Deck Log Entry # 153 The Seventh Thing (Part 3)

You’ve got the idea, now.

 

The stories themselves weren’t terribly bad.  They weren’t Kingdom Come, but neither were they ludicrous in the same way that the phrase “Jimmy Olsen story” makes Silver-Age fans wince.  Then, a moment of sheer absurdity got dropped in.  Some bit of business so ridiculous that even a comic-book reader’s well-insulated suspension of disbelief could not accept.

 

And now we’re down to the last of my list.  Even though I presented them all in order of publication, by a fortunate circumstance, the best---or, should it be, the worst?---came last.

 

You see, the things I’ve shown you in the last two segments come nowhere close to the sheer audaciousness of one tale’s face-palm moment.  It wasn’t a matter of the writer trying to slip in a seventh impossible thing he wanted the readers to believe before breakfast. 

 

Rather, he didn’t even try.

 

 

5.  Why Don’t We Explain It by Saying . . .  Aw, the Hell with It!

 

“Clark Kent’s Super-Son”, Superman # 192 (Jan., 1967)

 

From the title, you’ve probably gathered this tale was either a hoax or a dream or an Imaginary Story.  If you guessed (or knew) it was an Imaginary Story, you win the Kewpie doll.

 

For those of you not versed in the various concepts presented in Silver-Age comics, like my friends, the Wards, “Imaginary Stories” were those which deliberately deviated from a character’s established mythos.  In other words, they didn’t “really” happen.

 

Most often, an Imaginary Story depicted what might happen if a development departed from the status quo, such as if Superman married Lois Lane (Lois Lane # 19 [Aug., 1960], et al.) or if he were killed by Lex Luthor (Superman # 149 [Nov., 1961]).  Usually these tales were presaged with an early caption stating “On a day that may or may never happen . . . .

 

Other Imaginary Stories would do the same thing, only “back things up” to a point earlier in the character’s life, as when DC showed what might have happened if the authorities had discovered baby Kal-El’s super-powers before he could be adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Adventure Comics # 299 [Aug., 1962]).  Another such retroactive imaginary tale presented how things could have played out if the Kents had adopted the orphaned Bruce Wayne (World’s Finest Comics # 172 [Dec., 1967]).

 

And on a rare occasion, an Imaginary Story rewrote the character’s history completely, inserting a set of circumstances that created an entirely new situation, such as when DC inverted the Superman saga by having infant Lois Lane rocketed to Krypton when the Earth exploded (Superman # 159 [Feb., 1963]).

 

Except for those infrequent last instances, Imaginary Stories adhered to the rules and premises set down by the mythos and only changing at the point the story departed from the actual history.  If it was a Superman Imaginary Story (and most of the time, they were), then everything was consistent with the Man of Steel’s true continuity up to the point when the plot took that “left turn at Albuquerque.”

 

That’s an important detail.  Because it sets up the circumstances which earned “Clark Kent’s Super-Son” the prize spot on my list.

 

 

“Clark Kent’s Super-Son” begins with the usual foreshadowing, “Outside Metropolis, on an imaginary day that may or may not ever happen . . . .”  A geologist uncovers a rare specimen---green, red, and gold minerals fused together and emitting a bright glow.  In his excitement, he loses his footing and plunges off a cliff face.  Fortunately, Superman is passing by on patrol.  He spots the falling man and rescues him.  That’s good news for the geologist, but bad news for the Man of Steel.

 

When his body begins to tingle and his hair stands on end, the Man of Steel realises that the strange mineral is a unique combination of green and red and gold kryptonite.  Green kryptonite is fatal to Superman, while red k causes bizarre mutations, and the gold version removes his super-powers permanently.  The Metropolis Marvel has no idea what this bizarre amalgamate will do to him.

 

At first, it seems that nothing has happened.  “Maybe its rays cancelled each other,” Superman surmises as he flies off.  But soon, he discovers that he didn’t have that kind of luck.

 

As the Man of Steel swoops over a forest, his costume suddenly glows with radioactivity, causing the trees below to wither and die.   Zipping to Clark Kent’s apartment at super-speed, he removes his outfit and stuffs it into a lead-lined box kept in the secret closet which stores his robots.  Then he changes to Clark Kent and reports to work at The Daily Planet.

