As a crowd of startled onlookers stared skyward, Superman swooped across the sky and posed dramatically in front of a huge television screen on which the Japanese rock star Cornelius was performing one of his dirge-like hits.
“You will not be permitted to carry on in this fashion, Solarman!” he said. A man in red and gold laughed harshly and glared at the hero with hate-filled eyes that gleamed from beneath his armored helmet.
“Solarman, Prince of the Golden Fire, does not take orders from anyone! You will bow down to me and feel the painful flames of my most serious outrage!” cried the villain as flames erupted from his gloved hands.
“And cut!” cried a little man in a brilliant lime-colored suit.
“Gregory-San, you could consider showing a bit more alarm. We would like to convey the impression that Solarman is a most potent danger!” said the little director Yakuzo Kiro as actor Gregory Reed hovered in the wires of the flying harness that enabled him to mimic the flying powers of the super-hero he so resembled.
Greg Reed nodded and said, “I’ll remember that for next time. I am afraid the dialogue is a bit stilted to my ears.”
Kiro nodded and waved his arms as the cast and extras resumed their places to re-shoot the scene. It was almost unheard of for a mere actor in the Japanese cinema to correct a director. This was especially the case when dealing the flamboyant Kiro. Even among the slightly more liberal Japanese film industry, dark suits of black or gray dominated the fashion choices of men in the vocation, and Kiro’s brilliant colors made him unique, as did his eccentric manners.
“Poor Reed is having a bit of trouble,” said an American man with red hair and a bit of a potbelly. “That’s odd, since he’s a wonderfully effective Superman.”
“I agree. I can almost believe he’s the real Man of Steel,” said a slightly bemused Clark Kent as the Daily Planet reporter listened to the technical advisor’s words.
“I only met Superman once when I foolishly fought him during my own days as Solarman, and I gotta tell you, Greg Reed is mighty convincing,” said James Hammond. (*) “Seeing him up there in that costume fighting an actor wearing a version of my old suit brings back bad memories.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Clark Kent, Get Out of My Life,” Superman #298 (April, 1976).]
“Well, those criminal days are behind you,” said Clark. “You served your time, and you’ve turned your life around. That’s the reason I’m here. Your story is a real inspiration. I only wish other so-called super-villains would learn from their mistakes and channel their gifts toward legal outlets.”
Hammond gave a rather boyish grin and said, “Thanks, Mr. Kent. I still can’t believe my good fortune. When I moved to Japan, I only thought of finding work as a lab technician at one of the science cities northeast of Tokyo, but I really hit the jackpot when one of the heads of Imperial Films looked me up and offered to lease a version of my own exoskeleton armor and the rights to the name Solarman for their films!”
Clark Kent nodded as he thought, Since I’m the real Superman, I couldn’t be happier to see one of my old foes make a positive change in his life. If only Luthor, Brainiac, and the rest could also do so!
As Greg Reed came closer and shook hands with Clark, he said, “Mr. Kent, I’m afraid you’ve caught me on one of my bad days. My performance is not doing much to honor our mutual friend Superman.”
“I think you’re doing fine under the circumstances,” said Clark. “Plus, with the large charitable donation Imperial Films is making in Superman’s name in exchange for permission to use his image, I’m sure Superman has no regrets.”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Greg. “Kiro is supposedly a gifted director, but I’ve never been a fan of the old Sunburst films.”
“Sunburst was a man of honor,” said a nearby producer. “He was a national treasure in a country where tradition has been usurped by sugary pop groups like Poppy!“
“I know Sunburst died a hero’s death,” said Clark. (*) “He moved from only playing the part of a super-hero to truly becoming one.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986).]
“I guess it was his death that opened up this opportunity for me,” said Hammond. “I understand Takeo Sato, the actor who played Sunburst in those films, truly had mutant powers that enabled him to add realism to his film role of super-hero. That’s why the Imperial folks were so eager to acquire use of my armored costume that would allow any actor to emulate super-stunts!”
“Exactly,” said Clark, “although for years he suppressed all awareness of those powers by choice. He only embraced the role of hero when certain hypnotic commands wore off, and he remembered his mutant gifts. By that time Japan had gained other super-heroes like Rising Sun, and he decided to emulate their examples and accept his powers openly.”
