Secret of the Superman Impostor!
It's quite possible the first Superman
comic I ever owned was Superman #225 (April, 1970).
Certainly it features one of the most memorable covers of
my childhood, with a bearded, bedraggled Superman lookalike
pleading with the Man of Steel to either free him from his
tiny cage or kill him, and Superman answering, "All
right...I'll kill you!" So many questions posed by
that one scene...how could you not want to buy the book
and learn the answers?
Leo Dorfman provides the script for "The
Secret of the Superman Impostor," with art supplied
by the estimable Curt
Swan, ably aided by veteran inker George
We begin on planet Voltran, where a cabal of creepy-looking
aliens gather in a shadowy lab, their bulbous, veined heads
and googly eyes evoking memories of classic Star Trek
episodes "The Cage" and "The Empath"
(and to some degree, "Mars Attacks"). It's a cinch
no aliens that look this icky are nice guys, and sure enough
we learn they're about to launch a "sinister experiment"
known as "Project Ultimo."
On their viewscreens, Superman is seen returning to Earth
from a space mission. As he flies through an "invisible
magnetic field" projected by the aliens, his "super-energy"
generates "hyper-pulsations" which in turn activate
a mysterious liquid substance called "chromoplast,"
bubbling in a nearby, bathtub-like vat ("Hubble...Bubble...Zuuuush!").
Slowly, the chromoplast coalesces into a "living, breathing,
hyper-plastic copy of Superman!"
Addressing the double as Superman, the aliens claim they
found him unconscious and used their super-science to revive
him. They hand him a super-suit to wear, but when he tries
to fly, he crashes painfully to the floor. The "Pulsitron,"
we learn, was not able to duplicate Superman's powers as
easily as his appearance.
Alien leader Mentor Vrol is prepared for this eventuality,
however. He convinces the double that the Superman seen
flying through space on a nearby viewscreen is the duplicate:
"Using a strange form of kryptonite, he's absorbed
your super-powers!" Vrol arms the artificial Man of
Steel with special weapons to help him get "his"
powers back; a secret cache of black-painted Kryptonite
cartridges, a super-power transfuser (designed to steal
Superman's powers when he's unconscious) and, as the ultimate
weapon, a miniature circuit disc capable of transferring
any sensation he feels to the other Superman.
Thus equipped, the synthetic Superman is placed in a rocket
and sent to Earth to "reclaim" his powers. "Then,"
cackles Vrol when the double is out of hearing range, "I
will have a super-being at my command...to
conquer Earth and turn it into a giant testing ground for
my experiments! Ha-ha-ha!"
Still convinced he's the real Superman, the duplicate lands
his rocket outside the city limits of Metropolis and, without
powers, begins the long walk into town. As luck would have
it, a band of crooks picks that moment to drive by in a
convertible and one of them tosses tear gas at him. Furious
with his bomb-throwing cohort for antagonizing "Superman,"
the driver speeds off, certain the Man of Steel will nab
the lot of them, but if he'd lingered a moment, he'd have
been surprised to see "Superman" doubled over
in tears from the gas. At the same moment in the offices
the Daily Planet, the real Clark Kent finds his eyes watering
as well, as the double's surgically implanted disc does
its work. On the bright side, this display convinces Lois
Clark is catching a cold, and thus can't be super.
Later in the day, still schlepping towards town, the ersatz
Superman can't catch a break, as a passing truck loses a
bag on the road next to him. The bag splits open, spraying
pepper in his face.
Having at last made it to Clark Kent's apartment, the synthetic
Superman decides to clean up with a hot shower. Unfortunately,
he's set the dials a bit too far on the hot side, and scalds
himself. Meanwhile the real Superman is in the middle of
a high diving exhibition at nearby Seaside Beach, and the
sympathetic sensation of burning skin throws him off balance,
ending his spectacular dive in a graceless belly flop. ("Maybe
diving just isn't his thing," shrugs a young observer).
Soon after, the synthetic Superman learns that his double
is scheduled to appear on a float at a Mardi Gras-like parade.
Dashing off to a costume shop, he rents a "devil"
costume and completes the ensemble with a Kryptonite-tipped
pitchfork, infiltrating the crowd of parade-goers to get
close to his quarry.
In time, Superman's float rolls by, with the Man of Steel
holding up a 10,000 pound model of the Earth (sturdy float,
that). As he comes within range of the "devil Superman's"
Kryptonite trident, he feels himself weakening, and desperately
hurls the globe into a nearby lake to avoid dropping it
on the assembled crowd. The "devil Superman" advances
on him with the pitchfork, ready to render him unconscious
and take his powers with Mentor Vrol's gadget.
By a fantastic stroke of luck (ahem), a group of young
revelers swarms over the "devil Superman" and,
praising his outfit, drags him away to "scare the devil
out of our friends!" The pitchfork is lost and the
real Superman clings, unseen, to the underside of the float
until it carries him out of the danger zone.
