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I Love Ya But You’re Strange – That Time Superman Dressed as a Giant Bird to Protect His Secret I.D.

Every week, I will spotlight strange but ultimately endearing comic stories (basically, we’re talking lots and lots of Silver Age comic books). Here is the archive of all the installments of this feature. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have a suggestion for a future installment!

Today we look at a bizarre little tale from the Golden Age where Wonder Woman’s secret identity comes back to haunt her in a really, really odd fashion.

A month ago, I did a story about how a mynah bird almost exposed Wonder Woman’s secret identity.

A lot of people wanted to suggest I also feature a similar story involving Superman. Michael P, J. Robb, David B., Luis Dantas, Graeme and Brian K. Here it is, from 1979’s Superman Family #197, written by Cary Bates and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger and Dave Hunt.

Clark is given a bird to watch by his neighbors, a pair of twins…

Things go bad the next day when Clark wakes up…

His plan does not go well…

So he is “forced” to take bizarre, extreme measures….

How awesome is the sight of Superman dressed as a giant bird screaming at a bird? Cary Bates, you magnificent bastard!

35 Comments

Sigh. They’d never get away with anything this silly now.

Grant Morrison is currently using this as the basis of a dead-serious three-parter.

I’d completely forgotten about the giant bird suit. What the hell?

That? That is why comics are AWESOME.

Wow, I totally remember that story. I must have read it in the original issue–because I am very, very old.

Thanks Brian! It’s such an outlandish story, I’m glad you found room for it.

Superman’s mightiest weapon is not his powers or inherent humanity, but behaviorism.

Say what you will but that was the most enjoyable Superman story I’ve read in a while.

Duff McWhalen

July 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm

This is why I wore a huge frown when they were saying Man of Steel is “darker” and when Cavill claimed to have read Death of Superman as reference.

interesting the super man decided to stop the bird from spilling his i.d by dressing up as a giant one and almost killing the thing from fright only to later be the one with egg on his face when he learned it was a gag. waiting for Grant Morrison to use that idea in a future dc story

So, if I`m reading this correctly Duff, your idea of a good Superman movie requires a scene in which disguises himself as a huge chicken? You must have been disappointed when Batman didn`t dress in different rainbow coloured outfits to protect his secret identity in the latest film.

I just love watching him argue with the bird. It’s just so very…. real. Funny in a Seinfeld sort of way. As for the costume…. Why didn’t he just do a bird swap. I mean, he’s Superman. You telling me that he can’t find an identical bird?

So if the twins taught the birds to say ‘Clark Kent is Superman’, does that mean they know his secret identity?

I find it oddly amusing that Clark sleeps with his butt in the air. And poor Samantha, traumatized for no reason!

I’ll be very upset if we don’t get a movie adaptation of this… Actually, I’m sort of surprised it was never a plot in a Smallville episode.

Duff McWhalen

July 21, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Jamie, Superman and Batman are not the same character.

Duff McWhalen

July 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm

BUT yes, I would totally enjoy a surreal, Morrison-esque Batman experience.

BUT yes, I would totally enjoy a surreal, Morrison-esque Batman experience.

Where did he say “Morrisonesque?” He was referring to a Silver Age story.

The story’s big failure is that the bird ONLY begins the “Clark Kent is Superman” after it’s been with Clark for a full day. On the first page, Samantha says 5 different phrases. Over the course of the remaining pages reprinted here, Samantha says exactly 2 phrases a total of 5 times–with the “Clark Kent is Superman” being said 4 times (with a 5 time being interrupted) and “How are you” only once. (Note: I’m only counting based on word balloons, not instances where a phrase is repeated within a balloon.)

I know–I know. The story doesn’t even begin to hold up if one of the bird’s first “speeches” had been “Clark Kent is Superman” (on the other hand, the story could’ve then focused on Clark’s trying to find out how the Marigold sisters “found out” the truth) but this obviously seems like a case of Bates’s being told he had 5 minutes to come up with a story to fill a deadline.

@ Duff McWhalen

“Superman and Batman are not the same character.”

Actually, by looking at the majority of stories from the Silver Age – they are. As were Green Lantern, Aquaman, Hawkman etc, etc. All of DC’s characters were pretty much interchangeable. They had little individual characterisation. This column continually reinforces that with all the great examples.