“Well, I’m happy to lease my old super-villain name and costume to a harmless business,” said Hammond. “I hope Solarman becomes a hit!“
“A profit will please the salarymen who run the studio,” said the producer, Niobi Hikri. “That will, in turn, assure you of a rewarding and long career.”
“The last time I made a film in Japan, I was attacked by super-villains who wrongly thought I was truly Superman!” said Greg. (*) “Thank goodness that’s not likely to happen again.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Luthor’s League of Super-Villains,” The Secret Society of Super-Villains #7 (June, 1977).]
Before Clark could reply, his super-hearing detected a screech of metal and excited or frightened cries for help. Using his x-ray vision, he spotted a disaster in the making. Great Krypton! A train is about to derail! he thought. This looks like a job for the real Superman!
“Excuse me, the hot curry rice I had earlier is disagreeing with me,” said Clark as he raced away from the others and swiftly shed his outer clothing at superhuman speed. He compressed his dark blue suit and slipped it into a cape pouch as he flew out to rescue the endangered passengers on the train as Superman.
He owed his superhuman abilities to the fact that he had been born on the planet Krypton. His scientist father Jor-El had managed to launch the child to safety in a small rocket that had escaped the destruction of his birth-world. After arriving on Earth and being adopted by the Kents, young Clark had grown in the skilled use of the powers he had gained due to the differences between the suns and gravitational pull of the two planets.
Now, before even he could react, he had overshot the train. He whirled around and frowned as his super-swift motions created a miniature gust that swept across the unnamed streets. This isn’t just an off-day for the faux Superman. I’m not up to form today, either, he thought, and noticed the Japanese Rail train had cleared its rail and was heading off at a perilous speed. I’ve got to literally catch the train by matching my speed to its own momentum! he thought. Swooping down, he grasped the train with hands that could shatter mountains. To his consternation, those powerful hands had the same effect on the front of the train.
As metal broke apart in his hands, Superman used his shoulder to slow the train down and carefully eased it to a safe stop. I see a mechanical malfunction led to the accident. No one was hurt, either. Still, I can’t rest easy after the way my control of my powers fluctuated back there! My speed and strength both acted up, and for a man who has spent years perfecting the precise amount of force or speed to employ at any given moment, that spells serious trouble!
As the crowd clapped politely, Superman flew off. How odd the folks in Japan seem after the cheering crowds I’m so used to seeing back home in Metropolis! he thought. However, I’m not in this game for the roar or even the mildly polite chatter of the crowd. I’m just thankful no one was hurt back there! An out-of-control Superman could be deadly!
Meanwhile, in the science city of Tsukuba around thirty miles northeast of Tokyo, a pretty Japanese woman brooded as her mind raced and she tried to control her thoughts. I was asked to head the Tsukuba Institute because of my scientific achievements and my brilliant mind, she thought. However, all I have done this day is worry about my personal life. This kind of weakness is intolerable! I will not allow myself to become an emotional wreck. I am behaving as if I was nothing more than the most callow and uneducated of hostess girls from the water trade!
Dr. Kimiyo Hoshi was indeed a brilliant woman who had acquired a well-deserved reputation for genius, but beneath her rather icy demeanor, the young woman was also a mother, and it was her children who occupied her thoughts this day.
She tried to focus her attention on the heavily polished lens of a machine, but all she could see reflected on the device were her own features. The slight distortion from the machine’s surface made her think about her daughter Imako. The little girl already looked a lot like her mother, but instead of Kimiyo’s angry expression, Imako’s face had only displayed fear as she pleaded with her mother not to leave.
“Imako, you must not behave like this. What will little Yasu think? You are his elder sister, and you must set an example. I know this is a new place, but my new job will bring us happiness. You will come to like it here in time. All change is frightening, but one must be brave and embrace it if one is to mature!”
“I miss father! He would not leave us like this!” cried the child.
He has already left us all by refusing to grow, thought Kimiyo. Those spoken words had failed to comfort the girl, and now as Kimiyo recalled them they seemed harsh, cold, and brittle. She knew her voice had held more anger than it should have. She realized that anger was all she seemed to feel anymore. Anger was all she allowed herself to feel.
