Clark Kent - Target for Murder!
Taking a break from the "mild-mannered" routine,
Clark Kent switches to "crusading"
reporter in Action Comics #307 (Dec. 1963), in
the process making himself a target for gangland assassins.
We open our story in the offices of the Daily Planet (wonderfully
drawn by the great team of Curt
Swan and George Klein), where
Clark has just handed in the latest in a series of exposés
on organized crime in Metropolis. He gets a hearty pat on
the back from editor Perry White, who's
tickled with the paper's recent boost in circulation. Across
town, however, crime boss "King" Kobra
is considerably less amused with how his friends and underlings
are being taken out of circulation. That Clark Kent guy
is becoming a real liability.
When Superman dives into Metropolis Bay to retrieve a pistol
used in an unsolved murder, Lois Lane congratulates
Clark on yet another scoop...
Clark hasn't yet figured out the identity of the city's
crime kingpin, but Kobra knows it's just a matter of time
until he does, and he's not about to let that happen. He
offers a $100,000 reward to the man who kills Kent, and
a thug named "Rocks" takes up the offer.
As Clark takes Lois on a lunch hour shopping expedition,
"Rocks" watches them from a nearby car. When they
stop to gaze into a jewelry store window, "Rocks"
opens up with his tommy gun before his car speeds off. Luckily,
Clark spots the thug's reflection in the store window just
in time and pushes Lois out of the way, shielding her from
the bullets. He clutches at his chest and falls under a
parked truck, where he's partially hidden. When Lois runs
for help, he zips away and back again at super-speed.
Lois returns with a policeman and Clark rises to his feet.
Lois is relieved but instantly suspicious: "You were
hit by at least 20 bullets!" she blurts in disbelief.
By way of explanation, Clark opens his shirt to reveal a
heavy metal vest, which the policeman notes must have saved
his life. In reality, of course, Clark used Lois' momentary
absence to don the vest after the shooting, having fashioned
it at super-speed from a borrowed manhole cover.
By the way, kids; don't try this at home. I've seen manhole
covers stolen before (doubtless as a prank and not for monetary
gain) and it creates a very dangerous situation for motorists.
This is an atypically reckless act for a guy like Superman.
Convinced Clark is dead, "Rocks" reports his
"success" to "King" Kobra and collects
his 100 grand. However, soon afterwards Kobra spots Clark
and Lois walking on the sidewalk outside his window, and
realizes "Rocks" was mistaken, or lying. Leaving
nothing to chance, he contacts a professional killer known
as "The Executioner," who disguises
himself as an electrician and makes a "service call"
at the Daily Planet. Pretending to be fixing a wiring problem,
he instead connects a wire from a high voltage line to the
frame of Kent's metal typewriter, so the reporter will receive
a fatal shock with his first keystroke.
Things take a potentially nasty turn when Perry asks Lois
to retype one of Clark's stories and she decides to use
his typewriter to do it. Luckily, Clark spies the suspicious
wire and uses his heat vision to short-circuit it just in
Once she gets over the trauma of her near-murder, Lois
goes with Clark to police headquarters, where she studies
mug shots until she spots the "electrician" who
booby-trapped Clark's typewriter. Clark recognizes him as
"The Executioner" and changes to Superman. Recalling
a "weird eccentricity" of the killer, Superman
checks all the city's flower shops until he finds him buying
a wreath to send to Clark's funeral. Despite the efforts
of police interrogators, the Executioner refuses to divulge
the identity of the crime boss.
Adopting a new strategy, Superman disguises himself as
"Deadshot Daniels," a killer
from out of town. Showing up in an underworld dive, he earns
some street cred by punching out "Hard Rock
Johnny," supposedly the toughest thug in town.
When he tells the room full of awed thugs that he's even
better with a gun than his fists, he draws the attention
of "Chalky," an underling of
King Kobra who recommends "Deadshot" for the Kent
job. Kobra is intrigued, but reluctant to reveal himself,
so he has Chalky arrange with Daniels for Clark's murder.
In planning his own murder, Superman places a high-powered
rifle high in a tree overlooking a bridge, and ties a strap
of wet rawhide around the trigger. Knowing that the big
boss will be somewhere nearby watching to make sure of the
kill, he then changes to Clark Kent and drives across the
bridge. When his car reaches just the right spot, he uses
his heat vision to dry out the rawhide strap on the rifle,
causing it to contract and pull the trigger...
As witnesses look on (including Kobra, watching from a
hill with binoculars), Clark's car careens off the bridge
and plunges into the Bay. Satisfied that Deadshot Daniels
has made good on his promises, Kobra leaves the scene. The
police arrive with grappling hooks and try to retrieve Clark's
sunken car, but he moves it away and kills a little time
with a casual underwater stroll.
Deadshot Daniels reports his success to Chalky and is introduced
to King Kobra, who offers him a position in his organization.
Instead, "Deadshot" disrobes to reveal he's Superman.
Ripping open Kobra's safe to retrieve ledgers, journals
and other evidence that will incriminate the kingpin and
his network of operatives, Superman flies Kobra to police
Back at the Planet, Lois is again both relieved and suspicious
when Clark turns up alive. He explains that he was never
really in danger, as the driver of his car was actually
Superman wearing Clark's clothing (Hey, true enough!). And...cue
Except the credits are incomplete on this one. As you've
no doubt guessed from these scans, my copy of the story
is in "Showcase Presents: Superman vol. 4," and
the contents pages list the writer as "unknown."
The Grand Comics
Database likewise comes up empty, which is a real shame
as I enjoyed the heck out of this tale. Whoever wrote it
obviously didn't get the memo saying Clark Kent must always
be a spineless milksop, and so in this tale he comes off
as resourceful, intelligent, intrepid and calm in the face
of danger. He doesn't make a show of "passing out"
when the deadly wire is found connected to his typewriter,
he gives his "bullet-proof vest" a cheerful tap
after the attempted shooting, and perhaps most refreshing
of all, Lois doesn't spend the entire time saying, "I
don't get it...why aren't you blubbering in fear like the
worm I know you are?" This is a story that could have
worked well on the Superman radio show, or in the first
season of the George Reeves TV show. It's
fast-paced, action-packed and just plain cool.
A big part of the fun, naturally, is the stellar artwork
by Swan and Klein. All of it's beautiful, but my favorite
sequence comes when Clark is on the bottom of the bay, casually
carting his car around so it won't be hooked by the police
grapples from above, while catfish dart around him. Then
he strolls along with his hands in his pockets like it's
the most natural thing in the world to spend the afternoon
underwater in a suit and tie. This is one of those sequences
that reinforces the power and greatness of Superman every
bit as well as any chain-breaking, meteor-smashing theatrics.
I just wish I had it in color.
And of course we get another of Superman's masterful disguises,
this time a "pencil thin mustache" pasted on to
make him "Deadshot" Daniels. Luckily we have those
thought balloons to read, or no doubt we'd have been fooled