by Dan Swanson
The place: The planet Zor, fourteen light years from Earth, where Tharka the Superwoman was Zor’s most famous heroine and defender of right.
The time: Mid-1967 Earth time (as close as can be measured, given relativity and simultaneity considerations).
“Leading the news this morning, an unusual theft occurred last night at the Tharka Museum in Micropoliz. The original magno-tape recording of the first woman of the future’s visit to the distant planet Earth and her encounter with that planet’s leading hero, Superman, has been stolen. Experts say this tape would have value only to a collector; the museum has many copies, and the video display in the Earth exhibit of the Life on Other Planets display will not be affected. There is nothing recorded on the surveillance video, and Micropoliz police have discovered no clues and currently have no suspects.”
The premier hero of the planet Zor, Tharka the Superwoman, was watching the morning newscast while eating breakfast in her Floating Fortress, and the lead story about the theft from the Tharka Museum in Micropoliz caught her attention. She had donated that particular historical magno-tape to the museum herself to commemorate her invention of the space-television, that had led to the discovery of life on other planets. “I think I’ll see what I can find out,” she mused curiously to herself. The trimly built blond beauty in the orange one-piece mini-dress with green cape set the autopilot to lift the Floating Fortress almost into orbit and then exited via the airlock, streaking through the sky toward Micropoliz at hypersonic velocity.
Tharka was good friends with most of the staff at the museum honoring her, and the jovial elderly director Jom Hembrock greeted her sheepishly. “We don’t usually have your original tape on display,” he told her. “But yesterday was a special occasion. You might not have realized that Zor is just about nineteen light-years (*) away from the planet Earth, and yesterday, Lois Lane’s original television broadcast of your super-feats on Earth was finally received and recorded by the museum’s radio telescope. After traveling that many light years, it was faint and full of static, but it was strong enough to recognize. We were planning a display which showed three repeats of the broadcast — the unenhanced recording we made yesterday with the radio telescope, the original recording that you captured using your marvelous invention, the space-television, at the time you visited Earth, and a computer-enhanced version combining the two recordings.”
[(*) Editor’s note: These are Zorian years and are equivalent to approximately fourteen Earth years.]
He smiled warmly; the Life on Other Planets exhibit was one of the museum’s most popular and profitable. “In addition, the astronomy group is thrilled by the research possibilities — they can analyze how the original signals have changed during their long journey through space, maybe teaching us more about the origin of the universe. For example, they can now measure to much higher precision the exact distance between Zor and Earth and the red shift between the two worlds, which might allow us to more precisely calculate the value for the expansion of the universe!” His enthusiasm dampened as he remembered the theft. “Well, if you can recover it, anyway.”
She conducted a careful investigation using her delicate telekinetic power to check for tiny clues invisible to human eyes and straining her telepathy for any strong emotional impressions that might remain in the room. Though she found nothing that had been overlooked by the police, she found the total lack of clues to be strongly indicative.
“I’m convinced this is the work of my arch-enemy, Doctor Computeer,” she told Hembrock and the police detective assigned to the case when she had finished her inspection. “She’s so obsessive in her planning that she never leaves any traces behind. Still, I wonder why she waited until you added the original magno-tape to the exhibit. You’ve used a copy of that tape in the Earth display for years.”
She headed out on her regular morning patrol, still pondering the mystery and smiling ruefully to herself as she recalled her adventure on Earth so early in her career. “I sure was naïve back then!”
Tharka began her public career as a super-hero on her eighteenth birthday in Zorian years (around thirteen Earth years). She then used her great powers of super-strength, super-speed, flight, invulnerability, and super-intelligence in a virtually around-the-clock, two-year-long crusade against crime (she didn’t need sleep). Confronted by a super-powered champion of justice for the first time in Zor’s history, the criminally inclined temporarily suspended their activities until they could develop strategy and tactics to deal with a super-being.
The temporary dearth of criminal activity allowed Tharka to turn her efforts to science. Investigating her own powers, she discovered and announced to the world that she was a mutant born one hundred thousand years ahead of her time with powers that would be commonplace among residents of Zor in the far future.
Zor’s chief problem at the time was a dearth of metal, which had stunted the planet’s industrial growth in many ways, forcing the world to construct all new buildings in plastic. Since metal could not be spared to build industrial machines, all hard labor had to be done by hand. So Tharka set herself to the task of solving the problem, even as another Zorian named Jamar came up with the idea of transporting large beasts from other planets to Zor using the powerful Z-ray. Such a scheme worked for a while, but after the huge animals began to run amok, the Zorian scientists sought Tharka’s help.
Unfortunately, Tharka was nowhere to be found, having hidden herself away to focus on her own scientific research. Using an amazing telescope called the televiewer, which allowed the scientists to view life on other planets, the scientists spotted the amazing Superman on Earth and brought him to Zor via the Z-ray. After Superman discovered who was intentionally causing the beasts to run amok, he solved Zor’s metal problem by delivering tons of metallic meteors to the small planet, allowing Zor to continue its industrial progress. (*) Tharka only learned about all this after she finally resurfaced after failing to find an acceptable solution to Zor’s problem. But she, like other Zorian scientists, were able to put the metal to good use in many new ways, ushering in a new era of growth on the planet.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Menace of Planet Z,” Action Comics #168 (May, 1952).]
