Clark Kent, the Fighting Marine!

There are several stories involving the Man of Steel's brief stints in the military, but none as flat-out kooky as this one from Superman #179 (Aug. 1965).

Summoned to a meeting with General Jackson at the Pentagon, Clark Kent agrees to enlist in the US Marine Corps to write a first-hand account of life in boot camp in an effort to boost public relations, and maybe encourage enlistment. ("Posing as an enlistee," says the general, "you can prove our motto is true: the toughest training, the best fighters!")

Clark asks if he'll have to go through the usual enlistment procedures.

Arriving at Camp Greenwood, Clark and his fellow recruits are introduced to their gruff tough-as-nails drill instructor, Sgt Buck Brewster, who makes it clear they're in for a rough time: "One whimper and I'll wash you out, understand?" Clark realizes he'll need to drop the "meek and mild" act to get through this assignment, but luckily there's noone around who knows him. Or is there? Somehow Lois Lane gets wind of Clark's enlistment and drives down to the base to see it for herself. Sgt Brewster makes it clear she's not allowed on the base, but she turns on the charm and after some heavy-duty flirting, Brewster relents and grants her a visitor's pass.

Lois approaches Clark and asks him to take her to the upcoming Marine dance. Clark agrees, but Sgt Brewster overhears and vows to make sure Clark never keeps that date, hoping to win Lois for himself. He orders Clark and the rest of the platoon to dig foxholes in what he knows is the hardest patch of ground on the base, figuring Kent will never be able to dig more than a couple of feet down.

Not wanting to be "washed out," but equally unwilling to expose himself with a display of super-strength, Clark opts for a more cunning solution. When Sgt Brewster returns, he finds his men have dug much deeper than he imagined possible; they say that after a couple of feet of hard clay, they hit softer earth. Clark, however, hasn't dug very deep at all, but when Brewster stomps over to yell at him, he gets a surprise.

Okay, here's where you start to lose me. The hole is still too shallow, right? What difference does it make if a fox is in it? With this "side-splitter, -- a fox in a "foxhole," get it? -- I was sure we were dealing with the grand comedy stylings of Jerry Siegel, but the Grand Comics Database says the writer here is Otto Binder, so I guess Uncle Morty just assembled himself a bullpen of comedy writers to rival Sid Caesar's.

Anyway, in case anyone cares, here's what happened: changing to Superman, Clark burrowed underground, weakening the earth under the recruits and making it easier for them to dig. Then he zipped off to a nearby fox hunt and rescued the fox by blowing it ("gently," of course) to Camp Greenwood and into Clark's foxhole.

Undeterred, Brewster moves on to Phase 2, swapping Clark's boots for a much smaller pair while the reporter sleeps. The next day, Brewster announces a 20-mile hike, figuring it won't take long for Clark to drop out in agony. However, when Clark realizes what's happened, he uses super-friction to enlarge the boots in this scientifically unlikely and somehow visually disturbing panel:

And so it is that Clark is able to finish the hike with comfy feet and a chipper outlook, much to Brewster's consternation. Later the sergeant checks the boots, certain he'd planted a pair of 6's, but instead notes the labels say "9," so he decides he goofed. Actually the labels say "6," but he's so flustered he's reading them upside-down.

As the date of the dance draws nearer, Brewster has Clark slog shoulder-deep through a muddy pit in his dress uniform, knowing he'll never get it clean in time for his date with Lois. However, Clark outsmarts him again, flying off at super-speed to don a "plastic anti-cold coverall" designed for arctic deployments.

Next up, Brewster orders Kent to clean the barracks; not just his bunk and locker, but those of all his comrades. The whole place is to be absolutely spotless. As soon as he's alone, Clark changes to Superman and cleans the place until it shines.

Okay, here's another odd element of this tale; why change to Superman? I suppose there's a rule in effect in Superman tales, where any feat more involved than a surreptitious blast of x-ray vision, super-breath or super-ventriloquism requires a change to fighting togs to avoid exposure. But in this story, Clark changes to Superman to dig underground and then to hide behind a tree while blowing a fox to camp -- two feats he does while hidden anyway. And here he's in the super-suit to clean his barracks, which could cause far greater problems than it solves. If someone walks in, how exactly is Superman going to explain why he's doing housekeeping chores for a lowly Marine recruit?

When Brewster returns, the place is spic and span, and seems sure to pass the white glove test; even the cracks between the floor boards have been scrubbed clean with a wire brush. However, this time the sergeant finally one-ups Clark; turning off an electric fan that's been running the entire time, he points out rust spots on the fan blades, which naturally Clark never noticed with the fan in motion. Having thus failed his task, Clark gets the bad news: "That dance is strictly off limits to you!" barks Brewster.

At the dance, Brewster cozies up to Lois and gives her the "bad news" that Clark can't make it. But as Lois points out, Clark is in fact standing in plain view, just a few feet away. Furious, Brewster calls the military police on Clark, who tells him to look out the front door for an explanation:

Ha, ha! What? How is that a defense? Yes, the dance hall has "followed orders" by being "off-limits," but you've still broken yours by being in the building!

Here's how the building got where it is, by the way:

And there's your science lesson for today kids. If you can just find a way to get a building on top of a "strong updraft," mother nature will keep it there for you. Sweet. Knowing when he's licked, Brewster throws in the towel, figuring Kent has a team of "guardian angels" looking out for him. For some odd reason, neither Brewster nor the other occupants of the dance hall go into a blind panic on finding themselves thousands of feet in the air, or seem overly concerned with how they're going to get back down to Earth in one piece.

Besides being flat-out insane, Clark's "explanation" not only does not exonerate him, but it actually puts his secret ID at risk. How could he be in the building unless (a) he entered it before it became airborne -- in which case he violated his orders -- or (b) he flew to it after it went skyward, in which case he must be Superman. I have to ask, is it really worth risking your identity -- and people's lives -- just to keep that date with Lois? The other pranks were necessary to keep Clark from being drummed out before his assignment was done, but General Jackson didn't say anything about doing the watusi with Lois Lane.

In the last panels, we learn that Clark completes his training and then vanishes from camp, his story appearing in the Daily Planet soon afterward. A copy finds its way to Sgt Brewster and all is forgiven as he reads Clark's glowing praise for him as the toughest, best sergeant in the Corps.

This is an odd little tale, crammed in the back of the book and obviously intended as comic relief. Coming as it did in the summer of 1965, it was almost certainly inspired by the hugely popular TV comedy Gomer Pyle, USMC, which began its successful run on CBS the previous year, after spinning off from The Andy Griffith Show. Brewster then is a stand-in for Pyle's gruff but lovable Sgt Vince Carter (as played by Frank Sutton), with Clark standing in for Jim Nabors as a super-powered Gomer.

Except for the inclusion of Lois, the scene at the beginning with Brewster marching alongside his recruits and giving them an earful is highly reminiscent of the opening credits of the TV show, shot first in black and white and then again in color as the show played out its 5-year run.

Bet you never thought I'd work Gomer Pyle into a post here, did you? Surprise, surprise, surprise!