? Was Superman's Rogue's Gallery really so weak that Bates and Maggin couldn't even muster a top ten?
If they were having a lame villain convention, maybe they should have invited Whirlicane, so named because he is "dual master of whirlwind and hurricane!" as he tells us in #303. I don't think Blackrock had been created yet, but he would have fit right in with this pack of losers. The same goes for the Purple Pile-Driver. (No. I did not just make him up.)
You might be wondering why Bizarro and Metallo didn't make the scene. Without asking Bates or Maggin, I cannot account for Bizarro's absence. Metallo, on the other hand, was at the time spending a few years dead for tax purposes. (That, by the way, IS a Hitchhiker's reference. More specifically, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.)
Actually, the original Metallo would remain dead. About a year later, Martin Pasko would create a new Metallo, the brother of the first one. He also brought back from comics limbo Titano the Super-Ape, who would have fit right in with crowd listed above, though he might not have fit into Clark's apartment.