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Action Comics 397
"Secret of The Wheel-Chair Superman"


Art: Swan & Anderson Story: Leo Dorfman

On the cover by Infantino and Anderson, the former man of steel is in a wheel-chair, with the open window of his hovel showing a futuristic landscape, it is the pictures of Lois' wedding to another man, and one of Jimmy Olsen which has Superman aware that all of his friends are gone! He has come to the conclusion that the world no longer needs him, and has discarded him, just like the wrecked Superman robots which are gathering dust and cobwebs in the nearby closet!

It is the 1990's, where the former cub reporter, Jimmy Olsen, is now a television producer! He is exiting the Daily Planet Building with his date, who seeks to be on his new series! Assuring her that this is so, Jimmy flips a coin to a pan-handler's cup, but it bounces off, and rolls to the pavement. The pan-handler reaches for the fallen coin, revealing that beneath the blanket and shawl, it is the long-lost man of steel who is the man in the wheel-chair! Jimmy can't believe his eyes, and others begin to gather, staring at the legendary hero. As his date tells him that the hover-cab has arrived, Jimmy begs off, and intends to find out what happened to his pal! As the crowd of curiousity-seekers begin to close in... the man of steel wheels his way from them!

A sight-seeing tour bus observes as the once-powerful Superman flees from the crowd, as fast as he can wheel his chair, and desperate to maintain his solitude! Yes, it's a time in the future when science has taken the place of Metropolis' hero, and turned him into a outmoded relic of the past... a museum exhibit! What happened to the man of tomorrow to turn him into a haunted figure? It's the "Secret Of The Wheel-Chair Superman!"

The man of steel manages to elude his pursuers, and recalls how he would have used his power of flight to leave them literally grounded! Fortunately, he still maintains a few of his powers! Seeing some street puddles, he has an idea! His heat-vision is able to scald the puddles into a thick mist... concealing his departure while he heads towards an alley! Returning to the slum which is now his home, the man of steel no sooner arrives, that he hears someone knocking the door of his "home."

Jimmy Olsen has found his old friend, and his pal is happy to see him, even in his state! The two men embrace one another, then Jimmy asks why the man of steel disappeared decades ago, and why is he in a wheel-chair? His condition began after a mission, when he attempted to fly away... he found that he could not! To his horror, he soon discovered that his other powers were fading also, until he has become weaker than a normal Earth man, and needs a cane to walk! Jimmy realizes that it was around this time that Clark Kent began walking with a cane! Superman admits to him that he was Clark Kent! Days passed, and he grew weaker, until Morgan Edge called him on his failing attendence, and fired him!

In the hopes that his condition was a temporary one, he uses his super-robots to do his missions... but eventually they were damaged, and were only good for scrap! Things went downhill from there! Without his savings, he was sent from house to house... until he had no money for rent! When Jimmy asked him why he didn't see a doctor or apply for welfare, the man of steel tells him that Earth's specialists know little about super-powers, and as for welfare... one day he began to go to the office, but he saw a group of children admiring his poster for the United Nations War Refugee Fund! To them, he is the last of the great heroes, such as King Arthur... George Washington... Abraham Lincoln! How could he destroy their faith in their hero?

Jimmy asks him why he didn't see his friends and ask for help? He saw it as shameful that he would have to mooch off his friends, as well as not wanting to have his enemies gloating! When Jimmy asks why he was begging from strangers, and what happened to his pride, he learns the reason why! It was not for himself that Superman was begging, but for Dr. Carl Reynolds and his wife! They were scientists who were working with cures for Leprosy and the Plague -- but they were infected with a mutant virus even deadlier than any known disease! They have only weeks to live, and if they had gone to a hospital, they would have spread the disease to others! The man of steel helped them to be quarantined, and promised to feed them until they died! He was begging for their sake! Seeing how his pal was always sacrificing his own needs to help others... Jimmy decides to help him! They head for a specialist he knows, but Superman thinks that this will be hopeless! At the neurologist's office, the man of steel is asked when he first noticed that his powers were fading...

Earlier, his missions had tanked... while attempting to save a damaged ship, he was told that a flotation collar would keep them afloat until they made port. The missions swiftly fell into a pattern where the people didn't need to be saved, such as when a cryogenic ray was used to freeze flood waters into a giant ice dam, saving the town! The day came when the man of steel responded to a pollution alert... Superman began to create a cyclonic updraft to draw away the smoke, but scientists at the Swanderson Plant told him that he was fouling up an important experiment! The smoke contained a new self-decontaminating chemical they were testing! He felt like an idiot to the scientists, who showed him how the sunlight precipitated the smoke into a rain of jewel-like drops! He saw how the chemicals filtered the light of the sun and turned it red! The shower of chemicals created an instant fertilizer, which made the crops grow before his very eyes! The scientist laughs, "With our scientific advances, who needs you, Superman?"

