I’ve been reading some old Superman comics lately, and that always leads to some bizarre discoveries. The Silver Age was a bonkers time for comics generally, but every now and then there’s a story that’s so weird that it needs to be shared.
In Action Comics #309, Superman was the guest on a TV show honouring him for all of his great achievements. The show was a complete surprise to him, but all of his friends were there to celebrate him. This was nice and all, but everyone was expecting Clark Kent to be there too and, obviously, he wasn’t (protecting his secret identity was the main plot of 94% of Silver Age Superman comics). Usually Batman would disguise himself as Clark Kent when Superman got into a secret identity pickle, but Batman was already at the studio. Sometimes Superman would use a Clark Kent robot, but the fiendish Lois and Lana, always suspecting that Clark was Superman, had teamed up and brought an electronics sensor in order to expose any potential robot shenanigans. Superman was in a tight spot.
But then who should appear but Clark Kent! Lois and Lana were proven wrong yet again, and Superman’s secret identity was preserved. So who did Superman get to impersonate Clark Kent? President Kennedy, of course:
Superman had helped out the government earlier in the issue and President Kennedy promised him a favour in return, so Superman cashed it in later that day to save his secret identity.
President Kennedy showing up in Action Comics is random enough on its own, but here’s the kicker: Action Comics #309 was published in late December 1963, a month after Kennedy was assassinated. I can’t even imagine being a kid in 1963, the entire nation still in mourning, but now a month has passed and life is carrying on so you go down to the corner store to buy the new Action Comics and there’s Kennedy, hanging out with Superman like nothing had ever happened. I imagine there were a lot of people freaking out a bit.
The letter column a few issues later certainly included some irate readers. A sheepish Mort Weisinger, the editor of the Superman line, explained that their comics go to print and are shipped to distributors months in advance of when they hit the newsstand, and it was impossible to recall the issue. In fact, it quickly became a collector’s item and retailers asked DC to print more, but they refused. They also postponed another Kennedy story that was due to appear in Superman.
The Silver Age was a whacky, goofy time, but DC dipped into some unintentionally dark territory with Action Comics #309 when what should have been a fun adventure took a somber turn. It’s amusing in retrospect, though, and it was nice to see a classy response from DC. They printed not just one but several letters that were upset about the issue, and Weisinger clearly explained what happened behind the scenes. It’d be good to see some more of that transparency from DC these days, with the many controversies they’ve always got on the go.