No, seriously. That happened.
As much as I love DC’s Silver Age–and I do love it–it was not without its faults, and chief among them was the fact that there was no event so minor in a character’s history that it wasn’t worth an eight-pager. Jor-El and Lara’s first date? I’m pretty sure that’s in Showcase Presents Superman v.2. Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne’s first meeting (an oddly romantic cruise where they’re constantly interrupted by Lois Lane)? It’s in World’s Finest. And since Ma and Pa Kent keeling over of old age lacked the significance of a more ridiculous death, Superman #161 brought us the full story of their death at the hands of filthy, filthy buccaneer germs.
Brought to you by the team of Leo Dorfman and Al Plastino–and handily reprinted in Superman in the Sixties, which also contains one of the greatest Superman panels ever–this one kicks off with Ma and Pa Kent on vacation in the Caribbean when–as always happens when Silver Age DC characters go to the beach–they stumble onto some pirate treasure:
Only rather than the expected dubloons, it turns out to just be a couple of pistols, a sword, and a fragment of a diary page explaining that the chest belonged to a pirate who was marooned, although it cuts off right before he explains why.
Under normal circumstances, that would be the end of it and the Kents would return home with a kickass souvenir, but seeing as their kid can break the time barrier under his own power–and the fact that they’re possessed with the kind of insatiable nosiness that life in a farming community tends to engender–they decide to head back to 1750 and find out for their own selves.
Of course, once Superboy determines that the pirate in question is actually the legendary Blackbeard–this being some kind of kooky alternate universe where Blackbeard was not, in fact, the alias of one Benjamin J. Grimm–he shakes some fruit down from a tree for the Kents and then sets about his favorite form of entertainment: Fucking with the locals.
Once the novelty of terrorizing the past has worn off, Superboy returns his mom and dad to the present day, where they are suddenly struck down with the rare and deadly Fever Plague which is caused by–you guessed it–the fruit that he gave them in 1750.
The problem with this being that the Fever Plague has been extinct for a hundred years and is considered reasonably fatal. There’s an old record that says the Fever Plague can be cured by drinking “ye sap of ye giant orchid tree of ye Brazilian jungle,” but that turns out to be a dead end, and considering that this was the cutting edge medical technology of the 18th century, I’m just surprised that Superboy doesn’t discover that the symptoms of Fever Plague are caused by witchery and impiousness.
With the Kents on their death-bed, Superboy even turns to the young Lex Luthor…
…though the fact that Lex is trying to save his parents’ lives (though admittedly for selfish reasons; Pa Kent’s on the parole board) doesn’t stop Superboy from being a massive tool to him when his Science Machine doesn’t work. Which is to say that it doesn’t cure the disesase that Superboy himself is responsible for them having. Come on, Clark: Who are you really mad at here?
Even trying to shove them into the Phantom Zone doesn’t work (solar flares), and thus Ma and Pa shuffle loose this mortal coil, leaving Superboy to be haunted by their disembodied, Martin Stein-esque heads:
Also of note? Superboy sleeps in his glasses.
Of course, Superman didn’t really kill his parents, and after a quick round of detective work that basically just involves going to a museum, he makes the pretty tenuous leap of logic that they didn’t get the Fever Plague from the fruit at all, but rather from the treasure chest in which the last remnants of the Plague survived for two hundred years.
Thus, Superman is absolved of accidental patricide, and we all learn a valuable lesson about handling the filthy, disease-ridden effects of a man named “Pegleg Morgan.”