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Action Comics 405
"Bodyguard or Assassin?"

Cover: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

"Bodyguard or Assassin?"
Writer: Cary Bates, Artists: Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson

In this imaginary tale, set an unspecified number of years in the future, Superman is summoned to the White House, where he's subjected to a security scan before being admitted to see the President (a fictitious chief of state, who somewhat resembles an older Superman with white hair at the temples... not unlike the President whom Superman impersonated in Action 371).

It seems that a small globe-shaped paperweight on the President's desk has been replaced with a duplicate containing a miniature tape recorder, which has been repeating the same message every five minutes: "I am Marsepun -- I will assassinate you before 9:00 tonight -- Escape is impossible no matter how far you go or where you hide -- *click*" At 9:00, the President is scheduled to sign the Uniworld Peace Treaty, which calls for global nuclear disarmament, something the mystery assassin seems determined to stop. General Trevis, chief of the presidential security force, has suggested that Superman act as the President's bodyguard for the next 12 hours, at Tonacom, a secret top security installation in the southwest.

Superman wraps the President in his cape and files him to a hidden tunnel in the southwestern desert. A huge steel door closes behind them as they descend a mile below the surface and enter an immense vault. This is Tonacom. General Trevis confirms their arrival by video screen, and from the Pentagon remotely activates the defense features in the passage that the pair just descended... jets of molten steel, pockets of lethal gas, rings of pulsing radioactive isotopes, and more.

Soon after, the communication link to the Pentagon cuts out. A blip in a radar screen shows that someone or something has broken through the hidden tunnel entrance and is descending towards Tonacom. The walls are lead-lined, so Superman's X-ray vision can't see through them, and he refuses to leave the President's side... but a closed circuit monitor to the surface shows handprints on the rocks at the entrance... prints that match Superman's.

The blip on the screen advances past a dozen lethal traps. On a hunch, Superman uses the equipment in the complex to analyze the voiceprint of the recording that the assassin made... and finds that it matches his own! It then occurs to him... "Marsepun" is an anagram of "Superman!" Is the Man of Steel mentally unstable? Could he be the assassin?

In the Pentagon, General Trevis watches all this on a secret monitor, and laughs. He is in reality one of two Gemini agents planted in the White House by an organization anxious to start World War III. He created the recording by splicing tapes of Superman's voice, planted the duplicate handprints, tampered with the radarscope, and, via a hidden device in Tonacom, has been broadcasting electro-impulses into Superman's brain to prevent him from thinking clearly. His intention is to drive Superman mad, and turn him into the President's killer!

Back at Tonacom, the President tries to reinforce Superman's confidence by reminding him of the great feats he's performed in the past... hurling the Washington Monument into space when a nuclear bomb containing Virus X had been planted there, and reconstructing it later... battling the Cgno Beast from another galaxy, which had five times his strength... but nothing helps. Meanwhile, Trevis hops onto a jet so he can be at Tonacom when the end comes. He takes a hidden elevator down to the bunker, where he sets up a movie camera to record the scene through a two-way mirror.

The radarscope shows the intruder to be 97 feet away, and Superman is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Range... 36 feet... 21 feet... 8 feet... as the tension grows on Superman's face. There is a deafening pounding, and the huge, reinforced steel door buckled and falls inward. Superman turns to face... himself, in a large mirror in the doorway. "I AM MARSEPUN! I AM YOUR KILLER!" he screams. "I must carry out my threat!" As he turns, the President draws a "gamma gun" given to him by General Trevis to protect himself. But the beam ricochets off of Superman's chest, striking the President. Trevis is pleased that not only has the President killed himself, but he has a film reel that will destroy Superman's reputation as a hero.

