You're Not Clark Kent -- And I Can Prove It!
The cover to Action Comics #457 (Mar. 1976) has
taken on something of a life of its own on the Web, thanks
to artist Bob Oksner's unintentionally
suggestive composition and the puerile imagination of the
average internet user, but lurking behind that cover is
a harmless and charming tale involving one of Superman's
Writer Gerry Conway and artists Curt
Swan and Tex Blaisdell start
us off in the suburbs of Metropolis, where the newly-minted
(and frankly goofy-looking) super-villain Whirlicane
is attempting to hijack a train pulling dozens of oil tank
cars (we're in the midst of the 70s Energy Crisis here,
remember). Superman thwarts the attempt, but the villain
escapes by coating our hero from head to toe with molten
lead, temporarily blocking his vision.
Superman's mind isn't really on the encounter anyway, as
he's on his way to a hospital in answer to an urgent message
from his boyhood friend Pete Ross. At the
hospital, Pete reveals that his son, Jonathan,
is dying. The doctor says, "it's not just a medical
problem at this point," explaining "Jonathan has
lost the will to survive!" To remedy this situation,
Pete wants Superman to give Jon the thing he most desires
in life, hoping this will get him thinking positive again,
and back in the pink of health. Unfortunately, what Jon
wants is only the most closely guarded secret on Earth.
The interesting twist, here, of course, is that Pete learned
the secret of Superman's identity years ago when the two
lived in Smallville, a fact he's kept from Superman in order
to secretly aid him in protecting that ID. I always enjoyed
that element of the mythos; Pete's own brand of quiet heroism
was as impressive to me as Superman's own, and certainly
easier to aspire to. Even if Conway never quite convinces
me that learning the secret will somehow save Jonathan,
it's still impressive that Pete is unwilling to betray his
oldest friendship even to save the life of his son.
Proving Pete's loyalty is not misplaced, Superman does
indeed reveal the secret, changing to Clark in front of
Jonathan in the privacy of his hospital room. It does not
go as well as hoped.
Superman now finds himself in the novel position of having
to prove he's Clark Kent to someone who refuses to believe
him. He soon learns he may have done too good a job at covering
his tracks over the years.
Superman flies Jonathan to the Galaxy Broadcasting Building
and says he'll dress as Clark again and walk amongst his
co-workers to see if anyone can tell the difference. If
they accept him as Clark, it will prove that's his regular
Unfortunately, pain-in-the-neck superjock Steve
Lombard happens to overhear this exchange and decides
Superman is helping Clark play a joke on him, to make up
for all the ones he's pulled on Clark. So after playing
along for a few minutes, he rips off Clark's jacket and
shirt to reveal he's Superman, right in front of Lois
Flying Jonathan out of the Galaxy building, Superman spots
Whirlicane's hovercraft again, this time attached to a passing
cargo plane. Taking Jonathan along to treat him to a ring-side
seat at a super-showdown, Superman flies into the plane
and thwarts the high-altitude robbery, dispatching Whirlicane
with an unlikely maneuver:
Okay, I'm not an expert on physics, but is it even possible
for breath to "ricochet"? Keep in mind they're
inside a plane, here. Logically if he directed a blast of
super-breath at the fuselage, wouldn't it just flip the
plane over, or even punch through its frame, instead of
bouncing off to hit Whirlicane?
Anyway, it works here, and it turns out Whirlicane's "powers"
are achieved by mechanical means. With the villain and his
gang in jail, Superman confesses he's run out of ideas for
proving he's Clark Kent, but Jonathan says it's easy to
prove. He asks to be taken to Clark's apartment, where he
applies detective skills to get at the truth.
In short order, the doctors announce Jon will pull through
after all, thanks to Superman, and our hero flies off into
the sunset as Pete thinks, "Now Jon and I will continue
to keep your secret safe...all in the family!"
I always liked this story, even if I never could figure
out what Jonathan's medical problem was supposed to be.
Apparently it was bad enough that mental attitude could
make the difference between life and death, but not so bad
that he couldn't leave the hospital on an extended field
trip with Superman to the decidedly non-sterile environment
of the GBS building and even into battle with Superman in
a cargo jet. And I never really got how knowing Superman's
secret could make life worth living, but what the heck.
It's all worth it for the amusing reversal on the old secret
identity routine, and the story makes a nice coda to the
whole Pete Ross saga, with Superman finally paying Pete
back for all his years as guardian of the secret, even if
he doesn't know that's what he's doing. I'm also a sucker
for any story that shows Superman as a friend to and protector
Jonathan Ross made at least one more appearance I know
of, in Superman #304 (Oct. 1976), but after that
I lost track of him. Rumor has it he grew up to be a radio
and TV chat show host in Great Britain.
But hey, back up a minute. I get why Clark Kent doesn't
need band-aids or razors, but no toothbrush? That's kind