Friday, November 22, 2019

The Two Two Clark Kents!

“Twice Told Tales” or “Haven’t I read this comic before?”
Another "double-header" review by Emsley Wyatt

“The Two Clark Kents”
Adventure Comics #191 (August 1953)
No writer named
Artists: Curt Swan & Sy Barry
Cover: Win Mortimer
“The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero”
Adventure Comics #290 (November 1961)
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Artist: George Papp
Cover: Curt Swan & Stan Kaye

Presenting another “Twice told Tale”, an example of “recycled story lines” for which DC was notorious back in the day.  These stories were published eight years apart.  

Adventure 290 represents the second appearance of Sun Boy although, as regular visitors to this blog are aware, the “Sun Boy” in this story is, for the most part, an impostor.  His first appearance was as a Legion applicant in Action #276 (May, 1961).  

Imposture is definitely the theme of these stories as each features an impersonation of Clark Kent and one features an impersonation of Sun Boy as well.  But enough, let’s get to the stories.  

Following the pattern established in the last episode of this two-part series, the older story excerpts are presented first, then the newer, sometimes in two panel segments, sometimes with side-by-side panels from each story. 

Both open with identical scenes of a familiar-looking character “riding the rods." “Riding the rods” or “hopping a freight” was the preferred means of travel for the destitute (IE: hobos) and persons on the run from the law, like our dueling duplicate Clarks here, and it was every bit as dangerous as it sounds.  

The total story overlap continues into the next couple of panels in which we meet Ralph Bridgson and Tom Tanner, the two Clark Kent look-alikes.

The amazing coincidences continue as both doubles run into the local PD. 

After their encounters with the police, Ralph and Tom decide to help themselves to a bottle of milk.

The panels here are practically identical.

So now that they have the milk, the milkman says: “Take it to your house.”

I’d like to mention at this point that there’s one thing about impersonation stories in general that has always bothered me.  I can get the idea of an exact double, but are they sound-alikes too?  With the same pitch, intonation, accent, etc.  Come on.  Well, the stories diverge a bit here.  In the older story, Superboy hears a radio story about a “notorious crook” robbing a government printing plant, while the newer story has him hear a radio story about a “strange object” landing in a field.  So “both “ Superboys take off, unable to take the time to let Ma Kent know what’s going on.

Both boys walk up to the door of the Kent home and Mrs. Kent lets them in, neither Mrs. Kent suspects anything is amiss, but at least 1961 Mrs. Kent can blame the shampoo in her eyes. 

She sends them up to Clark’s room to change clothes. They figure that at least they can get some new clothes out of the deal.  Then they come down to “leave for school”.  But first, breakfast…..

Once again, the stories diverge.  1953 Superboy is off to capture Johnny Larsen’s gang, while 1961 Superboy is meeting Sun Boy for the first time.  Ironically, 1953 Superboy effects this capture using the power of the sun.

So 1953 Superboy is concentrating on locating the gang’s leader, while 1961 Superboy is off on the errand assigned to him by the Sun Boy impersonator.  In both cases he goes home to let Ma Kent know what he’s up to and in both cases is surprised by the Clark look-alike.

But the Clark inpostors start behaving in a most un-Clark-like fashion, piquing Lana’s suspicious mind. 

1953 Lana scares “Clark” into falling, while 1961 Lana gets one of the guys to snip a lock of his hair.  Both incidents provide solid proof that “Clark” isn’t Superboy.  Well, these two Clarks sure aren’t.  The stories diverge again at this point with 1952 Superboy trying to capture Larsen’s gang while 1961 Superboy is gathering the parts of a weapon that the Legion scattered it the past.  Why did the Legion hide the weapons components in the past?  Because comics, that’s why.  But it’s school time for the Clark impersonators.

It’s also time for a little public service announcement.  School is interesting.  It says so right here.  Probably the sort of thing they included so that they could push back against the likes of Fredric Wertham.  We won’t get into all that here but Google the name for a little history lesson of your own.

Well, the two doubles each think about doing a little sporting activity, Ralph passes on basketball but Tom goes full in for baseball.

Both doubles go “home” after school and arrive ahead of Superboy.  Identical household emergencies occur as Pa Kent carelessly discards pipe ash, while Ma Kent is a little careless in the kitchen.

The Kents implore “Clark” to use his super-breath to put out the fires.

Superboy puts out the fires, but with Clark’s secret revealed, both doubles threaten to expose it unless they can continue on as “Clark”.

So the stories diverge here a bit.  1953 Superboy fools his imposter with a tricked up dummy.  (This was in the pre-robotic era.)  While in 1961 Tom Tanner has a life-altering encounter with the dreaded “Cyclops Robot”.

Now convinced that Clark isn’t Superboy, Ralph decides to turn over a new leaf.

Tom has also reformed, but in his case it was due to the effect of the Cyclops Robot’s ray.

So, as usual all’s well that ends well.  Superboy arranges for Ralph to be placed in a home with a family and Tom returns to reform school hoping for the same.  

I think that in this case the recycled story benefited from being the “B” plot to the story rather than, as in the original, being the entire narrative.  But that’s just my opinion.  And, of course, there’s the irony of Tom protecting Superboy’s identity and, indeed, “saving” him from being turned evil by the Cyclops Robot.  I’d always hoped that we would see Tom Tanner again but it never happened.  So I created this little sequel with panels from Action #309 and DC Comics Presents #79.


  1. I love the sequel! Great bit of detective work and a cool addition

  2. Intriguing bits of early-episode weirdness in Sun Boy's case. First, his being locked in a SOLAR reactor, rather than a nuclear one, and secondly, his power being limited to super-radiance, with no mention of the attendant heat powers. Of course, it could be that the imposter had some way of duplicating the glow (notice that it's always on) without being able to fake the super-heat power. And since Superboy wasn't familiar with the real Sun Boy yet, he wouldn't notice the difference.

    1. While I am not a scientist, it seems to me that a "solar" reactor could just be a colloquial way of referring to a fusion reactor, since fusion is the process that powers the sun. Both fusion and fission are nuclear reactions, so the term "nuclear reactor" could be properly applied to both processes.