Clark Kent, Hero and Superman, Public Enemy

The Man of Steel's popularity takes a nosedive in Superman # 219 (Aug. 1969), but on the up side, Clark Kent becomes the most beloved celebrity in Metropolis.

What must have been a very young Cary Bates provides the story for this issue, with penciller Curt Swan and inker Jack Abel supplying the artwork. For good measure, Neal Adams inks Curt Swan's pencils on the cover, capturing one of those classic "what's going on here" scenes so common to the era.

Things begin normally enough, with Clark Kent leaving his apartment on a Monday morning for what he thinks will be another ordinary day at the office. Instead he's mobbed by a crazed throng of admirers as soon as he steps out the front door. Shouting his name, asking for his autograph and fighting each other for the privilege of touching him, the horde of overenthusiastic well-wishers ends up ripping Clark's clothes, which necessitates a super-speed exit, lest someone notice the familiar red-and-blue costume beneath.

From a hiding place across the street, Clark watches the odd scene unfold and tries to collect his wits.

Taking an alternate route to the Daily Planet, Clark arrives to find he's being given a new office -- that of editor Perry White himself. "You deserve only the best," says Perry, "after what you've done for us!" Later in the day, as Clark heads out for lunch, he finds his movements hampered by a four-man security detail City Council has hired to protect him from his admirers.

Using his super-breath to whip up a cloud of dust, Clark escapes his protectors and changes to Superman, reasoning that for once in his life he'll attract less attention in tights and a cape. As he patrols the city, he witnesses an explosion in the Superman Museum, and after preventing a structural collapse, is surprised to find no visitors in the building. He does come across a security guard and the bombers, none of whom seem happy to see him.

Swan and Abel have obviously drawn the guard as an African-American, but the colorist has chosen to give him the same shade of skin as Superman. Whether this was a simple oversight or the result of some editorial decision (given the times) will have to remain a minor mystery.

The guard mentions a charity show Superman is to perform "today," even though Superman's certain it's not due to happen for another week. He visits the arena where it's to take place and finds it deserted, with all the posters bearing his image having been defaced. By now it's obvious that somehow the whole city of Metropolis has turned against him.

A flashback takes the reader back in time one week, to the night when mysterious beings invaded the bedroom of a sleeping Clark Kent and hypnotized him with a mind-control machine. Caught off-guard in his half-sleeping state, Clark thinks, "Only one to implant a post-hypnotic suggestion in my brain before it's too late!"

The flashback continues with the arrival of a space ship in Metropolis Park. As a crowd of onlookers including Army troops watched in awe, a mysterious ray transported Clark and Lois Lane to a position close to the ship. Two aliens emerged from the craft, announcing they had come "to obtain male and female specimens of your race for our biological banks! And now that we have these two, we shall leave!"

Just then Superman appeared (from somewhere off panel, somehow) and the aliens warned him that if he tried to interfere, they would blast him with a Kryptonite ray. To the astonished disgust of all, Superman answered, "Take the reporters -- it's no skin off my nose! Just leave Earth and never come back! Why throw away my life trying to help them?"

While Superman walked away to the jeers of his former fans, the spaceship took off, only to hover briefly, then land again. When the doors opened, Clark Kent emerged, manhandling the aliens, both of whom he has apparently beaten up.

So it was that Clark Kent became a national hero and Superman became persona non grata. Smarting over his dip in popularity polls, Superman later removed the "S" flag flown in his honor at the United Nations building, announcing he was withdrawing his aid to the ungrateful nations of Earth.

Now the purpose of Clark's "post-hypnotic suggestion" becomes clear: it has enabled him to suddenly remember the events of the missing week. Flying into space, Superman locates a trail of minute ion particles left behind by the alien ship, and follows it to their homeworld. He arrives to find the humanoid inhabitants hiding in underground shelters as a pack of "Gornns" goes on a rampage. Resembling over-sized canines with rhino horns, the Gornns "bark" out a sonic blast painful even to Superman. Thinking fast, he creates a vacuum by inhaling with super-breath, making sound impossible and causing the Gornns to black out. With the coast clear, the humanoid residents of the planet come out of hiding and reveal their startling appearance...

