Part III: Clark Kent, Get Out Of My Life!

Superman is troubled by dreams in which tragedies and injustices go unprevented while he indulges in a selfish life as Clark Kent. He vows to spend 24 hours a day in his Superman persona to see if he can do without Clark forever.

There are plenty of crises to keep him busy, and meanwhile the world wonders what's become of Clark Kent. Lois, now in love with Clark, is worried he's been killed by Inter-Gang. The gang's leaders are due to go on trial, and without Clark's testimony, the outcome of the case is very much in doubt. In fact, an Inter-Gang hitman is sent to Kent's apartment, but he has the misfortune of finding Mr. Xavier instead, and is blasted to atoms.

Superman approaches Lois, then later Jimmy Olsen, to discuss a problem, but finds little sympathy. A supervillain is on the loose; why isn't Superman on the job? After a spectacular battle, Superman outwits the villain (who uses a solar-powered costume to match Superman's powers) and muses that he now knows which identity to hold onto for all time. (But we don't!)

Back at Clark's apartment building, Mr. Xavier is ready for the final phase of his plan; the destruction of Earth (As if it could be anything less. This is a Superman comic, you know).

Part IV: The Double-Or-Nothing Life of Superman!

We learn the details of Xavier's mission; he's to destroy the Earth to make way for a teleportation route through our solar system. His job is to find the planet's greatest power source to make this happen, and he has; Superman's body! Using the space jewels he stole from Clark's apartment, he will somehow harness that power towards his goal.

Off at the Fortress of Solitude, Superman prepares for his future life in one of his identities (we still don't know which!) when an alarm goes off. Using his X-ray vision, he spies nine of his greatest foes hanging out in Clark Kent's apartment! Speeding to Metropolis, he finds the villains have left, but a sudden hunch sends him to the Egyptian pyramids, where he defeats three of them: Toyman, Terra-Man and the Prankster.

Stopping off at the WGBS offices for a spare suit of clothes, Superman goes to court to deliver the essential Inter-Gang testimony as Clark Kent, and discovers he still has super-powers, even though he's dressed in Clark's clothes! He then realizes that someone has tampered with all the clothes in his apartment, somehow treating them to block the rays of Earth's yellow sun, thus making him powerless as Clark. But whoever it was could not have treated his spare suit at the office, so the plot is revealed.

In the Rocky Mountains, Superman subdues the next three villains; Mxyzptlk, Luthor and the Parasite. Then he's off to a forest to battle Amalak and Brainiac. Finally he takes on Kryptonite Man. Out in space, Xavier's alien masters wait for Earth to blow up, but Superman has tumbled to their plot. He has deduced that Xavier is manipulating events to keep Superman expending great amounts of energy, and that by punching Kryptonite Man, he'll trigger the blast that shatters Earth. To get around this, he's put on his treated Kent clothes under his super-suit, so when he kayoes Kryptonite Man, it's as a normal man, not a Superman.

With Earth saved, Clark goes back to his old ways as a perpetual milksop, leaving Lois -- and probably a lot of readers -- frustrated. But balance is restored as Clark Kent and Superman once again exist together in one body.

My Thoughts

It's probably hard for today's readers to understand the appeal this story held 24 years ago. In today's comics, Clark Kent is a football hero, a prize-winning author and a fashion plate. But in 1976, Clark was an utter wimp, and had been for decades. For all us Walter Mitty types, he was a point of identification, the long-suffering nice guy who wasn't very coordinated or athletic, was awkward around women and generally got the short end of every stick.

Having Clark finally punch out Steve Lombard, much less date Lois Lane, was akin to having Charlie Brown finally find a Valentine in his mailbox, or kick that darned football before Lucy could pull it away. Somehow we knew that at story's end, everything would go back to normal, but it was fun while it lasted. At least we'd always have that one week when Clark cut loose, and that night when Lois showed up to cook a romantic dinner (to this day, the words "beef bourguignon" will get a smile from fans who were there!).

Aside from the wish-fulfillment, however, this storyline served as a thoughtful examination of why the Clark/Superman arrangement works. Many writers and readers had struggled for years wondering why an all powerful being would want to pose as a powerless wimp. Was he mocking Lois and the others, laughing up his sleeve at their inability to see through the disguise? Was he trying to teach himself something about humility? Was he in fact deranged, actually believing he was more than one person?

Here Bates and Maggin offer perhaps the most appealing and logical answer: Clark Kent is what keeps Superman grounded, and maybe even what keeps him sane. The Clark Kent disguise allows Superman to interact with human beings on their own level, to talk to them as an equal. As Superman, he is expected to have all the answers and work constantly on everyone else's problems. But as Clark he is allowed to relax and take comfort in the company of friends. Is that a selfish indulgence? Does Superman even have the right to relax while even one life, somewhere, may be in danger? The answer given here is "yes." Without the occasional break, being a Superman would be too hard for even Kal-El.

Besides, he's earned it.

UPDATE! Read a digitally restored version of this story at SUPERMAN THROUGH THE AGES!