 

Soon after, another delayed reaction of the green-red-gold k kicks in and robs Clark of his super-powers.  He doesn’t agonise over his loss for very long, however.  Almost immediately, the third and final effect of the bizarre kryptonite alloy exerts itself---selective amnesia!  Clark loses all of his memories of being Superman. 

 

Weeks pass with no change in Kent’s condition.  The effects are permanent.  But more important to the world, Superman hasn’t been seen for all that time.  News reports and pundits offer many conjectures, but the upshot is that Superman is dead.  Clark writes a “Where is Superman?” article and he assumes the same tragic fate, unwittingly, for himself.

 

(You Silver-Age Superman experts out there have probably already spotted a huge hole in this scenario---but you’re getting ahead of me.  Patience, gang.)

 

With Clark no longer aware that his guise as a “mild-mannered reporter” was an imposture, his true personality begins to assert itself.  When an emergency arises, he demonstrates quick thinking and courage, and Lois Lane finds herself attracted to the new, self-assured Kent.  One whirlwind romance later, she becomes Mrs. Clark Kent.

 

The newlyweds set up house and start a blissful life together.  Then one day, Life magazine publishes an account from an explorer who claims to have spotted the body of Superman near a remote Tibetan village.  Perry White assigns Clark to check it out.  He’ll only be gone, he tells Lois, for a week.

 

The next day, Kent parachutes into Tibet and locates the spot indicated in the explorer’s report.  He discovers, of course, that the explorer was mistaken, but before he can do anything about it, an intense storm erupts.  Clark is caught in a flash flood, while the churning waters sweep his short-wave radio and other equipment away. 

 

Clark goes under, but he is saved from drowning by the priests of a lamasery.  With the mountain peak impassable, he stays with the lamas for five years---until one day when he stumbles upon his lost waterproofed radio.  He broadcasts an S.O.S. and is rescued.

 

A happy shock awaits Clark when he returns home to Metropolis and Lois’ waiting arms.  He has a son! 

 

“Yes, darling,” says Lois.  “Our son was born a few months after you left America!”  But, she tells him, that’s not the big surprise.

 

Clark, Junior has super-powers!  Now, the real reason for that, obviously, is that the boy inherited them from his dad.  But instead of recognising it as a huge clue to the fate of Superman, those ace reporters attribute it to the effects of a couple of Lois’ Superman souvenirs.

 

Clark and Lois decide to train their son in the use of his super-powers and raise him to be the next Superman.  And until then, they caution the youngster, he must keep his powers a secret, in order to establish a secret identity.

 

“Yours will be Clark Kent,” says his father, ironically.  “We never knew who the original Superman was!  He might have been a policeman . . . a salesman . . .  or even a newspaper reporter like me!”

 

 

I never was a fan of Imaginary Stories.  I always had a hard time buying into stories that didn’t “really happen.”  But I have to admit, I was intrigued by the circumstances presented in this one.

 

Other tales had put Clark Kent in the position of losing his super-powers and his knowledge of being Superman.  (“The Sweetheart Superman Forgot” comes to mind.)  They offer the unusual opportunity to see what kind of man Clark Kent would have become, had he not acquired super-powers on Earth.  It’s a treat to see a Clark who, while still quiet and unassuming, also demonstrates fortitude and resourcefulness.  In “Clark Kent’s Super-Son”, he’s admired for his abilities as a top newsman and respected in a wide number of circles.

 

It’s a testament to the upbringing he received from Jonathan and Martha Kent, and it’s a warm touch to see Clark and Lois unknowingly assuming the same tremendous responsibility undertaken by Pa and Ma Kent in raising a son to be the World’s Greatest Hero.

 

Unfortunately, the story was about to yank the rug out from under my fondness for it.

 

The plot skips ahead a few years, showing Clark, Junior’s development from a super-toddler into a superboy.  A film producer enlists Clark Kent, Senior’s help in putting together a documentary marking the tenth year of Superman’s absence.  The premiere is a black-tie, star-studded affair which includes the Justice League of America and Superman’s cousin, the now-grown-to-adulthood Superwoman.

