Friday, June 26, 2015

FORGOTTEN FOES : SUPER-MENACE

"Whatcha thinkin' about?"

Superman has never faced a shortage of "evil duplicates" in his never-ending battle for truth and justice. Naturally, there's Bizarro, the Cyborg Superman, Ultraman of Earth-3, the Superman of Earth-A, Negative Superman, assorted evil Superman robots and clones and shapeshifters, the Super-Sandman, Neil Gaiman's Super-Sandman, the Punk Rock Superman of Earth-(Anarchy Symbol), Evil Puppet Superman, the Reverse Superman, the Inverse Superman, the Converse Superman (aka AAU Shuperstar), Super-Evil Man, Evil Superman, the Superman from Superman III who gets drunk and hangs around in junkyards and dozens more, at least the last half of which I basically made up right now.

They really should stop and trade information.
Also appearing only once among his roster of malevolent doppelgangers is his closest-ever lookalike, Super-Menace, a villain whose very presence is simultaneously the most absurd thing in Superman's convoluted history and also the most reasonable explanation for all the absurd things in Superman's convoluted history.

Debuting in Superman vol.1 No.137 (May 1960, "Superman vs Super-Menace"), Super-Menace is the product of Kryptonian doomsday scientist Jor-El's abominably shitty skills at celestial navigation. Having plotted a course for his infant son's rocket which should take him safely to Earth, what happens instead is that baby Kal-El's ship careens off the hull of a mysterious, lime-green vessel emerging from "another universe, a ship which is equipped with a multitude of weird scientific devices." Like an autoclave maybe, possibly a Nintendo.

Naturally, the collision results in Superbaby's spaceship crumpling like a Dixie cup and he dies in space, the end. Or, wait, no, what actually happens is that the alien vessel fires an incomprehensible raybeam at the tiny ship, creating a perfect duplicate of it - and its soon-to-be-superpowered inhabitant, right down to the swaddling clothes provided by his parents.

Super-Brat's been watching the news lately.
While Kal-El lands safely in Kansas in the loving arms of Pa and Ma Kent, the duplicate baby lands in the mountain hideaway of perennially unshaven gangster "Wolf" Derek and his sneering bride Bonnie. Initially fearing that the rocket was an attack from one of his many enemies, "Wolf" figures out the potential of the kid and hatches a plan. "We'll adopt this super-baby and pretend to love him" he tells his murder-happy bride, "We'll teach him to hate the law, like we do!"

The plan works out well, although it's laden with off coincidences. The Dereks, for instance, despite their merely-feigned love, manage to stitch together a super-suit for their titanically-powerful toddler which is identical to the same one worn by the law-abiding Superbaby (although they hide his identity by having him don a domino mask. No one else is around, so I guess they're just getting the kid used to it).

As "Super-Brat" grows up into a teenage "Super-Bully," he learns about the existence of - and learns to loathe - Superboy. Such is his hatred that, despite having been ordered to keep his existence a secret, he routinely harasses Superboy's home of Smallville in order to mess with Superboy's head. These efforts sometimes backfire - a swarm of meteors dropped on Smallville does keep Superboy busy, but an attempt to creep up on Lana Lang just reinforces the illusion of Superboy's dual identity, thanks to Super-Bully's immunity to kryptonite and the fact that Lana Lang likes to go around springing Kryptonite on Clark Kent for no reason. Nice girl, she'll go far.

A benefit to keeping Super-Menace around is Superman
could blame stuff like this on him.
As time passes, Super-Bully grows up in Super-Menace, a duplicate of Superman's in every way, except he's still wearing a domino mask like an idiot. Given the blessing by his aging father in a bid to take over the criminal gangs of the world, Super-Menace finally reveals himself to the Man of Steel in a battle which circles the planet. The force of their battle is so great that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is toppled and a uranium deposit is set off by a super-stomp of Super-Menace's foot. Those actually are the only two casualties - a nuclear explosion and a landmark fell over, but you get the idea.

Superman reveals to Super-Menace the lie that is his life by hitting him with x-ray vision and revealing that the villainous dupe possesses no bones or organs - just wriggly gross energy! His super-memory suddenly spurred to recall how his parents are actually dumb criminal assholes, Super-Menace punishes them for their false love by "abandon(ing) this human form, and return(ing) to ... pure force!" The Dereks are killed in the process, which is pretty gruesome for a Silver Age Superman story.

As Superman muses, "So vanishes the most dangerous menace to law-and-order the world has ever known," but he doesn't know the half of it. As unlikely a character as Super-Menace may have been, his existence answered a problematic issue in the Superman universe - namely, why was rural, out-of-the-way, unimportant Smallville always the target of alien attacks, destructive weather, roving crooks and assorted unfortunate happenstance? And for that matter, why couldn't Metropolis go a week without a tidal wave or an earthquake? Well, according to this story, it's because Super-Menace was farting around with Superman's free time, just trying to make life difficult for the Man of Tomorrow by throwing every threat he could find at him, for giggles.

Frankly, for such an unlikely character, it's a pretty good solution to the problem. Which is why I say - bring back Super-Menace!

This is a little dark.

4 comments:

Robot Devil said...

wait this is kinda the plot of Chappie

wordsmith said...

This is the kind of story that most likely would have been produced by liberal Jews (bear with me here, I'm liberal and semi-Jewish)--writer Jerry Siegel and editor Mort Weisinger--Semites both--had recently seen the world almost torn asunder by a war based, in part, on racial theories, e.g. Nature Trumps (I hate that verb) Nurture. "No", this story argues, "Nurture predominates, and the Kents are more worthy of their places on a pedestal in the Fortress of Solitude than the -Els".

Craig "Mr. Silver Age" Shutt, in his excellent and unfairly overlooked tome, "Baby Boomer Comics: The Wild, Wacky, Wonderful Comic Books of the 1960s", heaps scorn on this adventure, since it was introduced as an "Untold Story" of Superman, and, hence, retroactively rewrote almost all of Supes's history.

wordsmith said...

This is the kind of story that most likely would have been produced by liberal Jews (bear with me here, I'm liberal and semi-Jewish)--writer Jerry Siegel and editor Mort Weisinger--Semites both--had recently seen the world almost torn asunder by a war based, in part, on racial theories, e.g. Nature Trumps (I hate that verb) Nurture. "No", this story argues, "Nurture predominates, and the Kents are more worthy of their places on a pedestal in the Fortress of Solitude than the -Els".

Craig "Mr. Silver Age" Shutt, in his excellent and unfairly overlooked tome, "Baby Boomer Comics: The Wild, Wacky, Wonderful Comic Books of the 1960s", heaps scorn on this adventure, since it was introduced as an "Untold Story" of Superman, and, hence, retroactively rewrote almost all of Supes's history.

Calamity Jon said...

That's a really interesting take on this, and I don't doubt that you're right in no small part. Also, I might just start adding "Bear with me here" after pretty much everything I write, it's the plea of the times...

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