Superman is forced to step down and bequeath his "Champion
of Earth" title to a replacement in Superman
#172 (Oct. 1964), scripted by Edmond Hamilton
and illustrated by Curt
Swan and George Klein.
It all starts when Clark Kent is sent
to Metropolis Observatory to interview astronomer Jay
Black about an "interesting discovery."
A green comet has been spotted which "will engulf countless
planets, though not Earth, if it isn't turned back. Some
of the planets may be inhabited by human beings!"
Lana Lang, covering the story for television,
is uninterested, but Clark recognizes the comet and is filled
with dread. With his powers of super-recall, he remembers
his father Jor-El mentioning the comet
when he (Kal-El) was only a toddler. Discussing his plans
to relocate the entire family to Earth before Krypton's
demise, Jor-El noted that "we'd be invulnerable to
everything...except the radiation of that green comet!"
And while it was true that he had calculated a possible
means to undo the comet's effect, it could only be done
through a method "too terrible to use."
Realizing his peril but determined to stop the comet anyway,
Superman decides to appoint a successor to carry on for
him in the event of his demise. Realizing he needs a Kryptonian
for the job, he journeys to the Fortress of Solitude and
contacts officials in the bottle city of Kandor, asking
them to send the two young men who are in "the highest
mental and physical condition." Soon the candidates
make their exit from the bottle.
Using Green Lantern's power ring, Superman
enlarges the two men, identified as Ar-Val and
Bran-Een, and puts them through a series
of tests to determine their fitness for the job. Ar-Val
emerges as the clear winner, having "used his super-powers
wisely" and in ways that would avoid harming any human
With that settled, Superman flies off to deal with the
comet and, although successful in reversing its course,
loses his powers as feared.
With his strength fading fast, Superman barely makes it
back to Earth and struggles mightily to lift the giant key
to his Fortress, desperate to summon Ar-Val. With great
effort, he completes the task, and presents Ar-Val with
the indestructible Superman suit, taking a non-super spare
costume for himself. Ar-Val flies him back to Metropolis,
where he introduces the new Superman to Jimmy Olsen.
With that, the once-Superman walks sadly away: "Goodbye,
Jimmy...You'll never know how much your friendship meant
to me...but I've lost my super-powers!" To his credit,
Jimmy doesn't see what super-powers have to do with friendship,
and promises to keep being a pal.
As news of the original Superman's retirement spreads,
his friends and admirers express their sorrow, but not his
enemies, who see in the arrival of a new, inexperienced
Superman a chance to advance their agendas. Lex
Luthor contacts Brainiac, who
helps him escape from prison, though not without cost.
Hearing of Luthor's escape, Clark remembers threats Lex
made against Lois and Lana, and goes in search of Ar-Val
for help. He finds him constructing a massive "New
Superman Arch" over the city, each end of which is
anchored by a massive statue of himself. Ar-Val brushes
off Clark's concerns, saying the news reports indicated
Luthor was "mortally wounded," so why worry about
him? What he can't know is that Brainiac has taken Luthor
to his hideout in an abandoned mine-pit and healed his injuries
instantly with his "Z-Ray" device.
Soon after, Ar-Val answers a call from Jimmy's signal watch
and the cub reporter also warns him of Luthor's escape ("I
know you'll want to go right after him!") but again
he's not interested. "As I told Clark Kent," he
barks, "I will NOT waste time chasing a dead crook!
Don't call me again for such foolishness, or I'll take away
your signal watch!" Then he flies off to construct
a "new, bigger City Hall for Metropolis"...which
just happens to be topped with another giant statue of himself.
Frustrated, Clark dons his spare Superman costume, determined
protect Lois and Lana against Luthor and Brainiac. Jimmy
insists "you can't go against them unless you have
some super-powers" and uses his "time-force device"
to contact the Legion of Super-Heroes in
the 30th Century, so they can transfer their powers temporarily
to the Man of Steel. The only heroes available are Saturn
Girl, Cosmic Boy and Invisible Kid,
so those are the powers he gets. For good measure, Jimmy
lends Superman his Elastic Serum to give him stretching
Since the vainglorious New Superman has gotten Metropolis
authorities to make it a crime for anyone other than himself
to wear a Superman costume, Jimmy makes up a new outfit
for his pal, and brother is it a doozy.
Yeah, thanks Jimmy. Thanks a lot. I guess after all those
years of super-pranks and cruel mind games, it's finally
payback time, huh?
"Former Superman" was actually
the second choice for a name, by the way. Hanna-Barbera
had a legal claim to any "HB" logos, or he'd have
gone with "Has Been." I wonder how this whole
scene went over in 1964, but in a weird way it kind of fits
2010, where former somebodies are forever shuffling out
of obscurity to star in shows like Celebrity Apprentice
and Dancing With the Stars. I wouldn't put it past any of
them to wear this outfit, which just screams, "Look
at me! I used to be famous!"
Former Superman (sigh) takes off in the Flying Newsroom
and uses his borrowed telepathy powers to locate the villains.