 

And here, finally, writer Otto Binder addresses the question that’s been rattling devout Superman fans throughout the entire story.

 

Superman’s identity as Clark Kent was known to a handful of individuals---Supergirl, Batman and Robin, Pete Ross, Lori Lemaris.  So why haven’t one of them approached Clark in the last ten years and told him who he really was?  One would think that it would be the first thing Supergirl did after her super-cousin was reported missing.  And it’s difficult to believe that the World’s Greatest Detective, Batman, wouldn’t have investigated the disappearance of his best friend and started by knocking on Clark Kent’s door.

 

Binder lays the cards right on the table . . . .

 

I remember, the first time I read this, turning to that “2nd page following” as fast as I could, wondering how the folks at DC had written themselves out of that corner.  Surely editor Mort Weisinger had come up with something brilliant.  After all, this was the guy who invented “anti-kryptonite” to wiggle out of one jam, and came up with “a post-hypnotic command from Supergirl”  to address another inconsistency.

 

I knew Imaginary Stories played by the rules.  Whatever was true in Superman’s real continuity was true at the time it deviated into “Imaginary” territory.  Pulling a fast one, like saying that Supergirl and Batman and the others didn’t know Superman was Clark would have been a total cop-out.

 

No---undoubtedly, Mort had another amazing-but-plausible answer up his sleeve.  When you’re young, you have that kind of faith.

 

Here is the “brilliant solution” they came up with . . . .

 

That spike on the seismograph at Berkeley was probably caused by the impact of your collective jaws dropping.

 

All of the other stuff---a chimp posing as a man, panels cut out of a comic book passed off as photographs, laryngitis germs, and writing off the heroine as being really, really lucky---were, at least, attempts to make their stories work.  As ridiculous as they were, at least the writers tried.  Maybe not very hard.  But they tried to present an in-story turn of events.

 

But going “wink wink, nudge nudge” to the readers was just plain lazy. 

 

You never saw a Jimmy Olsen tale doing that on its worst day.

Views: 1082

Comment by Mr. Silver Age on February 21, 2013 at 9:27am

Truly a moment to make Mopee proud, Commander. It's really inexcusable, considering it's an Imaginary Story. First, why not just say Batman and Superwoman didn't know his identity? Second, why do they have to exist at all?

I don't know that it was lazy, though, I think it might have been another attempt by Mort to figure out why Marvel was so popular (besides the bad art that kids seemed to inexplicably like) and put it to use. Stan's approach was tongue-in-cheek and wild 'n' crazy, and he probably figured this was like that and solved the problem he'd have to address some other way. And, of course, it was nothing like that at all.

Unlike you, I usually liked Imaginary Stories, both because they *weren't* going to turn out to be a hoax or a dream and something was really going to happen, and because they covered so much ground, often birth to death, in a few pages. Every panel had something big going on. But they didn't all use that to best advantage, and almost all of them ended in tragedy, as if they were saying "See what would happen if we did what you keep asking us to do?"

I enjoyed your Seventh Things columns, Commander! As I keep telling people, the well of goofy stories out there seemingly has no bottom.

-- MSA

Comment by Commander Benson on February 21, 2013 at 12:33pm

Thank you for the good words, Mr. S. A.  I take that very kindly.

 

"I think it might have been another attempt by Mort to figure out why Marvel was so popular . . . and put it to use."

 

That hadn't occurred to me. but it makes sense.  And it's not the only time during that period when DC was scrambling to figure out what was making Marvel so popular that a Weisinger-edited mag broke the fourth wall.  There was this panel from Adventure Comics # 350 (Nov., 1966):

 

 

We both know that even when DC was able to identify the qualities that lured readers to Marvel, it wasn't able to duplicate them.  Stan Lee's distinctive style and patina was natural to him and that naturalness couldn't be copied.  When DC's writers tried, it sounded hokey and forced.  The only writer in DC's stable that even came close to Lee's style was Arnold Drake, and Drake was always relegated to DC's second-tier titles.

