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I Love Ya But You’re Strange – That Time That Superman Was a Telepath AND a Shapeshifter!

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 strange Superman tale that is made even stranger by the fact that it was written by Superman’s co-creator, Jerry Siegel. Read on for the story of “The Case of the Living Trophies,” from 1947’s Superman #45 by Siegel and artist John Sikela (and maybe inker George Roussos)…

The issue opens with Superman doing a lot of super stunts, making himself a total show-off. We eventually find out why he’s acting like such a ham – some alien is showing up and kidnapping notable figures around the world (like a famous boxer, a famous scientist, famous reporter Lois Lane, etc.) and he has to get the alien’s attention…

They battle, but the alien gets the upper hand and throws out a bizarre pun as he chokes Superman out…

So the alien shows him off to all of his friends…

This leads to Superman out of nowhere debuting two powers, made all the weirder since it was Superman’s co-creator who came up with this! I mean, telepathy?! What the heck?!?

Shapeshifting?!?!

And now Superman plays on the alien’s stupidity in a brilliant “plan”…

The day is now saved. Superman then destroys the interdimensional traveling device (even as a rich guy offers him millions for it).

What a bizarre story. Less than ten years into Superman’s existence! And by his co-creator!

22 Comments

I love this story! I used to have this in a giant sized comic of reprints and it had a footnote added that said “Superman has powers in this story that he no longer possesses.” Thanks for the trip down nostalgia lane!

That that Martian Manhunter! Turns out you’re even more of a copy-cat that we knew :)

One of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen in a Superman comic.

“The pressure’s all mine!” Man, even Peter David would groan at that one.

i knew superman stoires were crazy way back when some times but to find one by one of supermans own creators interesting. mostly how the alien proved to be dumb enough to fall for superman using the old i call your bluff on your machine.

It’s difficult for us to imagine Superman having the ‘wrong’ powers after 75 years of continuity, but he was once a fictional character, being made up all along the way. He didn’t start off with freeze-breath and super-ventriloquism and the such. The original creators tried things, and some of them just didn’t work out.

One of my favorite bits of trivia is that Roger Stern, as the creator of the DC’s 1988 Starman, decided to build a brand new superhero using chiefly the powers Superman had discarded, including the shape-shifting abilities shown here.

I don’t know if this was the first time, but it was not the only time Superman re-arranged his features. It’s the most extreme though.

Neil, that Roger Stern gobbet is fascinating – is there somewhere we can read, or hear, more?

*Many years ago*
Superman, “Time to go to Metropolis and assume a secret identity. Hmm, I could use my amazing shapeshifting abilties to hide who I am. Nah…the humans are pitifully stupid. I’ll just buy a pair of cheap glasses and comb my hair in a different way. They’ll never figure it out.”

It is fascinating what sticks and what doesn’t.

I wonder why J’onn J’onzz became the Swiss Army knife of superheroes and Superman was able to freely discard powers that didn’t fit the template. Moreover, why did much later examples of Superman being “over-powered” (i.e. pushing the Earth in DC Comics Presents) stick when earlier stuff got dropped.

I think they had Superman using the power of being able to use his muscles to change his face so that Clark looked different than Superman for a little while too. Then that was forgotten.

What I find more bizarre is that Superman somehow wasn’t already more famous than a boxer and a beauty contest winner.

Wow, looks like Superman vs. The Shaper of Worlds!
With legs…

The Martian Manhunter debuted six years later, so it’s not possible to make a connection between the two stories. If not for that, I’d call this a “backdoor pilot” for that character! :)

I know, it’s a stretch.

It’s interesting how fluid things like characters’ powers and power levels and back stories were in comics – and in long-running TV shows like Doctor Who. Things were added, dropped, tried out and randomly introduced for years in that show – and even today, writers aren’t above introducing a new power!

I wonder at what point these things started to matter to the readers and at what point the creators started to respond to that fan desire for tighter continuity.

A bit of an aside but that’s a great looking 1940s Superman, Sikela definitely captures the tough guy aspect of the character during that era.

A famous fighter…
A scientist…
The prettiest woman in Metropolis…
Superman…
….
And Lois is there because she is “A woman who calls herself ‘brainy'”…

Never seen this one before. Definitely a crazy one! I’ve even seen one of the old Superman stories where he used his precise muscle control to alter his face, but nothing on the level of this.

What I find more bizarre is that Superman somehow wasn’t already more famous than a boxer and a beauty contest winner.

It appears that the alien’s journey was sort of haphazard. He would show up somewhere and just grab the first famous person he could find. So that’s why Superman had to make sure that the alien saw him.

According to Fleisher’s Superman Encyclopedia, shapeshifting goes back to 1942, so this wasn’t the debut.
As Neil points out, it’s not so crazy in an era where Siegel was constantly pushing Superman’s limits. In fact I’d pick super-kissing, which showed up in a few stories, as a goofier power.
Did Stern really base his Starman on the 1940s Superman power set?

Actually, this powers make more sense than many that were developed later and stayed (flying like a jet plane is cool, but, seriously…).
It’s quite acceptable that Superman might have full control of his facial muscles so to alter his looks, as this is theoretically possible and happens in real life: think about botox. Of course, getting huge bat-shaped ears is a bit of a stretch, but making Clark’s face a bit different would be likely (and clever).
Even some form of telepathy should be at hand for a super-brain, as many suppose all humans have unexpressed ESP capabilities. Of course, kryptonians may not, and, again, a Jedi mind-trick is pushing it a bit too far.

All this capabilities are also likely to require some training and might not show spontaneuosly as super strength or super hearing/vision, so I wouldn’t say never to the possibility they may show up again in the new 52 universe (gasp).

I think a lot of readers assume there was no continuity and no developments in the Golden Age. There was, just not as tight as later. As pointed out above, these powers didi not just suddenly pop up and the disappear.

More information regarding the Starman tie in might be interesting, but did Superman ever radiate/fire heat like Starman?

@Dean Hacker
If I remember right, Martian Manhunter had ‘mind over matter’ powers that made a pond or small lake disappear in his first appearance. That was one power that he did drop.

kdu: Superman still fires heat, through his eyes.

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