The Grappler of Steel!

When we last saw Superman, he was suffering amnesia, laboring under the mistaken belief that he was the President of the United States. One month later in Action Comics #372 (Feb 1969), the Man of Steel is still wrestling with issues of identity, deciding that if he's not the leader of the free world, then logically he must be a professional wrestler.

Writer Otto Binder pens this second chapter in Superman's search for self, with Curt Swan and Jack Abel providing the art.

With the location of both his his Fortress of Solitude and his Metropolis apartment wiped from his memory, Superman is reduced to hanging out on a Metropolis park bench. There, he tries to puzzle out the mystery of his lost identity.

One thing he's sure of is that he's not the Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, since he's met the guy answering thta description. What he doesn't know is that the "mild mannered reporter" walking the streets of Metropolis now is actually a foreign spy otherwise known by the code name Double-Zero. It was this secret agent who "assassinated" the real Kent in the previous issue, triggering the fluke event that caused Superman's amnesia in the first place.

When a stray gust of wind blows a fragment of a newspaper to his feet, Superman thinks he may have found the clue he needs to answer the mystery; a report on the disappearance of a masked wrestler who performs as "the Masked Superman."

It's a simple enough matter for Superman to fashion a black mask, which he dons before seeking out "Masked Superman's" manager. He reports for work, claiming to have been off on a boating trip during his "missing" week. Together, they drive to the site of the Masked Superman's next scheduled bout. "Now," says the manager, "remember to ham it all up, as usual! Pretend you're really super!"

Told to unload the trailer containing his stage props, Superman finds they've all been accidentally smashed, and hunts up substitutes at a junk yard. In place of a fake safe and steel bar, he substitutes the real thing.

For his first "feat," the Masked Superman lifts a "five-ton" safe and tosses it out of the building (and back to the scrapyard). One audience member laughs, "Ha! Ha! What a clown! I'll bet that safe doesn't weigh five ounces!" but of course in this case it was the genuine article. Then comes the stunt involving the steel bar.

With his pre-match routine completed, the Masked Superman gets down to the business of actually wrestling. In his first bout, he's pitted against a huge opponent dubbed "the Bulldozer," who looks to be more than a match for him. Actually his only real challenge is finding a way to defeat the behemoth without revealing his true power levels.

The Bulldozer cedes the match, and Superman returns to his dressing room, where he encounters reporter Lois Lane, who's come to interview him. When she expresses frustration over the absence of Clark Kent -- who was to bring a camera -- Superman uses his x-ray vision to see what's making Kent late. It turns out he's being pursued by two gunmen, so the Masked Superman makes his apologies and slips away from the interview.

Superman apprehends the gunmen and "Clark Kent" says they were after him because of "a crime expose" he's been writing. In reality, they were rival spies under orders to kill him, but he's not about to admit that, and because he knows they won't either, his secret is safe. As Superman flies off, he notices that his costume has been ripped. To preserve his identity, he's been wearing a non-super version of the costume in his wrestling matches, and that's what he's got on now; the real super-suit is still hanging in his dressing room.

Meanwhile, Lois has been nosing around that same dressing room, suspecting the wrestler may be the real Man of Steel. In a lead box, she finds a chunk of green kryptonite, which she assumes Superman is using to conduct experiments to find an antidote. She decides to leave it out of the box, figuring that if it weakens the Masked Superman, she'll have proof he's the real deal. However, Superman sees what she's up to and uses his super-breath to blow the Green-K into one of his costume boots. When he arrives in the dressing room, he seems completely unaffected by its rays.

Soon after, however, the radiations begin to affect him, so he quickly flings the rock out of the boot "a few miles down into the ground", figuring "I can repair the floor later!" Sure. Later.

Obviously this entire sequence makes no kind of sense. The vast majority of Superman's encounters have occurred when he was in costume, and the super-suit never gave him any protection on those occasions. Well, maybe we don't know for sure whether his feet hurt, so I guess the boots might protect him a bit, but logically Kryptonian fabric shouldn't provide any greater protection from Kryptonite than polyester would from Plutonium.

Heading to his next match, the Masked Superman is accosted by underworld figures who tell him to throw his next fight. He does some throwing, alright; tossing his opponent -- the Terrible Tiger -- out of the ring and into the laps of the mobsters. Next up, he faces the Merciless Mauler, and takes out his aggressions on the poor guy ("Just thinking about those gangland gangsters makes my blood sizzle!") When the Mauler whispers, "I thought you were supposed to lose!", Superman goes over the edge.

While this scene does make for an arresting cover image, it's also completely out of character. None of the wrestlers nor their gangland bosses is a true threat to Superman, and compared to some of the cruelties and injustices of life, rigging a wrestling match hardly seems a heinous enough offense to warrant such a fit of rage. Maybe the ray that took his memory did more damage to Superman's brain than he knows.

Returning to his dressing room, the Masked Superman is attacked by the gangsters, angry at what he's cost them in lost bets. Wasting no time, they let the lead fly, but thinking fast, Superman uses his super-cold breath to stop their bullets.

With their target unharmed and no bullets to be found on the floor, the gunmen assume their ammo has somehow been replaced with blanks, and beat a hasty retreat.

Later, Superman finds the diary of the real Masked Superman and learns that he was a great admirer of Superman...which means, of course, that they can't be the same person. Knowing the wrestler liked boating, he conducts a search at sea and finds the poor fellow shipwrecked on an island. He's easy to spot because he's the only shipwrecked sailor wearing a Superman costume; apparently he likes to wear the outfit when he goes boating. Hey, it takes all kinds.

Unfortunately, due to the shipwreck, the wrestler has also lost his memory, so Superman gently reminds him.

His memory returned, the Masked Superman tries to restore Superman's memory by hitting him over the head with a club (I don't blame you, brother!) but of course it doesn't work. Superman returns the wrestler to his manager and gets back to the business of trying to find out who he really is.

Well, this one was...interesting. Even in his addled current state, it's hard to imagine Superman thinking the masked wrestler routine would make for a proper secret identity. Also it's interesting to note that it's not only super-criminals and gangsters who collect Kryptonite, but also his "admirers." The Masked Superman -- a fan of the Man of Steel -- keeps a chunk in his dressing room as an expression of his devotion. Apparently the substance is only slightly more rare than common quartz.

The "super cold breath" tactic for dealing with bullets is effective, and logically should have been Superman's standard method of dealing with the situation. Certainly it's less hazardous to bystanders. You have to wonder, though, how "super cold breath" works. We can cool off a spoonful of hot soup, for example, by blowing across its surface, but it's not that our breath is actually cold. Superman must have to "think cold" or something to activate the power, otherwise he's just blow the bullets away instead of freezing them, right?

Anyway, the search continues in our next installment, when Superman decides that having started as a politician and progressed to professional wrestling, the next logical job to try out is that of a criminal. Stay tuned.