As the aliens explain, a strange cosmic cloud had visited their planet weeks earlier, unleashing a plague that destroyed the physical forms of every humanoid on the planet and transforming them into "shapeless blobs of protoplasm!"

Desperate to regain a human form -- any human form -- "our greatest scientists pooled their mental resources and came up with the Body Mold Machine." Using a giant telescope, they turned to Earth in search of a suitable subject on which to base their new bodies. As luck would have it, out of the billions of people on Earth it was none other than Clark Kent who showed up in the viewfinder.

But then they hit a snag. Suddenly the aliens realized they knew nothing about the man whose appearance they had just assumed. "What is his reputation?" they wondered. "He could be a criminal for all we know...a hated man!" And so it was that a delegation was sent to Earth to learn more about our favorite reporter. To their dismay, they witnessed Clark showing "cowardice" to protect his identity from Lois Lane, and realized the news would not go over well at home. Thus they devised an "invasion" hoax to make Clark a hero in the eyes of Earth. As for the appearance of Superman and Clark Kent in the same park, "We used an electronic mirror-projector to make one of us, dressed in a Superman uniform, appear six feet tall! His image was the 'cowardly' Superman!"

Superman points out that while they've left him with a boatload of trouble, they at least seem to have solved their own problems. They respond that no, there's still the issue of the Gornns, once their docile pets and now grown to huge size and made wild by that plague from space. Superman proceeds to domesticate the Gornns through training and by whistling in a hypersonic range. The now-docile beasts are then seen giving rides to their humanoid masters and everyone's happy. Superman says his goodbyes.

Back on Earth, Superman's "plan" unfolds. Addressing the world on television, Clark Kent says, "To foil an invasion of Earth, I found it necessary to build up the image of Clark Kent as a heroic champion! But the masquerade is over! I'm not Clark Kent," he says, pulling open his shirt and removing his glasses, "but Superman! Clark hid out, while one of my robots played the "cowardly" Superman! By convincing the aliens that an ordinary Earth man could beat them, I scared them off!"

Of course. Makes perfect sense. Where do I even begin with this insane story? Is it even a story? Between Superman's memories and the alien's backstory, fully half of this thing is told in flashback. And the questions are legion:

Why would Clark Kent be made into a world-wide hero for saving his own skin (and that of one woman)? Was it really necessary to destroy Superman's reputation in order to build up Clark's? How is it that every alien on the planet is made into a duplicate of Clark Kent except for the two who show up in the park looking like their old selves? If they could recreate their old bodies, why search for an Earth version? Why go to such lengths to make Kent a hero when all they had to do was say, "Look everyone, Clark Kent is really Superman, the universe's greatest hero. Now aren't you happy with your new body?"

And more: Why is everyone three feet tall? If all they are is protoplasm, why can't the Body Mold Machine make their new bodies any size they want? Adding this detail only creates new problems for Bates, who then has to explain how the fake Superman can appear full-sized. Even if they do pick Clark Kent as their new form, why bother with the business suits (which should mean nothing in their culture) and non-prescription glasses? More troubling, what kind of future can this race possibly have when everyone on the planet is male? In Metropolis Park they at least acknowledge the need for both sexes, so why is it they don't bother to create any female forms with that machine? And just how many times can Superman point out the incredible resemblance between himself and Clark Kent before someone puts two and two together? Are you telling me that when he changed from Clark to Superman on international television, not one person in all those billions thought, "Heyyyyy......"

Somehow I always pictured Cary Bates as a straight arrow (I don't know why), but this story alone tells me he was pretty hip to the scene in 1969, even if he did think Ringo Starr was the number one Beatle. There's no way he could've written this story without tripping some acid. Just the thought of a world full of three-foot Clark Kents riding around on the backs of dogs is enough to make me wonder if Timothy Leary didn't slip something into my tea, as well.