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Superman 128
"Superman Duels the Futuremen!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND April 1959; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications); Mort Weisinger, editor; featuring, "a great 2-part novel, SUPERMAN DUELS THE FUTUREMEN!"

The cover, I think by Curt Swan (and Stan Kaye?) depicts a flying saucer like vehicle firing hula hoop like rings at Superman which surround and bind him in the sky above Metropolis. "Great guns! I'm caught in a super-trap by super-villains from the year 2,000! Even my SUPERMAN powers can't help me escape!" Jeez.... the year 2,000.... that's way in the future, all right.....

The inside story is clearly drawn by Wayne Boring, but I don't know the writer. On the splash page, that same flying saucer fires a blast ray at Superman which he dodges while thinking, "The space police from the future! They've found me! I've got to get away-- find a hideout!"

The "routine activities" of the FBI offices in Washington D.C. are interrupted when a round purple space capsule like vehicle appears out of nowhere. At first the G-Men think their sanctum has been invaded by aliens, but the green-uniformed occupants introduce themselves as Earthmen from the future-- the year 2000, to be exact. They present their credentials as "Vard and Boka" of the "Earth Bureau of Investigation" (did I miss hearing in the news about this agency being established?) and explain, "We are here to arrest a dangerous outlaw who has escaped from our time into yours! This criminal has taken an ALIAS! For years he has been known to you as SUPERMAN!" The Fibbies are skeptical, but Vard and Boka insist that the man known as Superman was first a "renegade scientist" and leader of an outlaw gang known as the Space Sharks. Indeed, the "S" on his shirt originally stood not for "Superman" but for "Shark"! The rest of the Sharks are eventually captured by the EBI, but as they burst in on Shark himself, he boasts, "You're too late! I've just swallowed a serum that I perfected-- a serum that gives me SUPER-POWERS! Ha! Ha!" -- and vanishes at super-speed through the time barrier. Years later, having perfected a time machine, the EBI agents arrive in the past era of 1959, where they have tracked the fleeing Shark. (Why they couldn't schedule their time trip to arrive right after Shark, or even before him, is one of those unexplained mysteries of DC time travel...or would be if this were a true story.) The FBI men are appalled at the thought of having to hunt down Superman as a criminal-- "He's always done so much good!"-- but Vard and Boka insist that "We know he's been leading a Jekyll-Hyde existence in your time! We're sure that every public service he did was just a coverup for some criminal activity! You know your duty! Lead us to him!" The FBI men agree, reluctantly (and surprisingly-- not only are they violating all sorts of 20th century type civil liberties by allowing Superman to be captured without any kind of due process indictment or extradition, but normally the FBI isn't willing to so meekly turn over jurisdiction to any other law agency, even a future one.)

Upon catching up to Superman as he finishes moving a hospital from a highway route to a new site, the FBI and the "Futuremen" explain their accusation, and when a startled Superman denies being an outlaw from the future, the "Futuremen" exclaim, "Naturally we'd expect you to deny it! We're wasting time! We'll have to use our STUN-GUNS!" (Not much for Miranda rights and such in the year 2,000, are they?) Superman is rocked back on his heels by the stun-guns "throwing out a strange force I've never encountered before!", but he crashes to the ground, throwing up gravel which momentarily blinds the Futuremen, and then flees at super-speed "so I can defend myself against their accusations later!"

Hiding out temporarily in his Fortress of Solitude, Superman decides to make a tape telling his true secret life story, so that the people of Earth will know the truth if he is captured. On the tape, he tells the story of how he arrived on Earth as an infant, learned over time that he had amazing super-powers, and, encouraged by his foster parents to do good, resolved "When I grow up, I'll take on a secret identity!" Curiously, though the Superboy strip was over a decade old by this time, no mention is made of his Superboy career-- and the Pa Kent who appears in one panel looks distinctly different from the Pa appearing in the Superboy series. This has led some comics historians to cite this story as "the last Golden Age (or Earth-Two) Superman story". Which, if true, would make it technically off-topic for this list....but never mind....:-) Superman presents the tape to Perry White of the Daily Planet with instructions to view it only if he is captured and disappears.

Meanwhile, the Futuremen's accusations against Superman are publicized on television, and "Wanted- Superman" posters begin to appear. But though he is hunted and pursued by fighter jets, mere 20th century mortals cannot capture Superman; but the Futuremen have the answer; "Red Kryptonite that our scientists have discovered in the future! This freak variety will not kill Superman, but will cause him to lose his super-powers for TWO HOURS -- time enough for us to capture him!" Typically, Superman is engaged in a good deed, halting the collapse of a skyscraper under construction, when the Futuremen catch up to him and fire their Red Kryptionite rays. In trying to escape, Superman finds himself gyrating wildly, hurling bricks in all directions, and crashing into objects, causing bystanders to think that he truly is a menace. In their ship, the Futuremen gloat; "One thing we never told the FBI Chief-- before the Red Kryptonite weakens Superman, it will first affect his mind-- so that he will be UNABLE TO CONTROL HIS SUPER-POWERS! We've convinced the people of this time that Superman is a criminal! Ha, ha!" As the Red K takes its full effect, Superman finds himself powerless and vulnerable, and in fleeing from police, he is shot in the shoulder by a cop.