Then he uses his invisibility to sneak up on them, but their
giant robots capture him, anyway. "They must have sonar
ears so they can find me even though they can't see me,"
he reasons. Uh-huh. Or maybe they heard that helicopter
you arrived in. I'm just sayin'.
Former Superman's magnetism powers wreck some of the villains'
machines, and his stretching powers almost save the day.
Rendered unconscious, Former Superman's temporary powers
fade over the course of a few hours. He wakes to find himself
a helpless prisoner, and worse, bait in a trap set for Lois
Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, Ar-Val is still totally
wrapped up in himself.
At a press conference, Ar-Val suggests journalists follow
him to chronicle "A Day With The New Superman."
When they do, a series of mishaps and near-disasters unfold,
each of which Ar-Val rectifies with spectacular super-feats.
Everyone is impressed (even fickle old Lois) except Jimmy,
who's watched closely and noticed every crisis was created
by Ar-Val using his super-powers, so he could show off his
Lois and Lana are handed a photo of the captive Former
Superman, along with a note telling them to meet Luthor
if they don't want him killed. Jimmy happens to see the
message and pleads with Ar-Val to help. He's resistant until
Jimmy threatens to expose his fakery, at which point he
agrees to take Jimmy to the spot to which Lois and Lana
When they arrive, Brainiac grabs a kryptonite harpoon to
impale the New Superman, but Former Superman leaps in front
of him and is impaled on the harpoon instead. Furious, New
Superman is ready to kill the villains until Jimmy reminds
him of the Superman Oath. Instead, he bends a girder around
them and, thinking fast, he and Jimmy use Brainiac's healing
"Z-Ray" to restore the dying Former Superman to
full health. Stepping outside with Jimmy, New Superman realizes
what a heel he's been.
Deciding he's unfit to be Superman, Ar-Val contacts Jor-El's
old friend Nor-Kan (still alive in Kandor) and learns Jor-El's
terrible secret process for undoing the green comet's effects.
Transporting Former Superman to the Fortress of Solitude's
laboratory, he ties him to a post and initiates a process
that will transfer the Superman powers back to their original
owner, even though it means losing his life as the atoms
of his body are turned to stone.
Lotsa luck, Ar-Val. Superman also promised to cure Mon-El
of his lead poisoning, and it took a thousand years
-- and another hero -- to make good on that one. And Mon-El
didn't cross him like you did.
Isn't it neat how much you can get away with when you use
that handy "Later..." box? How exactly would you
remove a skin-tight shirt from a figure that's been turned
to stone, with his arms straight down at his sides? And
then re-dress that figure in another tight outfit? Sure
it would help to have super-strength, but the object would
be to make the transfer without breaking those stone arms
clean off, right?
The bigger problem with this story comes earlier, however,
and that is the use of Green Lantern's ring. Obviously this
was the editor's way of dodging all those letter-writers
who would say, "How can Ar-Val leave Kandor without
someone else taking his place there?" (a rule in effect
at the time). But it creates a much bigger problem. Why,
if he has the ring, doesn't Superman simply use it to protect
him from the effects of the comet? Or turn it away with
the ring while he stayed at a safe distance? With a little
common sense, this whole fiasco could have been avoided.
This story is yet another variation on a time-worn formula
wherein Superman's status as Big Man in Metropolis is threatened
by a newcomer, only to have his usurper revealed as somehow
unworthy and being exposed (if evil), sacrificed (if noble)
or deactivated (if a robot), or some combination thereof.
It all plays into the recurring (though not necessarily
intentional) subtext of Superman's deep-seated insecurity
and fear of rejection. Note that when he introduces Ar-Val
to Jimmy, he tells him this is the guy who'll be answering
the signal watch now, as if friendship itself is as transferable
as a costume and title. Neither of the other two buy into
this; Ar-Val sees no reason to adopt Jimmy as his "pal"
just because he played that role for the first Superman,
and Jimmy sees no reason to give up on his friend just because
he has no powers. For Superman, however, super-powers seem
to define his entire identity. Note that he never once considers
living out the rest of his non-powered life in Kandor, where
no one has powers, where he'd be revered anyway and where
he could enjoy the lost culture of his homeworld. Also note
that even Jor-El, who never even had super-powers, still
considers their loss a terrible fate that only an equally
terrible process can fix.
Personally, I'm not convinced that one screw-up on Ar-Val's
part is worth dying for, especially since no one was hurt
or killed by his mistake. Having learned his lesson, why
not dedicate himself to being a better Superman, instead
of deciding "I don't deserve to live"? I wonder,
too, what happens after this story. Superman says that in
his final act Ar-Val "proved to be the finest Superman
of all," but does that mean he's going to let all those
"New Superman" statues stay erected around Metropolis?
Given his preoccupation with stone effigies of himself,
it's ironic to see Ar-Val reduced to a statue himself at
story's end. It might have been fun to see his frozen form
in the background in later visits to the Fortress, propped
up in a corner like a cigar store Indian.
Yes, yes, Batman, the giant penny is impressive, but I've
got a dead guy in my trophy room. Beat that!