This is the main problem with a lot of fan’s misinterpretation of Superman as the ultimate Boy scout. Of course he was a boy scout in the silver age – they all were, even Batman. But for the last 25 – 30yrs Superman has been anything but a boy scout. He’s been a fairly rounded individual who has had just as many dark periods as light ones.

IAM–no, they didn’t. They may just have noticed how much he looks like Superman, or run into Lois skulking about and heard her theories.
Out of curiosity, did the post-crisis Superman ever devote any space to Superman’s neighbors? While they were never a big part of the book pre-crisis, I found their occasional use a nice touch (and the “Superman’s Neighbors” story from the fifties was great.

I remember this story! I think it was one of the back-up stories in the early 80’s Action Comics. Great little human interest story. And the whole sight of Superman, normally in control and unflappable, frustrated and shouting, “Aw, shut up!!” at a bird is too hysterical! I miss these days, sorry new 52 fans.

Is the bird backing away in fright in that last panel? “STOP saying that!!!!” What an awesome story. I wonder if Superman still has that bird suit.

Oh, Brian: You’ll probably want to update the intro, “Today we look at a bizarre little tale from the Golden Age where Wonder Woman’s secret identity comes back to haunt her in a really, really odd fashion.”

I had this issue as a kid! It’s a good thing he didn’t use his super-breath or super-voice which he probably had back then… I can see poor Samantha obliterated in a puff of feathers.

Crusader: Yeah, he seems pretty curmudgeonly and easily annoyed through the entire thing.

“Oh great! Just what I need to make my weekend complete– a loudmouthed BIRD!”

From the beginning to the end, he seems like he’s resisting to urge to just heat-vision the little bastard and be done with it.

If Samantha is “too high strung” to sleep alone, isn’t Superman risking the bird’s life by scaring it to death?

As an adult I can sort of enjoy this on th elevel of being ironically goofy, even if that wasn’t originally intended. But as a kid I hated DC for just this sort of tripe. 1979? Over at Marvel, Miller was already on DD by that time, wasn’t he?

Hey, Brian! You should feature “Superman’s Aunt Minerva” from Action Comics #160. It also featured a bird exclaiming, “Cark Kent is Superman!” but unlike here, it was quickly resolved as soon as it happened. That doesn’t mean the rest of the story isn’t goofy, however! (I faintly remember some dialogue that is portrayed as spoken rather than thought out and vice versa.)

So Superman just happened to have a giant bird costume in his Fortress of Solitude? Is he secretly a “furry?” =P

But that’s the thing about Superman…Superman prepares for everything.

Yeah, Silver Age (pre-1986) Superman really was more ridiculously omnicompetent than Silver Age Batman! He was portrayed as superhumanly intelligent, capable of absolute and perfect conscious and subconscious recall, capable of learning anything he didn’t already know at super-speed, and educated in the advanced science of Krypton.

Only the most extreme versions of the post-Zero Hour Batman come close, and even that’s only when he’s in a Justice League story. There’s a strong case to be made that for most of the Pre-Crisis era, Superman was “the smart one” in the DC superhero set. Batman was the world’s greatest detective and a talented human scientist, but he wasn’t routinely building physics-shattering gizmos and mastering impossible alien sciences in every adventure like his good buddy Kal-El.

Hey, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…damn, that’s a BIG bird!

There was a time when the sight of Clark tiptoeing through the air was my favorite image from this story, but nowadays I can’t help but be more amused by the previous panel and imagine how his “super willpower” prevents morning wood that only kryptonite pajamas could withstand.

Too bad Clark’s grasp of classical conditioning isn’t matched with a knowledge of basic ornithology. If he’d simply pushed Samantha’s head under a wing, she’d have fallen asleep immediately. Funny how her owners didn’t bother to mention that to him.

Fraser – I recall there was a period post-Crisis when Action comics routinely featured back-up stories about the non-super, non-villainous denizens of Metropolis with minimal appearances by Superman. That kind of counts as his neighbors. I really liked that era, since it made Metropolis feel like an actual city…even if it did have places named “Suicide Slum”.

Brian, you know you’re doing a good job when a writer from someone from Cracked pretty much rips off your whole article.

They linked to this piece in that article, though, and they only featured one of my pieces in the list, so honestly, I’m totally cool with that one.

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