The Goofy Superman
We all know "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest",
but here's a surprise; turns out it was Superman!
In Superman #163 (Aug 1963), writer Robert
Bernstein and artist Al Plastino
present a daring, hard-hitting expose of the American mental
health system, sending the Man of Steel to an insane asylum
for three days. If you're expecting the comic book equivalent
of The Snake Pit, however, think again.
We begin at the Daily Planet, where Clark Kent reads a
teletype report revealing "The Mad Bomber" is
about to set off an explosion in "Vineville."
This prompts a dash to the old storeroom and a change to
Superman. "This'll make the 99th bomb that
madman has planted!" thinks Superman. "Vineville
hasn't its own bomb squad, so I'd better find that bomb
before it goes off and harms anyone!"
Far be it from me to tell the fine town of Vineville how
to conduct business, but you'd think after, oh I don't know,
the 75th or 80th bomb attack, they'd make an effort to assemble
that bomb squad, eh?
Flying to Vineville, Superman spots the bomb buried at
an excavation site, and flies down to shield bystanders
with his body. Unfortunately for him, the blast exposes
a buried chunk of red kryptonite, and he begins to feel
the familiar tingle that signals the onset of another odd
transformation. Dashing into "an empty backyard,"
Superman hurriedly changes to Clark Kent. "I hope the
Red K won't do anything to me that will make me give away
my Superman identity!"
Hmm...well let's see, previous Red K exposures have given
Superman the head of a lion, a third eye in the back of
head and the body of a dragon. None of those things would
look odd happening to a guy in a blue business suit and
glasses, right? Good thinking, Supes.
As it so happens, the Red K causes Clark to lose his mind.
Soon, he's spotted walking on his hands down the streets
of Vineville, which upsets the local cops to no end.
That's right, folks, Vineville takes law and order very
seriously. Not seriously enough to assemble a bomb squad
to protect life and property, mind you, but you can sleep
safe at night knowing any miscreant scofflaw who dares to
walk funny is headed straight to the pokey.
In his inverted position, Clark unknowingly loses his wallet
(and thus his ID) down a storm drain. Then he spots a recently
painted park bench. "Hmm...how good that fresh paint
smells! I think I'll sit down on it!" Bad move, as
wet-paint-touching is the second most heinous crime in Vineville
after crooked walking. "If you don't get off
that bench in two seconds," yells the near-apoplectic
cop, "I'll arrest you!"
Clark defiantly blows the cop a raspberry. This is the
last straw, so the cop sends for the "paddy wagon"
to haul Clark before a judge. As he's carrying no identification,
and given his kooky state of mind, Clark is locked up overnight
to await psychiatric evaluation. Next morning, the doctor
taps Clark's knee with a rubber hammer (still the gold standard
for testing mental competence), and the hammer breaks. No
matter, the doc has seen enough and sends Clark (and the
now-captured Mad Bomber) off to the local nuthouse.
"Fort Happy Acres" is an insane asylum that once
served as a Civil War fort (and still features cannons along
the walls). During Clark's get-acquainted tour of the facility,
the Red-K wears off and he regains his sanity to find he's
been locked up with a guy who thinks he's Napoleon, another
who thinks he's Abraham Lincoln, and for good measure a
"Leonardo DaVinci", a "King Arthur"
and a "General Grant." You know, pretty much the
full range of psychiatric disorders as recognized by the
Clark asks to see the superintendent and explains it's
all a big mistake; he was just faking insanity to join a
fraternity. "Well you sure fooled us," admits
the superintendent, surprisingly comfortable with the revelation
that a sane man has been committed to his asylum, which
you'd think would qualify as a pretty serious breakdown
of the system. Realizing "John Doe" isn't good
enough for the official records anymore, he asks Clark his
As we've all learned by now, "almost the truth"
is close enough for Superman. While his release papers are
being drawn up, we get to enjoy the sort of hilarious hi-jinks
that pass the time of day in all mental health facilities.
"King Arthur" tries to knight Clark with a wooden
sword and breaks it. "Leonardo" paints a mustache
on his Mona Lisa. General Grant breaks his wooden hobby
horse and demands Clark take over as his steed.
Just then, Clark spots a plane in trouble and flies up
to save it with "General Grant" still riding on
his back. On landing, Grant rips open Clark's clothes and
reveals his Superman suit. "And to think I almost had
him released!" gasps the scandalized superintendent,
now convinced he's crazy after all. After all, anyone who
walks around in a Superman suit must be certifiable, no
matter how "normal" he acts otherwise, right?
(Take that, Comic-Con visitors!)
At this point, Superman could simply fly away, but he needs
to locate his admission papers with his fingerprints, so
no one will ever connect Superman to Clark Kent. He decides
to keep up the pretense that he's just a kook who only thinks
he's Superman, instead revealing he's the real deal. In
the meantime, he helps General Grant deal with a bullying
hospital orderly in a serious of practical jokes. Grant
bets the orderly a box of cigars that his pal "Superman"
can turn a lump of coal into a diamond. At first it appears
"Cal Ellis" does just that, so the orderly pays
up, but then the guards "deduce" that "Cal"
only rubbed the coal dust off a fake diamond that looked,
when dirty, like a lump of coal. Then the General bets "Superman"
can toss cannonballs with his bare hands, which again he
seems to do, until it's revealed the "cannonballs"
are only painted melons.
Finally, Grant bets "Superman" can fly. This
bet seems like a sure thing, but once again the orderly
loses when a caped figure is spotted flying over the asylum.
Again the orderly pays up, and again the guards find a "logical"
Frankly, I'm not sure which explanation sounds more far-fetched.
And is it just me, or is that a pretty disrespectful use
of the American Flag for a patriotic guy like Superman?
Certainly the Boy Scouts of America wouldn't approve.
Finally Superman figures out where his fingerprints are
stored and sees his opportunity to escape. When the Mad
Bomber sticks a candle into a melon and calls it a "bomb,"
Superman uses his powers (and a box of General Grant's cigars)
to fake an explosion, destroying the records and escaping
through a hole in the wall.
Back at the Daily Planet, Clark chats with Perry White.
The good news is Perry doesn't even ask where Clark's been
out of the office for three days. The bad news his latest
assignment is for Clark to pretend to be "goofy"
so he can do an expose on life in an insane asylyum. Cue
the wah-wah trumpet and roll credits.
And thus ends this thoughtful and informative examination
of psychiatric disability and rehabilitation. Uh...yeah.
Well, anyway it lives up to the title. This is one goofy