by Doc Quantum, adapted from Superman #19 by Jerry Siegel and John Sikela, and All-Star Squadron #64 by Roy Thomas and Wayne Boring
At the Perisphere, Johnny Quick and Liberty Belle listened in to a radio news report from Metropolis describing what happened next, as Superman fought a giant-size replica of the comic-strip villain Machine-Gun Mike, who looked like a typical 1930s movie gangster and carried his trademark machine-gun with him.
The battle between the gigantic fictional gangster and the normal-sized Superman next to him was a typical mystery-man brawl — if you were the size of Doll Man. The only real problem was that, while Machine-Gun Mike could fire large bullets at Superman, the Man of Tomorrow could not strike the villain, who was intangible and then disappeared completely, just like Torgo had done earlier. To the watching crowds below, it looked like Superman had been outmatched. The only positive note was that he was able to catch all of the real-life crooks who’d been working for Machine-Gun Mike and doing the legwork in robbing the Minton Museum.
“So who’s left, hon?” said Johnny as the news report ended. “Goola the Martian? The Viper?”
“Not sure about that pair, Johnny,” said Belle, “but if the Solitary Rider’s enemy is next on the list, I know where I’d look first.”
Libby Lawrence’s journalistic instincts were right on the money, and not only that, her fellow journalist Lois Lane had the same idea. But while Libby remained in New York City on alert in case this Superman case turned into an All-Star Squadron case, Lois simply headed straight to the Metro Stockyards on a hunch. Naturally, she got herself in trouble right away, when she was kidnapped by the Black Raider — another giant who was dressed in the outfit he wore on the comic-strip page: an all-black outfit with a black cowboy hat and mask, and he was riding an equally gigantic white horse and carrying pistols. Lois was only able to place a call to the Daily Star and let Clark Kent know about it when she was picked up like Faye Wray in King Kong by the Black Raider’s huge hand and taken away.
Superman arrived at the stockyards moments later and returned all the stolen trucks with their cargo, when he was told that Lois had been kidnapped. Superman went in pursuit of the giant Black Raider, now galloping over the foothills outside Metropolis, when he was ambushed by Funnyface, whose balloonlike heads appeared all around him, distracting him long enough for the giant outlaw to make his escape with Lois.
Immediately after, Superman encountered none other than Goola the Martian from the Streak Dugan comic-strip at the railroad yards, where he was stealing the gold cargo being loaded onto a train. Again, as Superman sought to engage his foe in combat, Funnyface’s heads appeared all around him until Goola was gone.
At the Perisphere, Liberty Belle was contacted by another All-Star — the Sandman, alias Wesley Dodds, who committed himself and Sandy the Golden Boy to help out if needed, but by this point Belle was telling the All-Stars that Superman had the case well in hand.
Wes had told her over the radio that last night he’d had one of his rare prophetic dreams about today’s events in Metropolis, but he’d immediately discounted it, since it was just so unbelievable. As he’d said when she talked with him several minutes earlier, “This is crazy, though. Comic-strip villains coming to life — robbing, raising hell–“
“Don’t forget, Sandman,” Libby had replied, “to somebody who didn’t know about us, the idea of a bunch of costumed mystery-men and women being real would seem pretty ludicrous, too!”
“You really think so?” said a boy’s voice, which Libby recognized as that of Sandy Hawkins.
“She’s right, kid,” said Wes.
Until then she had been trying to follow the story through radio news alerts, but it was all moving so fast that the reporters on the scene were unable to keep up with it quickly enough. Then it became impossible for Libby to continue when Johnny Quick had taken that moment to express his love for his new fiancée once again, showering her with kisses. Despite herself and her much-vaunted professionalism, Libby was distracted for several minutes.
“Johnny — please — I asked you to stop–” she said between kisses.
“Yeah, but that was ten minutes ago, and I haven’t heard a peep out of you since,” said Johnny.
With an act of tremendous willpower, Libby finally broke out of his loving embrace and went back to the radio.
“To repeat,” said Johnny. “When’s the wedding?”
