Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Superman is Untouchable.

So did Superman change history or just help it along? And if he hadn't helped it along, what would have happened? 

Oh, sorry. I suppose I should explain what I'm talking about. We're going to look at a story titled "Superman Meets Al Capone," the back-up story from Superman #142 (January 1961). It's a story that was reprinted six years later in Superman #197 (June-July 1967). This later offering was an "All Clark Kent Issue," so the story was re-titled "Clark Kent Meets Al Capone."

It starts out with Superman going back in time to measure a dinosaur's footprint and confirm a scientist's theory that there was a dinosaur bigger than Titano the Super Ape. For those of you who don't know, Titano was a modern-day ape who was mutated to King Kong size and given kryptonite vision. Superman had tossed him back in time to the Dinosaur Age so he could live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, Titano shows up and manages to zap the Man of Steel with his K vision. Actually, you do have to wonder how a giant ape managed to sneak up on someone with several varieties of super vision and super hearing. And, for that matter, super smell. I doubt Titano smells like a bed of roses. But for the sake of moving an 8-page story along, we'll forgive this. Maybe Clark was distracted while thinking about how cool the big dinosaur must be. That's certainly what I would have been doing. 
Superman is weakened and goes off course while flying back through the time barrier. He stops off in Prohibition-era Chicago to wait until the kryptonite wears off completely before continuing home. He changes back to Clark while he takes in the sights. 

It's here that he meets a young Perry White, who is working as a shoe shine boy but needs to get a
scoop in order to get hired as a cub reporter.  To prevent Perry from recognizing him in the future,Clark takes off his glasses and puts a fake scar on one cheek. When a mobster then mistakes him for a crook named "Touch" Vincent, Clark sees a chance to help Perry get his scoop.

By the way, I hate to say it, but poor Perry was one butt-ugly kid. Oh, well, hopefully his mother loved him anyways.

And so Clark Kent joins the Capone mob. To ingratiate himself with Capone, he secretly uses his powers to hijack a beer truck from a rival gang, though he heat-visions the beer to turn it sour so Capone can't profit from the deed.

Capone then orders him to kill a cop. I like the trick he pulls off here: melting the bullets he fires at the cop with heat vision and using super breath to knock his supposed victim unconscious by sucking all the air away. It appears the cop has been shot when he's merely blacked out for a moment.

But the jig is up when Capone hears a radio report that the real "Touch" Vincent is still in prison. Capone figures Clark must be a Fed, prompting the mobsters to try to off him with bullets, knives and a high-voltage power line. But Clark is apparently "Untouchable!"

Clark leaves the story at Perry's shoe shine stand and leaves the 1920s before Eliot Ness can file a law suit for Cool Nickname Infringement.

It's a fun story, written by Otto Binder with the cleverness he always infused into his tales. It probably would have been a lot more fun if young Perry had been more directly involved in getting the story, but the point of the tale is to put Clark and Capone in the same room, so we'll forgive that as well.

But that darn paradox still makes me think. Was Superman (despite being displaced in time) an origianl part of Perry White's history? Did he simply help history along--in which case was anything he did necessary since it presumably would have happened more or less the same way? Did he change history? The last panel has Clark and Perry (back in the present) looking at the framed front page of Perry's first scoop. Was that specific paper always there, or did it fade into something different after Superman altered the time line? Perhaps Perry's first scoop was covering a garbage strike or something like that and Superman changed it into something else.

"Superman Meets Al Capone" seems to be a simple little story, but we apparently need a genius-level temporal physicist to work out all the implications. Where is Mr. Peabody when you really need him?

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