Clark 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 circumstances. Curt Swan and George Klein do the art honors.

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 him...

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 a robot.

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 soon!"

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.