Alias Super-Thief!

In the last two posts, we've seen Superman pose as the President of the United States and a professional wrestler in his efforts to reclaim his forgotten secret identity. In Action Comics #374 (Mar. 1969), he explores the possibility that his alter ego is Public Enemy #1.

We open -- as we so often do -- in the offices of the Daily Planet, where Superman is reviewing a clip file of his past escapades for a clue to his missing identity. Ironically, his helper is "Clark Kent," actually a foreign spy who sent the real Clark to his apparent death and took his place at the Planet. In reality, his assasination attempt took away Superman's memory, which is how we got into this mess.

Unable to turn up a helpful clue, Superman takes his leave. Noting that he's already goofed twice and adopted the wrong identities, he decides "from now on, I'll just carry out my regular duties, such as crushing crime!" (The other duties including, of course, saving reckless girlfriends and sidekicks from their own stupidity, cutting ribbons at building dedications and putting on truck-juggling exhibitions for charity).

A quick visit to the police station sets up Superman's latest red herring.

Over at the state prison, a pair of convicts blow open a wall and initiate a mass break-out, which Superman quickly quashes. One convict escapes, however, and as luck would have it Superman recognizes him as a member of the missing Super-Thief's gang. He follows him to abandoned train car, and with his x-ray vision spots an underground vault beneath it.

To his surprise, Superman finds a portrait of himself in the vault, along with a lead box, chained and labeled "Kryptonite: Never To Be Used." That clinches it; yes he's promised not to jump to any more conclusions, but the painting and Kryptonite are conclusive proof that the missing Super-Thief must be Superman himself...right? Anyway if he has any doubts, they fade when he finds a set of rubber masks in the image of the crook.

In the disguise, Superman goes to meet his "gang" and finds they're scheduled to pull a crime that very night. "Ulp!" he thinks, "I'm...uh...stuck! I have to rob the ice capades!"

That night, a performance of the Ice Capades uses a giant prop studded with real gems, when Super-Thief and his gang appear on skates to steal it in mid-show. Police try to stop them, but a blast of super-cold breath trips them up.

As the gang collects the jewels, Superman thinks, "Why would I pull robberies like this? What I do with that loot? How can I be Super-Thief when it goes against my instincts to break the law?"

Sending his hoods out of the room, Super-Thief changes to Superman and prepares to return the loot, when a Superman robot appears. Thinking fast, he asks the robot to tell him his identity.

Learning that his usual "fence" for gems operates out of candy factory, Super-Thief makes a trip there and dumps his haul into a chocolate vat so they can be disguised as candies. He's interrupted when an FBI agent storms in to arrest him and the fence, known as "Gem" Horton. Horton surprises the agent with a gas-bomb Easter Egg and takes him off to kill him, which Superman cannot allow.

Protecting the FBI man from the effects of the car crash, Superman returns to the candy factory to find it abandoned, Horton having run off with the chocolate-covered jewels. Disgusted, he vows never to pull another job.

Back at the hideout, Super-Thief makes a series of mistakes that threaten to expose him, so he decides to go ahead with the next job after all, to divert suspicion. Breaking into a lab to steal a "radio-isotope," he uses his super-powers to prevent the lab workers from being injured, and when a radioactive isotope falls from its container, he swallows it to save his gang from radiation poisoning.

Miserable in his secret identity, Superman seeks out a psychiatrist to help him. The doctor conducts a word association test, and the results are disturbing.

Returning to his vault-hideout in his Super-Thief disguise, Superman gets a shock when the real Super-Thief shows up. Just then, Super-Thief's various fences show up en masse, having realized he's led the FBI to all of them. Superman unmasks and the crooks open fire, except for one who has a slightly...unorthodox plan of attack.

Happily, the Superman robot appears and disarms the would-be bomber.

When the police arrive, the second Super-Thief is revealed as an FBI agent. The real Super-Thief had been killed a year earlier, but the FBI took his place (thus explaining the rubber masks Superman found).

Superman still wonders why he gave the psychiatrist the answers he did, and the robot suggests it's because he'd convinced himself he was a crook, and answered accordingly. Of course that still doesn't explain why the robot said he was Super-Thief.

Dazed, the robot eventually located Superman and spotted him dressing up as Super-Thief, and thus concluded that was indeed his master's secret identity.

At this point, Binder's little magnum opus is, like the robot, beginning to self-destruct from its own illogic, so in the next issue we'll finally get some resolution.

You have to suspend a great deal of disbelief to get through this entry. Superman says he has an instinct against committing crimes, yet he does so repeatedly when he could just as easily have used his powers to sabotage the jobs without his gang catching on. It's anyone's guess why a robot's computer brain would be affected in the same way as a flesh-and-blood human brain, even allowing for the incredible coincidence of showing up at precisely the wrong moment to get hit by the amnesia ray. Having the robot blow up just as it's about to give up the secret just tips us totally into the realm of farce.

Even though Binder's story is very much stuck in the Weisinger past, with its over-reliance on coincidence, "irony" and improbabilities, Swan's art is obviously moving forward, with creative page layouts and panel designs that break from (what was up til then) tradition. The stage is being set for the arrival of Murphy Anderson on inks and Julius Schwartz as editor, when the Man of Steel will finally be allowed to zoom forward into a new era of greatness.

But in the meantime, Curt's stuck with inks by Abel -- who's never more than just that -- and stories like this one. And any way you slice it, that's a crime.