Sunday, 22 October 2017

The puzzling world of Superman #271.

Superman #271, Brainiac is back
I have a suspicion this post's going to elicit fewer responses than any other in this site's history and arouse even less interest than that - because I'm going to try and use it to solve a mystery that's haunted me for over forty years.

And that's, "What on Earth is Brainiac on about in issue #271 of Superman?"

His plan is simple enough. In an attempt to send our hero mad, he's decided to destroy Metropolis.

Needless to say, thanks to Brainiac being incredibly stupid for a man with a super-computer for a brain, Supes soon foils his scheme and sends him flying off into space, on an outward journey from which the man of steel claims he'll never return.

Somehow, I can't help feeling the Kryptonian clobberer is being a little optimistic in that assessment.

However, there's a bigger mystery at work than just why our hero's so complacent in the face of evil.

For some reason, all the way through the tale, Brainiac insists on referring to Superman by a string of extremely odd nicknames that, on the face of it, make no sense.

However, one of those nicknames appears to refer to the county of Kent in jolly old England. This suggests the nicknames are references to Superman's other identity of Clark Kent and that they may therefore be Brainiac's way of letting his opponent know that he knows his secret identity.

Superman seems totally unfazed by this, either failing to recognise the significance of the nicknames or being already aware that Brainiac knows his secret identity and not caring about it. You see? There he is, being complacent in the presence of evil again.

Anyway, in my quest to finally discover just what Brainiac's nicknames mean, I thought I'd list the aliases he uses for Superman in this issue and see if anyone knows who or what they refer to.

And here they are:

"Old red-and-blue." (this may just be a description of his costume but I'm not sure)

"Old cigarette smoke."

"Old father of modern gardening."

"Old county in southeast England." (presumably Kent)

"Old Ohio college town."

"Old Paleolithic cavern."

"Old star of stage and screen."

"Old canvas painter."

"Old British duke."

"Old 19th Century jurist."

"Old writer of science fiction." (possibly Arthur C Clarke?)

As you can see, I've already performed veritable miracles by coming up with possible explanations for three of them but do you have any ideas for who or what the other nicknames might be referencing?

Don't forget, a free Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to anyone who can come up with any likely answers.


dangermash said...

Where to start, Steve?

The father of modern gardening is William Kent (thanks Google).

Kent is an old cigarette brand. Or maybe an American one.

Kent is the top Ohio college town (Google again).

And I remember being taken to Torbay for a holiday in the 1970s and going on a day trip to a set of caves called Kent's Cavern.

You're definitely on to something. They could be a mixture of Clarks and Kents or they ccoild all be Kents.

Craven Lovelace said...

The jurist was probably James Kent.

Surely, the star of stage and screen was Clark Gable.

The British duke is likely Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent.

dangermash said...

If it's red & blue followed by Kent*5 and Clark*5, the Clarks could be
- Clark Gable (beaten to it on that one)
- Alvan Clark, more famous as an astronomer but has a canvas painting in the National Gallery Of Art, wherever that is
- Mary Anne Clark, mistress of the Grand Old Duke Of York. In fact I think she was the real subject of the nursery rhyme.
- Andrew Inglis Clark, Austrian founding father.
- and Arthur C Clarke

The Duke of Kent does sound a better bet than his mistress. I only put this idea froward because Kent*5 + Clark *5 would be quite neat.

Or maybe we have Kent *10 with Jean Kent as star of stage & screen. But we'd still need a painter, a jurist and a sci-fi writer.

dangermash said...

Sorry - I see we have James Kent, jurist.

dangermash said...

If it's all Kents I think we're stuck with Rockwell Kent as artist (his work actually looks pretty good) and Kelvin Kent as scifi writer.

Much as I'd like it to all be neat and tidy I reckon we probably have a random hodgepodge of Clarks and Kents.

Steve W. said...

Dangermash and Craven, I am highly impressed by your knowledge. You definitely deserve those much-coveted Steve Does Comics No-Prizes I promised you.

Dougie said...

Who was responsible? Elliot S!Maggin? Can't bear his writing by the way.

Steve W. said...

It was indeed Elliot S! I don't mind his writing on Superman. It's nothing special but it's undemanding to a degree that relaxes me.

Anonymous said...

My main memory of that Superman story is the sub-plot about a strike at WGBS, with Clark Kent on the picket line.
Reading it as a kid in the 70s, I was baffled by how Morgan Edge was able to cross the picket and run the tv station - was it normal for workers to be so apparently relaxed about strike-breaking in America?


Peter said...

This may be one of those "Urbane myths" within the popular culture, but I heard that Superman's human name is a mix of both Clarke Gable and Kent Taylor, both actors.


Steve W. said...

I've always been led to believe that the Clark part of Superman's name was inspired by Clark "Doc" Savage. Whether this has ever been officially confirmed, I don't know but, as Doc Savage's nickname was, "The man of Bronze," and, like Superman after him, he had a polar Fortress of Solitude, it seems like a genuine possibility.

TC said...

IIUC, DC's official explanation was Clark Gable and Kent Taylor, but Superman's similarities to Doc Savage are obvious. And a 1934 ad in pulp magazines had a headline referring to Doc as a "superman."

I think I get the allusions to "Clark" and "Kent" in the nicknames, but I don't recall any previous indication that Brainiac knew Superman's secret identity.

James Maxey said...

I just read this in the "Superman in the 70s" collection and instantly had to google what was up with the nicknames. Your theories here make perfect sense. I'm disappointed that my pet theory, that the KGB had broken into the DC offices and inserted the secret code phrases to awaken their sleeper assassins in the American heartland. Oh well. I'm happy other people have already done the work of figuring out the references, but still baffled by what the heck they have to do with the story. It does seem to indicate the Brainiac knows Superman's identity, but that has zero effect on the plot. To the extent there is a plot. What's even more baffling about this story is that an editor at DC decided to put together the twelve best Superman stories of the 1970s and decided that this one belonged on the list.

Steve W. said...

Hi, James. It is all very strange. I can only assume that Elliot S! Maggin was doing it to amuse himself and to have fun teasing the readers. It's hard to see any other reason why he'd be doing it.

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