King of Earth!
They say it's not easy being king, but Superman seems to
enjoy it well enough in Action Comics #311 and
#312 (April and May 1964). In fact, the only down side to
being King of Earth is dealing with revolts from ungrateful
subjects, like that would-be assassin, Clark Kent.
Writer Leo Dorfman brings us this remarkable
two-parter, which is sure to have caught the attention of
kids of the day. It starts when Superman detects an alarm
on his "Inter-galactic Danger Detector" (no doubt
a precursor to the Super-Friends' "Troub-A-Lert").
The Detector says there's danger in quandrant Alpha-6 of
space, but whatever it might be, Superman can't spot it
with his telescopic vision. That means taking a closer look,
but the trouble is the sector is riddled with Red Kryptonite
Testing a theory, Superman tries to concoct a Red-K antitode
using an old chunk of the substance, the one that once split
him into two men: a good but non-powered Clark Kent and
a powered but evil Superman. According to the "rules"
of Red-K exposure, no sample should be able to affect him
a second time.
To Superman's surprise, the Red-K does indeed affect again,
and in the same way as it did before. Well, almost. Evil
Superman says the difference is that "Last time our
bodies merged after 72 hours! But this time our separation
As the powerless Clark looks on in mounting panic, Evil
Superman cuts off Kandor from the outside
world so they can't monitor him and smashes the Superman
robots in the Fortress so they can't be used against him.
"He's gone berserk...mad with power!" Clark thinks.
"He can be the most dangerous being in the universe!"
To nip this threat in the bud, Clark grabs the Phantom
Zone projector, intending to exile Superman to
that twilight dimension, but Superman is too fast for him.
Superman grabs Clark roughly and flies him out of the fortress,
not even bothering to bundle him up against the extreme
cold of the North Pole. The speed of their flight causes
Clark to pass out from lack of oxygen, and he awakens on
a Coast Guard vessel off the U.S. coast.
Making his way to land, Clark is in attendance as Superman
delivers a special address to the United Nations. "It's
time I was rewarded for constantly guarding your planet!"
he barks. "I demand you elect me King of Earth!"
The assembled delegates refuse to believe the creep before
them could be the real Superman, leading Superman to whip
off his boot and pound it on the podium in a recreation
of Nikita Kruschev's famous shoe-banging tantrum (an incident
which in reality may
never have happened,but makes for a good story, and
inspired this funny visual).
Around the world, people react with shock and disappointment,
but Clark Kent has already progressed from disgust to open
defiance. Visiting the Pentagon, he uses his "insider
knowledge" to open Superman's personal safe, containing
enough Gold and Green Kryptonite to end "his majesty's"
reign before it begins (the code against killing seems to
be a total non-issue, now). However, a U.S. official rules
that use of the Kryptonite would be illegal, as Superman
still hasn't committed a crime, yet. So the vault is locked
When the U.N. reconvenes, they give Superman their answer:
No. He responds by telling them to watch a certain location
for a demonstration of what can happen if they defy him.
At the announced time, he uses super-breath to freeze first
a desert and then a stretch of ocean. When the U.N. remains
undecided, he says to watch for another feat at a second
pre-arranged location. That location turns out to be Red
China, where he initiates an earthquake.
The third demonstration, he promises, will involve the
detonation of a nuclear bomb at the White Sands proving
grounds. Clark and Lois Lane are on hand
to witness it, prompting this amusing scene:
Ah yes, the old anti-radiation suit and goggles defense.
Did anyone ever really believe that would work? If so, why
didn't they just sell those things in stores so we could
stop sweating the whole "Armageddon" thing?
Anyway, Superman blows up a mountain and the U.N. is finally
persuaded to give in.
Ha, that panel is all kinds of awesome. Not least for the
revelation that apparently the United Nations used to stand
In time-honored despot tradition, Superman builds a marble
palace decorated with giant statues of himself, puts on
a goofy Pope hat and sits on his throne accepting (or insulting)
gifts delivered by foreign emmissaries. All nations are
ordered to dispose of their flags in favor of one bearing
the Superman emblem.
Clark has had enough and calls a secret meeting of the
only people who can stop this madness. No, not the Justice
League; a middle-aged smoker, a snoopy girl and
Yep, those old leaden press plates will keep away Superman's
prying eyes. Assuming of course that he's crawling around
on his hands and knees when he uses his x-ray vision. At
least Jimmy's smart enough to sit down.
The next day, Superman broadcasts an inspirational message
to the people of Earth via television.
I hate to tell you, Supes, but if that's a typical episode
of your TV show, you're never going to beat "Gunsmoke"
in the ratings.
Perry White volunteers his boat for the
first meeting of the Anti-Superman Underground and cruises
to a deserted cove, but Superman spots the conspirators
and leaves them marooned on a sandbar, just to show them
they can't get away with anything.
Undaunted, Clark remembers he's still got some Superman
robots in his apartment closet and sends them after Superman.
He decides to borrow the costume off one robot, in case
he needs it later. Interestingly, the robot is all exposed
metal where the costume would have been.
Somehow, I thought it had been established that the robots
had a synthetic skin over their entire bodies, but when
you're sending robots into battle, I guess the "metal
body" look is cooler than the "nearly naked guy
in his Y-fronts" look. If you look closely, the stripped
robot looks totally humiliated, while the one behind him
smirks, thinking, "Ha! Loser!"
Clothed or not, King Superman makes short work of the robots,
but Clark is already on to the next plan. He knows Supergirl
is away on a time-traveling mission, but he reasons that
she, like he, probably keeps some Green Kryptonite on hand
to work on an antidote. Traveling to Midvale, he breaks
into her foster parents' home and searches for a sample.
