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)
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.