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"Maybe this super-power turn-off is just my body trying to tell me something... Maybe I can't lead a double life any more! The time has come for me to make a choice— and decide once and for all if I'm to live my life as Clark Kent— or Superman! It's got to be one or the other!"

Who Took the Super out of Superman? (also known as "The Double or Nothing Life of Superman") is a Superman storyline narrated in Superman (Volume 1) #296-299. Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin plotted and wrote the story, and Curt Swan handled art duties. One of the many stories to delve into the nature of Supermanís double identity, this story arc posits both identities are real and necessary, and answers the old-age question of why Superman keeps a secret identity rather than be Superman 24/7.

Suddenly and unexplainably, Superman is apparently unable to use his powers when he isn't wearing his costume. Believing he is going through some kind of psychological issue because of his double life, Superman decides he has to choose between both identities once and for all: Clark Kent or Superman?

Meanwhile, the true force responsible for Superman's plight rubs his hands together, seeing his scheme to destroy Earth is progressing nicely, and his unsuspecting Kryptonian ticking bomb remains clueless to his machinations.

Tropes found in this story arc:

  • Batman Gambit: Xviar gaslights Superman into believing he's undergoing a psychotic break by chemically treating his Clark Kent suits so that they block off his powers. His trick convinces Superman that he needs to forfeit one of his dual identities, so he spends extended lengths of time out of his apartment, trying to find himself, as Xviar sets a trap to turn him into a ticking bomb. Xviar's scheme falls apart when Clark Kent is called as a witness in court. Being in a hurry, Superman picks a spare suit he keeps in his office, which hadn't been touched by Xviar, and finds out he still has powers as Clark Kent.
  • Battle of Wits: Superman beats Xviar by deducing his whole plan when the mysterious alien makes a mistake, and then playing along as figuring out a way to defeat his enemies without blowing up.
  • Boxing Lessons for Superman: At the beginning of the story, Clark Kent is taking judo lessons with Lois and Steve Lombard.
  • Brought Down to Badass: Clark Kent has to bring an Intergang cell down despite being depowered. So he gets in touch with a scientist, borrows an anti-gravity device, lets it loose in the Intergang's lair and takes several mooks down using nothing but his expertise in fist-fighting and moving in zero-gravity environments.
  • Build Like an Egyptian: The confrontation between Superman, Toyman, Prankster and Terra-Man happens in the shadow of the Pyramids of Giza.
  • Bullying a Dragon: When a band of pirates raids the Metropolis Bay and Superman shows up, they actually try to scare him away. After taking care of them, Superman wonders why crooks keep bothering him.
    Superman: I may never understand why every bunch of cheap, grimy thugs with no thought and even less chance of success continues to waste my time with petty, ambitious greed!
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: Superman takes Brainiac and Amalac to a galactic prison compound located at the outer rim of the solar system and flies back to Earth in a matter of minutes.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Invoked. An alien organization wants to destroy Earth because it's in the path of the interstellar travel network they look to build.
  • Cement Shoes: Clark Kent is called as a witness at the trial of an Intergang boss. When Clark fails to attend a hearing and can't be found anywhere, several reporters speculate that Intergang has provided him with "cement shoes". When he reappears, a reporter is shocked that he isn't wearing a "cement overcoat".
  • Clothes Make the Superman:
    • Solarman develops a solar-powered suit which gives him power enough to challenge Superman... until it overheats and catches fire.
    • Lampshaded when Superman ponders he appears to lose his powers when he isn't wearing his costume:
      Superman: I have no idea why I lost my powers— But I've got a nasty suspicion how it works! I've been telling kids for years that wearing a Superman costume won't give them powers like mine... But I wonder if those words are somehow gaining a ring of truth!
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Superman drops by Jimmy's place, and he is told right way about Solarman's crime spree. Then Jimmy turns on his radio just in time to hear a new broadcast reporting Solarman's current whereabouts.
  • Complexity Addiction: An alien organization is hired to destroy Earth. So they send an agent to Earth, under orders of watching Superman discreetly for thirty years and then turning him into a human bomb via psychological warfare, alien devices and villain summoning. Ultimately their overly complex gambit fails, and they have run out of time to fulfill their contract.