Unfortunately, a passing patrol car spots his flashlight
beam in the supposed-to-be empty house and the officers
yell at him to come out with his hands up.
Now Clark decides it's time to pull out that spare Superman
suit. Exiting the house as "Superman," he claims
to have been after a burglar, but the police officers are
skeptical. "Maybe you're just a prowler in a Superman
costume!" Putting some thought into it, they come up
with a brilliant plan to decide the issue.
Umm...okay, but if you're wrong, you've just killed a guy.
Which in essence is what happens; Clark takes a fatal hit
to the abdomen but stands his ground, apparently not even
flinching. What a man! Convinced, the officers go back on
patrol to shoot -- I mean, protect -- the rest of Midvale,
and Clark stumbles around in pain until he falls head first
into the Midvale River.
He awakens in Atlantis, of all places.
I don't know about you, but I think it's awesome there's
not only mermaids in the ocean, but in every good-sized
body of water in the U.S. Heck, Minnesota alone has 10,000
lakes -- I bet the mermaids are as plentiful as Walleye!
Lori Lemaris tells Clark he's a goner unless he can remember
some arcane medical procedure he's encountered in his adventures
that might somehow help the doctors pull off a miracle.
Indeed he does; he recounts the story of John Corben,
the crook whose crushed body was replaced by a robot facsimile
and powered by Kryptonite, making him the super-villain
Metallo. "Perform the same operation
on me which that doctor did to Metallo and insert the Green
K into my mechanical heart!" he directs. And sure enough,
with no more detailed instructions than "make a robot
body and stick kryptonite in it," the Atlantean doctors
are indeed able to save his life.
To all outward appearances still human, Clark gains an
audience with King Superman and springs his trap.
Again, note Clark has no qualms about killing in this story.
I'm not judging, just noting.
Superman insists he's not really evil, it's just been one
big hoax. He claims that the Red-K at the beginning of the
story did follow the rule that prevents it from having the
same effect twice. Yes, it split him in two, but this time
both Clark and Superman are good.
Even as they were splitting, Superman claims, his super-hearing
intercepted a message from space, ordering an invisible
fleet of alien invaders to blackmail Earth into surrendering
to them with demonstrations of their weapons; one that freezes,
another that causes earthquakes and a third that blows things
up. "If within three days, the threatened world doesn't
surrender," said the voice, "use ultimate weapon
to annihilate it!"
Learning the locations and times the weapons would be used,
Superman (instantly) hatched a plan; he would make the world
think he was evil and place himself at the scene of each
"demonstration" to create the impression he was
doing the freezing, quaking and detonating. "If those
terrible exhibitions of power took place," he explains
to Clark, "and mankind realized they were demonstrations
by a ruthless space enemy ready to wipe out Earth with an
ultimate weapon...can you imagine the global panic?"
Later, says Superman, he learned that the planet behind
the threat was already destroyed, its native race dead,
but with their robot fleet still carrying out its pre-programmed
mission. So even though there are technically no aliens
left to rule the Earth, their doomsday weapon is still out
there somewhere, and it won't become visible until it's
activated by a timer to destroy the Earth.
Clark asks why Superman didn't just tell him all this in
the first place and Superman answers it was because "I
couldn't trust you! As a mortal you might have accidentally
blurted out the awful truth..." which is certainly
an interesting insight into Superman's thinking. We know
he doesn't trust Lois and Jimmy with major secrets -- who
would? -- but since when does merely being "mortal"
guarantee a guy can't keep a secret? Indeed, isn't Superman
"mortal" himself? For that matter, he's Clark!
How can you not trust yourself?
So anyway, now the alien weapon is about to destroy Earth
and Superman is lying here, nearly dead. Metallo-Clark snaps
shut his chest plate, cutting off the deadly Green-K rays,
and suddenly he and Superman find their bodies merged once
more. Turns out the separation was temporary, after all.
Superman intercepts the doomsday weapon and hurls it back
at the dead planet that sent it.
Even though Superman didn't trust Clark, it turns out he
did trust the U.N. leaders, who knew he was fooling all
along. They explain the situation to the world and all is
Yes, Superman, thanks for scaring the bejeezus out of us
with the threat of violence and a fascistic reign of terror.
We know you only did it because we can't be trusted with
I'll be honest with you, parts of this story are really
awesome. There's some genuinely tense moments as Superman
pushes the people of Earth around, and it's always great
to see Clark playing the hero. Artists Curt
Swan and George Klein "sell"
the story, as usual, with the great facial expressions on
all the characters, and the cast really goes through the
wringer, here. Particularly effective is Lori's pained reaction
when her former love volunteers to sacrifice his very humanity
to become Metallo and save Earth, and Superman's arrogant,
petulant expressions in "evil" mode.
In the end, though, the logic falls apart for me. Try as
I might, I can't see why it's better to replace one form
of panic with another. Sure, people might be terrified by
the thought of an alien race dropping a mega-weapon, but
wouldn't they be just as terrified to find the most powerful
being in the universe setting himself up as absolute ruler
of the Earth? Especially when he "earns" the crown
with threats of widespread destruction? Wouldn't it have
been better to say, "aliens are trying to destroy Earth,
but I'll stop them just like I've done all the others"
instead of saying, "Abandon hope and free will, and
bring me tribute, you fleas"?
On the flip side, it's kind of amusing, in a way, to see
Clark Kent on the receiving end of one of "his"
own hoaxes for once. Considering what torture he went through,
and how close everyone came to tragedy, you'd think he'd
learn something from this ordeal. But don't count on it.
Oh yeah, one other detail. Even though the aliens created
those freezing, quaking and blowing up demonstrations, they
never did broadcast that planned ultimatum to Earth announcing
why those things were happening, and what they wanted from
us. So tell me again why we were supposed to be panicked?