I’ve never really been much of a sports fan, mostly because my enjoyment of a sport is based entirely on how often a steel folding chair is used as a weapon, and for some reason that never really happens in basketball. That said, I am totally one of those guys who gets really excited about the Olympics. Every two years, when national pride hinges on figure skating, beach volleyball or hurdles, I am there. In fact, the only thing that could make me look forward to it more is if the Olympics happened in space and involved Superman.
Or at least, that’s what I used to think. Then I actually read a story where Superman goes out to space for Space-Olympics, and it turns out he sucks pretty hard at them.
Comic book stories built around the Olympics aren’t exactly a rarity — my personal favorite is a story called “Underworld Olympics ’76,” in which the most dastardly criminals from other countries come to Gotham City to compete in crimes that are increasingly improbable, even by Batman’s standards — but today’s offering is a little different. Originally published as the lead story of 1963’s Action Comics #304, Leo Dorfman and Curt Swan’s “The Interplanetary Olympics” wasn’t really put out to tie in to any real world event.
Instead, it pretty much just seems like they decided to blast Superman off into space so that he could compete for alien sports domination just for the hell of it. And really, that’s the kind of attitude comics could use more of these days.
The story opens on a typical morning at the Daily Planet, and while that usually involves at least one super-ape, Bizarro and/or menacing imp from the Fifth Dimension, the major problem in this case is that Clark Kent can’t stop flying around. At one point, it gets so bad that he floats right out of his chair as Lois walks in, and has to pretend that he somehow got stuck on top of his desk and needs a ladder to climb down from a height of around three feet. Seriously, of all the improbable things that happen in this comic, the fact that Lois doesn’t immediately turn around and walk out muttering about what a bunch of morons her coworkers are is the hardest to believe.
Anyway, something’s clearly amiss, so Clark decides that it’s time to leap into action by… standing around and letting himself be dragged off to space.
If you were wondering why kids back then were starting to gravitate towards comics like Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, which had, you know, actual fights? That would be why.
While he’s drifting upwards, Superman ends up running into TV Reporter and secondary love interest Lana Lang, who’s off flying a helicopter by herself in search of news, because that’s definitely what TV newscasters do, right? Right. She ends up getting swept up in whatever beam is drawing Superman out into space, which Superman has given the technical name of “some kind of weird space tunnel.” Fortunately, and conveniently for the plot, there’s air in there.
Eventually, they end up landing on the Planet Vorn, where Rogan, a surprisingly caucasian scientist, tells them that he’s brought Superman here via “Attractor Ray” to compete in the very first interplanetary Olympics. At first, Superman tries to get out of it…
…to the point where Lana straight up tells him to quit being a jerk and just compete in the Olympics already. Jeez, what is it with this guy? It’s kind of hard to get behind a character who wants to just go back and finish his report on the City Council meeting when there are Space Olympics involved.
Right from the start, though, it’s pretty clear that this is a pretty rinky-dink operation. Despite the fact that the DC Universe in 1963 had shown more people from other planets than actual other countries here on Earth, the competition amounts to exactly three (3) people. Here are Superman’s opponents:
In case you can’t tell by their demonstrations of lifting and/or breaking things, Borko and Boscar are pretty hefty in the strength department, which makes sense. If you grew up with a name like “Boscar,” you’d probably end up pretty tough, too.
Any lingering doubts that Superman has about whether or not he should compete are put aside when Rogan unveils the prize for the winner: A giant “power-crystal” that will provide the winner’s planet with limitless energy. With the benefits to Earth outweighing his desire to go back home and have a nap, Superman finally agrees to actually participate in the story that’s going on here, and we move on to that most iconic of Olympic sports: Bowling!
It was at this point that I really started to wonder if Leo Dorfman had ever actually seen or heard of the Olympics.
Considering the super-feats that our hero is able to pull off on a daily basis, a quick round of super-bowling should be a cinch. When he finally gets his shot at the game, however, Superman drops the ball. Literally.
Just in case it wasn’t already hard enough to like Superman in this story, he immediately starts complaining about Red Suns and Kryptonite, only to find that Vorn is a 100 percent Kryptonite-Free environment that orbits a yellow sun. It looks like Superman only has himself to blame, but he still has two more events to make up for it. That’s how long the Olympics are, right? Three events? That sounds right.
Fortunately for Dorfman’s street cred, the next event is a little closer to something you’d actually see in the games, just taken to a totally awesome extreme:
Don’t get me wrong, Michael Phelps is great and all, but until he can win a race while also punching out a Kraken, he can’t tell me nothin’.
Unfortunately, while Boscar and Borko are slugging out sea monsters left and right, Superman’s second stab at competition goes even worse than his first…
…as he’s stopped cold by a giant pink clam and then berated by his high school girlfriend for being a disappointment. Take note, anyone writing a term paper about sexual frustration imagery in pop culture: You can have that one for free.
Hell, take this one while you’re at it:
Yes, Superman is also a washout at the blindfolded javelin toss, and before things can get even more embarrassingly phallic, Rogan finally disqualifies him for being awful. Thus, Superman is booted off the planet and forced into a long ride back home with Lana.
So what gives, Superman? How come you suck so bad at sports?
Well, as you might expect if you’ve ever read a Silver Age Superman story in your life, the whole thing was a hoax! The events were rigged in favor of Borko and Boscar, and while Superman still could’ve won them had he given it the ol’ college try, the alleged “power crystal” would’ve absorbed his energy to power Rogan’s time-traveling asteroid spaceship so that the three crooks could escape to the future. I know, I know: How did we not see that coming?
Fortunately for Superman, he was able to suss out the plan immediately and foiled it by halfassing his way through the competition until he was able to sic the Space Police on them, apparently choosing to do this instead of rounding up the crooks himself because… of… reasons?
Whatever. What matters is that when this year’s Olympics come around, always remember that they’re probably just an elaborate hoax designed to drain your life-force. And remember, kids: Never, ever try your best!