The Two Ghosts of Superman

Today we continue our countdown to Halloween with more ghostly goings-on from the pages of Superman #186 (May 1966). Otto Binder provides the script, Al Plastino the art.

At the offices of the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is visited by the famous hoodlum "Flashy" Fisher. "Ex-hood!" corrects Fisher, claiming he's gone legit, and asking Clark to pass along a proposal to Superman: retrieve the lost treasure of Captain Kidd from a location provided by Fisher, and Superman gets 10 percent of the haul for the charity of his choice. When Clark asks how he discovered the location of the treasure (in a to-date undiscovered sunken ship), Fisher says he learned it from"Captain Kidd himself. Or his ghost, see?"

Clark initially dismisses Fisher's story, but ends up checking out the location anyway. To his surprise, he does indeed find a shipwreck and a trunk full of gold coins. He turns the treasure over the government and gets a check for Fisher, minus that 10% for charity. When Fisher comes to collect it, he drops a business card for a spiritualist, one "Sir Seer," offering to contact the ghost of anyone in history.

Heading out to the address listed on the card, Superman spies on Sir Seer's latest seance and witnesses a seeming visitation from beyond the veil:

Underworld figure "Duke" Cooper asks "Jesse James" to direct him to any undiscovered loot the outlaw may have hidden away before his death. Jesse says his biggest haul is in fact still hidden on Turtle Island, under Pyramid Rock.

Anticipating "Duke's" next action, Superman heads to Turtle Island, where he has to deal with a pair of cougars before lifting Pyramid Rock:

What an animal-lover, that guy. Attacking Superman might cost them teeth and claws, but of course being blown across an island couldn't possibly harm them at all, right?

Anyway, there is indeed treasure under the rock, in the form of gold dust. The sacks that originally held the dust have rotted away, so Superman fuses the dust into gold ingots and turns it over to the government. When "Duke" Cooper shows up proposing the same deal "Flashy" Fisher offered, Clark is way ahead of him...he's already got the check ready.

With their curiosity now piqued, Clark, Lois Lane and Lana Lang attend Sir Seer's next seance, with the intention of exposing him as a fraud. Seer, an aristocratic looking sort complete with VanDyke and monocle, announces he can conjure up any ghost he likes, and invites the reporters to pick any historical figure whose image appears on a U.S. coin. Lois thinks she has a way to outsmart him, so she produces a rare commemorative half-dollar issued during the Columbian Exposition of 1892 and bearing the image of Queen Isabella of Spain. You go, girl!

It seems as though Sir Seer has been stumped; he says there are problems reaching the next world, but Lois is sure the real problem lies in producing a female confederate. Then suddenly the ghostly image of Queen Isabella does appear in the room, to the surprise of all.

Isabella says the explorer Columbus secretly buried a treasure in America, and it can be found "buried in the cave now used by a strange person who casts a shadow like a bat!" It doesn't take a master detective to deduce she's talking about Batman, so Superman organizes a trip for members of the press to the Batcave.

Gee, pal, thanks for bringing journalists to the freaking Batcave! Jerk. At least Superman transports the reporters in a limousine with windows blacked out on the inside, so they can't see out. Interestingly, he says he borrowed the car from "Senator Perry White." Could this be a typo, or have I missed a period of Superman history where the Daily Planet editor served in the U.S. Senate?

At any rate, Columbus' treasure does indeed show up in a wall of the cave, so Sir Seer's bonafides are further established. No one is more surprised than Sir Seer's staff of flunkies, who until the "Queen Isabella" incident were faking the ghosts of historical figures, and planting the "treasures" in pre-arranged locations. The spiritualist himself, however, takes this new development in stride: "Don't you get it, dumb-heads? I had genuine psychic powers all along...and didn't know it!"

Sir Seer's next client is none other than Superman himself, who asks for a seance with the ghost of Jor-El (no doubt as disappointed as the rest of us with the imposter in Superboy #78). Sure enough, dear old dad materializes:

Superman asks Jor-El whether an upcoming, dangerous experiment he's planning to conduct at the Fortress of Solitude will be a success. Jor-El answers not only will it fail, but it will result in a gigantic explosion that will kill the Man of Steel. Superman decides to proceed anyway, and says he'll take Clark Kent with him to report on the experiments (which he's performing for the government).

The next day, Metropolis is shaken by what turns out to be the "most violent ground tremor ever known on Earth!" and news reports place the tremor's epicenter somewhere in the far north. Having heard Jor-El's dire prophecy, Lois and Lana are understandably worried. When 3 days pass with no sign of Superman or Clark, the girls request a seance with Sir Seer. He summons the ghost of Clark Kent and gets two spirits for the price of one: first the ghost of Clark shows up, then the ghost of Superman appears and admits he was Clark. The apparitions converge and report that not only are he/they deceased, but so are Supergirl and the entire population of Kandor, including the Superman Emergency Squad...but please don't let it get around as the underworld will use it as an excuse to run wild.

Sure enough, in no time a crime wave erupts and the underworld has a field day, until Superman appears to spoil the party. Of course his "death" was merely an elaborate ruse to entrap Seer and his friends. As Superman reveals, Seer produced his "ghosts" by beaming images of mannequins in historical dress to the Telstar satellite, which then downlinked the signal to his seance room. (Uh-huh. In 3-D clarity. Help me, Obi-Wan, you're my only hope!) The "buried treasure" was in fact gold criminals had previously stolen but could not cash in on; Seer melted it down into new forms and hid it in locations "revealed" by the "ghosts," so the crooks could collect on it with the unwitting aid of the U.S. government.

When Seer couldn't produce a ghost of Queen Isabella, Superman saw his opportunity and produced one himself...

Never mind that we clearly saw Isabella face-on earlier in the story; if Superman says he created her ghost using a profile image from a coin, then that's what he did. I really wish they'd do an audio adaptation of this story, though, just so I can hear Superman doing that falsetto "female" voice for Isabella.

The "treasure of Columbus" was actually on loan from a museum, and planted in the Batcave with Batman's full cooperation (though he still can't have been happy about hosting the media in his secret sanctuary!). As for the "Ghost of Jor-El," well he was that is he was...oh, here I'll let Binder explain it:

That's right, he was painted on a fingernail. Incidentally, this issue may have some historical significance as the first mention of magnification/projection vision. But probably not.

But wait, you say, what about that explosion at the Fortress? The one that created the greatest tremor in the history of mankind? Well that wasn't an explosion at all, just Superman and Supergirl colliding with each other. Head-first.

If nothing else, at least we know what the largest seismic event in history would sound like at its epicenter. That's right, it would go "Bonk!"

We close with Clark Kent explaining to Lois Lane that the whole story about him being Superman was part of the plan, to convince her and Lana that Superman was really dead. Lois' response is, essentially, "oh, shut up." Meanwhile Sir Seer sits in a jail cell, apparently allowed to retain not only his monocle but also his crystal ball. As the guards look on with amusement, he tries to summon the ghost of Houdini to help him escape his cell.

Oh what the heck, a story like this is pretty review-proof, isn't it? Extra points for DC's famous ability to exploit ghosts for sales while still debunking them by story's end. And special Halloween bonus points for slipping in the reference to Harry Houdini, who passed away on October 31, 1926, and whose gravesite still attracts visitors each Halloween.