Following a chapter break (and a house ad for BRAVE & BOLD #23 featuring Joe Kubert's Viking Prince), the splash page of Part 2 takes us to a museum of the future, as a little girl exclaims, "Look at the new statue of Superman! It almost looks real, doesn't it?", as in the background Vard and Boka gloat, "Ha! The museum visitors don't know it-- but they are actually looking at the REAL SUPERMAN!" In the present, still fleeing from police, the wounded Superman is ratted out by a bystander, cornered in an abandoned warehouse, and brought to bay by tear gas which incapacitates him in his vulnerable state. His gunshot wound heals as his super-powers start to return, but another dose of Red Kryptonite keeps him under control as Vard and Boka prepare to take him away. Superman asks the FBI chief "Do you honestly believe I'm a criminal?" and the chief demurs, "I-I'm sorry, but you'll have to go to the future-- to stand trial!" Only after the Futuremen's time machine disappears does the chief mumble, "G-goodbye, Superman, old friend-- and good luck!" Arriving in the year 2000, Superman is impressed by the futuristic cityscape, but Vard and Boka sneer, "Take a good look-- your LAST look, Superman-- before we put you where you'll never see a living soul again!" Superman demands to be put on trial, but the Futuremen laugh and admit that they aren't policemen. Vard sprays the Man of Steel with Red Kryptonite dust to "paralyze him completely", and the two thugs haul him to the Superman Museum where he is put on display as a "statue". That night, the Futuremen smuggle Supes back out of the museum (why they put him in there in the first place is unclear, other than to set up the splash page scene) and take him off Earth in a spaceship, where they at last explain their nefarious scheme. It seems that Earth of the year 2000 is about to die of thirst, as the planet's oceans have been "accidentally dissolved by an atomic experiment". (Oops....another news item I seem to have missed hearing about... and that beats Three Mile Island and Chernobyl all hollow.) Vard and Boka intend to coerce Superman into towing a couple of Saturn's moons, which have been discovered to be giant snowballs, to Earth-- and blackmail Earth for billions for these "frozen assets". If Superman fails to cooperate, the Futuremen will go back to Superman's own time and destroy the oceans then. (They don't seem to have thought this out very carefully...if life on Earth is wiped out in 1959, how will Vard and Boka be able to exist in 2000?)

Vard and Boka leave Superman alone, in a Red Kryptonite cage on an asteroid, for an hour to "think it over". (Rule One of the Super-Villains' Code of Conduct: once you have the hero in an "inescapable" trap, always find an excuse to go away and leave him alone and give him a chance to figure out a plan of escape.) Beaming his heat vision through the bars of the cage, Superman splits a speeding meteor and deflects its course, causing a chunk of the meteor to smash the cage. Shortly afterwards, Vard and Boka spot Superman in flight through space and fire at him with their Red Kryptonite cannon, but he keeps disappearing and reappearing. Finally, after their Red K supply is exhausted, Supes captures their ship and explains how he has tricked them by using mirrors to create images of himself to draw their fire. Returning to Earth and turning Vard and Boka over to the real authorities, Superman speeds off again, explaining that he is going "to get Earth a king-size drink of water". He carries out the Futuremen's plan-- bringing back to Earth two of Saturn's frozen-water moons and hurling them at the basins of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to refill them-- and accepts the thanks of the "President of the United Worlds". (Yet another personage of the year 2000 that I don't recall hearing about in the news.) Returning to the year 1959 (in Vard and Boka's time machine, for some reason, rather than under his own power), Superman arrives just in time to use his heat vision to destroy the history tape he made, preventing Perry White and Lois Lane from hearing his revelation of his secret identity. "I don't know whether to be glad or angry to see you back so soon!" Lois declares. "I hope you're glad, Lois-- because now that I'm back, I intend to stay here for a long, long time!"

Was this story ever reprinted? I don't think I've seen it in any '60s Annuals or 80 Page Giants...maybe because of the continuity anomalies that cause it to be attributed to "Earth-Two". It would have been a hoot if DC had found some place to reprint it during the actual year 2000, three years ago. But then, I thought TV's Sci-Fi Channel should have celebrated New Year's Eve 1999 by having a SPACE 1999 marathon (instead of the "Twilight Zone" marathon they actually had).