  • Covers Always Lie: Superman #299 features Superman surrounded by various members of his Rogues Gallery while being completely invisible except for his super suit, as the text asks, "Which of his 9 deadliest foes did this'' to Superman?" This issue is the conclusion of a story arc where Superman discovers that he mysteriously loses his powers as Clark Kent and experiments with living as one of those identities full time, with the transformation depicted on the cover being completely incidental (and, for the record, Mr. Mxyzptlk is responsible).
  • Cranky Neighbor: In order to monitor Superman closely, Xviar moved to Clark Kent's apartment building under an assumed name and quickly earned a reputation of being quiet, unfriendly and antisocial. He lived next door to Clark Kent over one decade, and Clark never saw his mysterious neighbor until Xviar took action against him.
  • Crushing Handshake: Clark Kent confirms he has been mysteriously depowered when Steve Lombard visits him in the hospital, wants to test his grip, and Clark fails to crush his hand.
    Steve Lombard: Hey, man— you feeling steady yet? Let's see how your grip is! (shaking his hand) Thought so! You've still got the grip of a jellyfish! Just kidding, Clarkie-baby!
    Clark Kent: (thinking) I'm in big trouble! I squeezed Steve's hand as hard as I could... and I couldn't even wipe the smirk off his face!
  • Deader than Dead: Xviar swiftly turns two prospectors who witness his spacecraft landing into twin piles of smoking ashes. They were never seen or heard of again.
  • Deadly Dodging: At some point, Superman is facing Lex Luthor and the Parasite at once. Luthor shoots his ray gun at Superman, but Superman just ducks out of the way and lets the energy blast pass over him and hit the Parasite.
  • Deadly Environment Prison: After defeating Brainiac and Amalak, Superman takes both criminals to a Galactic Prison Compound located in an asteroid drifting about the outer rim of the solar system. Any prisoner who tries to get out of the compound will die in the void of space.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Solarman can't resist the temptation to write his name in gigantic letters in the sky while teleporting away from Superman. The Man of Steel is most definitely not impressed, though.
    Superman: But at least I've got a name for my playful flyboy now! Solarman! We'll see how long it takes me to change that alias to a set of prison ID numbers!
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Clark's first date with Lois Lane apparently ends with them talking on the couch, having enjoyed a meal of beef bourguignon.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Lois visits Clark's apartment and cooks him a beef bourguignon dinner, before having a romantic night together. Lois goes into work at the Daily Planet the next morning and a coworker, Steve Lombard, notices her acting unusually happy. Originally, Steve also noted that Lois is wearing the same dress as yesterday, indicating that she spent the night at Clark's, but the Comics Code Authority forced the writers to change the line.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Clark feels free to knock Steve Lombard's lights out and talk back to Morgan Edge while Brought Down to Normal.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Xviar intends to destroy Earth by turning Superman into a living bomb and then making him explode via power meltdown.
    Xviar: Ex-cellent! Our plan has turned Superman into a living bomb! And just as a fuse burns itself down to detonate, so will Superman expend enough super-energy to eplode himself— and destroy Earth!
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Xviar teleports Terra Man, Toyman and Prankster to Egypt... concretely to the Valley of the Kings for no particular reason.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Xviar intends to blow Earth up by turning Superman into a human ticking bomb.
  • Evil Gloating: As soon as he engages Superman, Solarman can't help but gloating about his sunlight-collector suit giving him power enough to beat Superman and becoming the biggest criminal around. And then he gloats over how much of a rush is getting by beating Superman around, not realizing Kal-El is using his own life energy to overload his powered costume.
    Superman: "The longer this clown talks, the less likely he'll be to use the energy he wastes boasting against me!"
  • Evil Plan: Xviar and his superiors almost blow Earth up by turning Superman into a superhuman ticking bomb.
  • Gaslighting: Xviar sneaks into Clark Kent's apartment and treats his civilian clothes chemically so that Superman is unable to use his powers. Just as planned, he makes Superman believe he is suffering some kind of psychotic breakdown.
  • Going to Give It More Energy: Xviar scrambles Superman's energy-processing abilities so his body absorbs more energy than it can safely store and release until finally triggering a superpower meltdown.
  • Holding Hands: At the beginning of the third issue, Clark dreams about him and Lois holding hands while taking a stroll around Metropolis.
  • Human Aliens: Played straight with Superman. Subverted by Xviar, who looks human because he's a shape-shifter whose real shape is unknown.
  • Humans Need Aliens: Clark sees a subway being flooded, and realizes he could do nothing to stop it now that he's powerless. Fortunately, the fire department arrives to take care of the crisis, and Clark reminds himself that the world always got by before there was a Superman.
