Last month we dove into one of my thoroughly thrashed 80-page giants ( Superman #197) to find the mobsteriffic story, “When Clark Kent Meets Al Capone!" Superman decides to do Perry White a favor and flies into the prehistoric past to answer the burning question: “Is the newest dinosaur discovery, Gargantasaur, bigger than Titano, the Super-Ape?”
It’s all about truth in journalism. Perry doesn’t want to print any untruths on the cover of the Planet — even if they’re un-provable except by Superman. Happily, Superman finds the answer. Unhappily, Titano “brushes him” with his kryptonite vision and makes the man of steel a wee bit wobbly. This interferes with his trip through the time barrier. He finds himself in Chicago in the 1920s, the time when Al Capone was king and men spent a lot of time getting their shoes shined.
We join Clark, who is dressed in his 1960s suit in the 1920s, but no one notices. Do men’s fashions really change so little? Weird. Women’s fashions change by the hour, but I digress (as usual). Clark comes across a shoeshine boy who is buffing the footwear of the publisher of the Chicago Journal. The shoeshiner tells the publisher that he really wants to become a cub reporter and wants a chance with the newspaper. The publisher, who appears somewhat indifferent, tells the shoeshine boy that if he can bring in a scoop, he will hire him. That excites the little shoeshine boy to no end. This is good because he’s not a very handsome fellow and who knows what would become of him if he lost his dreams of some day polishing up newspaper articles instead of shoes?Clark listens to the exchange and finds the young man's voice rather familiar. Suddenly, he realizes that it's Perry White as a young man! At this point, Kent does something I find downright bizarre. Clark fears that the young Perry will see him, and decades down the road, recognize him as having gotten his shoes shined at one point way back in the 20s. You may recognize someone, Superman, but no one can even figure out who you are because you're wearing glasses. In short, the people of Metropolis do not pay much attention to people's faces. Regardless, Clark smears shoe polish across his cheek to "…alter my appearance! Then Perry of 1960 won't recall having seen an adult Clark Kent when he was young! Otherwise he'd figure out I'm Superman who can travel through time!" This might be the single goofiest thing ever to find its way into a comic — it’s at least on the level of Aquaman having a pet fish in a fishbowl at the bottom of the ocean (see the column for June of 2011 http://www.cgccomics.com/news/viewarticle.aspx?NewsletterNewsArticleID=1214). But this is even more insane than it appears. To “alter” his appearance, Clark rubs some shoeshine on his cheek. This will magically erase his face from memory several decades into the future, or so we are to believe. (Here’s hoping Clark never visits the printing area of the Planet or he could risk getting ink on his cheek and then Perry will figure it all out instantly!) Stunningly strange. But wait — there’s more! A mobster sitting next to Clark sees the "scar" (which is apparently what shoe polish on the cheekbone looks like. A scar. Not a bit of dirt or a smudge, but a black streak of a scar. Because we all know scars blacken with age until they closely resemble globs of shoe polish.) and mistakes Clark for "Touch" Vincent, who appears to be a mobster because he has a nickname in quotes. "Silky" Hale tells "Touch" that Mr. Big wanted them to be on the lookout for him. This gives Mr. Time-traveling-shoe-polish-scar an idea. If he becomes a mobster in the 20s, he'll be able to get a big scoop for young Perry White. Because that plan doesn't have any holes in it.When Clark is introduced to Mr. Big, he realizes that he's Al Capone! Didn't see that one coming, did you? He immediately tells Clark to do a little safe cracking on a safe they recently received from a guy who owed them protection money. "…he rigged a bomb inside to explode it if it's opened by force! You open it!" says Al. Clark easily opens the safe using his super-hearing and gives us an internal narration of exactly how safe cracking works. That's just in case the children weren't up to speed on how to be a mobster. After all, safe cracking takes years of practice so it’s best to start when you are eight.
Al is impressed with Clark's easy work with the safe, but tells him he must pass another test. A rival gang stole one of Al Capone's beer trucks. "You hijack it back from them, see?" Since the truckers are on the highway (as opposed to in the parlor), Clark saves time by changing into Superman while the mobsters were all looking in a different direction. That seems dangerous. Well, it is before Superman officially had appeared, so they would think it bizarre that he was wearing his underwear on the outside but they wouldn't know to be afraid.