“As soon as we make sure this Funnyface character is behind bars,” she said, raising a frequency on the two-way radio. “How’s that?”
“Solid!” said the speedster. “Talk about an incentive program!”
“Hello, Jonathan?” Libby said into the radio. “Liberty Belle. I just had a thought… What if we took clues from the comic-strips to see where these characters might strike next? We could pass the information on to Superman so he could start being more proactive rather than reactive.”
“Yes, Belle,” said Jonathan Law, alias Tarantula. “I’ve been working on the Happy Daze angle from home using some of the research tools I use while writing — and I think I may just have figured out where the villain from that strip may strike.”
“Go on,” said Libby. “I’m listening.”
“Well, in the current story, the Viper has been trying to rob an old folks home. If he’s really come to life — or if somebody’s impersonating him — good chance they’d try the same thing. A place in Metropolis called Happy Days Old Folks Home reads like a good place to start.”
“Thanks, Jonathan,” said Belle. “I’ll see if I can contact Superman with the info.”
The suggestion came too late, and it was wholly unnecessary, for by then Superman was already on his way to the Happy Days Old Folks Home. But Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick knew none of this until much later, when Superman himself visited the Perisphere, walking in at an awkward moment when he found Johnny and Libby sharing a tender kiss once more.
Superman cleared his throat before stepping into view, and Libby and Johnny quickly broke away like two school kids caught doing something wrong. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” said the Man of Tomorrow.
Johnny and Libby said in unison, “Superman!”
Liberty Belle cleared her throat, composed herself, and said, “We’d been following the Funnyface case on the radio. How did you make out?”
“He’s in jail. And that’s why I came,” said Superman. “I’d spotted you two in Metropolis when I was fighting Torgo, but I was obviously too busy to stay and chat. I hope you understand.”
“We should’ve known that Superman could’ve handled anything in Metropolis without our help,” said Johnny.
“I appreciate the thought,” said Superman, pouring himself a cup of water from a full pitcher. “It’s not often that I find myself in a situation where I need to call in the All-Stars, but I’m glad to know that all of you are available if I need you. Unlike Batman, I don’t have any Robin to provide back-up for me.”
“So, just out of curiosity, Superman, how did you beat Funnyface?” asked Belle. “We’d been able to follow the battle on the radio up until Goola was spotted at the Metropolis rail yards, but after that, the reporters couldn’t keep up. Tell me, did Viper strike at the Happy Days Old Folks Home as we suspected?”
Superman looked surprised for a moment, then laughed. “Why, yes! How’d you guess that? Never mind. I suspect you followed the same clues from the comic-strip as I did. Well, when I arrived there, I was greeted at the door by an old lady. After explaining what led me there, I gave her a warning against the character named Viper. But as soon as I did so, this sweet old lady transformed as if by magic into the giant figure of Viper himself, now standing astride the entire building.
“When I moved to attack him, Viper’s features immediately changed into that of Funnyface. But before he disappeared altogether like before, I was able to spot a clue that would lead me straight to the villain’s lair — the scrawled name of Carter’s Canyon on the villain’s pocket. This is a landmark in the hills outside Metropolis, I knew, and I headed straight there, despite the possibility that it might be a trap. Believe me, I even considered calling in back-up from you All-Stars just in case, but with Lois in trouble, there was no time to lose.
“As soon as I arrived in the canyon, I searched carefully until I saw a large, fenced-in estate that looked like a likely candidate to be Funnyface’s lair. My hunch was confirmed when all five of the giant comic-strip villains — Torgo, Machine-Gun Mike, the Black Raider, Goola, and Viper — suddenly appeared in that fenced-in area as soon as I landed. When they all attacked me at full force, all at once, I immediately regretted not having the All-Star Squadron at my side to help me fight them off. I knew that, whoever this Funnyface was, he was able to create a seemingly endless supply of foes to fight me if he wished. And just like when I fought Captain Marvel last month — another comic character come to life, now that I think about it — I felt nearly outmatched. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Thunder Over London,” All-Star Squadron #36 (August, 1984).]
