Spinner Rack: "Clark Kent Meets Al Capone!" - Part One

Posted by Joanna Sandsmark on 4/17/2013

In the annals of crime history, there is an unsolved mystery going back to the racket-ridden 1920s before federal agents finally smashed the greatest criminal ring of that time! Who was the man that defied the most powerful mob?

It's difficult to resist a story with that opening. I'm sure the kids who clamored around the newsstand in the '60s felt the same way. The cover date of the original issue of Superman is January 1961 and this was the lead story. As best I can tell, the art is by Wayne Boring. He always draws a very stocky Superman. When I was a kid reading comics, I never gave much thought to the artist or the writer. I did, however, notice when there was someone new or different. Back then, I wanted Lois Lane and Supergirl drawn by Kurt Schaffenburger. In regular Superman comics I liked Curt Swan and Neal Adams. Much as I preferred those artists, the truth is that what I cared about the most were the stories. The reprint I'm reading from is an 80-page giant that is completely trashed, with pages falling off, the front cover missing and the back cover flaking — but all the stories are intact. This 80-pager is Superman #197, from June–July 1967. I don't have a cover, but it appears that the theme has something to do with Clark Kent. A quick Google search tells me that yes, it is billed as the "All Clark Kent issue!" One of the first things I found interesting was that the "Al" of Al Capone was written in cursive, in the way the real Capone used to write his name.

The splash page shows mobsters shooting up Clark Kent’s clothing, bullets flying everywhere, and Clark narratively thinking about how he is in the past, can't switch to Superman and is in a fight with Al Capone's gang. The gang is rather flummoxed by Clark’s invulnerability. It has done what a splash must do: make me want to read more. I’m going in, Ma, and I’m not coming out until Al Capone cheats on his taxes and Superman audits him! Funny how they skipped that part in the splash.

Our story begins at the Daily Planet when Perry White shows Clark a scientific report from an archaeologist who found the fossil footprint of a brand-new species of dinosaur. The archaeologist claims that the dinosaur "… may be bigger than Titano, the Super-Ape!" Perry White "… shows reporter Clark Kent a scientific report…" What we see in the panel is Perry holding up a giant poster with a picture of a dinosaur that somewhat resembles a T. Rex, a weird dinosaur footprint, the Empire State building and the very gigantic Titano the Super-Ape. I find it fascinating that the scientific report came with such a large and strange visual aid. Did they do that to convince Perry, or in anticipation of persuading Superman to lend a hand? Regardless, Perry is determined to find out the truth. Is there a dinosaur larger than Titano? Unfortunately, Superman hurled the mighty ape across the time barrier into prehistoric times without measuring his feet or something. Clark volunteers to arrange for Superman to find out the truth for Perry.

One of my favorite conventions of Silver Age comics are the panels where a character has a thought balloon that is pure exposition. It would be so bizarre if we spent our days internally narrating everything we were doing. For example, as a panel of Clark changing into Superman with a thought balloon that says, "I'll change out of sight and do Perry a favor! I can visit the past by flying faster than light!" Why is he telling himself about what it takes to fly into the past? The next panel has Superman continuing his strange self-narration. "I'll have to avoid meeting Titano when I arrive! At [the] sight of me he always gets mad and turns on his kryptonite vision!" Putting aside the rare grammatical error, once again Superman is narrating his thoughts. He continues to do this for the entire page as he finds Titano’s footprint, measures it and then, to his horror, sees Titano in person. He tries to fly away, but the ape is too quick for him. "Titano brushed me with his kryptonite vision before I could get up enough speed to crash through the time-barrier…:: Gasp!:: Already I feel weak…" Thanks, Superman, for narrating in your thoughts exactly what we could see in the panel.

We watch as a somewhat groggy Superman sees the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which is bothersome because he should not be slowing down at that point, but he is. That said, we can probably guess that Titano had been walking around the real estate that would one day be Chicago. Kent could’ve retired young if he’d thought to stake a claim. Next, Superman continues to struggle with his journey toward 1960 and notices the Columbian exposition from 1893, which also took place in Chicago. Now he's really feeling weak — not too weak to self-narrate, mind you, but there is an increase in general gasping. He continues to fly over Chicago and he guesses the time period to be "…only a few years after 1900." He then lets us know, "I'll change to Clark and stay here until the effects of the kryptonite rays wear off!" Will the self-narrating end here? Of course not, silly comic reader. Clark Kent strolls down the street now noticing the vintage cars, flappers and doughboys. "Seems the time is just after World War I around the 1920s! How old fashioned everything looks compared to 1960!" To put things in perspective, 1920 was 40 years earlier than 1960 which is 40 years earlier than the year 2000 which was 13 years ago. I imagine Clark wouldn't be so cocky about how modern 1960 is were he to fly through the time barrier to our present. Of course, he would then notice the distinct lack of flying cars, moon colonies and people wearing jet packs, which would throw him into a total tailspin because prior comics have already proven they exist in our advanced degree of “future.” Oddly enough, no one predicted the Internet. Telecommunication where we could see each other on screens: yes. Facebook and spam filters: no.

Back to our still groggy Clark in the 1920s. He strolls up to a newsstand and sees a big poster of Al Capone. "Hmm… this is the year when Al Capone was the king of crime and ran all the rackets!" self-narrates Clark. Okay, since we already know the title of this story, it was pretty easy to predict what time period and city he would land in. The next series of panels, however, were not as predictable.

Because I love to torture people, this seems like a good place to either stop until next month’s conclusion or waterboard everyone who’s reading. I’ll go with the former. See ya then!

If you'd like to learn more, including a detailed bio and more information about Joanna's books, please visit her website.

This is a guest article. The thoughts and opinions in this piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.

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