Clark whips up into the sky and immediately is seen by a barnstormer pilot. The super brain doesn't quite kick in right away as he wonders why she seems surprised to see a man flying above the clouds. Then he remembered that he has yet to appear in this decade. Oops!He doesn't let it worry him for long. He finds the truck and shoves it off the road. It falls into a swamp so the two thieves decide to walk back to town, thinking the truck will sink out of sight. Nope. Superman was there to pull it out of the swamp and bring it back to Al Capone. However, being a Boy Scout, he shines his heat vision into the beer and chemically ferments it into vinegar. The mob congratulates Clark despite the sour beer because he did accomplish what he was sent to do. [Please, dear readers, stop weeping about the spoiled beer. This happened more than 90 years ago. And it was just a drawing of beer. You never had a chance to save the beer. ::sob:: You never had a chance!]
The third and final trial is for Clark to shoot and kill a policeman that Al Capone does not like. Supes has to think his way out of this one, so he shoots at the cop but melts the bullet before it reaches the policeman. Then he uses his suction-breath to create a vacuum around him so he can't breathe. The cop passes out, Clark jumps into the car with his mobster buddies and gets the word that he has made it into Al Capone’s gang.Everything seems to be going just fine, except for one little detail. When they get back to Al's place, they hear on the radio that “Touch” Vincent had been denied parole. Oops, kinda forgot to check to see if anything was going on with “Touch” lately, didn't ya, Clark? He is immediately accused of being an imposter — I'm sure they were all amazed that the shoe polish scar wasn't real — and they decide to kill him because that's what mobsters do. In order to not let the bullets bounce off him and possibly hurt the mobsters (really?), Clark zigzags to avoid the hail of bullets from the Tommy gun. On the wall, there's a perfect outline of Clark showing that their aim was amazing if they wanted to miss him by inches all around the edge of his body. I'm not sure why he didn't just stand still instead of zigzagging.
Figuring that he was just lucky when it comes to bullets, they all throw knives at him. Apparently each of them was carrying about three or four knives apiece. Clark basically stands there for this one and the knives either bounce off or hit spots on the wall where he is nowhere near. How did this gang frighten anyone? So Al Capone takes his gat and shoots out the glass ceiling of his headquarters so that a powerline on the roof will fall through the skylight and land on Clark. Apparently they're hoping he'll just stand there while this happens. Obligingly he does! The wire lands around his neck and he stands there completely oblivious to the live current.
Al Capone gives up saying, "…that Fed is…uh…untouchable!" And now you know why they wanted to write this story. They wanted to make that untouchable joke. Think about that a moment. They have the elaborate Titano / time barrier / shoe polish / Al Capone / trial by fire set up all to serve that little joke. DC Comics surely has no shame. I love them for that.Once the joke has been said, Clark is free to change into Superman and fly back home. He leaves the scoop on the shoeshine stand and heads back to 1960 and the Daily Planet. Perry waxes poetic about the story Superman got for him. "I owe many of my scoops, like this one about Titano, to Superman, Clark! But when I was a shoeshine boy long ago, in Chicago, I've often wondered who it was that… gave me my first scoop, long before I came to work for the Daily Planet!""I guess Superman can't…er…take credit for that one, Perry! I wonder who…er…was that first ‘untouchable'!" With that, Clark gives us a wink (I do adore the patented Clark / Superman end-of-story wink) and it's the end. I have to admit it’s a really weird thing to say to Perry, that untouchable line (once wasn’t enough? They wanted to use the same bad joke twice?). And I do find it odd that Perry suddenly talks about being a shoeshine boy for the first time when the story that Superman brought back has nothing to do with Chicago in the 20s. It's awfully convenient, don't you think? Because he apparently had never mentioned it before, since Clark was so shocked to recognize Perry's voice as the shoeshine boy. Then again, stranger things have happened in a Superman comic. This is downright normal. Wink.Be sure to come back next month for more thrilling Silver Age adventures filled with fascinating stories, bizarre adventures and winking.
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