 

DC would have been better off playing to its own strengths---the talents that gave us gems like "The Legionnaire Who Killed" and "The Composite Superman"---rather than trying to out-Marvel Marvel Comics at their own game.

 

Comment by Philip Portelli on February 21, 2013 at 1:15pm

Maybe it would have better if Batman and Superwoman said they didn't tell Clark who he really was because he was HAPPY for a change!

That said, what did the letters page say about that explaination?

Other possible "Why this makes no sense?" reasons:

  • The Kandorians would look for him eventually.
  • The Atlanteans were telepathic and maybe could have restored his memories.
  • The Superman Robots. There had to be some protocol if Supes went missing!

Nice to see Robin drawn larger too but he's still in that costume. AS AN ADULT!

Was this Wonder Woman's first appearance in a Superman title?

Comment by Mark S. Ogilvie on February 21, 2013 at 2:36pm
My favorite imaginary story is still the one where Supergirl lost her memory and then married Jimmy Olsen.
Comment by Mr. Silver Age on February 21, 2013 at 4:24pm

Was this Wonder Woman's first appearance in a Superman title?

She had at least two earlier cameos, in Superman #159, the (slightly better) Death of Superman Imaginary Tale, as a mourner at his funeral, and then in the Luthor-Brainiac team-up in Superman #172, where they showed Jimmy their "Rogues Gallery." She somehow merited a place--along with Green Arrow and Aquaman, of course. I think most people consider them Luthor and Brainiac's arch foes.

My favorite imaginary story is still the one where Supergirl lost her memory and then married Jimmy Olsen.

That's a favorite for many people. I like the fact that Jimmy didn't discover his wife was wearing a wig until quite some time after they were married. Didn't bother me a bit as a kid reading it,

-- MSA

Comment by Commander Benson on February 22, 2013 at 5:59am

". . . what did the letters page say about that explanation?"

 

Believe it or not, Philip---nothing.   I'd hoped to find some readers' comments to add to my column, so I looked.  The "Metropolis Mailbag" of Superman # 195 (Apr., 1967) carried the comments on "Clark Kent's Super-Son", and the letters published were generally laudible toward the story.  Not one of them came anywhere close to mentioning the so-called "explanation".

 

Of course, that doesn't mean none of the readers commented on it; only that none of the writers of the letters Mort picked to publish commented on it.

 

 

Comment by Randomnole on February 22, 2013 at 8:50am

Does the story explain why Lois and Clark's son has a Batman insignia on his super costume?

 

Comment by Lee Semmens on February 22, 2013 at 9:01am

I read the story about ten years ago, but I never remembered that cop-out at the end!

Even the extremely unlikely event of Batman and Supergirl marrying and moving into Kandor before Clark's loss of memory would be better than that!

Comment by Mr. Silver Age on February 22, 2013 at 9:04am

Are my eyes deceiving me, or is Batman only wearing his cowl in those two panels? Supergirl looks like she's fully clothed, but is Batman actual nude from the neck down?

If you look closely, Dr. Wertham--I mean, Kirk--I think you'll see that in the establishing shot, Batman is wearing his gray tunic, which he is also wearing in the close-ups. His face definitely has fewer red and blue dots on it than his chest.

Now, you well may ask, why are they sitting together? Are they holding hands in that establishing shot? Is that a look of disgust on Robin's face at his mentor's pathetic attempt to look as if he has an interest in the opposite sex? Is the fact that GL is sitting behind WW an important point that the denigrators of the great JLA #11 should note? 

There are many questions to ask about this scene, but "Is Batman nude form the neck down?" would not be one of them.

-- MSA

Comment by Commander Benson on February 22, 2013 at 9:27am

"Does the story explain why Lois and Clark's son has a Batman insignia on his super costume?"

 

Indeed it does, sir.

 

 

When this story was prepared, around the fall of '66, Batmania was in full swing and DC promoted Batman, the television show, as well as Batman, their sudden cash-cow of a character, every chance it got.  It's difficult to find a DC title that didn't make some plug for the show during that time.

 

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