Bizarro Back Issues: Superboy’s Romance With Cleopatra! (1961)
Every February, I like to throw a bit of a spotlight on some of the more romantic pieces of superhero comics, but with Superman, that's pretty hard to do. I mean, sure, he'd eventually settle down with Lois Lane in one of the better romance stories in comics history, but for a long stretch of his history, he did everything he could to avoid letting anybody put a ring on it. Whether it was Lois, Lana, Lori, Lyla, or even Marybelle, the hillbilly whose lack of double-L initials should've disqualified her from contention well before she was carried over the Marryin' Rock, that dude was simply --- and famously --- not interested.
What you might not know, however, is why. It turns out that Superman wasn't just trying to protect his girlfriends from those who might use them to strike at him; it was that all this time, he was still carrying a torch for his first crush: Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt --- and the fact that she died in 30 BCE didn't stop them from dating for a week when he was fifteen.
The whole thing went down in Adventure Comics #291, but believe it or not, that's not the only time that there's been a story about Superboy dating Cleopatra. The first one, by artist John Sikela and a sadly unknown writer, came nine years earlier in Adventure #183. Robert Bernstein and Curt Swan's version is, at its core, a retelling of that story, but it actually manages to get a whole lot weirder by the time the Fifth Dimension gets involved.
And it doesn't really waste time before things get strange, either. I mean, our opening scene is Superboy sending a robot out on a date with his girlfriend while his parents smile approvingly. This time, though, he's got a good reason for it. Lana's got a date with Clark Kent, but it's Superboy who has to appear as the guest of honor so that he can crown the homecoming queen.
But while the votes are tallied, he proves to be quite the attraction all on his own:
Almost every girl at Smallville High is lining up for a chance to dance with Superboy, and he only endears himself to them more when he pulls off some super-feats to make an additional pair of crowns when the Homecoming Queen vote come back as a three-way tie. They're crowding him to the point where he almost doesn't meet Lana's uncle, Professor Potter, the crackpot scientist who will one day go on to invent a time machine that sends Jimmy Olsen back in time to join the Nazi party so that he can bring down Hitler from the inside.
Seriously, it happened in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #86, and it is amazing.
Anyway, all the pressure gets to be too much for Superboy, and he decides that he needs to do something to keep all these teenage girls from vying for his attention. When a local reporter swings by the dance to ask people about their ideal mates, he gets the idea to use this as an opportunity to throw everyone off by claiming that he has a standard that no living girl could live up to...
... because he's smitten with Cleopatra.
This is already pretty great, but if it had been played only slightly differently, it would've been amazing. It's like the superheroic equivalent of having a girlfriend who lives in Canada. "Oh, you don't know her, she goes to another school and also she's been dead for 2,000 years."
That said, if you really want people to stop asking you out, maybe saying that you're in love with someone who isn't actually around is a pretty bad way to go about it. Even if people buy it --- and even if they forget that you're actually fully capable of flying through the time stream to date Cleopatra, a plot point that comes up later in this story --- it still means that you're single. But to Superboy's credit, he plays up the sadness pretty hard:
You'd think that it would only make him even more attractive --- who wouldn't want to slow dance with Sensitive Superboy to help him get over the pain of losing his mummified love? --- but it's effective. So effective, in fact, that a few days later, Professor Potter invites him over to show him his latest invention: A time machine that can bring 15 year-old Cleopatra to the present day so that she and Superboy can get to smooching.
And before Superboy can speak even a single word of protest, that's exactly what he does. And amazingly, despite the fact that Superboy seemingly picked Cleopatra at random for being a historical figure that he thought was probably pretty, it's love at first sight.
But there is, of course, a problem. Cleopatra has been brought two thousand years into her future --- and not only that, she's been brought into the Silver Age DC Universe, a world full of strange and inexplicable things, like autonomous robots, or Aquaman. If she's going to stick around and make a go of a relationship with Superboy, she's going to have to get used to a world that's very, very different from anything she's ever known.
That, however, is not her concern. Her concern is that she might get bored.
All right, look. I get that being royalty brings with it a certain kind of excitement, and that once you're used to that, a life among the peasantry seems dull at best. But on the other hand, she is standing right in front of someone who can fly. I mean, leopards are cool! I love leopards! But I have seen a leopard, and as cool as it is, I'm pretty sure I would be more impressed if I saw someone fly under his own power right in front of me.
Alas, I am far more easy to impress than Cleopatra. She insists that Superboy keep her entertained with leopards and perfume baths, which he happily does. And through it all, Cleopatra remains thoroughly unimpressed, even when Superboy is straight LeopardFlexxin'.
But there's a reason for that. See, "Cleopatra" isn't really Cleopatra at all --- instead, it's literally just Lana Lang in a Bettie Page wig, a disguise that she apparently thought would fool someone who can see through walls and hear grass growing from a mile away.
So far, it's been working, but when Lanapatra mentions that she wants to go back to Egypt because Superboy's feats are less impressive than those of her court magician, Ramses, he calls her bluff. Instead of allowing her to go back through the "time machine," he swaddles her up in his cape and flies her back to 54 BCE his own damn self, in what has to be one of the more elaborate "gotcha" moments of all time.
It goes without saying that Superboy's been onto Lana the entire time --- she has fillings in her teeth and a vaccination scar, and also they know each other. There's just one problem. Ramses the Magician is real, and he's an actual real magician with the ability to take away Superboy's powers and trap them in the past forever.
Before they can be executed, however, Lana shows that she's about as perceptive as Superboy. She challenges Ramses to a "Bizarro Game," where they take turns naming things in reverse order. Her first challenge is for Ramses to say his name backwards, and when he does, it's revealed that he was actually an imp from the fifth dimension, just like Mr. Mxyzptlk. Which, when you really get down to it, is a heck of a good guess.
With Ramses gone, Superboy's powers return, and he flies Lana back to the present. But while they decide to put this whole situation behind them, there's one piece of the story that remains.
But alas, it can never be. I mean, the 2,000 year age difference is nothing they can't work around with a quick trip through the time barrier. The real problem here is the ship name. Nobody is going to want to read about Cleoperboy.