  • Hurl It into the Sun: After defeating Solarman, Superman disposes of his energy-absorbing power suit by throwing it into the sun.
  • Hurricane of Puns: It happens during a battle between Superman and two of his foes, Mr. Mxyzptlk and Lex Luthor. When Mxyzptlk's magic makes Superman's head vanish, Luthor quips: "Turn around and face some real trouble". After knocking them out, Superman's body return to normal, and he mutters smiling: "These super-villains are easily dealt with— long as I keep my head."
  • Intangibility: Xviar uses an alien device to phase through the wall connecting his apartment with Clark Kent's while the owner is away.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Superman punches a a robot straight on, and despite being depowered, he does not even skin his knuckles.
  • It's All My Fault: Steve Lombard rightfully blames himself when Clark Kent shoves him out of the path of a speeding car and gets struck by the vehicle. Steve is so upset he even rues his bullying ways for a brief instant.
  • Kryptonite-Proof Suit: At the end of the story, Superman has to fight Kryptonite Man. Since Pre-Crisis Kryptonians were immune to Kryptonite radiation while being depowered, he puts on a chemically-treated suit under his Superman costume and decks the radioactive villain via a good punch.
  • Law of Alien Names: Superman is bedeviled by an alien called "Xviar".
  • Leave No Witnesses: Xviar quickly blasts to ashes two unlucky prospectors who see his spaceship landing so they cannot tell anybody that he is an alien.
  • Legion of Doom: In the climax, Superman has to fight Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Amalak, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Parasite, The Prankster, Toyman, Terra Man and Kryptonite Man one after the other.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Readers are introduced to Xviar, a shape-shifting alien who has been spying on Superman since Kal-El's rocket made it to Earth, and plans to destroy both the Man of Steel and his adoptive homeworld. Then it's revealed he's a mere agent of an alien organization that has been hired to obliterate Earth.
  • Man of Kryptonite: Superman has to fight Kryptonite Man, but in addition to the usual danger, he risks triggering a meltdown if he uses his powers. So Superman dons one of the suits chemically treated by Xviar to block off his powers -since Pre-Crisis Kryptonians were immune to Kryptonite while depowered-, and takes Kryptonite Man out via a good, old punch.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: At all times, Xviar wears a sharp-looking, three-piece beige suit.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The alien group behind Xviar collectively freak out when their decades-long, behind-of-the-scenes gambit fails and their agent is exposed, realizing that Superman will learn about their existence, and he'll eventually track them down.
  • Media Scrum: Clark Kent appears as a witness in court after spending one week missing. Clark is accosted by a throng of reporters as he exits the courthouse, everyone dying to know why, how and where he had disappeared to.
  • Mistaken for Junkie: Clark Kent has to drop his mild-mannered front during one week, and during that time, he romances Lois openly, calls his boss Morgan out, fights back bullies and takes absolutely no crap from anybody. When he quite abruptly resumes his pushover act, Lois bluntly asks if he's been taking "funny pills".
  • Mugging the Monster: Steve Lombard gets knocked to the floor when he bullies Clark Kent right after Clark has decided to drop his "mild-mannered pushover" act for one week.
  • Mythology Gag: Clark, Lois and Steve Lombard attend "J. Schwartz's Judo School", named after Superman editor Julius Schwartz.
  • My Way or the Highway: Subverted when Morgan Edge tries to throw his weight around and for once Clark isn't getting it:
    Morgan Edge: No backtalk, Kent! I call the shots around here and when I decide I need a man to do a report from Chile that man goes to Chile— hear me talking, Kent?
    Clark Kent: But, Mr.Edge, I...
    Morgan Edge: I don't care what you've got going next week—
    Clark Kent: But...
    Morgan Edge: I suggest you travel light!
    Clark Kent: Hold your flapping mouth, you barrel of overpriced lard! You might treat your other employees like cattle... But the cattle train stops right here!
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Lampshaded. After Superman has put several bank robbers down, the stolen cash starts swirling upwards mysteriously, and a crook believes Superman is showing off some new strange power.
    Bank Robber: Th-The money... swirling around—! Some kinda new Superman trick, I bet!
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Superman breaks a solar storm apart, unaware that it was disrupting the functioning of the super-suit of villain Solarman. His suit working fine at last, Solarman goes on a crime spree.
