Superman #294 (December, 1975)
“The Man Who Slept the World Away!”
“The Tattoo Switcheroo!”
Writers – Cary Bates & Martin Pasko
Pencillers – Curt Swan & Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Inkers – Tex Blaisdell & Vince Colletta
Editor(ial Guru) – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.25
Looks like I’m on something of a Bronze-Age kick… there are far worse fates. I suppose, sometimes having limited access to one’s comics library results in happy accidents like this.
After our opening splash (which spoils the baddie we’ll be dealing with here), we join Clark Kent as he delivers his highest-rated news broadcast yet… to nobody! Ya see, every last human being on the planet (four-billionuvem… wow, we’ve been reproducing like mad since the mid-70’s) has vanished! Clark delivers the news report… for posterity, I guess? Fair enough… neither rain nor sleet nor global evacuation will stop him from his assigned task, gotta admire that. He claims to have been on the Moon on assignment with Superman when the great purge occurred. Upon wrapping up, he hears a sound coming from his office… he “supes up” and checks it out.
It’s a ringing phone… which he answers. The person on the other line (we’re going to ignore the fact that the opening page spoiled this… for now) threatens Clark Kent, thinking him the final human being left on the planet (Superman, of course… spoilers: ain’t human). While the baddie babbles, Superman traces the call… literally. Like, he follows the wires… all the way to Paris, France… sacre bleu! There, he finds that the voice was emanating from… a tape recorder.
Ya see, he knew Superman would trace the call… and wanted him far enough away from Clark Kent’s office so he couldn’t save him when the bad guy blasts him with his Atomic Bazooka Gun! With a KA-BLAMMMMM! (five M’s… c’mon) Clark Kent is believed to be blown to bits… or atomized… or whatever the hell an atomic bazooka gun is capable of doing. Superman… knowing the real score, simply smirks.
Moments later, Superman returns to the Galaxy Building where he finds out who the bad guy is. Gasp! It’s Brain Storm. The baddie finds a pair of mangled glasses, and assumes that means Clark is a’goner. Superman approaches for the attack, until Brain Storm gives him a shove, and informs him that the Earth’s population is currently residing inside his chrome dome.
The pair play-fight (it’s really quite silly) for a little bit before settling in at an empty stadium so that Brain Storm (who I keep wanting to call Brain Wave… Junior, even) can explain just what in the hell he’s talking about. So, while Superman lounges in a stadium seat, the baddie tells him that he “slept” the Earth’s population away… so that he might increase his mental powers. I don’t know about you, but if I had the ability to “sleep the Earth’s population away”… I’m pretty sure I’d be satisfied with my “power levels”. Guess that’s why I’m not a supervillain.
Anyhoo, Brain Storm’s plan is to intercept an energy burst emitted by a quasar (*celestial object which emits enormous amounts of radiation – thanks, Julie) to amp up his power, so that when he brings the four-billion Earthlings back, he can have complete control over them. In order to do this (for some reason), Earth had to be wiped clean of humanity… which is why Clark Kent had to get the ol’ atomic heave-ho earlier on.
Speaking of Clark Kent… as Brain Storm prepares to “receive” the quasar, he happens to spy… waitasec, is that Clark Kent? He blasts the mild-mannered reporter with his “star bolts” (enough to fry a dinosaur, he says with no way to prove that), but Clark still moseys on. He gives chase, and “fries” him one more time… causing his civvies to tear, revealing a Man of Steel underneath. Superman than punches Brain Storm’s cute li’l ball-tipped helmet… which pretty much takes him out. Let’s not think about the fact that there are four-billion human beings in his head… that would only make Superman’s actions look rash… annnnnnd dumb.
Superman proceeds to repeatedly Count Dante-chop Brain Storm’s chrome dome… putting him to sleep, and somehow provoking a nightmare. In the dreamland, he is in the limbo where he stranded the four-billion Earthlings… who are thankfully not dead from the multiple brain-chops. The baddie sees the error of his ways, and let’s the peeps free. Upon learning that he didn’t actually kill Clark Kent (Superman had “spirited him away” to safety), ol’ B.S. is pleased to know he’s not going to face a murder charge. Superman wonders how harsh the penalty will be for four-billion counts of kidnapping though!
