ACTION COMICS #309 February 1964
Curt Swan/George Klein original artists
|Talk about your receiving lines!?! It ain't very often when they set up a portable pool to facilitate a past lady love, but when the honoree is the fabulous Man of Steel, Superman himself, and the ex-girl friend is a fish-tailed mermaid, well, you just go that extra mile, dig?|
|"The Superman Super-Spectacular"
is one snappy little tale, and when I settled
in to read it right upon the heels of reacquainting
myself with the previous Cover Redo entry,
"Captured By J. Jonah Jameson",
it vividly illuminated the stark contrast
between those great early Marvel adventures
and the stodgy yet solid Superman antics
emanating from DC Comics during that era.
Most revealingly, while every action taken
by the folks who populated that top-notch
Spider-Man episode remained distinctly in
character, much of what happens in this Superman
yarn is fueled purely by some pretty convoluted
plot necessities, characterizations be damned--and
some of these characters act pretty damned
strange, if you'll pardon my French (...or
is it "Freedom" now?...) Okay,
I just got through stating for the record
that I'm usually opposed to long winded plot
recaps, but I did make an exception for providing
myself a pulpit for ridicule, and brother,
is this Mort Weisinger masterminded messterpiece
one ever ripe for THAT?!? Get ready folks,
it's gonna be a bumpy ride...
Things commence with Clark Kent receiving a letter for Superman, sent in care of the Daily Planet reporter. Why? Because he's known to be such a good, good friend of the Metropolis Marvel is why (even though the two are rarely seen together in public...). When Clark slips up and almost opens the envelope in front of fellow staffers, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, he quickly recovers, and assures them he'll pass along the note to the Kryptonian, who, coincidentally, he was scheduled to have lunch with that very afternoon. This REALLY begs the question--why? Why is the big guy allegedly taking time out of his busy, busy day to sit down and break bread with his scoop-seeking buddy? Doesn't he have better ways to spend his time? But, Jimmy and Lois swallow this improbable lie, and most surprisingly, neither begs to tag along! Just as well, as Supes scans the letter with his ex-ray eyes, and realizes it's a special request from our nation's Chief Executive to locate the nose cone of a sunken spacecraft so as to have it on hand to honor an astronaut who'll soon be the center of attention on a new television program, "Our American Heroes". You might've thought the fellow in the Oval Office would put his greatest asset to better use, but... Well, after fetching the waterlogged space debris from the tangled tentacles of a giant squid, our hero soon finds himself at the White House, standing in the presence of the President of the United States--albeit one who is merely represented by artist Curt Swan in silhouette.
After thanking the Big Red S for his troubles, the Prez asks on behalf of the TV program's director to scare up another rare item for a future episode. Then, upon delivering said item to the show's executive, Superman is pressed into service again, and again--and AGAIN!! The Amazon jungle, the center of the earth, and as the caption plainly puts it, "that job done, Superman is given still another task--then another--and another!" leading our boy to think, "I've had quite a busy day--rushing from one chore to another! Now the program director wants me in the storeroom for another job!" Geez, didn't that strange visitor from another planet ever learn that quaint Earth word, "no"? Well, as it turns out, when Supes sails into what he thinks is the proverbial storeroom, he's instead confronted with a live broadcast of what turns out to be the initial airing of the "Our American Heroes" program, honoring, well, I think you know WHO. Everything prior to that had been a ruse, a conspiracy if you will, by the likes of Perry White and some of our land's highest elected officials to keep Superman occupied. Okay, I'll buy that aspect of things, but you know what I'm NOT in any haste to purchase? The part where the world's mightiest man is reduced to being an errand boy for the producer of a glorified reality TV show!?! Chore after chore after chore and our hero just goes along with it?? Again--hello? Something better to do? Anything? Even a quick lunch with Clark Kent is looking like a superior usage of his precious time as opposed to circling the globe at the whim of a Ralph Edwards wannabe!! But, okay, I'll get over that. I'm gonna have to if I hope to have any chance of enjoying this story. So, on with the show...
In true pseudo-"This Is Your Life" fashion, individuals from Superman's past are trotted out to pay tribute to their friend and/or associate. However, with those shell-like super ears of his, the star of the show overhears the head honcho yakking with editor White backstage. Seems as if everyone is present and accounted for, with one glaring exception. Care to guess WHO? Yup, Clark. Perhaps that lunch was too much for him. His alter ego's not worried, though. He figures to utilize his amazing ability of super-ventriloquism and summon one of his robot patsies to fly in and take Senor Kent's slot in the imminent parade of praise. It's worked before, after all.
