The streets of Bohemia were silent on a gray September day in 1938. People went about their business without joy and without any unnecessary displays that would call down the wrath of those who watched from along the borders.
One man, however, looked out of place in this land, whose very destiny was being decided by a group of statesmen in the cold and sterile meeting that would echo through later history as the Munich Pact. This unholy pact with infernal forces would bring the end of any true nationalism to the ancient and proud Czech peoples. This was not known yet. While the stranger watched and listened keenly to all that went on around him in Bohemia in Southern Czechoslavakia, in Munich — Daladier, Mussolini, Chamberlain, and Hitler made their agreement. The agreement or appeasement would essentially turn over 11,500 square miles of land to the Axis forces. The British and French leaders felt proud that they had so easily stopped German territorial aggression. However, as the dark-haired man knew even now, that was very naïve.
He thought to himself that these good, honest farm folk were much like those he had known growing up in America’s heartland. He also knew a good deal about dealing with bullies. “You don’t gain anything by letting a bully push you around. He’ll always come back for more!” had been the wise advice of his late father years before.
You were right, Pa! Hitler is nothing more than a bully, and laws can only do so much with his kind. Sometimes it takes one individual with power to make things right! Justice is what I stand for, and in this gray world of political trickery, that doesn’t always coincide with law and order! he mused as he squinted across the city toward the Axis lands.
The date was September 29th, 1938, and his own legend had barely begun to form. He did things his own way with the best of intentions and a slightly rougher edge than would be typical for him in later years. His name was Clark Kent, and he had come to Czechoslovakia to set things right. It would not go well.
Clark Kent had arrived in Bohemia without official recognition. He needed no passport, and he needed no plane. He simply took a plane to a neighboring region and bounded across the country by night, an eighth of a mile with every leap. Now he wore a white shirt and black pants. His handsome features were intent upon his surroundings. He had actually listened to the Munich Conference from where he stood, and he grimly shook his head.
This is wrong! he thought. I can’t change laws, but I can make people act differently. I did so with that killer Bea, and I can do so with Hitler’s pack of curs! (*) I need to be ready to send his bullies running when they move into this stolen land!
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman, Action Comics #1 (June, 1938).]
Clark did not wear the glasses he had taken to using back home as a disguise. No one knew him here, and he wasn’t even wearing his Superman costume beneath the simple clothes he wore. He planned to simply repel the troops and have a “talk” with Hitler afterward. That might just end all this before blood was shed needlessly.
He recalled a conversation Lois and Editor Taylor had had back at the Daily Star about his other identity.
“This Superman gets things done! I like that!” said George Taylor. “He won’t let folks get hurt because of legal red tape. He stops crime with his bare hands!”
Lois Lane sat on her desk and adjusted a chic new hat. “True! He really has backbone… unlike some I could name!” she said with a glare toward Clark Kent.
“Say, now, Miss Lane! That’s not fair,” offered Clark. “If we all had his power, then we could all be as tough!”
“You can say that, since you know you’ll never have his power, Kent!” sneered Lois. “A good thing that is, since you would sooner run than stand up to Greta Garbo, much less Adolf Hitler!”
Clark took her words to heart. He wanted to impress her, yet he knew that his role as meek Clark seemed essential for him to carry on the work of Superman without being suspected of having close ties to the Man of Tomorrow.
Still, he wondered if he could use his powers to settle Hitler’s hash. The Munich talks would determine much about Europe’s fate. If they went badly, then Superman — or perhaps plain old Clark Kent — might take action for freedom.
Thus he found himself on vacation from the Metropolis Daily Star in the region of Bohemia, and he knew that he would have to act to repel the Axis troops who would move in tomorrow to occupy the regions given over to Germany, Poland, and Hungary.
Before he could act, screams echoed from a building that burst into flames for no apparent reason. He scanned the odd shack and frowned. A male figure stood amidst the fire and was unhurt. He saw the weird trappings of science and magic in the destroyed room, and he knew that combination spelled trouble.
