THING from 40,000 AD
From the pages of Superman #87 (Feb. 1954), writer
Bill Finger and artist Wayne Boring
bring us this tale incorporating elements of 1950s sci-fi
cinema and giving the Atomic-Age Superman a rare run for
his money in terms of physical combat.
As our story opens, it is night, and a mysterious light
is observed streaking through the sky not far from Metropolis.
Whatever it is that's generating the light, it crashes in
a wooded area and disintegrates to nothingness.
From the crash site oozes a sentient blob of protoplasm
capable of taking the form of any living thing it encounters,
beginning with a tree, then a rabbit and, when the Army
arrives to investigate, a soldier.
From the creature's thought balloons, we learn it has arrived
here not from space, but from Earth of the far future...40,000
AD to be exact.
Superman arrives to help the Army and notices two soldiers
with identical features. Before he can investigate, he's
distracted by a burning truck full of explosives, giving
the disguised creature a chance to escape. Searching for
clues, Superman finds the crash crater, a trail of slime
leading to a hole where a tree once stood, and rabbit tracks
that change to human footprints. "The super-intelligence
of the Man of Steel," we are told, "divines
the fantastic answer!" Yep, a regular Sherlock
Holmes, that one.
Across the city, a series of strange robberies occur. Strange
because the robbers are apparently trusted citizens with
access to the stolen goods, and also because the victims
insist on describing the robbers' actions to them:
Gotta love that classic comic book exposition. "Hello,
darling, you're awake and have your suit on already!"
"Yes, honey, and you're preparing a breakfast of bacon
and eggs! Soon you'll be serving it to me!" "Yes,
because you're always hungry at this hour. Here is the paper
we receive every morning."
Clark Kent asks to be assigned to cover
the robberies, having reasoned that the true perpetrator
is the shape-shifting creature. However, Lois Lane
gets the job and Clark is instead sent to report on the
world's largest synthetic diamond. As luck would have it,
the creature is on the scene and makes itself into a duplicate
Clark, punching out the diamond's owner and hauling off
the giant, ersatz gem in a moving van.
Superman confronts the creature, which we learn is using
the stolen items to fashion a time machine so it can return
to the future and defeat the humans who banished it. The
creature takes Superman's form and a titanic struggle ensues.
The combatants are evenly matched in terms of strength,
but Superman gambles that the creature does not share his
invulnerability, and maneuvers it towards an H-Bomb test
site just in time for the bomb to go off.
"That H-Bomb finished my rival...he couldn't adapt
himself..." Uh-huh. In other words, you killed him.
Gotcha. As ever, Superman's code against killing proves
highly adaptable. Basically the further you are from human,
the more likely Superman is to toast you with a clear conscience.
is a fast-paced story with solid art by Wayne Boring and
a rare physical match for Superman. It's also very much
a product of 1954, what with the flying saucer angle and
story elements prefiguring two sci-fi cinema classics: The
Blob (1958) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(1956). And of course there's the chilling cameo by the
dreaded H-Bomb, very much on everyone's mind at the time.
Someone must have liked the story, because it was reprinted
in Superman #196 (May 1967), and while reprints
were not such a rare thing back in the day, they usually
didn't get a second go-round as the lead story, earning
the cover spotlight twice. Not that I'm complaining, mind
you. Curt Swan's
cover art on the reprint (using the exact same text as the
earlier issue, and similar poses) is among my favorites
from the Silver Age.