So the honoree stands back anticipating the surprises awaiting him. A visit from a rather doddering Police Chief Parker, last seen during the Kryptonian's days as Superboy back in Smallville (and as best I can determine, never seen before or since in an adult Superman tale) is first on the agenda. Turns out the old fellow has been spending his retirement whittling dioramas out of wood blocks, all of which depict scenes relating to the Man of Might's formative years. First up--the Boy of Steel standing amidst all his friends, including, somewhat questionably, Ma and Pa Kent!?! Why? Why would the ancient chief number them amongst the Kryptonian Kid's pals, unless...? Unless maybe he was a FAR better detective than he ever let on to being, y'think? Well, that possibility pretty much goes out the window when next up he showcases a statue of a Bizarro-Superman being spanked by a Bizarro-Boy, because, hey, that's the wacky way they do things on the Bizarro World. Thanks for sharing your Bizarro obsession, Chief--NEXT?
Lois Lane. Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris--Lady Loves, all. A fourth double "L" --Lex Luthor--is seen watching the festivities on the tube in the prison rec room--no love lost THERE, however! As the two double "L" gals walk off stage--the two who CAN walk, that is-- Superman is warned by the telepathic Lori that the romantic rivals had been trying to shield their thoughts from her. Obviously, she figures they must be up to something, ah, FISHY!?!. It couldn't just be that they'd much prefer that some scaly-skinned lady keep her nose out of their brains--the mermaid is RIGHT!! Turns out the pair have conveniently borrowed a device from lovable crackpot inventor Professor Potter (who, for reasons left unexplained, is a no-show), one that will beep when aimed at electronic equipment. Their ever-so-clever plan? Aim it at Clark when he arrives, proving him to be a robot, and thus, Superman's secret identity. Real nice of the girl's to pick Supes big night for their little stunt, isn't it? Imagine what they might do if they DIDN'T purport to love the lug? Luckily, the world's greatest eavesdropper is listening in, so he's hep to their sneaky scam. Time for plan "B" to cover his greatest secret--and as soon as Supermensch figures out just exactly WHAT that it is, he'll institute it!!
Supergirl, Krypto, and the rest of the Super Pets menagerie are next on the bill, as Superman distractedly wrestles with his dilemma. Soon after, a slew of pint-sized Kandorians fly up on stage. He's tantalizingly close to a solution when a member of the so-called "Look-Alike Squad" lands in the palm of his hand. Yes, it's a tiny Clark Kent, adorned in stylish Kandorian duds!! Tiny super-powered dead ringers for Lois, Perry, Jimmy, and other familiar faces hover about, and again, I ask, WHY? Why are there miniature doppelgangers for the Metropolis crowd living in the Kryptonian bottle city? You got me, folks, you really got me…
Ironically, a man who's aware of Clark's double life, Pete Ross, is next to greet his old pal. The ironic thing is that Superman DOESN'T know Pete knows, has NEVER known Pete knows, and never WILL know Pete knows! And though he's helped cover up the double identity deal in the past (surreptitiously, of course), this time, Pete figures--ironically--that the big fella has EVERYTHING under control. So the one guy who could probably most help Superman with his delicate situation turns out to be no help at all. Did I mention this whole sequence was somewhat...ironic?...
Jimmy Olsen, accompanied by several members of what must be the ultimate nerd organization, the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club, are preparing to present a gift to the show's star, when disaster almost strikes. Almost. Y'see, kid, that's no ordinary hunka gold you got there in that lead-lined box (the better to keep Super-peepers off it and preserve the surprise, please understand), that's a hunka deadly Gold Kryptonite!! Y'know, the kind that, after but a single exposure, causes a native Kryptonian to lose his powers FOREVER!! For--bleeping--ever! Hey, now THAT'S good television!! But not to worry--from out of the future materializes a contingent of the 30th century's Legion of Super-Heroes!! And wouldn't you know it-- a sharp-eyed Element Lad notices Jimmy's young acolyte's grievous error. Quickly, he uses his element changing abilities to transmute it into harmless but still precious platinum, so that, as originally planned, it can still be donated to a worthy charity. The bow-tied boy boob is beside himself because of what he almost did. Teary eyed, he stammers out, "J-jimmy, y-you ought to boot me out of the fan club for THAT boo-boo!" And I ask you--what GREATER punishment for permanently disabling the greatest hero the world has ever known than getting your membership in the Jimmy Olsen Boosting Brigade negated, eh? But not to fret--Superman is nothing if not forgiving, and with a big smile across his kisser, he reassures the youngster that even his idol, the aforementioned Olsen, has made plenty a goof in his day (though probably not one quite THIS specious, hopefully...)
