Kent Abandons Superman!
One of the tried-and-true traditions of the Silver and
Bronze Ages was the "I Quit" storyline, wherein
the hero gives up his crime-fighting career and tries --
briefly -- to live life as a normal person. Historically,
it's been mostly a Marvel thing, but Superman #201
(Nov. 1967) is one of the earliest examples I've seen from
DC, with a cover remarkably (though probably not coincidentally)
similar to that of Amazing
Spider-Man #50, published earlier that same year.
In "Clark Kent Abandons Superman," Cary Bates
tries to convince us -- with limited success -- that even
the Man of Steel can be the quitting type, under the right
Swan and George Klein do the
As we begin, Clark Kent is hard at work with a Professor
Steele on an archeological dig sponsored by the
Daily Planet. When a sudden ground tremor knocks both men
off their feet, Clark suggests they split up to find the
source of the disturbance, giving him a chance to change
into Superman. Tracing the tremor to its epicenter, Superman
is attacked by a monster shaped like a scaly, human forearm
with a giant, red eye in the "palm." It roughs
him up a bit, but he soon turns the tables and tosses it
into space, musing "Well, that takes care of that!"
And that's it for the giant hand monster. We never learn
where it came from, what it was or what it wanted, how it
created a ground tremor (if it did) and whether it can survive
the hostile environment of outer space (if not, Superman
has just killed again). Basically it's here to distract
Superman and move the plot along.
And so it does: Returning to the excavation site, Clark
spots Professor Steele in deadly peril, and fails to save
In the days that follow, Clark is despondent, blaming himself
for Steele's death and moping at the office to the growing
concern of Lois Lane and Perry
White. At night Clark finds it nearly impossible
to sleep; the spirit of Professor Steele haunts his dreams
and threatens to torment him forever. Deciding he needs
psychiatric help, Superman seeks out the best doctors in
Kandor, who first try counseling ("Stop torturing yourself!")
and then a ray designed to induce artificial amnesia. Neither
is helpful, and Superman storms out angrily.
The next day, Clark and Lois are covering the opening of
a jewel exhibit when masked gunmen gas the crowd and attempt
to steal the jewels. Clark changes to Superman and lets
the crooks empty their guns on his invulnerable chest, only
to see the slugs ricochet back towards the unconscious crowd,
including Lois. He races to her side, leaving the crooks
free to go.
While Superman beats himself up, the Metropolis Police
arrive to save the day, prompting this wisecrack from one
of the crooks...
"Who'd have figured they'd show
up?" For my money, this is the best line in the story
and maybe the best I've read all month. The Metropolis Police
force has been rendered so redundant by the Man of Steel
that crooks don't even factor them into their schemes any
more. Probably the cops are as surprised at this turn of
events as everyone else. "Hey, Joe! We caught a gang
of crooks! Yeah, high five! Okay, so now what happens?"
They'd better get used to their new workload, though, because
back at the Fortress of Solitude, Clark is folding up his
Superman costume and putting it on the shelf. "Rather
than risk causing more grief," he broods, "I'll
abandon my career as a crime-fighter!" And there you
have it; too slow to save a bit character who doesn't even
rate a first name, too careless to stop a random bullet
from ripping Lois' sleeve...that's enough reason to chuck
the old career and leave Earth. Works for me.
Climbing into a rocketship, Clark vows, "I must forget...leave
everything connected with my life as Superman!" After
an undisclosed period of wandering in space, he finds a
world with heavy gravity and a red sun, and decides to settle
down in this environment where he will never be super again.
Chapter 2 moves us forward "several weeks" to
find Clark (who now goes by Clarken) waking
up to a typical day on his new world of Moxia. He's pretty
much the Clark we remember, except for his occasional habit
of delivering dialog from TV commercials...
Commuting in a Jetsons-like hovercar (he calls it a "Magnamobile"),
Clarken reports to the offices of Computron, where he works
in research and development and flirts with pretty blonde
Lloru, a computer programmer and the daughter
of plant manager Rolgar. "The tests
I took here on Moxia showed I had a natural aptitude for
science," he muses. "Small wonder! My father Jor-El
was the greatest scientist on the planet Krypton!"
Clarken is enjoying his peaceful new life and the challenge
of designing a miniature robot brain. He's also pretty smitten
with Lloru, who obviously returns the sentiment in spades.