Rushing forward, he shoved aside the rubble that blocked the door. “Come out! Are you hurt?” he asked in English, forgetful of the language barrier.
The man turned and gazed at him with red eyes beneath ridged brows and golden skin. Muscles rippled from beneath the ripped shirt that covered the huge figure’s inhuman form.
“I am unhurt!” he roared. “I am born of fire and earth! I am the Skritek! I shall bring justice to this ancient land!” He blasted Clark with glowing energy that bathed him in a weird light and left his shirt in rags. He stood barechested and dazed, knowing only that he had to stop the monster from Czech legend and that he had little time to do so.
The Hobgoblin, for such was the word in Czech, leaped away, bound for a murderous mission of his own.
Clark was greeted by passersby who gawked at him standing in the rubble, unhurt but stunned.
“Who are you? You are strange, to go near the home of the mad alchemist!” said an old woman.
“I… don’t know who I am!” muttered the man once known as Clark Kent.
The next few days passed as he took shelter with the kind old woman and her husband. He was unhurt, but the magical blast had robbed him of his memory.
The cries of fear that echoed out on October 7th roused him from helping the family with their chores. He knew only that people needed help, and somehow he had the power to help them.
Over the next few days, the people of Bohemia found a champion in the mysterious figure in black who seemed to almost fly over their community as he shattered the forces that threatened the nation. Nothing seemed beyond his ability. Bullets bounced off his skin, and he was almost supernaturally alert. He was seemed tireless, though sorely troubled by a sense that something was missing — some purpose, some direction. He became known to the people he aided as the Unknown, and this title sufficed.
The man known as the Unknown relished the irony of the name, because in truth he was unknown, even to himself. The magical energy had robbed him of his memory, but not his valor. He helped with amazing tasks, like driving back the tanks of the Reich protector, or protecting the terrified President Benes. He also showed an equally strong humanity in taking the time to talk to children. He brought laughter and hope, merely by his confidence and caring.
The Nazi troops set to begin an official occupation, or division of the land, along with Poland and Hungary, were equally plagued by the magical creature the alchemist had become. This Hobgoblin fought them in darkness with talons and sinews of iron-like might. He seemed to have been called forth to fight for all of his beleaguered nation.
However, as October drew ever closer to its mid-point, a terrible fate hovered over the head of the Unknown.
The Nazi troops had long since occupied Austria, and Hitler had even returned as a triumphant hero to his old homeland. This was old news. What were new and very frightening in its possibilities was that the Hapsburg Museum had also fallen to the Axis, and one exhibit was even now missing from the hallowed halls. One item had been sought by Hitler from the very start, and this item had been sung of from the early days in which he studied at the feet of those wise in the alleged lore hidden within the Germanic saga of Perseval. He was near mad with desperation and lust to possess the fabled Spear of Destiny, which had been stolen from the old Hapsburg. (*) His troops searched the romantic streets and drew ever nearer to the talisman that, once within Nazi hands, would enslave all super-powered beings vulnerable to magic.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Appointment with Destiny,” Weird War Tales #50 (January-February, 1977).]
Clark Kent did not know how very dangerous his situation was at that moment. However, luckily for him, there was another within the city who had a strong knowledge of all things magical. His name was Nadir the Master of Magic, and he was also very new to the life of a mystery-man.
Nadir was a dapper young prince of India, who had mastered the ways of magic and had sought only to use his skills for justice. He had journeyed halfway around the world in order to locate the very talisman Hitler sought. Little did he know that he was so close to a man who would possibly be the father of all mystery-men to come.
He sensed only the faint hum of power that came from the transformed Alchemist. It tugged at his own senses in will-o’-the-wisp style, distracting him from his quest for the Spear. He finally gave in to the lure and vowed to discover the secret of this Hobgoblin before trying to wrest the Spear from its hiding place. Perhaps if he could trust the instincts he lived by, then somehow meeting this creature would be better than first finding the Spear.