The Strange Case of the Misplaced Superhero
Ellen Kuhfeld, 1962
Above Megalopolis, Rocketman cruised. It was a lovely day, as it almost always was; he felt fully the guiding spirit of superherohood, that endless and unreasoning devotion to the rights of his fellow man that makes fools of the best of superheroes. Endlessly searching, his hawk-keen eyes glimpsed a cloud of purple smoke below; he dove to investigate.
Purple smoke (a glare of purple light by night) was the standard distress signal in his world. All people in hazardous occupations carried small Very pistols loaded with the special flares that would summon instant and expert help. At one time, use of these had been unrestricted; abuse of the flares by teenagers and girl reporters had forced the government to take drastic measures. Now a license was required which cost much more than any person not expecting to need the flaregun could afford.
Tensed with anticipation, Rocketman dove into the cloud of smoke. Without warning he crashed headlong into a barrier – a barrier which appeared to be mere air. He turned and dove back the way he had come, saved from disaster only by the limited invulnerability he had managed to confer upon himself. Again he met the barrier! Darting back and forth, he verified that it surrounded him. He was trapped!
From the air about him came a sonorous voice. "At last I have you!" it exulted. "Prepare to meet your fate at the hands of Professor Wadleigh!"
As the smoke cleared, Rocketman could see the hand of his vilest foe reach forth to a switch set upon a small box. He threw himself at the barrier for a last supreme effort, but even as he did so the world began to fade about him and he spun into unconsciousness.
Rocketman came slowly to his sense deep within a forest. Above him, birds sang; within him, his heart sang also. Wadleigh had been wrong! It was clear that he had been taken for dead and dumped here; now Wadleigh would be overconfident, and easy to capture – an opportunity not to be overlooked! Springing to his feet, he activated the nuclear reaction within his jets. In moments the heat exchanger had warmed and the turbines were humming merrily. Hand upon the controls, he sprang aloft upon a mission of justice!
Two hours later his concern for justice had been tempered with concern for himself. It had become clear from topographical evidence that the glade where he had recovered was where Megalopolis had once stood! Furthermore, there were cities where none had been before. His first concern at the moment was information; this he could obtain more easily by posing as an ordinary man. Burying his jet unit within the forest he changed to his secret identity of Carl Morse, counting upon his partial invulnerability and his great strength to protect him in this strange world. He began to walk towards the city, covering distance with tireless strides.
After finding that the people were indeed human, spoke English, and even spent the same money, he felt much more confident. Obviously he should find a newsstand; such would contain information in large quantities. Next he must locate a library. Casting about, he discovered a newsstand nearby. Stepping into it he headed for the papers; but his attention was immediately deflected by a display of magazines, the covers of several bearing what obviously were drawings of superheroes. His other plans forgotten, he immediately rushed to them. Such a stroke of luck! Not only did this world have superheroes, but it idolized them even more than his own world! He began to read. Suddenly he became aware of a small man at his elbow.
"Hey, buddy," the man said. "If you wanna read 'em, you gotta buy 'em."
Thinking this fair enough, Carl selected several of the magazines and gave the man the required money. Then he stepped into the street and began to read, oblivious of the stares of passersby. The first magazine was dedicated to a man named Superman, who seemed to have powers far exceeding any he had ever seen. He must speak to these people! Surely they would be able to help him, a brother superhero, regain his own world. He looked in the front of the magazine. Yes, the address of the publishers was give; providentially it was in this strange city. He would go to them, and they would tell him how to get in touch with the fraternity of superheroes. He found a policeman and asked his way to the address. The advice, ending with "You can't miss it!" only confused him; but feeling that at least he would be heading in the proper direction, he started off.
Sixteen policemen later, he stood before a tall building with a large "575" prominently displayed. Entering, he checked the directory and ascended to the eighth floor. He entered the office and managed to attract the attention of the secretary sitting behind the glass window, but not before he had caught a glimpse of a large portrait of the man called Superman. "Pardon me," he said, "But I would like to speak with Superman, please."
The girl smiled at him warmly. "What are you, some kind of a nut?" she asked. "There's no such person as Superman. We made him up out of our heads."
"I understand," Morse replied. "The real superheroes of this world dislike having their privacy invaded, so you've invented your own to capitalize upon public adoration of such men. Be that as it may, I'd still like to talk to some superhero. Can you tell me where to get in touch with one?"
"Brother, you are nuts. There's nobody like that anywhere." The girl turned back to her desk, the set of her shoulders indicating that she would talk no more.
Stunned, Morse walked out the door. Not until he was again on the streets did he become aware of his surroundings. Despondently, he began to walk slowly away. Suddenly it dawned on him! If this world had no superheroes, perhaps Providence had directed him here! Think of all the people in need of rescue!