Naturally this sort of bliss can't last in a superhero
comic, and sure enough in a few days Moxia is invaded by
a huge, bearded strongman named Kromn,
who together with his gang of flunkies imprisons dozens
of Moxians in "unbreakable energy bubbles." Kromn
emerges from his spaceship and offers to spare Clarken if
he uses his "brilliant mind" to serve him. Clarken
responds with a punch to the jaw, but he's defeated with
ease by the more powerful Kromn.
Racing back home, Clarken digs out a familiar red-and-blue
suit. "I don't know why I brought my Superman costume
along!" he thinks. Neither do we, since we saw him
leave it behind earlier, along with everything else "connected
to my life as Superman" (what could be more connected
than that outfit?).
Back at the Computron labs, Clarken builds a powerful robot,
inserts the just-completed robot brain he's been working
on and dresses the automaton in the super-suit. "It
makes an imposing figure" he thinks, "the kind
that can inspire people to follow him!"
Outside, the super-robot smashes open the bubble-cages,
freeing the Moxians. When Kromn's men fire on the robot,
their weapons prove useless. With the robot to lead them,
the people of Moxia find their courage and rise up in revolt.
The robot faces Kromn in a one-on-one slugfest and defeats
the invader, in the process revealing that Kromn, too, was
Sifting through his jumbled remains, Clarken learnes Kromn
was constructed from parts produced at the Computron plant,
no doubt by a company employee. With its telescopic vision,
Clarken's super-robot spots Kromn's mysterious master fleeing
the city and flies Clarken the scene, where the offender
is revealed to be none other than Rolgar, Clarken's boss
and Lloru's dad.
Lloru is understandably desolated. "My own father...a
criminal...the first known on our world in decades! But
at least I still have you, Clarken!" Too bad for her,
fickle Clarken has already decided he likes punching better
than kissing. "I'm...sorry, lloru...but I may be leaving
Using one of Kromn's devices, Superman (back in the red-and-blue
suit again) envelopes himself in an energy bubble like those
used to capture the Moxians. Then he has the super-robot
use its super-strength to hurl the bubble toward Earth's
solar system "at ultra-light speed."
"Nice throw!" says Superman, as he hurtles away
(because apparently moving away at ultra-light speed doesn't
prevent you from conversing with someone else who's standing
still). "You'll remain on Moxia, to serve as its protector!"
(At least he doesn't tell the robot he can have the girl,
too). And so all's well that ends well.
I'm sorry, but Superman comes off as a neurotic mess in
this story. First he blames himself for events he can't
really control, weighing one tragedy and one near miss more
heavily than all the good he's ever done or ever will do
on Earth. Rather than moping about the one life he didn't
save, shouldn't he redouble his efforts to save other lives?
Instead he just leaves Earth to its fate. Likewise, relocating
to Moxia may free him from daily reminders of his past life,
but what kind of man can escape his guilt with a simple
change of scenery?
Lloru is genuinely in love with Clarken, and he seems to
reciprocate, but that doesn't stop him from leaving her
at the curb as soon as he feels "the thrill of battle."
("I wonder if I'll ever see her lovely face again?"
he wonders. No, Supes, not unless she (1) figures out who
you were, (2) figures out where you went and (3) finds a
way to get to a planet so freaking far away from her own
that she'll need to travel at faster-than-light speed to
make it there. Face it, homeys, Superman's a playa.) And
maybe I missed something, but I never thought of Superman
as the type who felt "the thrill of battle" in
the first place. Certainly not enough to chuck an idyllic
life on a paradise planet with the girl of his dreams to
go back to a life of punching aliens and monsters all day.
With this story, Bates has effectively ruled out any future
tales where Superman pines for an ordinary life, free from
his responsibilities as Earth's champion. Hey, been there,
done that, got bored.
Also perplexing is the issue of Rolgar's crimes. No crime
has occured on Moxia in decades, yet Lloru's dad turns evil.
Why? No motive is ever given for his actions, and no one
bothers to ask. Like Superman's easy-come, easy-go "guilt"
and his heretofore unrevealed battle-lust (and even that
arm-monster at the beginning), Rolgar's actions are just
plot devices necessary to tell an "I Quit" story,
whether it makes sense or not.
And it doesn't, really. As much drama as they might've
squeezed out of Peter Parker constantly chucking the Spidey
suit in a trash can, or Ben, Johnny, Sue or even Reed walking
out on the Fantastic Four, DC heroes are not, on the whole,
the quitting type, and certainly not Superman. My advice
to writers and editors still trying to make this old gimmick
work with the Man of Steel: call it quits.