Published in 1970 (dated January 1971), Superman #233’s iconic cover features art by Neal Adams, an artist who pioneered a more realistic approach to comics art. Adams was one of DC’s best artists and, along with writer Dennis O’Neil, helped modernize the DC titles Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow with stories that were more relevant to the early 1970s and, particularly in the case of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, addressed social concerns of the day. Neal Adams’ cover art on this book is powerful, timeless, and visually stunning; it remains one of the top Superman covers ever published, in my opinion. It was also used over and over as style guide artwork for merchandising, and is even available on new products today… over 40 years after it was originally published.
I was lucky enough to meet Neal Adams at the 2012 Baltimore Comic Con and he signed my copy:
Superman #233 is also important as a transition from the clean, bright, sometimes surreal Silver Age stories to the modern, more realistic Bronze Age. Mort Weisinger, longtime Superman editor, had retired in 1970, so the new editorial team in charge of the Superman titles used the opportunity to clean up and revamp some of Superman’s mythos. (Or at least they tried…)
The lead story, written by the aforementioned Denny O’Neil with art by Curt Swan, begins with Superman arriving just in time to save some scientists who were working on an experimental Kryptonite engine that would provide cheap electricity. They lose control of the Kryptonite chain reaction and, in the resultant explosion, Superman is knocked unconscious and the reader expect Superman to be dead or severely injured. However, he wakes up and the scientists discover that all the Kryptonite on Earth has somehow been transmuted into harmless iron, which leads to this amusing sequence when a saboteur tries to use Kryptonite on him:
Though Kryptonite meteorites would still fall to Earth and retain their potency against Supreman, the result of this story was to make Kryptonite much rarer.
This story also is also the first part of a multi-issue storyline known as “The Sandman Saga” which results in Superman losing a third of his powers, though this was quickly undone/ignored after the story was over in issue #242. One element of the story did stick, however, and that was Clark Kent’s transition from working as a reporter at the Daily Planet to working as a television news reporter (and eventually anchorman) at WGBS.
This issue, and the rest of the stories in “The Sandman Saga” were collected in Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore, a hardcover published by DC Comics in 2009.