Real Clark Kent!
In Superman #198 (July 1967), there's one mild-mannered
reporter too many when writer Cary Bates
and artist Al Plastino introduce Superman
to "The Real Clark Kent!"
As we begin our tale, a ragged figure in tattered clothes
makes his way through the countryside near Metropolis, intent
on reaching the offices of the Daily Planet. A few hours
later, he reaches his goal, bursting in on an astonished
Lois Lane, Perry White and Clark Kent.
The intruder is a dead ringer for Clark, except for the
addition of an unruly beard, and in his hand is an odd-looking
"A gun can't hurt you, can it, Superman?" snarls
the Clark lookalike, " But this x-ray gun can expose
your identity! Your days of impersonating me are over!"
Shining a beam onto Clark's chest, a familiar red "S"
symbol is revealed beneath his shirt.
Trying to exercise a bit of damage control, Clark escorts
his bearded twin from the office and, changing to Superman,
takes him to a remote location to quiz him on just who he
is and how he came to know the world's most closely guarded
secret. Bearded Clark bitterly insists that Superman already
knows the answers, but tells his tale anyway: Superman,
says bearded Clark, arrived on Earth from another world
three years earlier, intending to do evil. To further his
plans, he sought to establish a secret identity by taking
the place of an Earth man, and found in Clark Kent an exact
double for himself. Superman, he claims, then whisked him
off to a secret hideout in the mountains, chaining him up
with a supply of food and water but little else, and thereafter
impersonating him at the Daily Planet.
And so it remained until a few days ago, when an earthquake
freed the captive Clark, by now sporting a full beard and
tattered clothes. Free at last of his bonds, Clark grabbed
an x-ray projector gun from Superman's "collection
of scientific devices" and set off on his mission to
expose his former captor.
Having heard enough, Superman tells bearded Clark he's
got the wrong guy, and to prove it he takes him to his real
hideout, the Fortress of Solitude, where he plays newsreels
of himself in action as Superboy in Smallville, putting
to the lie those claims that he's only been on Earth for
three years. Clark is confused, but Superman has a theory:
Of course this means that somewhere out there, there really
is an evil Superman running around, so the Earth-1 version
decides to do something about it. Traveling to the mountain
where the duplicate Clark claims he was held, they find
no sign of his prison, nor traces of a recent quake, but
Superman does detect lingering radiation from the inter-dimensional
warp Clark passed through. Analyzing the radiation, Superman
recreates the "proper vibrational speed to break through
the dimensional barrier" and together they travel to
the parallel Earth, where they find a near-exact duplicate
of Metropolis. Leaving the bearded Clark safely behind,
Superman dresses in his own Clark Kent clothing and heads
off to meet his evil twin.
Evil Superman spots Earth-1 Clark and, mistaking him for
the Clark of his own Earth, grabs and threatens him. To
his astonishment, the reporter fights back with super-strength
and knocks the evil Superman for a loop. Evil Superman retaliates
with a blast of heat vision, burning off Clark's clothing
to reveal the Earth-1 Superman.
Now comes a two-and-a-half page fight between the rival
Men of Steel. But don't get too excited. Imagine the possibilities
when two Superman face off in no-holds barred combat at
full power, and whatever you picture, it'll be more interesting
than what Bates and Plastino deliver here. After exchanging
a few punches, our Superman notices his evil counterpart
is beginning to weaken, which strikes him as odd. From then
on, he takes relish in pounding on his foe, even trying
his hand at Batman-like wisecracks, with weak results.
In due course, the Evil Superman is out of the fight, but
Superman is just getting warmed up. Cutting a swath of destruction
through Metropolis, he topples skyscrapers and -- it seems
-- kills scores of innocent citizens as terrified bystanders
look on. Watching from a nearby peak, the duplicate Clark
is left to wonder just which Superman won the fight, after
With Metropolis in ruins, Superman delivers the coup de
grace, digging deep into the Earth and emerging with two
sizable chunks of uranium, to which he applies super-pressure
and heat vision before smashing them together, creating
an atomic blast that disintegrates the city.
As the mushroom cloud dissipates, Superman calls out to
persons unseen. "Whoever you are -- I'm onto your schemes!
Show yourselves!" A flying saucer materializes, piloted
by members of the Superman Revenge Squad. It is revealed
that the "Parallel Earth" was a ruse on their
part, their ersatz Metropolis populated entirely with lifeless
androids. Superman suspected as much, his suspicions having
first been aroused when the "captive Clark" showed
up with a sunburn despite supposedly having spent the previous
three years locked up in a cave. Then, he noticed that the
evil Superman had a body temperature of only 60 degrees,
as did all the "residents" of "Metropolis."
Finally, the "city" itself was "too bright
and new" with none of the "erosion and dust"
of the genuine article.
As to the reason for this subterfuge, the Revenge Squad
team reveals they've encircled the duplicate Earth with
a string of satellites which together have enveloped the
planet in an impenetrable force field to "isolate this
dimension from all others" and trap the Man of Steel
forever. The fake Metropolis and bogus Superman were designed
to distract him long enough for the force shield to be constructed.
Reasoning that the Squad members must have left an escape
route for themselves, Superman follows their ship and finds
an opening in the dimensional barrier. He scoots through
the hole ahead of their ship and in trying to follow him
they are destroyed.
All that's left now is to fix the little matter of an exposed
identity, which Superman does by convincing the Planet staff
that his doppleganger was merely a "publicity-seeking
crackpot" and the "x-ray gun" was actually
a hand-held projector that can make it seem anyone is wearing
a Superman suit.
And so ends another tale. It's anyone's guess why the Squad's
ruse succeeded for so long, considering all it would've
taken to expose it was for Clark/Superman to inspect his
bearded duplicate with x-ray vision, and spot him as an
android. Considering how often Superman x-rays new acquaintances
with no provocation whatever ("Great Scott! The new
guy is wearing a futuristic costume under his clothes!"),
it's an especially odd lapse.
Also, it's odd that the Squad should have given their fake
Clark a suntan, when logically their guide in creating him
should have been an image of the genuine article, who's
never had a tan. I suppose you could argue that as aliens
they didn't appreciate the subtle gradations in human skin
tones, but if that's the case why didn't their fake Superman
also have a tan, since they know he and Clark are the same
Finally, it's pretty disturbing to watch Superman's wild
rampage against the fake Metropolis, and the way he trashes
scores of androids who -- it is made clear in the story
-- believe they are human and alive and thus feel genuine
terror at Superman's actions. In one sense, it's just one
of many instances where Superman refuses to accord mercy
to artificial life forms in the belief that man-made life
is no life at all, but it also raises unsettling questions
about just what's going on in that super-mind of his. He
takes such relish in laying waste to the fake Metropolis
that you wonder about the pent-up aggressions and darker
impulses at work in his psyche the rest of the time.
Ultimately, this is for me another of those issues where
the cover is the best part of the deal, and brother what
a cover it is, delivered by the stellar team of Curt
Swan and George Klein. The
story may, contrary to its promise, deliver a fake Clark
Kent, but when it comes to Silver Age DC awesomeness, that
cover is the real deal.