Fact is, Superman can afford to be generous. The answer to all his problems stands before him in the form of the shape changing Chameleon Boy!! But before he can even ask for the assistance of the Legion's pointy-eared master of disguise, the group gets an urgent signal summoning them back to the future to deal with some pressing emergency!?! That's right gang--they traveled back through the mists of time, but now have to return immediately when called!?! I'm confused. Shouldn't the very nature of time travel allow them the luxury of returning when and where they want to, when they want to? I mean, for instance, couldn't they arrive back on Tuesday morning, June 22nd, 3003 if they left now--OR if they left a week from now? Or a YEAR from now? Or even ten? It is, after all, in the future, you knuckleheads!! But no--they've gotta go now! Right now! Fine. Go. Superman'll figure something out...won't he?
Abruptly, swinging into the theater is apparently the answer to all the Man of Steel's woes--good old Batman!! Accompanied by his partner Robin, Gotham's guardian is a sight for sore but super eyes. Since he's in on the whole Clark thing, and since he's a fairly decent make-up artist, he would seem to be a natural to stand in for the missing Metropolis reporter. But you'll never guess what happens next--never!! Mainly because of all the many convoluted twists and turns in this yarn, this is the MOST egregious! Y'see, just as Superman's about to recruit the Dark Knight Detective in on his face-saving ruse backstage, (commercial break time...) Lois wanders along. Batman turns to her, puts his hands up to his cowl and says, "Lois, you're always trying to learn Superman's identity--and mine, too--so, I'm going to satisfy your curiosity about me--and UNMASK!" To which Lois gracefully replies, "Huh?" Who can blame her--and you can easily understand the shriek she lets loose when, in the very next panel, Batman doffs his headgear only to be revealed as, well--Lois?…
"EEK! You're a Bizarro!" The third panel in this extremely improbable sequence (remember what I said about folks acting WAY out of character? Well, here's exhibit #1...) finds the now white, craggy-faced Caped Crusader laughing uproariously as he says smugly, "Ha! Ha! It's just make-up Lois! I wanted to tease you a bit by showing you what a Bizarro-Batman would look like! Ha! Ha!" The joke's on you, Batguy, as Lois correctly muses to herself that, with all the heavy make-up on, it'd take this Joker-wannabe at least an hour to scrape it off, giving him no chance of potentially stepping into Clark's shoes. Well, THAT makes sense, even if the notion of Batman getting his chuckles from dressing up as a Bizarro DOESN''T!?! What IS it with this Bizarro fetish anyway? The old dude I can understand, maybe--but Batman? Tough sell…
But wait--who's that? Is it?… Yes, it IS! Clark Kent casually strolls in, apologizing to all for his tardiness. The two ladies hastily whip out their sneaky little device, point it toward the meek one, and, much to their everlasting surprise, no beeping commences!! It can't be, they think, but it is!! Chagrined, Lois and Lana admit defeat and realize, once and for all, that they're wrong about Clark being Superman, and they won't ever waste their time trying to prove otherwise--at least, not until the NEXT issue...
The Super Spectacular wraps up, and then we readers are privy to a private meeting taking place shortly afterwards, as the mock Clark peels off his disguise and the so-called Mystery Masquerader reveals himself to be...
... John F. Kennedy!! "You were perfect, Mr. President!" Superman tells his savior.
"Superman, I told you to call on me if ever you needed help--and I'm glad you did! And I'll guard your secret identity as I guard the secrets of our nation!" JFK replies, leaving the Action Ace to have the last word in the episode's final panel:
"I realize that, sir! I knew I wasn't risking my secret identity with you! After all, if I can't trust the President of the United States, who CAN I trust?"...
Good question, Supes--and one that took on quite a DIFFERENT meaning in subsequent years--but there's one more quirk about this tale left to report. Did you by chance note the book's date up at the heading? Rather than scrolling back, let me remind you: February 1964. Know too, that as was the tradition, magazines and comics often-carried dates substantially in advance of the actual time-periods spent on the newsstands. Thus, this issue of ACTION COMICS was circulated across the nation quite a bit earlier than its cover date would lead you to believe. The last week of November, to be precise. 1963. Oops--talk about your bad timing! Maybe if Supes hadn't been run ragged by that TV executive, he might've had a chance to look in on things over in Dallas--or who knows, maybe that was actually Vaughn Meader subbing for him! Either way, one thing's for certain--his secret was safe...
(...I wonder if old Chief Parker ever whittled himself a Bizarro-JFK? It would've fit right in with this preposterous sequence of events, no question...)
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