by Dan Swanson, adapted from Superman #119 by Edmund Hamilton and Wayne Boring
On Earth, in the apartment of Clark Kent, Kell Orr of Xenon began the most perilous impersonation any man had ever undertaken. All my life I’ve wanted adventure, Kell thought as he dressed in the familiar blue suit, white shirt, and red tie for which Clark Kent was famous. And now I’ll have it on this thrilling new world. He headed out of the apartment, still mentally reviewing his task ahead. But I’ve got to keep my promise to Superman, not to let anyone discover that Clark Kent is Superman. His musing was interrupted as a car pulled up to the curb.
“Hi, Clark.” He was greeted by an attractive woman in a long brown convertible, top down, with a square front and large tail fins. “I’ll give you a lift down to the office, Clark,” she offered. She looked much like Vana Vair, although with darker hair.
I recognize her from Superman’s description — it’s Lois Lane, the reporter he works with who is so prying, he thought in amusement. But all he said was, “Thanks, Lois.”
Reaching for the top of the door, he casually pulled it toward him — and with a shriek of metal, the entire door came off in his hand.
“Why, I pulled the door off–” he stammered in surprise, immediately dropping it to the ground with a clank as if he wasn’t strong enough to hold it up with one hand. I thought it had an electronic proximity lock like a door on Xenon! he thought in anguish.
“So you did, Clark,” Lois responded, not quite sure if she was miffed or intrigued. “Well, get in anyway.”
Kell struggled to pick up the door and put it into the back seat, meanwhile apologizing profusely. “Oh, the hinge must have been broken,” he offered weakly as he thought, Already I’ve let Superman down. I’ve got to watch it. He had no idea how else he might cover up this incident, but maybe she would accept his feeble excuse.
Lois wasn’t buying it, though. Funny about that door. Only terrific strength could have pulled it clear off. They made it the rest of the way to the Daily Star without further incident, though the replacement Clark was terrified about riding in a car without a door and begged Lois to slow down every time they went around a corner. When they pulled into the Star‘s private lot, Lois asked the attendant to call a dealer to get the car serviced, leaving instructions that they should send the bill to Clark.
Later in the day, an interesting political story came in over the teletype. After reading it, Editor George Taylor gave an assignment to his top reporter. “Do a column on this, Clark,” he ordered, handing the disguised Kell Orr a flimsy.
“All right,” Kell said, taking the sheet and reading the story. He then started thinking about an angle for his column, mentally reviewing Earth news writing styles he’d briefly studied.
Meanwhile, Lois had heard from the mechanic. The car-door hinge was not broken, and if he pulled the door off, he must be Superman, she thought and decided to keep a close eye on him the rest of the day. She was rewarded a short time later when the duplicate Clark turned to his typewriter to start his column.
What a quaint old writing machine, not like the electronic voice-writers on Xenon, he thought. Spending a couple of seconds studying the keys on the typewriter, he concentrated on memorizing its layout. Pressing a key, he caused the hammer to snap up, smash into the roller, and break. The typewriter actually bounced on the desk as the telephone crashed to the floor. Oops! I must have hit the key too hard.
Lois was convinced once again that she was watching a disguised Superman. Now I’m sure, she crowed triumphantly to herself, and I’m going to prove it. She’d made a plan earlier, and now she put it into action.
“Clark, that wanted racketeer, ‘Sparkler’ Staines, has been seen back in Metropolis,” she told him, handing him a flimsy photograph she’d been saving for just this occasion. “Superman should know about this.”
“So he should,” the temporary Clark agreed uncomfortably. “I’m going out, and I’ll — er — tell Superman if I see him.” He certainly wasn’t doing a good job of allaying Lois’s suspicions. Heading out into the corridor, for just an instant he was out of Lois’s sight. Superman told me I could change for action in any hidden place, he thought as he used x-ray vision to scan the nearby rooms. This broom closet will do. He pushed inside at super-speed.
Meanwhile, Lois was moving to part two of her plan. I’m going to follow Mr. Clark Kent to see if he “finds” Superman. But when she reached the corridor, it was already empty. He must have ducked in somewhere along the corridor, for he didn’t have time to reach the elevator. I’ll wait, she thought in determination.
Kell, now in his Superman outfit, was watching Lois through the wall, annoyed at her persistence. I can see Lois by my x-ray vision. I daren’t come out now. Only one thing to do. He turned to the wall and pushed his way through. I’ll go out through the wall instead of the door. I can repair the hole later. Once again, the citizens of Metropolis were treated to the awesome sight of Superman flying above, protecting the city with his great powers.
