Clark Kent's Incredible Delusion

A lot of guys dream at one time or another about being the Man of Steel, and in Superman #174 (Jan 1965), Clark Kent comes to the shocking realization that he's just one of those many dreamers.

Writer Edmond Hamilton serves up this super psycho-drama with artist Al Plastino (and a splash page by Curt Swan and George Klein).

At the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is visited by a man calling himself Adam Newman, who proposes to hand Clark a huge scoop; Superman's secret identity. Ready to write the guy off as a kook, Clark plays along, asking Newman to reveal the secret.

Newman complies by opening his shirt and jacket to reveal a Superman suit beneath. "I am Superman!" he says. Clark asks for proof, and Newman provides it, lifting the reporter's desk with one hand while setting fire to the paper in his waste basket with heat vision. "I want you to reveal my identity," he says, "because several unbalanced men have recently had delusions that they're Superman...and I want to stop their hallucinations! Goodbye!"

Newman leaves and Clark tries to follow him with super-vision, only to find it's not working. He switches to Plan B; flying after Newman to monitor him from above. That doesn't work out so well, either.

Climbing to safety, Clark ponders the mystery of his missing powers. He rules out exposure to Red Kryptonite, since he didn't feel the familiar tingling that accompanies its effects. Suspecting "Adam Newman" is somehow responsible for his predicament, he sets out to locate him.

Clark returns to his apartment, planning to use one of the Superman robots there to take him to the Fortress of Solitude. When he arrives, however, he gets another nasty shock; his secret closet is gone. Briefly he considers contacting Supergirl before remembering she's off-planet. Then he happens on the notion of consulting Batman: "If he doesn't reassure me that I'm Superman, then I'll know I'm nuts!" Again, no joy.

Returning to Metropolis on a passenger plane, Clark and his fellow passengers face death when the plane encounters a gust of wind that nearly sends it careening off the runway. At the last moment, they are saved by what appears to be Superman. Lana Lang appears to conduct an impromptu interview of the Man of Steel, and Clark speaks up, calling this "Superman" a fake. A policeman takes offense at Clark's outburst and arrests him for "creating a disturbance" (tough town, that Metropolis). Superman takes pity on him and goes along to speak to the police chief on Clark's behalf.

Clark reminds Lana of an incident from their shared childhood in Smallville, in which Lana fell into a large vat of taffy (sounds like her, alright). Superman not only remembers it, he even remembers what he told Lana when he pulled her out ("You're really the sweetest girl in town now!"), a detail even Clark forgot, now that his power of total recall has faded with all his other powers.

The police chief agrees to let Clark go on the condition he visits a psychiatrist. On the shrink's couch, Clark recounts some of the great feats performed by Superman in his Smallville years. "But what about your boyhood, Clark Kent?" asks the doctor. "Were you a school athletic hero, or a popular leader? Was your life glamorous?" Of course the answer is no, since Clark went out of his way to be "drab" to prevent discovery of his secret identity. But the doctor has an equally convincing take on affairs:

Growing more confused all the time, Clark exits the doctor's office to find Lois Lane waiting for him, offering support. As they exit the building, Lois points to the sky, where Superman is seen flying by in silhouette, accompanied by his super-pet, Krypto. "Krypto's scent would never be deceived by an impostor!" thinks Clark, "therefore, the Superman flying with Superman isn't an impostor..." Yes, but what if Krypto is a fake, as well?

So now we know for sure that "Superman" is a fake, someone with a grudge against the real Man of Steel. The fake Superman keeps an appointment at a new power plant, throwing the switch to turn the plant on, a task deemed too dangerous for a normal human. Indeed, the generator malfunctions and delivers a shock that mortally injures the fake Superman, who returns to Metropolis to find the real deal. Flying awkwardly to Clark Kent's apartment, the fake Superman falls in through the window and tells Clark he'll have his powers back if he only takes off his shoes.

Quickly, Superman shuts down the generator at the plant and returns to get the full story from his dying doppleganger. It turns out the fake Superman is an android, a "perfect, flesh-like double" created by Superman weeks earlier to help protect his secret identity in situations where a robot would not pass close inspection. But while he passed the "look-alike" test, the ersatz Superman proved mentally slow and too awkward and uncoordinated to perform reliably, and besides that, vulnerable to electrical shock (as events have just proven). The fact that he possessed super-powers only elevated that awkwardness to the level of dangerousness, so Superman rejected the android as a failed experiment.

What Superman planned to do with the android after that is anyone's guess, since the duplicate stumbled into an electrical generator, resulting in his apparent destruction. In reality, he was only hurled behind a large, lead slab, hidden from Superman's view. When Superman left, the android rose to find the shock had actually fixed him, embueing his mind with ruthless cunning and giving him the mental power needed to correct his earlier awkwardness.

Left alone in the Fortress, the android studied records of Superman's life so as to learn all his secrets, then designed a device to take away his powers.

Then it was a simple matter to get rid of the robots in Clark's apartment and seal up the secret closet. A note left in the Batcave directed Batman to deny to everyone that Superman is Clark Kent, even if the person asking IS Clark Kent. That "rescue" of Clark's plane was staged by the android, who used his super-breath to cause the near-crash in the first place.

"I meant to keep you convinced your entire Superman past was only a delusion," says the dying android, "But with the city in danger I had to have your help! I know now how foolish my revenge-obsession was!" Superman notes that when it counted, the android came through, abandoning his revenge to save others. As a reward, he works at super-speed to create a memorial for "Android-I," so that "Metropolis never forgets what you did!"

This one crams in almost every cliche in Uncle Morty's playbook; the Superman impostor, the "bad" robot with a heart of gold, the last-minute redemption of a once-heartless foe. There are also in this tale of Android-I strong echoes of Wonder-Man, the former Superman robot who first challenged, then aided Superman and was rewarded with a statue, and of the Tyrant Superman, the Kandorian replacement who erected several statues in his own honor before becoming a statue himself. And those are just two examples; sometimes it seems like every street corner in Metropolis must feature a statue honoring a fallen Superman wannabe.

There's a lot of potential in this concept, and one can only wonder how well it might have played out with room to breathe; it doesn't even fill this whole issue, let alone the two or three it might have merited in the Bronze Age. In the hands of a Maggin or Bates, this might have been a biggie. As it is, the scene that packs the most punch is Clark's conference with the psychologist, and not any scenes of super-heroics. When the shrink tells Clark he's made up his whole life as Superman to compensate for being a drab milksop, we almost...almost tip over into Twilight Zone suspense and unease. But it's fleeting, and nothing can be that emotionally harrowing when Al Plastino's drawing it.

Of course where the whole thing falls apart is in the shoes. Surely Android-I doesn't expect to fool Superman forever, as sooner or later he's bound to do something super with his shoes off, even if it's something as simple as accidentally kicking a chair across the room in his sock feet, when anyone else would painfully stub their toe. If Hamilton had put a little more thought into the mechanism for Clark's powerless, this might have worked better.

Still, for me it's all worth it for that indescribably fantastic Curt Swan cover, easily one of the top ten in his long Superman career.