Two Ghosts of Superman
Today we continue our countdown to Halloween with more
ghostly goings-on from the pages of Superman #186
(May 1966). Otto Binder provides the script,
Al Plastino the art.
At the offices of the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is visited
by the famous hoodlum "Flashy" Fisher.
"Ex-hood!" corrects Fisher, claiming
he's gone legit, and asking Clark to pass along a proposal
to Superman: retrieve the lost treasure of Captain Kidd
from a location provided by Fisher, and Superman gets 10
percent of the haul for the charity of his choice. When
Clark asks how he discovered the location of the treasure
(in a to-date undiscovered sunken ship), Fisher says he
learned it from"Captain Kidd himself. Or his ghost,
Clark initially dismisses Fisher's story, but ends up checking
out the location anyway. To his surprise, he does indeed
find a shipwreck and a trunk full of gold coins. He turns
the treasure over the government and gets a check for Fisher,
minus that 10% for charity. When Fisher comes to collect
it, he drops a business card for a spiritualist, one "Sir
Seer," offering to contact the ghost of anyone
Heading out to the address listed on the card, Superman
spies on Sir Seer's latest seance and witnesses a seeming
visitation from beyond the veil:
Underworld figure "Duke" Cooper
asks "Jesse James" to direct
him to any undiscovered loot the outlaw may have hidden
away before his death. Jesse says his biggest haul is in
fact still hidden on Turtle Island, under Pyramid Rock.
Anticipating "Duke's" next action, Superman heads
to Turtle Island, where he has to deal with a pair of cougars
before lifting Pyramid Rock:
What an animal-lover, that guy. Attacking Superman might
cost them teeth and claws, but of course being blown across
an island couldn't possibly harm them at all, right?
Anyway, there is indeed treasure under the rock, in the
form of gold dust. The sacks that originally held the dust
have rotted away, so Superman fuses the dust into gold ingots
and turns it over to the government. When "Duke"
Cooper shows up proposing the same deal "Flashy"
Fisher offered, Clark is way ahead of him...he's already
got the check ready.
With their curiosity now piqued, Clark, Lois Lane
and Lana Lang attend Sir Seer's next seance,
with the intention of exposing him as a fraud. Seer, an
aristocratic looking sort complete with VanDyke and monocle,
announces he can conjure up any ghost he likes, and invites
the reporters to pick any historical figure whose image
appears on a U.S. coin. Lois thinks she has a way to outsmart
him, so she produces a rare commemorative half-dollar issued
during the Columbian Exposition of 1892 and bearing the
image of Queen Isabella of Spain. You go, girl!
It seems as though Sir Seer has been stumped; he says there
are problems reaching the next world, but Lois is sure the
real problem lies in producing a female confederate. Then
suddenly the ghostly image of Queen Isabella does appear
in the room, to the surprise of all.
Isabella says the explorer Columbus secretly buried a treasure
in America, and it can be found "buried in the cave
now used by a strange person who casts a shadow like a bat!"
It doesn't take a master detective to deduce she's talking
about Batman, so Superman organizes a trip for members of
the press to the Batcave.
Gee, pal, thanks for bringing journalists to the freaking
Batcave! Jerk. At least Superman transports the reporters
in a limousine with windows blacked out on the inside, so
they can't see out. Interestingly, he says he borrowed the
car from "Senator Perry White." Could this be
a typo, or have I missed a period of Superman history where
the Daily Planet editor served in the U.S. Senate?
At any rate, Columbus' treasure does indeed show up in
a wall of the cave, so Sir Seer's bonafides are further
established. No one is more surprised than Sir Seer's staff
of flunkies, who until the "Queen Isabella" incident
were faking the ghosts of historical figures, and planting
the "treasures" in pre-arranged locations. The
spiritualist himself, however, takes this new development
in stride: "Don't you get it, dumb-heads? I had genuine
psychic powers all along...and didn't know it!"
Sir Seer's next client is none other than Superman himself,
who asks for a seance with the ghost of Jor-El (no
doubt as disappointed as the rest of us with the
imposter in Superboy #78). Sure enough, dear
old dad materializes:
Superman asks Jor-El whether an upcoming, dangerous experiment
he's planning to conduct at the Fortress of Solitude will
be a success. Jor-El answers not only will it fail, but
it will result in a gigantic explosion that will kill the
Man of Steel. Superman decides to proceed anyway, and says
he'll take Clark Kent with him to report on the experiments
(which he's performing for the government).
The next day, Metropolis is shaken by what turns out to
be the "most violent ground tremor ever known on Earth!"
and news reports place the tremor's epicenter somewhere
in the far north. Having heard Jor-El's dire prophecy, Lois
and Lana are understandably worried. When 3 days pass with
no sign of Superman or Clark, the girls request a seance
with Sir Seer. He summons the ghost of Clark Kent and gets
two spirits for the price of one: first the ghost of Clark
shows up, then the ghost of Superman appears and admits
he was Clark. The apparitions converge and report that not
only are he/they deceased, but so are Supergirl
and the entire population of Kandor, including the Superman
Emergency Squad...but please don't let it get around
as the underworld will use it as an excuse to run wild.
Sure enough, in no time a crime wave erupts and the underworld
has a field day, until Superman appears to spoil the party.
Of course his "death" was merely an elaborate
ruse to entrap Seer and his friends. As Superman reveals,
Seer produced his "ghosts" by beaming images of
mannequins in historical dress to the Telstar satellite,
which then downlinked the signal to his seance room. (Uh-huh.
In 3-D clarity. Help me, Obi-Wan, you're my only hope!)
The "buried treasure" was in fact gold criminals
had previously stolen but could not cash in on; Seer melted
it down into new forms and hid it in locations "revealed"
by the "ghosts," so the crooks could collect on
it with the unwitting aid of the U.S. government.
When Seer couldn't produce a ghost of Queen Isabella, Superman
saw his opportunity and produced one himself...
Never mind that we clearly saw Isabella face-on earlier
in the story; if Superman says he created her ghost using
a profile image from a coin, then that's what he did. I
really wish they'd do an audio adaptation of this story,
though, just so I can hear Superman doing that falsetto
"female" voice for Isabella.
The "treasure of Columbus" was actually on loan
from a museum, and planted in the Batcave with Batman's
full cooperation (though he still can't have been happy
about hosting the media in his secret sanctuary!). As for
the "Ghost of Jor-El," well he was a...um that
is he was...oh, here I'll let Binder explain it:
That's right, he was painted on a fingernail. Incidentally,
this issue may have some historical significance as the
first mention of magnification/projection vision. But probably
But wait, you say, what about that explosion at the Fortress?
The one that created the greatest tremor in the history
of mankind? Well that wasn't an explosion at all, just Superman
and Supergirl colliding with each other. Head-first.
If nothing else, at least we know what the largest seismic
event in history would sound like at its epicenter. That's
right, it would go "Bonk!"
We close with Clark Kent explaining to Lois Lane that the
whole story about him being Superman was part of the plan,
to convince her and Lana that Superman was really dead.
Lois' response is, essentially, "oh, shut up."
Meanwhile Sir Seer sits in a jail cell, apparently allowed
to retain not only his monocle but also his crystal ball.
As the guards look on with amusement, he tries to summon
the ghost of Houdini to help him escape his cell.
Oh what the heck, a story like this is pretty review-proof,
isn't it? Extra points for DC's famous ability to exploit
ghosts for sales while still debunking them by story's end.
And special Halloween bonus points for slipping in the reference
to Harry Houdini, who passed away on October 31, 1926, and
whose gravesite still attracts visitors each Halloween.