As he crossed the sky in his familiar running-on-air pose, the new Man of Steel was as excited as any of the watchers on the ground. What a thrill to have super-powers, even though they’re not as unlimited as the real Superman’s, he thought, reveling in the sensations of flight and the great power filling his sturdy frame. Now to hunt down that racketeer Staines, he thought confidently as he sped across the sky and used his super-vision and super-hearing to try to locate a clue to Staines’ location.
Kell Orr might not have been have been so confident if he had known that Sparkler Staines also wanted to find Superman. The gang boss, dressed in an expensive business suit with a flashy diamond tack pin on his tie and French cufflinks, with several flashy rings, had sat down with his new gang and was boasting about his latest plans. “If we want to pull any jobs in this town, we’ve got to find Superman and stop him!” Handing out several pistols to his henchmen, he continued, “And the bullets in these guns will do it.”
His lieutenant, “Bingo” Markuzzi, was skeptical. “But Sparkler, no bullets can hurt Superman.”
Sparkler laughed. “These bullets will!” He opened his clenched fist, revealing a handful of bullets. The sparklers on his fingers reflected a bright green light, and his entire hand seemed to glow brilliantly emerald. “They’re kryptonite bullets. I’ve got a scheme to lure Superman within range — and these bullets will paralyze him!” He laughed again, and this time, the rest of his gang laughed with him.
The first step in Sparkler’s scheme took place when his gang raided the Metropolis storage location for an out-of-town filmmaker. “This studio is closed until next week, when they start their new science fiction film,” Sparkler told his gang. “We can get the props we need here.”
Twentieth Century Swan was filming the city scenes in Metropolis for their next big budget production, Attack of the Giant Insect Invaders from Dimension X, starring rising Hollywood super-starlet Rita Farr. They promised that this movie would have amazing special effects beyond anything ever witnessed before, and Sparkler planned to put some of those special effects to work for his own fantastic purposes. Security was lax, and while disguised as shippers making a delivery, the gang backed in a stolen tractor trailer and took what they needed.
Wasting no time, Sparkler moved on to the next step in his evil plot. Patrolling the city as Superman, Kell Orr spotted a commotion at a fancy restaurant with a patio seating area on the outskirts of the city. He focused on the scene with his telescopic vision and was stunned to see a giant beast that would have looked more at home on Xenon. A giant, fat green snake was crashing through the hedge around the patio, and the diners were screaming in panic. “Look out! That giant caterpillar will trample you,” a businessman in an expensive suit yelled at his luncheon partner while musing ruefully about the big deal he would probably lose.
Superman dived at the insect’s head, thinking, I didn’t know they had insects of this size on Earth. But I’ve got to stop that panic. The worm reared its front section high above the patio with its mouth open, vicious teeth flashing in the sun. Have to stop this thing fast before it walks over people. He thought as he struck it in the exposed neck. He couldn’t possibly have known it, but this monster resembled a giant duplicate of an evil being originally from this universe who now lived in the parallel universe of Earth-S — Mister Mind. He drove it backward and lifted part of its body from the pavement, only to be astonished to see that it had dual tracks similar to a tank. Why, this giant thing is a fake! But who would turn it loose here, and why?
In an alley nearby was his answer. Sparkler and Bingo Markuzzi were chuckling as they watched the ersatz Man of Steel struggling with the mechanical worm.
“Stealing those props for the Giant Insects movie was a great idea,” Markuzzi said, trying to butter up the boss. “This one brought Superman right here.”
“And this kryptonite bullet will stop him cold,” Sparkler sneered as he pulled the trigger.
The crack of the pistol alerted Kell Orr, and he thought fast. That bullet — I can see it’s the substance Superman describes as kryptonite, that can weaken his super-powers, he realized. Mustn’t let it hit me! Using his super-speed, he slammed his fist into the patio and pulled up a brick, using it to smash the glowing bullet out of the air. That brick I snatched out of the pavement deflected the bullet. He saw the two gangsters but had to turn his attention back to the mechanical monster, which was already menacing those nearby bystanders who had decided to watch rather than flee.
Just then, Bingo spotted a speeding Metropolis Police prowl car skidding around a corner nearby. “Sparkler, the police are coming,” he pointed out. “Better lam out of here while Superman’s busy.” The two men faded into the alley, well before the police even realized they were there.