When he attempted to fly, he discovered that this ability was gone, and wondered if the red-sun effect had something to do with it? It was only the beginning! During the following weeks, his abilities began to fade, leaving him only his super-vision, super-hearing, and invulnerability! The neurologist believes he understands the symptoms now! The instruments show that the man of steel never lost his powers, and that they are still intact! He is suffering from a type of mental hysteria which blocks his ability to use them! The neurologist considers it to be a panic syndrome which came into being when Superman feared that the world no longer needed him... or his super-powers! Returned to his wheel-chair, the man of steel can only wonder in frustration... if he does have his powers, how can he regain them? Why can't he fly... or even walk? Seeing that the doctor has no answers, he leaves both men to deal with his condition... alone!

That evening, in his "apartment," he is using his heat-vision to dry his laundry, but in his distracted state, he fails to control his power! The Reynolds tell him that they are surrounded by flames, and their place is on fire! He tells them not to panic because the fire sensors on the lampposts will detect the flames and alert the fire department! The firemen do respond to the call, but... they use their fireproof foam to create a wall to keep the flames from spreading! Believing that the buildings are abandoned, and knowing that they were slated for demolition, they leave! In the midst of the raging flames... the Reynolds know that Superman is still invulnerable... but they will die! They wonder if he can do something... anything? He tells them that he no longer has super-strength... no flying ability...! No... he can't give up so easily... He can't let them die without putting up a fight!

He must try... TRY! He must help them... SAVE THEM! They NEED him... They need SUPERMAN! From somewhere within, from the fighting heart, there comes a surge of super-strength and super-power! They see him fly once more, and he knows that his powers have returned! He realizes that the doctor was right! It was all a mental block, and as soon as he was really needed, his super-powers returned! When they reach safety, he sees that Carl and Lisa are dying! She tells him not to blame himself... for without him, they would have died months ago... and they would have had only hours anyway! In death, they enabled Superman to be reborn!

After his fists prepare a tomb beneath the Earth... a tomb for the Reynolds is made below the mile-high mountain. There will be no danger of their bodies contaminating others, and they can rest in peace! He soars towards Metropolis, intent to letting the world know that he has returned! He suddenly recalls that the world no longer needs him. With their advanced science, a super-civilization is being built on Earth. In time, mankind can become super! The man of steel knows that he is obsolete on this planet! But out there, in the millions of galaxies, there must be a place like the world he knew... a place which needs a Superman! Such a time may come... the day when the man of steel leaves the world behind! But this is only an imaginary tale and Superman is still with us.

The future is not bright, nor is it kind to Superman, but the cover art by Infantino and Anderson captures the moment exquisitely.

Even a former man of steel can find himself a victim of the paparazzi!

Good to see that times may change, but Jimmy Olsen will alway be Superman's Pal.

Interesting that Superman-Robots became a thing of the past in current continuity.

I like to think that children still look up to the man of steel as a great hero. From the comic book, to the cartoons, to the serials, to the television show, to the motion picture, he is still a part of our pop culture.

Even in seeming despair, Superman manages to go on, and despite his apparent loss, he still looks out for others before himself.

Flood waters played a part in the first Superman motion picture in 1978.

I'd love to see the Swanderson scientist prove himself to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or just take a flying leap over a tall building.

With the Reynolds in danger, and a real need for help from the man of steel, there is still a need for Superman!

With courage and the desire to help others, everyone could be a "Superman." It is a true "super-power" we can emulate.

The world has outgrown the Superman of this imaginary tale, but what sort of world is it where science is so advanced, and a super-civilization will someday be formed? What sort of people would the inhabitants of such an Earth turn out to be?

He has done his time, and it is now time for the man of steel to find another world where he can be of help to those in need.

On our world, there was a man,

Who also found himself in a wheel-chair,

In time, he found the strength to try...

To help others...

Those in need...

On our Earth...

Our Superman is Christopher Reeve.

This Review Is Dedicated To Jesse Willis, Mike Norwitz,

And for those who made us believe that a man could fly

Steve Chung
"Review of The Wheel-Chair Superman"