“Thankfully, I did have back-up, in a way, since Daily Star reporter Lois Lane had been left alone in Funnyface’s lab when the villain stepped outside to watch the battle. Lois, God bless her, managed to figure out how to bring comic characters to life herself and wasted no time in creating all the heroes of the comic-strips to equally match the villains. With those reinforcements, I was able to concentrate on solving the source of the problem — Funnyface.
“The villain had already run back inside after realizing what Lois had done, and before I was able to stop him, he trained the ray he’d used to create his real-life characters on Lois, changing her — if you can believe it — into a two-dimensional drawing on paper. I demanded him to free her, but when he refused, all the heroes of the funny pages — Prince Peril, the Solitary Rider, Detective Craig, Streak Dugan, and Happy Daze — each took turns beating on Funnyface in their own unique ways until he’d had enough.
“Funnyface changed Lois back to normal, and we transferred all the comic-strip characters back into two-dimensional drawings, and finally I smashed the weird machine, which he called the Bio-Ray. But when Lois unmasked Funnyface, he turned out to be… nobody — or at least nobody we recognized or could identify. And that was the problem. You see, he had wanted to gain fame as the creator of a famous comic-strip, but when he had failed for years to sell any of his strips, he began what he called dimensional experimentation to bring comic characters to life. And when he finally succeeded, he put the comic-strip villains to work to make him rich through robberies.”
When Superman finished his story, Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick looked at each other with disbelief. “That’s incredible!” said Libby. “Why, the Bio-Ray alone has so many possibilities, so many applications, that he could’ve made himself a millionaire!”
“Yeah,” said Johnny. “Did you ask him why he didn’t just patent his Bio-Ray? It would’ve made him rich — without all the risk.”
Superman nodded. “I did ask him that, but he didn’t have an answer for me. Personally, I suspect that Funnyface wasn’t the inventor of the Bio-Ray after all. I think he must have gotten it from some other source, though where such an amazing device could have come from beats me!”
But the All-Star Squadron would never learn where Funnyface had gained the Bio-Ray, and as for the villain himself, he wasn’t talking. He’d had enough of big crimes, and he was planning to use his Bio-Ray in much more subtle ways from this point on. For the Bio-Ray that Superman had smashed was only a working duplicate created by the real Bio-Ray from a photograph of the amazing device. The duplicate had worked just as well as the original and had been realistic enough to fool Superman, and the real Bio-Ray was still safely tucked away where he had hidden it. And if he was, by any luck, able to break out of prison, he vowed to never be jailed again.
As for Libby Lawrence and Johnny Chambers, they were married, but not right away. They waited for a mere three weeks and then tied the knot in a small ceremony attended only by a few friends on April 1st. (*) Their wedding date being on April Fool’s Day alone should have given them a clue about the rocky road that would lay ahead of them in their marriage over the next few decades.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis Point,” All-Star Squadron #50 (October, 1985).]
While Superman would never directly face Funnyface again, two years later he would gain a foe who could create impossible characters out of thin air and do many more amazing things — Mr. Mxyztplk. And it would take another ten years before Clark Kent and Lois Lane were finally married. But after waiting all those years, the two had the emotional maturity needed to make them ready for such a relationship.
The Sandman’s prophetic dream about Funnyface would turn out to be notable once Wes Dodds’ link with Dream of the Endless, also known as Morpheus or the Sandman, became known. For the Bio-Ray used by Funnyface tapped into the the world of pure imagination — the world of dreams.
Unknown to anyone, Funnyface had actually been active in crime both before and after his capture more than anyone had ever suspected. In fact, some of the most unbelievable and bizarre foes that the mystery-men of the 1940s fought were original creations of the man known as Funnyface. But while creating wacky super-villains was a hobby, it would not be his primary goal in life, and he would eventually leave criminal pursuits altogether. For the Bio-Ray that Funnyface had obtained from a mysterious technology-supplier known only as the Monitor could tap into entire worlds and universes of imagination, where Funnyface as those worlds’ creator could attain the adulation and fame he had always wanted, and more — he would, in effect, become a god.