That was Sparkler Staines, the replacement Man of Steel thought to himself as he forced the mechanical monster’s jaw shut alone, but I’ve got to keep this huge fake insect from running wild before I go after him.
Lois Lane had more faith in Superman than Kell had in himself, boldly approaching the titanic struggle before the monster was subdued. “Superman, I want to talk to you,” she shouted. Ignoring the danger of Superman’s ongoing attempts to gain control of the robotic caterpillar, she recounted her earlier activities, concluding, “–and when I heard a crash inside the broom closet, I looked and found a hole in its outer wall.” She paused, then continued triumphantly. “How do you explain that?”
“Er… Why ask me, Lois?” Kell Orr stammered as he tried to think of some excuse, any excuse, but none presented itself. With a major effort, he wrestled the robot into the air. “I’m busy, Lois. I have to get this big prop back to its owners.” He flew back to the studio, where the elderly watchman had just awakened from his morning nap.
“Yes, we had several of these giant insect props, and they were all stolen,” the guard said, abashed about having slept through the theft. He hoped Superman wouldn’t tell his superiors, but the replacement Man of Steel was worried about something else.
That’s bad, he thought. If Sparkler and his men have more such fearsome props, they’ll use them. He’s turning those props loose to draw me into the reach of his kryptonite bullets. The information Superman had provided on kryptonite helped him figure out a way to deal with the bullets, and he streaked out of town to a mountain range where his x-ray vision had spotted a lead deposit.
Pounding these lead ores into molten metal should provide a shield for me fast, he thought as he smashed into the side of a rocky cliff. The heat of his x-ray vision charred away the rocks holding the ore and whatever impurities there were, leaving him with a pile of solid, pure lead. Squeezing the lead like an artist kneading clay made it malleable. He fashioned a mold in the granite and then pressed the soft, warm lead into the mold. When it cooled, he used his super-hard fingernails as trimming knives and even carved a hasty symbol on the front. Finally, he leaped into the air, carrying a circular, dull gray shield more than two feet across with the symbol of a giant red star traced out like a bulls-eye on the center.
I wanted adventure, he thought ruefully as he seemingly walked on air back toward Metropolis, but not the terrific worries Superman has. Lois Lane is sure now that I’m Clark Kent — and those crooks are after me with kryptonite.
At that instant, the stolen semi-truck was approaching the Metropolis Amusement Park. It was driven by Johnny “the Priest” Madonne, a bright young thug who had just blown in from Opal City. “Superman was lucky to escape our kryptonite bullets, but we’ll get him sure this time,” he said enthusiastically to the boss. The Priest had plans of his own and someday intended to rule Sparkler’s gang.
“Yeah,” Sparkler agreed. “He’ll have to show up fast, and we’ll be ready for him.”
Madonne recklessly smashed the truck right through the entrance, scattering screaming citizens and park employees, and two gang members quickly opened the big doors on the back of the trailer. A giant mechanical mosquito flew out of the truck, transparent wings whirring with a painful shriek. A giant green beetle of some kind came next, followed by a giant black ant. Inside the trailer, three men sat in front of control panels, watching TV monitors that showed what the insects saw through cameras in their eyes, and used a complex series of controls, levers, and pedals to drive the insects forward.
“Look out! Giant insects! Run!” yelled a young man to his date, a gorgeous redhead newly arrived in Metropolis, who had a random thought that the super-power of controlling insects would sure come in handy right about now. The crowd waiting in line for the Ferris wheel and the ice cream stand scattered wildly in panic.
Kell Orr’s super-hearing had picked up the screams of the crowd, and he was overhead almost instantly, his new shield strapped to his back and hidden by his cape. I thought so, he mused silently as he scanned the grounds. They did this to draw me into ambush, and they’re down there waiting for me. But I have to go in, as the real Superman would. Unstrapping his shield, he charged at the giant ant, which was about to rip some members of the crowd apart with razor-sharp edges on the armor of its front legs.
“IT’S ALL RIGHT, EVERYBODY!” the replacement Man of Steel shouted super-loudly. “KEEP CALM!” He blocked the ant’s charge, and Sparkler and his gang took advantage of the distraction.
“Now’s our chance!” the gang boss shouted triumphantly. “Give him the kryptonite!”
