Clark Kent, the Fighting Marine!
There are several stories involving the Man of Steel's
brief stints in the military, but none as flat-out kooky
as this one from Superman #179 (Aug. 1965).
Summoned to a meeting with General Jackson
at the Pentagon, Clark Kent agrees to enlist
in the US Marine Corps to write a first-hand account of
life in boot camp in an effort to boost public relations,
and maybe encourage enlistment. ("Posing as an enlistee,"
says the general, "you can prove our motto is true:
the toughest training, the best fighters!")
Clark asks if he'll have to go through the usual enlistment
Arriving at Camp Greenwood, Clark and his fellow recruits
are introduced to their gruff tough-as-nails drill instructor,
Sgt Buck Brewster, who makes it clear they're
in for a rough time: "One whimper and I'll wash you
out, understand?" Clark realizes he'll need to drop
the "meek and mild" act to get through this assignment,
but luckily there's noone around who knows him. Or is there?
Somehow Lois Lane gets wind of Clark's
enlistment and drives down to the base to see it for herself.
Sgt Brewster makes it clear she's not allowed on the base,
but she turns on the charm and after some heavy-duty flirting,
Brewster relents and grants her a visitor's pass.
Lois approaches Clark and asks him to take her to the upcoming
Marine dance. Clark agrees, but Sgt Brewster overhears and
vows to make sure Clark never keeps that date, hoping to
win Lois for himself. He orders Clark and the rest of the
platoon to dig foxholes in what he knows is the hardest
patch of ground on the base, figuring Kent will never be
able to dig more than a couple of feet down.
Not wanting to be "washed out," but equally unwilling
to expose himself with a display of super-strength, Clark
opts for a more cunning solution. When Sgt Brewster returns,
he finds his men have dug much deeper than he imagined possible;
they say that after a couple of feet of hard clay, they
hit softer earth. Clark, however, hasn't dug very deep at
all, but when Brewster stomps over to yell at him, he gets
Okay, here's where you start to lose me. The hole is still
too shallow, right? What difference does it make if a fox
is in it? With this "side-splitter, -- a fox in a "foxhole,"
get it? -- I was sure we were dealing with the grand comedy
stylings of Jerry Siegel, but the Grand
Comics Database says the writer here is Otto Binder,
so I guess Uncle Morty just assembled himself a bullpen
of comedy writers to rival Sid Caesar's.
Anyway, in case anyone cares, here's what happened: changing
to Superman, Clark burrowed underground, weakening the earth
under the recruits and making it easier for them to dig.
Then he zipped off to a nearby fox hunt and rescued the
fox by blowing it ("gently," of course) to Camp
Greenwood and into Clark's foxhole.
Undeterred, Brewster moves on to Phase 2, swapping Clark's
boots for a much smaller pair while the reporter sleeps.
The next day, Brewster announces a 20-mile hike, figuring
it won't take long for Clark to drop out in agony. However,
when Clark realizes what's happened, he uses super-friction
to enlarge the boots in this scientifically unlikely and
somehow visually disturbing panel:
And so it is that Clark is able to finish the hike with
comfy feet and a chipper outlook, much to Brewster's consternation.
Later the sergeant checks the boots, certain he'd planted
a pair of 6's, but instead notes the labels say "9,"
so he decides he goofed. Actually the labels say "6,"
but he's so flustered he's reading them upside-down.
As the date of the dance draws nearer, Brewster has Clark
slog shoulder-deep through a muddy pit in his dress uniform,
knowing he'll never get it clean in time for his date with
Lois. However, Clark outsmarts him again, flying off at
super-speed to don a "plastic anti-cold coverall"
designed for arctic deployments.
Next up, Brewster orders Kent to clean the barracks; not
just his bunk and locker, but those of all his comrades.
The whole place is to be absolutely spotless. As soon as
he's alone, Clark changes to Superman and cleans the place
until it shines.
Okay, here's another odd element of this tale; why change
to Superman? I suppose there's a rule in effect in Superman
tales, where any feat more involved than a surreptitious
blast of x-ray vision, super-breath or super-ventriloquism
requires a change to fighting togs to avoid exposure. But
in this story, Clark changes to Superman to dig underground
and then to hide behind a tree while blowing a fox to camp
-- two feats he does while hidden anyway. And here he's
in the super-suit to clean his barracks, which could cause
far greater problems than it solves. If someone walks in,
how exactly is Superman going to explain why he's doing
housekeeping chores for a lowly Marine recruit?
When Brewster returns, the place is spic and span, and
seems sure to pass the white glove test; even the cracks
between the floor boards have been scrubbed clean with a
wire brush. However, this time the sergeant finally one-ups
Clark; turning off an electric fan that's been running the
entire time, he points out rust spots on the fan blades,
which naturally Clark never noticed with the fan in motion.
Having thus failed his task, Clark gets the bad news: "That
dance is strictly off limits to you!" barks Brewster.
At the dance, Brewster cozies up to Lois and gives her
the "bad news" that Clark can't make it. But as
Lois points out, Clark is in fact standing in plain view,
just a few feet away. Furious, Brewster calls the military
police on Clark, who tells him to look out the front door
for an explanation:
Ha, ha! What? How is that a defense? Yes, the dance hall
has "followed orders" by being "off-limits,"
but you've still broken yours by being in the building!
Here's how the building got where it is, by the way:
And there's your science lesson for today kids. If you
can just find a way to get a building on top of a "strong
updraft," mother nature will keep it there for you.
Sweet. Knowing when he's licked, Brewster throws in the
towel, figuring Kent has a team of "guardian angels"
looking out for him. For some odd reason, neither Brewster
nor the other occupants of the dance hall go into a blind
panic on finding themselves thousands of feet in the air,
or seem overly concerned with how they're going to get back
down to Earth in one piece.
Besides being flat-out insane, Clark's "explanation"
not only does not exonerate him, but it actually puts his
secret ID at risk. How could he be in the building unless
(a) he entered it before it became airborne -- in which
case he violated his orders -- or (b) he flew to it after
it went skyward, in which case he must be Superman. I have
to ask, is it really worth risking your identity -- and
people's lives -- just to keep that date with Lois? The
other pranks were necessary to keep Clark from being drummed
out before his assignment was done, but General Jackson
didn't say anything about doing the watusi with Lois Lane.
In the last panels, we learn that Clark completes his training
and then vanishes from camp, his story appearing in the
Daily Planet soon afterward. A copy finds its way to Sgt
Brewster and all is forgiven as he reads Clark's glowing
praise for him as the toughest, best sergeant in the Corps.
This is an odd little tale, crammed in the back of the
book and obviously intended as comic relief. Coming as it
did in the summer of 1965, it was almost certainly inspired
by the hugely popular TV comedy Gomer Pyle, USMC,
which began its successful run on CBS the previous year,
after spinning off from The Andy Griffith Show.
Brewster then is a stand-in for Pyle's gruff but lovable
Sgt Vince Carter (as played by Frank Sutton),
with Clark standing in for Jim Nabors as
a super-powered Gomer.
Except for the inclusion of Lois, the scene at the beginning
with Brewster marching alongside his recruits and giving
them an earful is highly reminiscent of the opening credits
of the TV show, shot first in black and white and then again
in color as the show played out its 5-year run.
Bet you never thought I'd work Gomer Pyle into a post here,
did you? Surprise, surprise, surprise!