Again in the forest glade, where his photographic memory had led him, he became Rocketman. He had discovered the location of this nation's capital; he would offer his services to the President. His turbines whirred, and he flew forth.
Several hours later he again took flight, this time in flight. He had landed on the White House lawn and walked to the building, intending to present himself at the door, state the reason for his presence, and ask to see the President. When he had knocked, the door had been opened by two men with guns. Of course the guns would not have hurt him, but he went along out of politeness, realizing that great men must have guards and confident that as soon as he explained his mission he would be allowed to see the President. Instead, he had been questioned for two hours by squads of men. He had tried to explain to them, but they had brushed his attempts aside and concentrated on things which they thought more important. One had suggested calling in the army; at this juncture Rocketman decided that things were taking a decidedly unhealthy turn and departed abruptly, bullets merrily bouncing off him.
In the heart of the forest, he pondered. This world certainly didn't want him; perhaps he could return to his own world if he had access to the proper equipment. After all, he was a scientist; he had invented his own jets and the serum which had made him strong and hard of body. A job with an electronics company would probably enable him to construct the necessary equipment. A tenuous theory began to form in his agile mind….
Three weeks later he was thoroughly disgusted. Nobody would hire him. His degree was from the Megalopolis Institute of Technology, which nobody on this planet had ever heard of before. When he mentioned he was from MIT people would salaam; but then he told them which MIT, and they turned bitter and told him to go away.
He decided to become an outlaw superhero; it was not without precedent. Some of his world's greatest heroes had been wanted by the law, although the legal position had usually mellowed after a period of years. He set to work. Taking a job as a laborer during the day he became a roving superhero by night, ever on the alert for trouble. Unfortunately, trouble was much more furtive on this planet. After an entire week of steady patrol he had saved one drunk from being rolled, taken three cats from telephone poles, taught two kids that it didn't pay to litter library steps, and scared 6734 honest citizens half to death by suddenly appearing above them.
On the eighth day of his patrol things began to look up. He plucked a drowning man out of the river, then rescued the police chief's daughter from a slavering black Labrador; still a dull day from his old point of view, it was now at least mildly interesting.
Thus he was not surprised when he snatched from certain death a girl who had stumbled into the path of a speeding car. It was a routine rescue, the likes of which he had performed many times before; yet it was his first truly exciting rescue upon this world. Intrigued, he spoke to the girl. "I imagine you're a girl reporter? They seem to be the people I rescue the most."
"Why, yes," she replied.
"I must confess," he said, "that I have a weakness for girl reporters. May I take you out to dinner tonight?"
He waited confidently. No girl reporter had ever been able to resist him.
"I'd love to," she said, "but I'm married."
That night several firms dealing in electronic equipment were burglarized in a spectacular manner. In each case, the burglar had smashed through a window on the top story and departed with a heavy piece of machinery, leaving behind a scorched spot on the floor.
Rocketman hummed as he soldered the last connection. Happily he pushed a button, and a camera disappeared. He waited five seconds, then pushed another button. The camera reappeared. Pulling the tab, he had a picture in ten seconds. Yes, it was Megalopolis! Entering the transmission chamber, he pushed a button and vanished. In the mundane world a medium-sized bomb went off, leaving a medium-sized hole in the ground and a large assortment of medium-sized machine pieces.
In Megalopolis, Professor Wadleigh sat happily upon a huge pile composed largely of money. He thought happy thoughts. He even had a few kind thoughts for Rocketman: "Delightful fellow; too bad he was against me and I had to get rid of him," he mused. Suddenly the window of his penthouse apartment shattered inwards. Wadleigh snatched up his pistol and fired, knowing that it would do no good but unwilling to go without a fight. Rocketman laughed and strode forward.
"Don't play with things like that, Wadleigh!" he boomed. "You might hurt somebody." Striding forward, he took Wadleigh's hand. As the amazed professor shrank back, Rocketman smiled. "You know, I really ought to thank you for opening my eyes. I believe our future partnership will be quite successful, don't you?"
The professor fainted.
Over the years I've met a number of definitions for fan-fiction. This is the first one I wrote that fits them all. It was published in the Winter 1962 issue of Rick Norwood's fanzine, So What. It's obviously a product of the Weisinger era of Superman, when he and Lois Lane were dancing the dance of discovery and concealment. I'm not sure where it fits with my present writing. There's less polish, and I'd put more imagery in today, but the story still seems to work.
In later days, I began writing comic scripts about a city of Supers, some of which were published, and tried to turn this story into one of them. It was too stubborn, so I wrote a story that filled its ecological niche instead. It did the same job in a different fashion.