  • No Gravity for You: Variation. Superman has lost his powers, but finds himself as Clark Kent having to track down a gang. He brings along an anti-gravity device and handily takes them all down because as Superman he's experienced in zero gravity and they are not.
  • No-Sell: Clark Kent is assaulted in his apartment by an Intergang robot programmed to kill him. The Man of Steel punches the robot on the chest, but his strike has no effect whatsoever.
  • Offscreen Inertia: After dumping Xviar in an interplanetary prison, Superman boasts that he surely expected to be released by their superiors, but since his mission has failed they won't bother freeing him. Since Xviar was never seen again, fans assume he indeed never left his cell.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Steve Lombard makes Clark Kent spill a glass of water all over his suit right after Clark has decided to drop his pushover act during one week. Clark angrily knocks his bully down as Lois gapes at her mild-mannered co-worker, stunned.
    Lois Lane: Well, Steve... How do you like finding out that milksop Clark Kent is capable of acting like a man!?
  • The Patient Has Left the Building: Clark Kent comes around after being struck by a car and finds out he has been admitted in a hospital. A doctor orders him to stay in bed, but Clark needs to know why he appears to have been depowered; so as soon as the doctor leaves the room, Clark retrieves his Superman costume from its hiding place, puts it on and sneaks out.
  • Pedestrian Crushes Car: Subverted. Clark Kent shoves co-worker Steve Lombard out of the path of a speeding car, and it looks like the car is about to get wrecked as usual. Clark gets struck instead, and it's then revealed something has turned his powers off.
  • Planet Destroyer: Xviar intends to exploit Superman's planet-buster status by turning him into a super-powerful bomb.
  • Plot-Irrelevant Villain: Solarman has zero to do with the main plot, his actions are completely unrelated to the Xviar's scheme, and he becomes even more irrelevant after Superman destroys his power suit and takes him away.
  • Put on a Prison Bus: At the end, Superman visits Xviar in his cell to check on him and boast that Xviar's bosses will not bother to spring him out of prison after his failure. He was right, since Xviar was never seen again.
  • Put Their Heads Together: Clark Kent slams two Intergang goons' heads against each other while raiding an Intergang van. Bonus points for him being depowered and fighting upside-down in a zero-gravity environment.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Morgan Edge tries to bully Clark Kent into compliance, but for once Clark isn't getting it:
      Morgan Edge: No backtalk, Kent! I call the shots around here and when I decide I need a man to do a report from Chile that man goes to Chile— hear me talking, Kent?
      Clark Kent: But, Mr.Edge, I...
      Morgan Edge: I don't care what you've got going next week—
      Clark Kent: But...
      Morgan Edge: I suggest you travel light!
      Clark Kent: Hold your flapping mouth, you barrel of overpriced lard! You might treat your other employees like cattle... But the cattle train stops right here!
    • Superman delivers one to Xviar after foiling his scheme:
      Superman: The instant I defeated Amalak and Brainiac, you switched bodies with Amalak, knowing I would imprison him far from Earth... where your superiors would soon release you! Only they won't bother freeing a failure! You'll stay here... along with the real Amalak!
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Clark Kent almost breaks his commitment to not be Superman for one week as soon as he stumbles upon an emergency. The issue's swiftly and efficiently solved by the fire department, though, and Clark reminds himself he isn't indispensable:
    Clark Kent: "The world always got along fine before there was a Superman."
  • Run the Gauntlet: At the end of the story, Superman has to fight his nine worst foes one after the other.
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: At the start of the first issue, the Man of Steel runs into -and puts away- a band of pirates raiding tourist ships cruising the Metropolis Bay.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: At the beginning of the story, a swarm of hundreds of billions of killer bees is approaching Metropolis. Superman gets rid of them by forming a whirlwind which drags the swarm away from his city. It crosses over with Diabolus ex Nihilo since the bees have no explanation and have no bearing on the plot.
  • Secret-Identity Identity: Superman finds himself with a "split-effect", leaving him with no superpowers while wearing civilian attire. He decides to spend at least a week as Clark and finds that he has more backbone ó standing up to those who antagonize him as Clark, being more romantic with Lois, and engaging in a low-gravity battle with Intergang. However, helplessly watching huge disasters unfolding was too much for him to bear. Later, he decides not to fall back on Clark as Superman, forced to be fully committed to world welfare and leaving him unable to unwind and spend time with his muggle friends. In the end, he decides not to discard either identity, and he figures out the source of the split-effect in time to stop the years-long scheme of The Chessmaster trying to destroy the world.
    Superman: "I tried to decide whether Clark or Superman is more important... and realized that to do away with one would be to kill half of myself— whoever I really am!"
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Xviar takes on human form in order to mingle with Earth people, but due to a flaw in the process he's unable to change back to his original form. His body can't age either, so Xviar is forced to move and change jobs constantly so nobody wonders why he doesn't get older.
  • Ship Tease: It's heavily implied that Clark and Lois slept together when she stayed the night at his apartment.
  • Small Steps Hero: Subverted. During his "Only Clark" week, Clark feels terribly guilty every time he fails to deal with an emergency, big or small, but he reminds himself that humanity got by just fine for millennia without a Superman.
  • Spanner in the Works: As Xviar is enacting his scheme, Clark Kent captures an Intergang boss who was attempting to murder him and is subsequently called as a witness at the trial. Being in a hurry to go to the court, Clark picks up a spare suit from his office, which hadn't been tampered with by Xviar, and realizes his powers still worked, ergo someone is gaslighting him.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: In the final issue, Clark Kent pulls a vanishing act using his super-speed when he decides to bolt from a crowd of reporters besieging him.
    First Reporter: Wh-Where'd he go?
    Second Reporter: Did you see him duck out—?
    Third Reporter: Didn't see a thing!
  • Stunned Silence: Morgan Edge is left completely speechless when he tries to bully Clark Kent into accepting an assignment, and his mild-mannered pushover of an employee angrily tells him off.
  • Sue Donym: Xviar's assumed name is "Mr. Xavier".
  • Super-Power Meltdown: After secretly placing in Clark Kent's apartment a device that turns Superman into a walking bomb, Xviar puts the Man of Steel through an enemy gauntlet so that his solar reserves build up until reaching critical mass and blowing up both Superman and Earth. He fails.
    Superman: Since Mr. Xavier had tampered with my wardrobe, I played it safe and X-Ray visioned the rest of my apartment— to find those deadly devices behind my bookcase that turned me into a walking impact bomb!
  • Tempting Fate: In the first issue, a band of crooks are making their getaway on rocket-propelled flying jet-platforms, gloating that "[they] can hardly wait till a cop-copter shows up to nab [them]" because "[they] can fly where [nobody else] can". Keeping in mind they were committing -a very showy- armed robbery in Metropolis, of all cities, it doesn't take a genius to guess who shows up and whisks their jets away exactly one panel later.
  • Tornado Move: In the beginning of the story, the Man of Tomorrow takes care of a swarm of killer bees by spinning around until forming a whirlwind that drags the bees away from Metropolis.
    Superman: I'll have to treat this swarm as a single unit— spiral around the bees... like a whirling football... and sweep them up... in my own backdraft! I'll count on any stray bees not caught in my wake... to follow the bulk of their friends by instinct!
  • Trojan Horse: Intergang smuggle a killer robot into Clark Kent's apartment inside a big crate. Thinking nothing of the shipment, the doorman lets the delivery men into the building. Later, when Clark returns home, the robot bursts out of the crate and attempts to murder him.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Solarman thinks he can beat the world's greatest hero down and running him out of the town only because he has developed a sunlight-absorbing suit. When he engages Superman, Solarman thinks he's actually winning only because Superman is letting him get a pair of punches in while he overloads his power suit by feeding it solar power in excess.
  • Villain Teleportation: Xviar uses several alien trinkets to teleport Superman's worst enemies in Clark Kent's apartment. After his trap's successfully lured Superman out, Xviar teleports the nine villains across the planet to force Superman to battle until burning himself out.
  • Villains Want Mercy: Solarman goes from gloating over the rush he is getting from "beating" Superman to plead for help when his special suit catches fire due to a power overload.
    Solarman: My solar receptors— smoldering like a campfire! Hey— I'm in big trouble! HELP ME! Superman— Save me! I didn't really mean any harm, right? I mean, you knew all along— it was a jokeó?
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: Clark Kent gets struck by a speeding car while his powers are blocked off, and loses consciousness. When he wakes up he's lying on a hospital bed, and two doctors are hovering over him. As his blurry vision is clearing, Clark asks: "What's going on here...? Who are you... Where am I—?"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Superman is troubled about leaving Earth unprotected, but he never tries to get in touch with his cousin and ask her to cover for him during his off-duty week. He doesn't even think of asking Kara if she's facing the same problem.