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There’s nothing so savage as a (Super)man destroying himself – Action Comics #341

January 21, 2011

My thanks to Batman #402 for letting me appropriate its title.

The “Superman vs. Clark Kent” trope is a venerable old storyline, one so well-travelled it even found its way out to Hollywood. There were many things wrong with the Richard Pryor-infused Superman III — the battle between a Kryptonite-addled Man of Steel and a certain bespectacled mild-mannered reporter was not one of them. Though I can’t embed this particular video clip, go here if you want a reminder of that awesomeness.

The unshockingly titled “Superman Versus Super Clark Kent!,” scripted by Otto Binder with art from Al Plastino (with a Curt Swan cover), opens with robots stealing nuclear weapons from military installations:

Perhaps next time the military could guard the most powerful weapons on Earth with more than a few woebegone Gomer Pyles.

The robots are apparently controlled by a man named Baron X, who starts issuing ultimatums and whose shenanigans bring Superman into the fray. Supes is to late too stop the Baron from nuking a deserted island, and he’s in for a bit of a surprise when the fallout clears:

So that’s where Superman keeps his civvies when he’s out crimefighting — in a cape kangaroo pouch. Okay, I’ll buy that. Maybe.

This super Clark Kent quickly engages in various Festivus-like feats of strength, and our hero starts believing that the nuclear explosion actually did split him in two. Supes is a bit emasculated when Clark retrieves all the stolen nuclear weapons, and then even starts besting him at his day job:

It seems that this new Clark is a nice guy, though, because he soon volunteers to leave Earth to find a new place for himself, but not before fashioning Superman a new belt in the Fortress of Solitude:

How nice.

But *gasp* “Clark” is actually Professor Vakox, an escaped prisoner from the Phantom Zone!:

Forgive me another aside, but I have to note that the Phantom Zone seems to be the lowest-security prison in the cosmos. Sort of like an extra-dimensional halfway house. I don’t even think that the people “imprisoned” there have to sign in and sign out.

The robots, the nuclear weapons — they were all part of Vakox’s elaborate plot, and the belt he made has a device that’ll banish Superman to the Zone. But, in an improbable turn, Superman figures out that this Clark is an imposter and banishes Vakox back to the Zone, which we can all rest assured he’ll escape again in a matter of minutes. Superman’s way of figuring out the ruse was a pretty weak broth — it reminded me of Stephen King’s Misery and her figurines. Track this comic down if you want to know what it is.

We end with the standard Clark/Lois panel at the Daily Planet:

Where’s the wink?

I’m a little more tolerant of silliness in Silver Age Superman stories than I am with contemporaneous Batman material — the alien aspect makes the regular outer space and nuclear nonsense much more palatable. And this one even answered an actual geek question — where does Superman keep his Clark Kent clothes when he makes a quick change? Now all we have to figure out is how he gets the wrinkles out when he gets back into his Kent guise. Dry-cleaning breath?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2011 3:01 am

    With regard to the Gomer Pyles, note as well that what they say tells us nothing more than what we can already see, a common problem with Weisinger’s magazines.

    Incidentally, Professor Vakox had a LOT of appearances in the Silver Age.

    • January 27, 2011 11:27 am

      You’re right — Corporal “Needless Exposition” and Private “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” seem to show up in different guises A LOT.

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