But Superman has not gone unaffected by the gamma blast, as he suddenly explodes into a shower of gears and transistors. As Trevis enters the room, the robot explains that he was filling in for Superman, who had to go save a solar system in another galaxy from an exploding comet. Trevis is undaunted. The President is dead, and Trevis still has a film of what appears to be Superman attacking him. Trevis activates the destruct mechanism in the complex to destroy the evidence, and leaves in his jet to report to his superiors. But they reject his report, saying only that their data indicates the mission was a failure... and as an ominous shadow falls across the cockpit, a lethal beam leaps from the telephone's mouthpiece to Trevis's heart.

The President examines the General's body, and confirms that he is dead. He then removes his own disguise to reveal that he is Superman, and uses his microscopic vision to track the radio impulses from the phone call to their source. Along the way, he recalls how the President confided that he had been suspicious of Trevis for months, and when Superman examined the gamma gun, he confirmed that it was booby-trapped. So he disguised himself as the President, and manipulated the robot with a palmed remote control device and super-ventriloquism. He traces the call to a lone phone booth on a tiny outcropping of rock off the Pacific coast, which explodes as he arrives at it.

Superman recalls that he heard Trevis refer to himself as "Gemini Agent 1" when reporting to his superiors, and wonders if that implies another agent close to the President. Back at the White House, the President's personal secretary hands him a stack of Congressional reports that he needs to review...

Cary Bates set up a double safety net, by setting this story in a possible future AND stating that it was "imaginary." I don't understand why. There have been fictitious Presidents used in Superman stories before; no major characters were killed or otherwise compromised; and the technology in the story was not very advanced compared to the mainstream DC universe of the time. The only factor I can see that might have influenced that decision was the signing of the global disarmament treaty... and that could have easily been replaced with a more plausible diplomatic assignment.

"The Red Dust Bandit!"
Writer: Don Cameron, Artist: Howard Sherman
Originally appeared in Action Comics 192 (May 1954)

The Vigilante and his partner, Stuff, are chasing a bandit through Red Dust County. The bandit gets away, but loses a saddlebag, in which the Vig finds what appears to be a safe combination. The bandit slips into town and changes his clothes, and discovers that he's a dead ringer for Greg Sanders, the Prairie Troubadour, who's scheduled to perform the next night.

Next day, the Vig, in his other identity as Greg Sanders, arrives in town, and is abducted by the bandit, who intends to take his place. The impostor can't sing, but he plays a mean guitar, so he performs on stage claiming that he's hoarse from a cold. He locks Sanders and Stuff in his hideout, a cave with a steel door. Greg realizes that the combination he found is for the lock on the door, so he escapes and catches the impostor in an act of burglary. Suddenly, he realizes that he can't admit that he knew "Greg" was a phony without giving his own identity away, so he apologizes for mistaking Sanders for an outlaw.

Some days later, the Vig and Stuff manage to catch the bandit in the act of robbing a carnival moneybox, and chase him through the mountains. Then they take a shortcut and beat him back to the hideout, changing back to Greg and Stuff. (Hey... Stuff never wore a mask, and wore the same clothes whether he was with Vigilante or Greg Sanders. How come no one ever noticed that?) Later, when the impostor returned to the carnival, Greg Sanders showed up and threw a pie in his face. He claimed that the Vigilante had followed the outlaw to his hideout and dynamited the door to free him. Not knowing which was the real Greg Sanders, the townspeople suggested a musical showdown. Problem is, the impostor could play but not sing, and Greg, who injured his arm in the mountain chase, could sing but not play. So the sheriff decided to hold both of them until the Vigilante could show up to identify the phony. Just then, the Vig drove by on his motorcycle, shouting that he didn't have time to stop, but that the real Greg Sanders was the one next to the sheriff. Greg breathed a sigh of relief, as we see Stuff, crouched alongside the cycle, saying that he'd better get this dummy back to the store window and come back to pick up Greg.

"The Haunted Island!"
Writer: Jack Miller, Artist: Ramona Fradon
Originally appeared in Adventure Comics 206 (November 1954)

An excursion boat taking a group of happy kids to a picnic on Fun Island hits a reef, and can't continue. There's another island alongside the reef, but it's covered with trees and rocks, and there's no place to play ball. Aquaman shows up, and offers the kids a chance to play their games on the water.