The "Metropolis Mailbag" lettercol that follows features what I suspect are some of Uncle Mort Weisinger's famous "planted" letters. One, from Gabriel Levy of Brooklyn, New York, urges, "Your comic magazines, SUPERMAN and SUPERBOY, are very popular. Isn't it time you pioneered with a SUPERGIRL?", all too neatly inviting Mort to respond, "SUPERGIRL will make her debut in the May issue of our companion magazine ACTION COMICS...If she wins the support of all DC fans, eventually she will have her own magazine." Another reader, Scott Snyder of Los Angeles, asks, "Why isn't Clark Kent's super-dog, Krypto, featured in any of the Superman comics? Is he dead?" and is reassured, "Krypto, the canine wonder, is very much alive and barking" and referred to an upcoming ADVENTURE COMICS story with a Krypto origin recap. Still another letter from Edward Katz of Quebec, Canada asks how Clark Kent can travel out of the United States on assignment for the Daily Planet since he doesn't have an Earth-type birth certificate in order to get a passport. Mort explains that his adoption papers from the Smallville Orphanage were enough documentation for a passport. (Oddly enough, a recent plotline of the post-reboot Superman involved him getting in trouble with Perry White because Clark Kent never bothered getting a passport for his foreign assignments, since he flies across borders as Superman.) And Russell Blender of Chicago complains about a story in which Superman throws out the first ball of a ball game in the United States and it lands at a game in Tokyo, Japan. According to Russell's calculations, "the ball landed in Tokyo at 3:30 a.m." Uncle Mort's excuse for this one is, "Guess they were playing a night game that went on and on into extra innings,".

But that's not all for the issue.... it also features "The Sleeping Beauty From Krypton", a story which is drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger, and which, since it prominently features Lois Lane, I suspect was originally drawn for the LOIS LANE comic and then used to plug a hole in the SUPERMAN title. Playing in a Price-Is-Right-like TV game show called "Bid The Price", Lois correctly guesses the price of a giant gong built by Superman to foil one of Luthor's plots, and wins as her prize a model rocket, Kryptonian dress, and other props from a movie called "The Krypton Story". (Another reason I guess to consign the lead story to Earth-Two, since in it apparently no Earth people are aware of Superman's Kryptonian origins.) Lois hatches a scheme to "ferret out Superman's secret identity" by pretending to be Rama, a fellow survivor of Krypton who once was little Kal-El's babysitter (!) Supposedly, she too was shot into space by her father to escape Krypton's doom, but a drifting Kryptonite cloud delayed her arrival, causing her to remain in suspended animation for years, and also deprived her of her Kryptonian super-powers once arriving on Earth. Eventually, however, her powers will develop... and so that she can work effectively alongside Superman when that happens, "Rama" asks Superman to reveal to her his secret identity. "I hide my super-identity under the guise of a newspaper reporter! I'm called CLARK KENT!" the Man of Steel admits, to "Rama"'s hidden glee. But as Lois makes plans to confess her ruse, hoping that Superman will propose to her once he knows that she knows his identity, Superman realizes that "Rama"'s story is fishy because, being in suspended animation, she could not have known she passed through a Kryptonite cloud. He uses his X-ray vision to discover "Rama"'s true identity under her blonde wig, and hatches a plan of his own. The next day, Superman shows up in an ebullient mood and declares to Lois that he's in love. At first Lois thinks she is the one Supes loves, but no, his new sweetheart is the strange visitor from Krypton that he has just met. "I've made myself my own rival! He actually prefers that blond hussy from Krypton to ME!" Pulling her blonde wig out of her purse, Lois reveals that she is "Rama" and that at least she has discovered Superman's secret identity. But then Clark Kent just happens by. "Want to hear something funny, Clark? Lois thinks I'm YOU!" Lois thinks "Clark" is one of Superman's robots, but she is further humiliated when tests with a fluoroscope and a giant magnet prove him to be thoroughly human. Lois realizes, at last, that Superman is playing a trick on her to get even for the trick she played on him. And he can't really be Clark Kent, she concludes, because he can't have hired an actor to play Clark for him; the actor would learn his identity. But later "Clark" removes his face mask to reveal a master of disguise who already knows Superman's identity-- Bruce Wayne, aka Batman. "Thanks, Bruce, for helping me keep my identity a secret!" "Glad to help out, Superman! Maybe sometime I'll ask you to help ME keep BATMAN's identity a secret!" (The latest issue of Kurt Busiek's ASTRO CITY-- LOCAL HEROES miniseries #2-- has a story with an interesting take on these Silver Age Lois-schemes-to-learn-Superman's-identity-and-Superman-tricks-her tales.)