The Name of the Game Is...Superman!

The old "preserve the secret identity" routine plays out for the umpteen-billionth time in Superman #211, with a pulse-pounding story that pits the Man of Steel against one of his deadliest foes. Okay, amend that: Superman doesn't actually appear in the story. And he's pitted against an aging optometrist. And there's no action.

Writer Dave Wood pens the tale, which at 7 pages ranks among the shortest ever, yet still somehow manages to be too long. The venerable Curt Swan provides pencil art, with inks by Jack Abel.

We open at the offices of the Daily Planet, "a news-happy establishment!" (Don't you losers at CNN wish you'd thought of that tag line?) A curious old fellow named Homer Ferret barges into Clark Kent's office promising to hand him "the dad-burnedest headline this paper ever put out!...It's a scoop that's gonna scoop Superman!"

Clark seems underwhelmed, but Perry White has overheard and, demonstrating the solid journalistic skills that got him where he is today, exclaims "Scoop Superman! Say...that sounds terrific!" So based on no more than that, Clark is sent to follow Mr Ferret to his old home town of Smallville, where Ferret has an "ancestral estate" highlighted by a "Superman Chamber" full of trophies from the hero's life and career. Clark is invited to have a seat, but once he does a trap is sprung:

Ferret then outlines his "evidence" that Clark is Superman. Many years before, as a young resident of Smallville, he'd been standing near baby Clark's crib when word came of a runaway train car headed for the Smallville station. Then, suddenly, baby Clark was not in his crib, and the boxcar was knocked off its tracks mere moments before it would have struck a platform crowded with passengers and caused a tragedy. Later, young Ferret would realize Clark must have derailed the train as Superbaby.

Years later, when Smallville High School caught fire, Ferret noticed a teenaged Clark ducking into some bushes just before Superboy appeared to save the day, providing another clue. Ferret reasoned Clark could be Superboy, but to test his theory, he devised a plan to inspect young Clark's "eyeglasses."

Finishing his story, Ferret challenges the captive Clark to explain the phoney glasses. Thinking fast, Clark says, " know I've always been timid, sir! Not many boys would take a poke at a kid who wore glasses!"

Unconvinced, Ferret announces his plan to reveal Clark's secret once and for all. "That chair's wired to a generator," he explains, "that can deliver 100,000 volts! I finally figured out a trap you can't squirm out of!" Indeed, Clark realizes that "if he turns on the juice and I don't go up in a puff of smoke, he'll know I'm Superman...and if I bust out of these steel wrist-clamps, that's a dead giveaway, too!"

Ferret begins a ten-second countdown to electrocution, but after an initial moment of panic, Clark has a revelation: "Hold it!" he thinks, "He may be a little loose between the ears, but he's no killer! He wouldn't risk a man's life if there's a possibility he's wrong!"

The countdown ends, the switch is thrown and Clark laughs, "Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho...Hey! Turn the current off, it tickles!" Ferret's trick is revealed; the "lethal current" was nothing of the kind.

Ferret makes his apologies: "There's your headline: Old Man Makes A Fool of Himself!" Clark is the forgiving type, however, and promises to keep the incident under wraps, promising to make a story out of Ferret's impressive Superman collection instead.

All that's left now is to wrap up an important plot thread:

You have to wonder how prescription glasses will help, however, since we already know Clark can't use any lenses other than those he made from the windshield of his Kryptonian rocket, lest they melt whenever he turns on his heat vision. Also, if you went to an optometrist asking for new glasses, wouldn't his first step be to check your current pair as a starting point? I'd think the best idea would for Clark to re-grind his Kryptonian lenses himself. It doesn't matter whether he's trained in lens-making or not, since he could see through lenses made of solid marble.

It also seems to me Ferret gives up pretty easily for a guy who's spent his whole life -- and probably a good amount of money -- pursuing the conviction that Clark is Superman, and buying trophies of his exploits. Wouldn't it occur to him at some point that Clark/Superman used his x-ray vision to spot that generator and guess the truth?

With no Superman in sight (unless you count the statues in Ferret's trophy room, and a one-panel cameo by Superboy), this one reads more like a "Private Life of Clark Kent" tale. And with a plot turning on the "dire threat" of a 16-volt shock, it hardly rates as the most exciting adventure in the mythos. The odd thing is, it still manages to take the cover spot. If you've reasoned that this means the lead story is even worse, you get a cigar. And lucky you, you can read my review of that one, too.

Might want to leave your glasses off for that one.