Reign of the Supermen #470: Silver Age Wonder-Man

Source: Superman vol.1 #163 (1963)
Type: Analog/Replacement
Last week, we took a look at Superman's first analog, Wonder Man, who wouldn't see a second story until he fell into public domain thanks to DC's legal action. Is it my imagination, but did DC reference that character 24 years later in Superman #163? Purple instead of red, a little cape, a hyphen, but otherwise quite close. He comes to Metropolis and steals Superman's thunder, replacing him in the hearts and minds of the citizenry... Superman should call DC's lawyers.

The story begins with Superman drilling under the Earth to put beams inside the planet's crust and prevent an impending earthquake in a "distant Western city".
Maybe there wouldn't be such a risk of earthquakes if Superman didn't consistently DRILL THROUGH THE EARTH with his body. His next mission is to help test a nuclear reactor, but this guy Wonder-Man shows up to do it for him. And he's at least as competent, even if the nuclear engineers aren't.
Superman is mystified. He must know who this cat is. X-Ray vision reveals he's no robot. Kandor reports no tourists have left the bottle city. Everyone accounted for in the Phantom Zone. But while he indulges his obsession, Wonder-Man is out there doing good works.
No wonder Superman's popularity takes a hit. When Wonder-Man brings an ancient statue to Metropolis, a gift from a South American country Superman was meant to deliver, Supes starts to wonder how Wonder-Man even knew about it. And when it starts to rain on the parade, the Man of Steel goes up into the clouds to try and change the weather, but he AGAIN gets trumped by his blond rival.
As you can see, the Silver Age Superman is always focused on his own popularity. Though Wonder-Man is doing good things, Superman brands him an interloper. He confronts the new kid on the block, and his fears seem to be justified when Wonder-Man tells him he should retire to his Clark Kent identity AND he pulls out a chunk of kryptonite. Superman is forced to let Wonder-Man have his career and take his place in parades, awards ceremonies and all that other junk Superman was always up when he wasn't saving the world.

As per the Silver Age Superman formula, this WHAT THE--?! set-up is followed by one of several flashbacks to explain said set-up. Wonder-Man started life as Ajax, the best and brightest of Superman's robots. That's how he knows Superman's schedule, identity, etc. Recently, Superman asked Ajax to fly into space to stop a meteor swarm moving towards Earth while he went on his earthquake-prevention task in, as it turns out, earthquake-riddled Canada (STOP DIGGING THROUGH THE EARTH, SUPERMAN!!!).
Ajax finds a spaceship trapped on a magnetic asteroid there, and freeing it, gets his knocked out by a smaller meteor. When he comes to inside the ship, the grateful aliens have put his machine mind into a synthetic human body with a full complement of Superman powers!
They also give him a chunk of kryptonite in case Superman gets jealous. And if Superman isn't already, he's about to come face to face with the green-eyed monster. Wonder-Man saves a helicopter in the coolest, craziest way...
...AND puts the moves on Lois Lane, which Silver Age readers will know as the girl Superman keeps stringing along. So Superman says goodbye to Metropolis and walks - does not fly - to his Fortress of Solitude to live out his days. But Wonder-Man is waiting for him there to tell him he's moving in. There's a fight and eventually, kryptonite prevails.
That's when those aliens come down and reveal they're really members of the Superman Revenge Squad! Flashback #2!
Sorry, Mr. Editor, but Attal looks quite young in that panel compared to the Reed Richards look he's now sporting. Footnote fail. But the point is, Attal wants Superman dead because Superboy once stopped his daddy from conquering a few planets. His initial plan was to throw that chunk of kryptonite at him when he came to investigate the meteor swarm, but he had to change it when a Superman robot came calling instead. He disabled the robot with a remote-controlled chunk and put his mind in a super-powered synthetic body, and gently manipulated him so that he would eventually come to blows with his old master... Wait. WAIT! Attal can build synthetic bodies with all of Superman's powers and THIS was his plan?! Sigh.

But it doesn't work. Wonder-Man swoops in and throws the kryptonite back into space and he and Superman throw Attal and his ship up there too. Flashback #3 reveals Ajax knew they were bad all along because they'd given him x-ray vision and a suite of super-senses, so he saw/heard them discussing their real plans. He merely PLAYED the part they wanted him to play so he could trap them. Superman is still being outshone, so of course, he needs to say he knew all along too. How?
YOU SO DIDN'T KNOW, SUPERMAN! WE COULD READ YOUR THOUGHT BUBBLES AND YOU NEVER KNEW. And if you did, like 10 seconds before everything was revealed, that is still the cheesiest reveal in any superhero comic ever. Get a room, guys.

But they don't have time to get a room. Flashback #4 tells us that Wonder-Man also heard the baddies talk about the expiration date on his new body. Alas...
And that memorial still stands today, or would, were it not for half a dozen Crises unmaking reality since then. Wonder(-)Man: He was born a rip-off, he died a cheap one-off gimmick.

3 comments:

Martin Gray said...

Oh boy, thank you - I have that comic/pile of dust somewhere, but it feels like I read it yesterday.

Perhaps Superman was always drilling under the Earth looking for mole people? The guy needs constant new avenues of popularity.

Siskoid said...

I'm surprised Metropolis hasn't fallen into Skartaris by now.

Martin Gray said...

Somehow it took Supes years to bump into this place:

http://www.comics.org/issue/25074/cover/4/

 

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