Not long after, on her twenty-third birthday (around sixteen and a half Earth years), the hero who had become known as the Superwoman announced her latest invention, the space-television. Using hyperspace technology to circumvent speed-of-light limitations, the space-television could tune in on television broadcasts on other planets, even those light years away, and broadcast them locally at the same time they would be seen on their own planet.
The first broadcast Tharka intercepted, specifically focused on Earth, where they knew the hero Superman came from, showed the city of Metropolis under siege by a criminal gang run by mobster “Bowtie” Barris. The gang had stolen an experimental futuristic super-tank under development for the army and were using that unstoppable engine of destruction to loot the city’s banks. As Earth’s civilian authorities were seemingly unable to deal with this threat, Yion Lugschnozzle, the senior member of Zor’s ruling Council of Superiors, suggested that as a gesture of interstellar goodwill, Tharka should immediately go to Earth and aid the authorities in ending the threat, since Superman had once likewise helped their own world. The young and supremely self-confident blond beauty smugly agreed. She headed to Earth in a spaceship of her own design, built using some of the metal that Superman had earlier brought to Zor.
“People of Earth, I have come from Zor to help you in your hour of need. I am Tharka, the Superwoman!” she announced as she stepped from her rocket shortly afterward. She was greeted with skepticism; Lois Lane challenged her to prove her powers, which she did, lifting her rocket overhead. She then met Superman and proceeded to track the Barris gang to their layer, an abandoned lead mine, where she and Superman teamed up to capture the criminals and recover the super-tank prototype. Certain then that Earth’s criminal element was now properly cowed, she took her leave and returned to Zor.
Unknown to Tharka, Lois had continued to suspect that Tharka was a fraud. She and a Daily Star cameraman secretly shot film of Tharka’s super-feats and had discovered that, in fact, she hadn’t done anything super. Earthly conditions apparently negated Tharka’s powers of flight, super-speed, and super-strength. After learning that the people of Zor were watching her Earth efforts live via space-television, Superman secretly assisted her in order to preserve her reputation as a hero on Zor. After Tharka returned to Zor, several Metropolis TV news stations had broadcast Lois’ film in which she had tried to prove that Tharka was a fraud, but Superman had used his x-ray vision to fog the areas on the film that showed his assistance before it could be broadcast. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: The events described above are a recap of “The Superwoman from Space,” Superman #81 (March-April, 1953).]
Tharka had soon visited another planet with conditions similar to those of Earth on a second crime-fighting mission. The results had been almost disastrous; the planet had no super-hero equivalent to Superman to help her simulate super-powers, and she had almost died. Fortunately, the conditions had less effect on her invulnerability, and she had survived. Eventually, she had used her super-intelligence to help the native police develop a plan that led to the capture of the criminals. Her homeworld hadn’t seen her disgrace; one component of the space-television required a rare element to operate. It had burned out, and there wasn’t enough left to fabricate a replacement, so her failure remained a secret. She had returned in triumph, although she knew better.
The experience left her sadder and wiser, and she afterward concerned herself with the affairs of Zor rather than other planets. And Zor kept her busy; crime returned, the criminals better prepared to deal with her powers than they had been originally. Tharka occasionally remembered Earth and sometimes wished she’d stayed longer and become better acquainted with Superman, but her self-imposed duties on Zor had always kept her too busy to return.
In 1967, a strange-looking flier slowed to a halt and descended vertically into a swamp in a remote region of Zor far from Micropoliz. A pair of giant trap doors set into the surface of a small island swung upward, and the futuristic vehicle disappeared inside. The doors swung down again, and when they had closed, the entire island sank slowly beneath the muddy waters of the swamp. In less than a minute, there was no indication of the flier or the secret entrance to whatever lay under the swamp.
A short time later, Dr. Kylandy Urungas, also known as Doctor Computeer, entered her advanced electronics lab. She threaded the stolen magno-tape into a viewer and started it, watching it herself as the contents were also scanned by her super-sophisticated, self-designed computer. In a few minutes, she was nodding in satisfaction.
“I knew it! They doctored the copy they use in the museum display!” Indeed, in the original, when the movie taken by Lois’ cameraman was displayed, the fogged areas of the film were obvious; in the copy that the museum played every day, someone had retouched the images. “I’ve always thought that something was interfering with Tharka’s powers on Earth. Several times she attempted to use her powers and appeared to fail, and then tried again and succeeded. Perhaps computer-enhancement of the blurred spots will reveal something I can use against her.”
The beautiful, black-clad master villainess turned to her keyboard and got to work. If there was anything in this movie that would reveal a weapon she could use against Tharka, she would find it.