Bizarro Back Issues: Who Took The Super Out Of Superman?! (1976)
If you've been reading the current Superman titles, then you're no doubt aware that things have gotten pretty weird lately. Superman and Lois Lane are the characters from two reboots ago, and Clark Kent's a completely separate person with a secret so strange that we don't really know who the heck he is yet --- and that's before we throw New Super-Man, Cyborg Superman, and at least two Superboys into the mix.
But to be fair, this isn't the first time that there's been a weird split between "Clark Kent" and "Superman," and while it might be the weirdest, it has some pretty stiff competition on that front, too. Like, say, the time that Superman had powers and Clark didn't, even though they were the same guy, based entirely on which set of clothes they were wearing.
Believe it or not, this story of sartorial super-powers took four issues to get through back in 1976. It originally ran in Superman #296-299, and given that it's got the all-star team of Elliot S! Maggin, Cary Bates, Curt Swan, and Bob Oskner doing an extremely Bronze Age character study about why having a civilian identity is important to Superman as a character, you'd almost expect it to happen a month later, wrapping up in the big 300th issue. Alas, that one was taken up with that same team doing a story about what would happen if Superman was around in the far-off future of 2001.
Weirdly enough, they did not predict "Our Worlds At War" or the fizzling of President Lex. Could've really saved us all a lot of trouble.
Anyway, this one opens up with the reveal that there's been an alien named Xviar who's been hanging out on Earth for quite some time orchestrating some grand scheme to destroy the planet who is now living next door to Clark Kent's apartment as "Mr. Xavier," narrowly avoiding a copyright lawsuit by neglecting to get his teaching certification. He will, of course, be responsible for the whole thing, but it goes down in such a weird way that he ends up mattering a lot less than you think.
What matters is that Superman kicks this story off by fighting bees.
Bees. My god.
It's a pretty standard super-stunt to deal with the swarm heading towards Metropolis --- which is never actually explained, leaving us to assume that either Lex Luthor wanted honey or the DC Universe is just a straight up apocalyptic nightmare at all times --- and as soon as it's dealt with, Superman changes back into his Clark Kent clothes and is promptly hit by a car.
Also, for some reason, he hides his costume in his mouth, just holding it in his cheek like a hunk of chaw.
I guess you can take the boy out of the farm, but you just can't take the farm out of the boy.
I mention this not just because it's weird, but because after he's hit by the car, Clark Kent wakes up in the hospital with a bunch of doctors who not only didn't bother to take off his glasses, but never checked the mouth of an unconscious person for anything that would obstruct their breathing. Like, I have zero medical training, but I feel like that's probably the first thing they teach you at doctor college, right? Breathing: Good, Superman costume complete with boots shoved into the airway: bad.
Perhaps more notable is that when he wakes up, he notices that they've got an IV needle in his otherwise impenetrable arm. On top of that, he can't fly, use his super-strength, or any of his other powers.
Unless he changes his clothes, I mean.
It doesn't take long for this to get amazing, either. When Intergang sends a killer robot to murder Clark Kent --- something that Intergang did a lot, actually --- it sparks a fight scene where Superman has to shuffle out of his clothes between punches so that he doesn't die, saying what might be the best dialogue of the '70s:
"My one chance is to strip, and hope I turn super again!"
-- Magic Mike XXL (2015, dir. Gregory Jacobs)
Faced with the fact that his physical form is affected by the clothes that he's wearing, Kal-El decides to spend the next couple of issues fully committing to each of his identities in turn. First, he hangs up the costume and spends a week just being Clark Kent 24/7, letting the people of Earth handle their own crises for a change.
It's actually pretty interesting, too: Since he doesn't have to worry about making "Clark Kent" a mild-mannered milquetoast in order to hide his identity, Clark ends up being more assertive, confident, and even angry. It's a nice touch that he can allow himself to get mad now that he doesn't have to worry about the consequences of losing control of his super-powers. And, practically speaking, it's pretty fun to see him just beat the living cuss out of Steve Lombard on at least three occasions.
He jacks his jaw and leaves him knocked out in an elevator, too. It's kinda great.
The issue where he's Superman full time is, sadly, a little less interesting, since it mostlly amounts to everyone telling him "Hey, you were gone for a week and this entire town went to garbage, you need to get out there and fight all these super-crimes," and then Superman being all sad that he can't bro down with Jimmy Olsen because he has too much super-business to attend to.
Because it wouldn't be the Bronze Age without Cryin' Superman.
Eventually, we get back to Xviar, who has what might be the most ill-defined powers I have ever read. It turns out that he's carrying out a contract that's apparently been out there for a good twenty years at this point, and is smart enough to know that he needs to get Superman out of the way. The thing with Clark not having powers was actually his plot, carried out when he treated Clark's clothes with sunscreen to stop him from absorbing powers from sunlight. Which, of course, didn't affect his uniform, because Superman was carrying it in his mouth. Of course.
Please note that this does not explain why he stops absorbing sunlight through his heads and hands, and why he immediately charges back up when he puts on the costume, and why Superman still has his powers when it's night, or when he's, you know, indoors.
It's also not really explained why he needs to do this when he can walk through walls, control people's minds, and teleport Superman's greatest foes into Clark Kent's apartment whenever he wants, but, y'know, just roll with it. Who wants a real ending after four issues anyway?
All that matters is that Superman foils his plan, and we all learn a lesson about the importance of doing laundry.