President of Steel!
In Action Comics #371, (Jan. 1969), Superman forgets what
his secret identity is and -- seeing no evidence to the
contrary -- comes to the same logical conclusion any amnesia
victim would; he must of course be the President of the
Otto Binder pens this tale of Oval Office oddness, the
first of what will prove to be a four-part, meandering filibuster
of forgetfulness, with art by penciller Curt Swan and inker
As we kick off, Clark Kent is working late in his office,
tinkering with a super-computer brought from another dimension
by Superman and given to the Daily Planet as a gift. While
he dictates his analysis of the device into a tape recorder,
an intruder sneaks in and slugs him from behind. To preserve
his secret identity, Clark pretends to be knocked out, but
as he slumps onto the machine it shines a strange ray on
his head and erases his memory.
Planning to assume the mild-mannered reporter's identity,
Clark's mysterious attacker places him in a remote-controlled
helicopter and sends it flying away to crash outside the
city. He's unharmed of course, but still suffering amnesia
and now further disoriented by strange surroundings.
Donning a turtleneck sweater and slacks he finds in an
abandoned cabin, Superman makes his way to Metropolis and
starts searching for a clue to his past. When that doesn't
pan out, he flies to Washington, DC, on the off chance that
maybe the President knows his secret identity.
At the White House, Superman is turned away by a guard
who tells him the Commander in Chief is not at home. Indeed,
his location is top secret. With his super-hearing, Superman
overhears conversations around the Capitol, as rumors fly
that the President, unseen for three days, is in fact missing,
his absence covered up by high-ranking officials. For Superman
the math is simple; he doesn't know who he is, the President
is missing, therefore he is the President. (Good thing he
didn't visit the Air and Space Museum first, or he might've
decided he was Amelia Earhart).
Of course his theory needs positive confirmation, so he
flies into an open window of the White House to check "the
Presidential wardrobe." "If the clothes fit,"
he reasons, "I'll know I'm right." It's an air-tight
theory, I'm sure you'll admit.
Well, there you have it, the clothes are a "pretty
good fit." Case closed. There's a quaint charm to revisiting
a time when publishers were worried about "the dignity
of the office of the President," not to mention a time
when such a thing actually existed. But it's hard to imagine
this illustration didn't resemble "any known political
figure." I mean, "middle aged white guy"
pretty much describes 99% of elected officials, then and
now. And I hate to break it to Superman, but by duplicating
that photo in the mirror, isn't he parting his hair on the
Telling the shocked White House guards that "a special
detail of secret service men brought me from the airport
through the back entrance," the super-president settles
into his daily routine at the White House.
Here Superman charmingly demonstrates his connection to
average Americans by displaying the grasp of history we're
so famous for. Oh you know, the presidents: Washington...
Lincoln... Theodore Roosevelt... um... uhh... and the rest.
And maybe it's just me, but somehow I imagined the portrait
gallery being a bit more grand. Also, check out those secret
service men. What do you want to bet they're saying, "Um...were
you in the detail that brought him from the airport?"
"No, I thought you were." "Hmm..."
Soon after, "a crisis occurs in the presidential office..."
as they so often do. But this one's a biggie: The machine
that duplicates the President's signature has broken down,
and there are hundreds of letters to be signed! President
Superman sends his secretary off on a coffee break and signs
all the letters at super-speed, simultaneously fixing the
machine with his heat vision.
Then comes an even bigger crisis:
Well, I should hope you DID call Superman! My heavens,
a child trapped in a museum exhibit! Are you sure you don't
need the whole Justice League? Well, either way, good job
barging in on the President of the United States to let
him know about it.
Arranging a limo ride to the Washington Monument, President
Superman takes a ride to the top, his secret service detail
ensuring he's alone in the elevator. Temporarily disabling
the elevator car, the President changes to Superman and
flies out of the top of the monument ("I'll repair
this hole when I return!") and zooms off to the Smithsonian.
After rescuing the tyke, Superman decides to take her on
a tour of the museum to calm her nerves.
Well, okay, so maybe it was a small horse, but if it's
on display in the Air and Space Museum it must have been
able to fly, right? Let's see a stuck-up full-size Palomino
That evening, a special ball is held for foreign and American
correspondents, and an official announces, "It's the
custom, Mr President, for you to choose a partner from among
the girl reporters for the first dance!" (Wonder where
that tradition started? COUGH!-Clinton!-COUGH!). Naturally,
he picks Lois Lane ("That one attracts me! I wonder
why?" Don't we all.) "Did you say you work for
the Daily Planet?", he asks as they dance. "Where
is that?" (suggesting it's not such a famous paper
as other tales would have us believe).
The dance is interrupted when "Clark Kent" cuts
in (actually it's foreign agent Zero-Zero, the impostor
who slugged Clark in the opening scenes) and then an even
ruder interruption occurs when an enemy spy lobs a grenade
at the Commander In Chief. "Your death will leave America
leaderless!" he yells, "Then my country will strike!"
(Soon all your children will be locked in vintage space
capsules and your copier machines will have faulty wiring!
Without a President to solve these crises, America will
be on its knees!)
The fake Clark catches the grenade and hurls it out a window,
earning himself a commendation.
That night, Superman hears a coded message being transmitted
from a ship at sea. It's from the real President, informing
Congress that his secret meeting is accomplished -- a treaty
having been signed -- and he is ready to return to Washington.
Flying to the aircraft carrier where the President is in
temporary residence, Superman explains his impersonation
and his dilemma. The President thanks him for helping cover
his absence, but has no answer to the mystery of Superman's
true alias. Flying the ship back to America, Superman waves
goodbye and gets back to the business of recovering his
What to say about a story like this? There's a certain
kitschy charm in the sheer audacity of the concept, but
by 1969 this brand of hi-jinx must have seemed pretty worn
out. This is the kind of tale you'd expect to find crammed
into the back of a 50s Superman issue and played more or
less for laughs, but here it's supposed to be high drama.
Across town at Marvel in January 1969, Iron Man was locked
in battle with the Hulk, Thor was facing off against Galactus
and the Fantastic Four teamed with the Inhumans to reclaim
their refuge from Maximus. Meanwhile here's Superman stuck
in the same sort of story he'd been doing for years, a story
the conclusion of which is never really in doubt, where
no one's in any real peril (except the girl in the capsule,
who could've been saved by the fire department) and the
whole enterprise is neutered by a sense of whitewashed fantasy
(when the FF called the President, Nixon answered...the
cipher in this story never even gets a name).
Curt Swan is in a fairly experimental mode with page layouts
here, beginning to stretch his wings a bit to adopt a modified
style for the 70s. His efforts are undercut somewhat by
Jack Abel's inks, which are competent but lackluster.
The cover's pretty cool on this one, but this is far from
the most exciting White House tour we've been on. But hey,
I never promised you a Rose Garden.