The Feud Between Superman and Clark
In Action Comics #293, writer Ed Hamilton and
Al Plastino explore the question of just
what it is that makes a Superman.
Retrieving an errant satellite for the space program, Superman
is exposed to Red Kryptonite and splits into two beings:
a non-powered Clark Kent who retains the memory and personality
of the hero we know, and a fully powered Superman with no
memory and, well, a decidedly less appealing personality.
"Without any memory of the past,"
Clark notes, Superman "has no principles or
ideals." He is also paranoid and selfish,
convinced Clark is jealous of his powers and determined
to live out his life without this weaker, other half.
Clark remembers Red-K having a similar on Supergirl in
the past, and calculates when the effects of the substance
will wear off. Superman is having none of it.
Clark's fears about Superman are borne out as the latter
engages in reckless displays of his powers. Eager to impress
Lois Lane, he carves her likeness into a mountain, causing
an avalanche that endangers people below. His efforts to
stop the rockslide are clumsy and only partially successful.
Perry White, the man with printer's ink running through
his veins, grumbles that the best tribute to Lois would
be to give her a scoop. After all, "it's news, not
love that makes the world go around!" (Wherever you
are, Mrs Perry White, you have our sympathies). With Perry's
remark for inspiration, Superman decides to speed up the
rotation of the Earth, basically just to show he can do
it (by "shoving it at the equator"...how else?).
This does nothing to improve Perry's mood: "What's
got into you?" he barks. "By making the day less
than 24 hours, you've made it necessary for every clock
in the world to be rebuilt!" D'oh!
When Superman threatens Clark, Clark tells him he has super-powered
friends who can move against him. Spying on Clark, Superman
learns these "friends" are Supergirl and Krypto.
When they answer Clark's call to Metropolis, Superman intercepts
them and tricks them into showing him the way to the Fortress
of Solitude (the location of which he has forgotten). Once
there, he uses the Phantom Zone projector (which he's read
about in news clippings) to send Kara and Krypto away. For
good measure, he turns the projector on the Bottle City
of Kandor, with its Superman Emergency Squad.
Growing desperate, Clark makes a cryptic remark that he
knows one thing that will stop Superman. Clueless, Superman
asks Lois what that might be, and she tells him about Kryptonite.
With the aid of the US Navy, Superman retrieves all the
Kryptonite he's dumped on the ocean floor over the years
and shoots it into space with a giant slingshot.
Realizing Kara is still his best hope, Clark borrows the
Daily Planet helicopter and flies it to the Fortress of
Solitude (quite a gas tank on that chopper, making it from
Metropolis to the North Pole. And what an expense account
the Planet has, loaning out the Flying Newsroom to Clark
and Jimmy whenever the mood hits them). Climbing to the
Fortress' giant door, Clark gains entry by crawling through
the keyhole! (So much for that foolproof "key too heavy
for anyone to lift" defense) but once inside he's captured
by Superman and tied to a model of the planet Krypton held
aloft by statues of Jor-El and Lara. (Without even a memory
of his origins, Superman calls it a "weird world-globe.")
Superman flies off, confident Clark is helpless for the
duration, but Clark effects a daring escape, rocking the
globe back and forth until it falls to the floor and shatters,
loosening his bonds. He frees Supergirl from the Zone and
has her fly him to Metropolis.
As Clark approaches, Superman crows that it's too late
already, as the deadline has passed, but then the two begin
to merge, and finally are restored to a single body. Superman
has forgotten that while his Earth-spinning stunt altered
timekeeping on Earth, the original 72-hour deadline elapsed
in "regular time." (Despite Perry's conviction
that it would be a major headache, 72 hours seems to have
been enough time to re-tool every clock on Earth after all).
There's actually a lot of suspense in this fast-moving
story (it's only 14 pages long), as Clark Kent has to do
what no one in the history of the book has managed before;
defeat Superman. Also, it's a fairly radical plot twist
to have "Superman" be the villain in his own book.
But as is hammered home again and again in the Silver Age,
we see that what makes a man a hero is not his possession
of "powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal
men," but rather what he chooses to do with them, and
what is in his heart. The "Clark" half of the
duo remembers his birth to noble parents on Krypton and
his compassionate upbringing by the Kents, so ultimately
he is the better man. "Superman," in contrast,
represents raw power in the service of self-aggrandizement
and paranoia, so he's doomed.
The Silver Age Superverse, then, comes down firmly on the
side of "nurture" as opposed to "nature."
Characters may do rotten things out of selfishness, jealousy,
paranoia or revenge, but in the end they are like ignorant
children. Anyone with a clear head and rational mind can
manage a perspective beyond their own petty interests, and
thus is good. "Good" then becomes a goal in the
Superverse, a higher level of being that anyone might attain
with effort. Even arch villain Lex Luthor has moments where
he does good for its own sake, as when he helps the people
of Planet Lexor, enough moments to keep alive Superman's
hope that someday his former friend will be not just rehabilitated,
but redeemed. In this issue, with nothing to go on but an
instinct for survival, the nominal "Superman"
of the story is no hero, but add in a learned system of
values and it's a different story.
Just one more reason to be grateful that rocket landed
where it did, all those years ago.