The Sea King organizes a baseball game, with a raft as home plate, tortoises as bases, an octopus umpire, and each player riding a sea cow. But when one player chases a fly ball towards the island, he spots a horrifying swamp monster in the lagoon. But nobody, not even Aquaman, will believe his story.

Next, Aquaman sets up a basketball court, with lines of white eels and baskets balanced on the noses of seals. But again, the swamp monster is spotted, and even Aquaman catches a glimpse. But the creature vanishes, though Aquaman notices a stream of air bubbles in the water, and a yacht anchored offshore.

Later, on the island, we learn that two thugs have been posing as the monster to scare the kids away. Their boss, "Big Mike," was to pick them up at their island hideout for a big job tonight, but wouldn't approach while the kids were around. Suddenly, the crooks are surrounded by dozens of glowing eyes. They panic as giant beetle-like creatures close in on them. But it's just the kids, disguised with fishnet costumes, luminous shells, and tree branches. Aquaman turns the thugs, and their friends offshore, over to the police.

They might have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for those meddling fish.

"The Most Dangerous Bug In the World?"
Writer: Cary Bates, Artists: Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson

Clark Kent is walking towards the Galaxy Broadcasting building, thinking about the film that he's promised to make of Superman performing super-feats for the time capsule that the Mayor of Metropolis is due to seal tomorrow, when a small boy running around the corner bumps into him. The lad apologizes, and Clark gives him a good-natured pat on the shoulder. But a few minutes later, the boy arrives at his grandfather's laboratory some blocks away, where the scientist is preparing a demonstration for a pair of businessmen.

The scientist, Hobbs by name, has invented a microscopic listening device with a worldwide range. His grandson, Bobby, has planted it on an unsuspecting passerby for the purposes of demonstration. As he activates the receiver, the men hear a strange noise... one that sounds like a typewriter, but at an incredible speed. Of course, it's Clark, working to meet a deadline with a minute to spare.

At that moment, Clark receives a telepathic call for help. A midget spacecraft, only two feet long, has passed through a dimensional rift from an anti-matter universe into our own, and their controls are jammed. If the ship touches any solid matter, the resulting explosion could destroy our entire planet. Superman is forced to stay ahead of the ship, drilling through mountains and evaporating waterfalls with his heat vision, to keep the ship from coming into contact with anything. Meanwhile, the men listening to the flying and drilling sounds being broadcast by the bug make the deduction that their subject is really Superman! On a hunch, Hobbs shows Bobby a picture of Clark Kent in the newspaper (because everyone knows that Kent can get in touch with Superman) and the boy confirms that this is the man he bumped into.

Superman increases his speed to create a backwash, dragging the tiny ship behind him, around the globe and back to the rift that brought them into our universe. (Why the ship didn't blow up on contact with the air, I don't know. It probably had some sort of force field.) Flying back to Metropolis, Superman hears a high frequency radio signal coming from the Clark Kent clothes in his cape's pouch... a sound he was too preoccupied to notice before. Soon after, young Bobby visits Clark in his office and tells him the whole story, promising that neither he nor the men in the lab will ever tell anyone what they know. Clark tells Bobby that he trusts him, but suggests that he and his granddad watch the 6:00 news on WGBS tonight. At that time, Clark shows his viewing audience a film clip made by Superman earlier in the day for the Mayor's time capsule. It showed Superman flying, drilling through rock, and performing the other stunts that the eavesdroppers heard that afternoon. They conclude that Clark must have previewed the film in his office while they were listening. Of course, we know that Clark made the film with a remote control camera after the fact. The Mayor got his film, Clark kept his secret, and everyone ended up happy. (A couple of years later, it turned out that the businessmen who were interested in purchasing the bugging device were connected to the White House... but that's a whole 'nother story... ;) )

-- Bob