Days later, the synthetic Superman makes his way north
with a new plan of attack; he will journey to the Fortress
of Solitude to use its awesome weapons against his "evil
super-duplicate." On the way, however, a crevasse opens
in a glacier beneath him. Though he manages to narrowly
escape death, his sled is lost and his dogs run away, which
means he'll have to continue his trek on foot. Shivering
in the extreme cold, he triggers a sympathetic chill in
the real Superman, who intuits that something's brewing
up north, and flies off to investigate.
As the synthetic Superman looks on, a Navy helicopter makes
an emergency landing in the northern snows. The pilot, realizing
the chopper's landing gear is smashed, has opted not to
land on his aircraft carrier, for fear of crashing and detonating
his load of bombs. The fake Superman commandeers the helicopter
and decides it's time to play his ace-in-the-hole, committing
suicide to simultaneously bring death to his doppleganger.
Happily, Superman appears in the nick of time, removing
his double from the chopper before detonating it in mid-air
with his heat vision, still a safe distance from the carrier
deck. (As an aside, it's obvious the ersatz Superman isn't
a perfect duplicate, or he'd have had a slight issue with
the almost certain collateral loss of life involved in exploding
bombs on an aircraft carrier.) Already possessing superior
power and considerably better luck than his double, Superman
rubs it in by exhibiting flawless grammar as well:
As he's strapped into a chair in front of a scary-looking
device, the synthetic Superman is certain he's about to
be killed by his super double. Instead, he's bombarded with
Superman's "neural-ray multiplex," designed to
remove his hallucinations and help him remember who he really
is. It doesn't turn out as expected:
It's a frustrating puzzle, but with his busy schedule,
Superman can't hang around to figure it out. He locks the
double in a cage and assigns a Superman robot to see to
his every need. However, the only thing he really wants
Over time, however, the double slowly realizes the truth.
Watching a video screen all day, every day with the robot,
he sees Superman perform one service after another to humanity,
and reasons, "You can't fool all of
the people all of the time! Especially kids!
They can sense fakers! He could have killed me, but he's
only tried to help me! If he's really Superman, then I
must be the impostor! The aliens lied! They tried to use
me to kill him!"
When he sees the robot fiddling with a "metal-melting
blaster," the captive asks to examine it. The robot
complies because, as the prisoner learns, it cannot harm
Superman robots (since they're made of "special plastics")
or the cage (likewise non-metallic). Superman's captive
double takes a moment to write a mesage on the back of a
crossword puzzle, then shoots himself in the head with the
blaster, melting the metal circuit disc in his skull, and
in the process killing himself.
Superman feels a brief but intense sympathetic pain in
his skull, then returns to the Fortress to learn his double's
This story made a big impression on me as a five- or six-year-old
and I have to say it holds up pretty well. There's real
drama in the ordeal of the fake Superman, who honestly believes
he's the real deal and is brought into this life only to
suffer. I also had, as a kid, a real fascination with the
super-suit and loved any story where it showed up on multiple
characters (like the Emergency Squad or various impostors),
so obviously I dug this one, with a robot, a double and
the genuine article.
In that vein, there's a certain visual "hook"
to having the suit in tatters, and worn by a "hobo"-like
Superman, as evidenced by various gimmick covers of the
Silver Age, and it works here, too. In fact, this cover
bears a strong superficial resemblance to that of issue
#198, which featured a similarly ragged-looking (and
manacled) Clark Kent duplicate announcing he's just escaped
a long imprisonment at the hands of our hero. (Of course,
from there, the stories take very different turns.)
There's only a few niggling details to spoil the fun in
this one. For instance, how did the fake Superman manage
to get into Clark Kent's apartment? One assumes the aliens
didn't provide a copy of Clark's keys. Did he just walk
up to the doorman and say, "Excuse me, I'm a friend
of Clark Kent, could you let me in?" Considering the
precautions Clark usually takes when entering and exiting
the apartment in costume, what will this episode do to his
secret ID? Also, since the double knows about the secret
ID, wouldn't it be easier to attack Superman in his Clark
Kent persona at the Daily Planet, instead of waiting to
catch him in costume at a public appearance?
Also, as cool as it is to see that tattered super-suit,
you have to wonder how it is that the mere passage of time
can take such a toll on clothing. Though the cover says
he's been locked up "for a year" there's no indication
in the story itself that his captivity lasted that long,
and even if it did, how does he get his clothes so raggedy
in 12 short months? Plus, I guess he's either denied or
refuses a razor (and maybe even a bath) to complete the
"stranded castaway" look he sports by story's
end. For all the advances in Kryptonian culture, you'd think
Superman could devise a means of incarceration that doesn't
make the prison in "Cool Hand Luke" look like
the Ritz Carlton.
These are minor quibbles, however. "The Secret of
the Superman Impostor" is still a strong and effective
story in a period that, to my lights, was far from a high
point in the character's history.