Like with many Bronze-Age comics… the story might be over, but we ain’t done yet! We’ve got some Action-Plus… er, whatever we call the back-up in Superman… and ohhhh boy, it’s coming at us straight from The Private Life of Clark Kent… my second favorite series of back-ups (after Mr. and Mrs. Superman, of course). We open this brief tale (which is a recounting of a diary entry… which actually starts with “Dear Diary”) with Clark Kent reporting the news that he knows the identity of the thief who stole the Van Sloan Sapphire. The baddie just so happens to overhear this news report, and promises to send the nosy reporter to “Palookaville”.
After the broadcast, the thief (Snake-Eyes Sullivan) snatches Clark Kent and shoves him into his car. Little does he know that Clark was planning this all along. What he wasn’t planning was for ol’ Snake-Eyes to wanna trade clothes with him. Ya see, these two look “identical”, and the baddie wants to take over Clark’s identity to see what goods he might have on him. Clark realizes if he takes off his clothes, he would be exposed… as Superman (or, just as a very troubled young man) so… he causes a windy distraction (which I promise isn’t a euphemism for anything), removes his Superman costume with super-speed… rolls it up into a ball… and eats it!
After the clothes swap goes down… oh yeah, by the way Snake-Eyes has a tattoo on his left shoulder, that might be important later… annnnnd dumb, Clark is tied up and left in a garage. Of course, ropes can’t hold Superman, so he busts out. He heads to his office at the Galaxy Building in Snake-Eyes’ duds, which confuses the real Snake-Eyes’ crony. We get a moment of The Patty Duke Show before the real-deal Snake Eyes realizes how he can prove he’s legit.
Why, it’s his tattoo! Which… is now on Clark’s shoulder? B-b-b-but how?
Well… here goes. Clark used his super-hard thumbnail to press dyes from his tie into his arm to duplicate the tattoo. Got it? Okay… then, he tracked down some orthoclase feldspar (which is like a pink granite) and talc… which he pulverized into a pancake make-up, with which he could cover up (the real) Snake-Eyes’ tattoo.
Then… the police bust in. Clark heat-visions his fake tattoo off, and rubs the pancake makeup off Snake-Eyes’ arm… and the bad guy goes to jail. See, nothin’ to it!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this Bronze-Age excursion it’s that there are times when Superman really overthinks things… and other times when he doesn’t seem to do much thinking at all. These two stories are a perfect example of either case.
Let’s talk about the Private Life… backup first. I mean, we spent wayyy too much time applying and removing tattoos here… and for what? The police showed up anyway! They’d have seen Snake-Eyes’ tattoo… or at least seen the gun-wielding goofball crony guarding the door and figured that something wasn’t quite right. So much wasted effort here.
The whole tattoo thing… I mean, I get it. It feels like this is an interesting use of Superman’s powers… without going “full-Superman”, but the entire thing felt forced and clumsy. Really not a story worth telling… even if it is just to Clark’s diary. By the way… does Clark/Superman keep two diaries? This one was very clearly hand-written… but we know he also has that giant scribbly-pen thing at the Fortress of Solitude… could he be keeping secrets from one of his diaries???
The opening “main” story had a neat Twilight Zone vibe to start with… if only we choose to ignore that spoilery splash page it opened with. This story was a pretty good example of Superman not thinking. I mean… c’mon now, Brain Storm has the entire population of Earth in his head… and Superman proceeds to repeatedly ring his bell? That doesn’t seem like the wisest course of action.
That was another sorta over-complicated story… however, up until Superman almost murdered all of humanity, it was a pretty fun ride. I always get a kick out of a hero allowing a villain to explain their entire plan. Seeing Superman just lounging in a seat with his arm rested on the seat next to him while Brain Storm spills his guts was pretty fun.
Overall, despite the above kvetching, I really did have a good time reading and chatting about this one. These Bronze-Age tales are almost always a blast, even if the stories they’re telling don’t quite live up to their potential. Well worth checking out.
(A very divided) Letters Page: