The Man of Tomorrow
The world ended on a crisp day in April, 1938, the last exhalation of winter making its presence felt. For the pedantic, the scholarly, there could be other dates, other milestones to mark the end, other points to be examined and debated and fussed over. But for everyone else, that day was the end of the world.
Lois Lane wanted a cigarette. It was all she could think of as she listened to the construction foreman stonewall her. She smoked since high school, a habit introduced by her sister and tacitly approved by her father. Almost everyone at the Daily Planet smoked. Her boss, Perry White's, office looked like a chimney most days.
Lois's enthusiasm had waned after she talked to a doctor who did research on respiratory illness, one that indicated a dire outcome for lifelong smokers. She had dismissed his findings at first, as had Perry.
"Not enough evidence to print," he had said, "and besides, some of our best advertisers are Camel and Lucky Strikes." Yet, something about the doctor's warning stuck with her. Lois thought of the burn in her lungs and the rattle of her grandfather's cough in the years before he passed and she found herself reaching for a cigarette less and less.
Still, the habit was hard to quit, especially when her patience was tested. The Planet received a call about a group of steel workers that narrowly survived an accident and Perry decided to send her out to see what the fuss was all about. They said a man saved them with his bare hands. In some sort of weird getup. Lois protested, but it was a slow day and Perry was in no mood for an argument.
Lois let her mind wander from the foreman's ramblings, to look at the scene behind him. The promise of a skyscraper loomed. It's frame was bare, but nearly complete. The skyline of Metropolis was dotted with similar sites. The pace of expansion, of improvement, had quickened in recent years, the dreadful grip of the Depression loosening its hold. Industrialists and inventors flocked here to make their mark, followed by droves of hopeful laborers, happy to have a steady job once more. Metropolis was a city bound for the future.
Lois decided her own future no longer involved listening to the foreman and managed to get past him. The work site was full of people, but activity was muted, as if they were all still held their breath. She noted a heap of girders on the ground, the earth churned up near them. A trail of chain and rope snaked from the pile. The shadows cast by the morning sun fell on three workers sitting near the pile, the girders forming a grid of phantom bars around them.
She made her way to the trio of workers, those caught up in the accident. There had been a fourth man, but he fainted and was taken away to the hospital. The others gave them a wide berth, as though their misfortune might transfer to them. Two of them perked up as they saw her. The third kept his eyes fixed onto the ground.
"Lois Lane, Daily Planet," she said. "I hear you boys survived quite the accident."
"Well, at least you're better looking than the cops we spoke to," said the first man. He ran his hands through messy blond hair, his forehead still stained by dust.
"Just as likely to laugh at us," said the other man. He wore thick glasses. One of the lenses was cracked with a twisting spiral.
"Come now. I drove all the way over here to hear your story," said Lois. She brandished her pen and notepad.
They introduced themselves as Joe, Jerry and Malcolm.
"Joe and I were down here on the ground when it happened. We were grabbing some tools. Malcolm and Schwartz, that's the guy they carted off, they were up on the beams," said Jerry.
"We heard a loud crash. A bundle of those girders hit the beams up there, said Joe, as he gestured, "Malcolm was dangling from the edge."
Malcolm shuddered, but remained silent.
"The chain snapped and the girders fell. My graceful friend here," Joe nodded to Jerry, "tripped and ended up on his ass. I bent down to grab him without thinking."
"My hero," chuckled Jerry.
"Anyway, right as we're about to have a one way ticket to the great beyond, I feel this powerful impact," said Joe.
"He had his eyes shut. I look up and there's this man standing over us. And he's holding the girders up! Not only that, but he ain't breaking a sweat," said Jerry.
Lois's face must have betrayed doubt because Joe said, "And there it is. She's thinking we've got a few screws loose. Just like the cops."
Lois held up a hand.
"Now, now, boys. I said I'd hear your story and I'll listen the whole way through."
Joe and Jerry shared a glance, but Jerry sighed and continued.
"He dropped the girders like he was setting down laundry. It was about that time when Malcolm lost his grip. Schwartz had tried to grab him, but the fool fell off the beams too."
"I saw this part," said Joe. "The man leapt up and caught them."
"Leapt?" said Lois, pausing in her note taking.
"On my mother's life. He jumped up towards them and grabbed em. Right, Mal?"
Malcolm lightly nodded.
"Guy sets them down, checks real quick to make sure no one else is hurt and then hopped his way out of here. Went clear over that building," said Joe, pointing at a nearby skyscraper.
"What did the man look like?" said Lois.
"That's the looniest part of it all. Our fella was in some sorta costume. It was blue, with red trunks and a red cape. Had a symbol on the front," said Joe.
"We didn't get a good look at his face. But the man was pure rugged," said Jerry. They nodded in unison.
"Quite a story. How come you three are the only ones willing to tell it?" asked Lois.
"The others saw too. Or some of em did. But the boss doesn't want us stirring up trouble. He's told the others if they make a scene he'll let em go," said Joe. He spit and wiped his mouth.
"Telling all of us we're hysterical. That we made it up," said Jerry. "I think half of them are starting to believe that."
Lois stopped writing. It was all a bit much. There was a glimmer of a bigger story here, buried in the nonsense.
"Thanks for your time boys. I'm glad you three made it out okay and I'll do my best to get this in the paper."
They said their goodbyes, though Lois detected a lack of confidence. She took her time leaving the site. She approached the girders. A few were bent and twisted. Lois bent down for a closer look. There appeared to be fingerprints on one of them.
"Think it's time you were on your way, Ms. Lane," said the foreman. "We need to get caught up and you being here is gonna slow that down."
Outside the site, as she walked to her car, Malcolm caught up with her.
"Wasn't an accident. None of our guys were up in that crane. And someone messed with those chains."
"Got any proof?" said Lois.
"Nothing you'd like, but I know it. There's a reason the foreman's all worked up. Someone's leaning on him real hard."
Lois took his words and ran with it. She worked her way across the street, talking to the people whose businesses were close to the construction site. She had little luck. Many had heard the commotion, but no one saw any costumed savior. And no one knew about previous problems with the building.
Accidents happened. The growing pains of a city on the march. There was a missing piece here and it wasn't the man in the costume, whatever that meant.
She was halfway into buying a pack of Lucky Strikes, when Lois caught the trail. The store clerk pointed out a girl that lived nearby, one that got chased off for hanging out around the work site. Lois bought gum and a soda, then scoured the neighborhood for this kid.
The girl was swinging on a fire escape ladder when Lois found her. A gymnast in the making. She was around eight or nine, a slim kid with dark skin and thick hair. Lois coaxed her down with the offer of soda or the gum. The girl chose the soda. Her name was Clarice.
"I play around there all the time. The workers yell at me when they catch me, so I have to be good at hiding."
"I bet you give them a run for their money," said Lois. "You ever see anything strange?"
"Anything out of place? Anyone that comes around that doesn't seem to belong."
"A few of my friends play there too. There's older kids sometimes," Clarice said. She paused, taking a deep gulp of the soda. "There were the mean men a few times. The scary ones."
"They yell at one of the workers. The one that's in charge."
"Do you know what they said?"
The girl finished her soda. Clarice held out her hand. Lois smiled and handed her the gum.
"You drive a hard bargain, kid."
"So what were they yelling at the man?"
"They said he better give them money. Or they'd make him regret it."
Lois asked a few more questions, but she reached the limit of what Clarice could tell her. Before she left the budding spy, Lois asked her, "Clarice, did you see anything with that accident? Any man in a costume."
The girl lit up.
"I saw a man jump over that building. He had a cape!"
Lois found a payphone and let the Planet know there was a story to be found here. Her itch for a cigarette was gone, replaced by that tingling, the one that she had her hooks in the truth. She stopped at a cafe and hung around for a few hours on a hunch.
Her quarry arrived in a Cadillac that dispensed two grim men, their every step a portent of malice. They talked to the foreman for a short time, who seemed to shrink. Lois observed them until they got back into their car.
She hurried to her own, a 1936 Chevrolet. She bought it this year and many nights were spent driving around the city, as Lois untangled the latest scoop. All the lean meals and scrimping and saving were worth the freedom it granted.
Lois followed the Cadillac through the city, as it charted an odyssey across Metropolis. Three more times, her target stopped and the grim men emerged to inflict their fearful presence on others. A tailor's shop. A street cart selling fruit. A butcher's shop. Lois didn't hear these conversations, but she recognized the pattern of extortion. She considered making another call to the Planet, but she couldn't risk losing their trail.
The quiet pursuit ended at a gin joint near the slums. She watched as they entered, then followed. A cursory examination of the adjacent alley found Lois on top of a dumpster, as she peered through a narrow window.
The grim men sat across a desk from an older man, with sagging cheeks and a red nose. He puffed on a cigar. Lois recognized him as Bill Bowers, a man suspected of entanglements with organized crime. Muffled voices emerged.
"Bruno. Manny. Did we solve our problem?" said Bowers.
"We got the payments from the tailor…."
Bowers slapped his hand on the table, jolting the other two upright.
"I don't care about that. I mean our big problem." In spite of the display, the older man's voice remained measured.
"The job went off like it was supposed to. But, the foreman was saying someone stepped in, stopped anyone from dying. Still, I think he got the message."
"Shame. A few bodies woulda sold it better."
"As long as the cops don't get involved we can keep bleeding them."
"I'll send a few incentives to keep it quiet." Bowers puffed a big ring of smoke. "We aren't getting paid to deliver half-measures. Wait a few weeks, then stage another accident. Make sure this one puts people in the ground. The man upstairs is growing impatient."
Lois's eavesdropping was ended by the feeling of something firm and cold pressed to her back.
"Easy, doll. Wouldn't want to make a mess," said a voice behind her. "Yet."
Before she could turn, something struck her head and her vision went black.
Lois felt the rumble of a car in motion as she opened her eyes. She tried to move her hands to the throbbing sensation at her head, but they were bound behind her. Lois shut her eyes again and lay still as a voice began to speak.
"Why couldn't we just ice her back there?"
"You think the boss wants any chance of having heat right on top of us?"
"Just cause you're lazy doesn't mean we gotta get sloppy."
Lois peeked through veiled eyes. Three of them. One next to her, two in the front. The sun had begun its descent outside the car window. The man next to her shifted, but he did not appear to notice that she was awake. She could smell the hint of whiskey on his breath.
"Cousin's got a boat. We'll take her out on that, ice her on the water, head up north a ways and dump her in Gotham harbor. They got so many bodies floating out there, it'll be a while before she turns up."
A cold sweat clung to Lois's back. This wasn't the first time she was in deep and with any luck it wouldn't be the last. Her hands carefully worked at the knots. Her father made her learn all kinds of rope work. These fellas could learn a thing or two from him. Soon enough, the rope was loose enough. It was only a waiting game.
"Why is Bowers so worked up over all this?"
"Quiet, you mook. What if she hears?"
"She's out cold," said the one next to her.
Lois felt a painful smack to her shoulder. She bit her tongue and stifled a cry.
"See? And besides, she ain't long for this world."
"Fine. Boss needs to deliver to that rich guy. He wants that contract for himself. Rich guy has been breathing down Bower's neck."
"We know who this guy is?"
"Nope, only the boss has met him."
The car slowed.
"Outta the road!" shouted the driver, as it came to a brief stop. "Goddamn tramp."
Lois seized her moment. She drove an elbow into the crotch of the man next to her. He wheezed out a curse, as she grabbed the door handle and fell out of the car.
"Get that crazy broad!"
Lois was on her feet, running down the road. She was somewhere on the outskirts of Metropolis, where it bled into the surrounding land. Behind the car now, was a man in raggedy clothing, the reason they had slowed down. He was now fleeing in the opposite direction. The road they were on was sandwiched between a steep incline and an embankment. There was nowhere to run.
The car swiveled towards her, as it accelerated. Lois grimaced and held up her hands.
Steel groaned. The cars engine roared. Lois heard screaming, but it wasn't her. She brought down her hands.
The car was aloft, its tires spinning fruitlessly in the air. The men were shouting. That wasn't what made Lois gasp.
Below the car, a man stood, arms raised overhead. His hands held the undercarriage, the metal compressed in his grip. He was tall, with a broad chest, his feet planted firmly on the ground. He wore a blue costume with red trunks. A cape fluttered behind him. There was a yellow shield with a red stylized S on his chest. The man's face was in shadow.
The man stormed forward, perpendicular to Lois. Two of the thugs fell from the car. Even from here, Lois could see the man's muscles weren't straining against the weight of the car. The man brought the car down into the embankment, caving in the hood. A tire flew off, rolling aimlessly down the road.
One of her captors fled in sheer panic. The other one produced a gun.
"No!" shouted Lois, as the loud report of the shot filled the air.
The man stood still, unfazed by the gunshot. A followup attempts highlighted that the bullets were bouncing off of the man.
"You ain't real," shouted the gunman.
The man dropped the car and charged him. His hand seized the gun and crumpled it into a hunk of metal.
The gunman crumpled to the ground, having fainted. The man seized him and the others and wrapped a metal beam, wrenched from the car, around them.
Lois realized she was holding her breath. She exhaled and took in a few choppy breaths. She looked up to realize the man was standing over her.
She took in his face. He had chiseled features and a wide chin. His skin almost seemed to glow in the fading sunlight. His jet black hair dangled over his forehead in a spit curl. It was the soft, blue eyes that held Lois the longest.
"Are you alright, miss?" said the man, his voice gentle, but assured.
"Everything will be okay. I'm glad I was able to help you. No need to worry about Bowers. I'll pay him a visit before long."
He seemed to cock his head slightly.
"Others will be here soon. Police. I'll leave this to them." The man began to step away.
"Wait," Lois shouted, more forcefully than she planned.
The man paused.
"Who are you? What are you?"
"I'm just someone who wants to help others."
He looked at her with thought.
"Why did you follow these men?"
"I needed to uncover what they're doing. Report the truth. It's my job."
The man smiled and turned. He leapt into the air. Lois's brain seemed to stop working as he vanished into the sky, the sheer weight of unreality pressing down on her. By the time she came to her senses, the police had arrived.
Lois quickly grabbed her notepad and sketched out the symbol.
"Perry, I'm telling you! It was a man! A man who could lift cars and leap over buildings," said Lois, holding up her crude drawing.
"We can't print that Lois," said Perry White. "The Daily Planet has a reputation. You want us to become a laughingstock?"
"We'll be a bigger one if we sleep on this story. He's out there." She was exasperated. "You want the Star to beat us on this one?"
Perry pinched the bridge of his nose. He stubbed out his cigarette.
"Write it up. Have one of the artists do a mock up until we get a proper photo. I'm counting on you to come through for me here. Get Olsen to help you."
"You got it chief."
"Don't call me chief. And Lois? What are we calling him? This mystery man."
"He's more than a man. Far more. More like some sort of Superman."
"That's got a ring to it."
There was a knock on the office door.
"What?" shouted Perry.
"Um, I can come back later, the secretary told me to see you, so I…," came a soft voice.
"Get on with it then! Come in," said Perry.
The door opened and a man in rumpled suit with square glasses and a neat haircut entered. The man looked at Perry and Lois like a mouse discovered by a cat.
Lois squinted at him. There was a hint of the familiar.
"Ah," said Perry, "About time you got in town."
Lois looked at her boss then back to the man.
"This is our newest reporter. You're gonna show him how we do things in a proper city."
The man gave a slight smile. He extended his hand.
"Lois Lane meet Clark Kent."
Lois shook his hand.
"Pleasure to meet you Ms. Lane."
"Call me Lois."
The world had ended. It was time for a new one to begin.
Thanks for reading. This is an exploration of DC's heroes from their real world historical origins in the 1930s and 40s. It's not meant to be strictly historically accurate both in terms of the actual events and the original appearances of the characters, but it does use that as a guide for the story.