The Goofy Superman

We all know "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", but here's a surprise; turns out it was Superman!

In Superman #163 (Aug 1963), writer Robert Bernstein and artist Al Plastino present a daring, hard-hitting expose of the American mental health system, sending the Man of Steel to an insane asylum for three days. If you're expecting the comic book equivalent of The Snake Pit, however, think again.

We begin at the Daily Planet, where Clark Kent reads a teletype report revealing "The Mad Bomber" is about to set off an explosion in "Vineville." This prompts a dash to the old storeroom and a change to Superman. "This'll make the 99th bomb that madman has planted!" thinks Superman. "Vineville hasn't its own bomb squad, so I'd better find that bomb before it goes off and harms anyone!"

Far be it from me to tell the fine town of Vineville how to conduct business, but you'd think after, oh I don't know, the 75th or 80th bomb attack, they'd make an effort to assemble that bomb squad, eh?

Flying to Vineville, Superman spots the bomb buried at an excavation site, and flies down to shield bystanders with his body. Unfortunately for him, the blast exposes a buried chunk of red kryptonite, and he begins to feel the familiar tingle that signals the onset of another odd transformation. Dashing into "an empty backyard," Superman hurriedly changes to Clark Kent. "I hope the Red K won't do anything to me that will make me give away my Superman identity!"

Hmm...well let's see, previous Red K exposures have given Superman the head of a lion, a third eye in the back of head and the body of a dragon. None of those things would look odd happening to a guy in a blue business suit and glasses, right? Good thinking, Supes.

As it so happens, the Red K causes Clark to lose his mind. Soon, he's spotted walking on his hands down the streets of Vineville, which upsets the local cops to no end.

That's right, folks, Vineville takes law and order very seriously. Not seriously enough to assemble a bomb squad to protect life and property, mind you, but you can sleep safe at night knowing any miscreant scofflaw who dares to walk funny is headed straight to the pokey.

In his inverted position, Clark unknowingly loses his wallet (and thus his ID) down a storm drain. Then he spots a recently painted park bench. " good that fresh paint smells! I think I'll sit down on it!" Bad move, as wet-paint-touching is the second most heinous crime in Vineville after crooked walking. "If you don't get off that bench in two seconds," yells the near-apoplectic cop, "I'll arrest you!"

Clark defiantly blows the cop a raspberry. This is the last straw, so the cop sends for the "paddy wagon" to haul Clark before a judge. As he's carrying no identification, and given his kooky state of mind, Clark is locked up overnight to await psychiatric evaluation. Next morning, the doctor taps Clark's knee with a rubber hammer (still the gold standard for testing mental competence), and the hammer breaks. No matter, the doc has seen enough and sends Clark (and the now-captured Mad Bomber) off to the local nuthouse.

"Fort Happy Acres" is an insane asylum that once served as a Civil War fort (and still features cannons along the walls). During Clark's get-acquainted tour of the facility, the Red-K wears off and he regains his sanity to find he's been locked up with a guy who thinks he's Napoleon, another who thinks he's Abraham Lincoln, and for good measure a "Leonardo DaVinci", a "King Arthur" and a "General Grant." You know, pretty much the full range of psychiatric disorders as recognized by the APA.

Clark asks to see the superintendent and explains it's all a big mistake; he was just faking insanity to join a fraternity. "Well you sure fooled us," admits the superintendent, surprisingly comfortable with the revelation that a sane man has been committed to his asylum, which you'd think would qualify as a pretty serious breakdown of the system. Realizing "John Doe" isn't good enough for the official records anymore, he asks Clark his real name.

As we've all learned by now, "almost the truth" is close enough for Superman. While his release papers are being drawn up, we get to enjoy the sort of hilarious hi-jinks that pass the time of day in all mental health facilities. "King Arthur" tries to knight Clark with a wooden sword and breaks it. "Leonardo" paints a mustache on his Mona Lisa. General Grant breaks his wooden hobby horse and demands Clark take over as his steed.

Just then, Clark spots a plane in trouble and flies up to save it with "General Grant" still riding on his back. On landing, Grant rips open Clark's clothes and reveals his Superman suit. "And to think I almost had him released!" gasps the scandalized superintendent, now convinced he's crazy after all. After all, anyone who walks around in a Superman suit must be certifiable, no matter how "normal" he acts otherwise, right? (Take that, Comic-Con visitors!)

At this point, Superman could simply fly away, but he needs to locate his admission papers with his fingerprints, so no one will ever connect Superman to Clark Kent. He decides to keep up the pretense that he's just a kook who only thinks he's Superman, instead revealing he's the real deal. In the meantime, he helps General Grant deal with a bullying hospital orderly in a serious of practical jokes. Grant bets the orderly a box of cigars that his pal "Superman" can turn a lump of coal into a diamond. At first it appears "Cal Ellis" does just that, so the orderly pays up, but then the guards "deduce" that "Cal" only rubbed the coal dust off a fake diamond that looked, when dirty, like a lump of coal. Then the General bets "Superman" can toss cannonballs with his bare hands, which again he seems to do, until it's revealed the "cannonballs" are only painted melons.

Finally, Grant bets "Superman" can fly. This bet seems like a sure thing, but once again the orderly loses when a caped figure is spotted flying over the asylum. Again the orderly pays up, and again the guards find a "logical" explanation:

Frankly, I'm not sure which explanation sounds more far-fetched. And is it just me, or is that a pretty disrespectful use of the American Flag for a patriotic guy like Superman? Certainly the Boy Scouts of America wouldn't approve.

Finally Superman figures out where his fingerprints are stored and sees his opportunity to escape. When the Mad Bomber sticks a candle into a melon and calls it a "bomb," Superman uses his powers (and a box of General Grant's cigars) to fake an explosion, destroying the records and escaping through a hole in the wall.

Back at the Daily Planet, Clark chats with Perry White. The good news is Perry doesn't even ask where Clark's been out of the office for three days. The bad news his latest assignment is for Clark to pretend to be "goofy" so he can do an expose on life in an insane asylyum. Cue the wah-wah trumpet and roll credits.

And thus ends this thoughtful and informative examination of psychiatric disability and rehabilitation. Uh...yeah. Well, anyway it lives up to the title. This is one goofy Superman story.