Kell moved at super-speed, waving the shield faster than the human eye could follow. I’m bouncing the kryptonite bullets back harmlessly to the ground with this lead shield, he thought with satisfaction. But one of them will get me unless I get them first. I can’t go near them while they have kryptonite. The giant steel ice cream cone the snack stand used as a sign caught his eye, and he was inspired. But that big steel cone-sign may help. He leaped into the air, and before the startled mobsters could fire again, he had inverted the cone and was dropping it over the bad guys like a candle-extinguisher.
“I threw away the ice cream,” he quipped. “But you can have the cone.”
The crooks remaining in the truck didn’t have kryptonite, and the new Superman quickly overwhelmed them and disabled the robotic insects. He landed on the ground with a sigh of relief. That was close — too close! How does the real Superman stand a life like this?
“Here come the police — and the reporters!” shouted one of the spectators, and Kell realized his troubles weren’t over yet. His apprehensive look at the crowd that was about to swarm him missed Lois Lane, but of course she was there.
Lois overheard Superman addressing the officers, saying, “Yes, your prisoners are under that cone. And you might pick up the flattened kryptonite bullets, too. I daren’t go near them.”
Quickly searching the area, she realized, Hm, there’s one bullet over there that nobody has noticed. One of the bullets had bounced farther away than the others, and it had rolled into a crack in the pavement that concealed it. She quickly spoke to Superman in an effort to distract him. “A swell feat, Superman. I’ll hurry back to the Star and tell Clark about it — if he’s there, which I doubt.”
To her relief, the Man of Steel took to the air. “Oh, Lois — your suspicions are foolish. Er… I’ve got to go now.” And he vanished at super-speed.
Lois casually walked over to the concealed bullet, and when she was sure nobody was paying attention to her, she quickly bent down and retrieved the flattened lump of kryptonite, thinking, I can use this bullet to prove my theory, once and for all.
Seconds later, back in the Daily Star Building, Kell donned the blue suit and glasses of Clark Kent. He found that he wasn’t enjoying his stay on Earth as much as he had hoped. This double life of Superman’s is enough to give me a nervous breakdown. But I’ve repaired the wall, and I’ll be working away as Clark when Lois gets here.
A half hour or so later, Lois Lane walked into the newsroom to find Clark at his desk. Pulling out her lump of kryptonite, she stood there for a minute, musing on her plan. I won’t go near enough to harm him, just enough to prove that the kryptonite bullet in my hand affects Clark Kent. That’ll prove he’s Superman. She silently moved closer, and then stretched her hand toward him. She gasped in amazement. “Why, you’re not Superman after all! This kryptonite bullet doesn’t affect you.”
Startled, Kell looked up and jerked away from her. “Why, it doesn’t!” he gulped and stammered. “But it should — er, I mean — I never expected–” Then he caught himself. “It’s true. Kryptonite doesn’t affect me at all.” A close listener would have picked up both anger and relief in his voice, but Lois was too flustered to notice.
“But,” she asked in bewilderment, “if you’re not Superman, who is?”
Both reporters were surprised when a powerful voice answered from the door to the newsroom. “I am, Lois.”
Lois spun on her heels, emitting a stunned gasp. “Superman!”
He took a step into the room and stopped. “I can’t come near you because of that kryptonite,” he explained. “But I want to see you, Clark. Come along with me and leave that bullet here.” Superman picked up Clark, and they flew out the window.
Traveling to a secluded area outside Metropolis, Kell recounted his adventures on Earth, concluding, “–and kryptonite had no effect on me. Why?”
Superman’s super-mind was racing, and he deduced the likely explanation. “It must be because Xenon, the twin planet of Krypton, is made of isotopes of Kryptonian elements which have a reverse chemical action. Maybe that fact will help in this crisis.”
Kell picked up on that right away. “What crisis? Superman, why is your face so sad? Why did you come so suddenly?” he demanded in apprehension.
“To warn you that your world of Xenon is doomed to perish as Krypton did,” the Man of Steel said slowly and sadly.
Kell could hardly believe his ears. “My world, my people — all to perish?” His face hardened. “No!”
“There may be one chance for them,” Superman spoke, and a look of hope crossed his face. He leaped into the air and rocketed skyward at super-speed, followed closely by Kell Orr, who had to strain to the utmost to keep up with his more powerful double. The two tore a ragged tunnel of vacuum through the atmosphere. “But we must hurry, or they’ll die as the people of my world died, long ago.”
The two vanished into the space warp to Xenon almost before Superman’s dire words stopped ringing in the roiled air they left behind.