She thought of tiny Yasu, and she sighed as she recalled how the small boy had eagerly raced into the arms of Yoko Tanobi, the sweet, young caregiver who had been hired by Dr. Hoshi to watch over her children while she worked. Yoko is becoming more of a mother to Yasu than I am, she thought. Why wouldn’t he prefer her, since she is welcoming and kind, while I am always busy, angry, or stern?
The scientist tried to return to work, but her feelings were becoming overpowering. She realized that so much of her pain had originated from the fact that she had to be both mother and father to the children. Her ex-husband Jiro Hoshi had made no effort to maintain any regular schedule of visitation with them since she had divorced him.
He cared for them, but he was too irresponsible to put their needs before his own pleasures. This childishness had been appealing during their courtship, since his zeal and humor had nicely counterbalanced Kimiyo’s more serious nature. They had grown up together as neighbors, and as more than one sage put it, familiarity breeds attraction.
Jiro had been more than a lover to her. He had been an escape from what had become an unhappy home life. When her own mother died, Kimiyo’s hero worship for her brilliant father had become embittered, as the hapless man had become a target for her own pain.
“You are supposed to be so smart, but you could not save mother!“
Those pain-filled words had echoed within their home, and in spite of her father’s efforts to reconnect with her, Kimiyo refused to lower her own protective barriers. Thus, she had grown closer to Jiro, and his humor and warmth had offered her insulation of a type that helped her deal with her own pain and regret.
Jiro had been a skilled artist, and she had loved the colorful drawings he had made for her. She saw the makings of a true artist in the young man with the quick smile. The problems had started when neither marriage nor fatherhood had matured him. She had berated him. She had tried to persuade him to change by being especially loving. She had flattered him and expressed her desire to see him use his artistic talents to make a name for himself, but all he cared about was Manga.
Manga was the term given to the illustrated publications so popular in Japan. Americans referred to them as comic-books or graphic novels, but by any term she had always scorned such immature publications with their violence, vulgarity, and simplistic plots. But all Jiro cared about was buying the comics or spending his days with his Manga circle. In fact, to her astonishment, Jiro’s artistic gifts had never motivated him to do more than work at the large Manga shop known as Planetary Plaza.
“I will become famous one day when my creations are loved by readers around the globe,” Jiro Hoshi had insisted. “Perhaps they will become stars of Anime as well!”
The need to provide for herself and her family had pushed Kimiyo into spending countless hours driving herself and her coworkers to extremes with a relentless and decidedly uncaring devotion to duty. She knew that she had never truly formed a friendship with any coworker since her college days. She knew that genius was not the only term used to describe her behind her back. Still, she had never allowed herself to be troubled by such emotions. She had merely sworn to succeed and to provide her children with the kind of lifestyle they deserved.
Dr. Hoshi had finally broken with Jiro after the world-altering event known as the Crisis on Infinite Earths. That cosmic event had ended with victory for the heroes, who had risked their all to preserve the Multiverse. However, Kimiyo felt she had lost her own life or at least found it changed forever by the events. She had been given incredible powers over light in various forms by one of the cosmic beings waging the war, and she had used those powers in defense of his cause as the heroine Doctor Light. (*) She had learned lessons in the cost of pride and the nature of heroism and sacrifice by watching as the heroine Supergirl died, and the hero Superman fought onward in spite of his personal loss. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “And Thus Shall the World Die,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 (July, 1985) and “Beyond the Silent Night,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (October, 1985).]
She had also turned to Japan’s legendary hero Sunburst for guidance, and he had been there for her until he met his own death before the Crisis ended. Thus it was a changed woman who returned home and made some serious changes in her life.
“I am leaving you. We have grown apart, because in truth, you have refused to grow. I know I have been to blame because I have been an enabler. I refuse to do so any longer. I will mourn the death of what we once had and of the man you could have been.”
Those words had been merely the first that she had spoken to Jiro after more necessary explanations had been given for what had occurred during the Crisis that had changed her so. Other words had followed, but the break was inevitable, and it came soon afterward.
She had worked in America for a brief time and had suffered ignominious enslavement and imprisonment at the hands of two different super-villains. (*) She had realized that only through gradual learning could she ever hope to become the heroine she wished to be. She owed something along those lines to the memory of the late Supergirl. “I can never equal her, but perhaps I may serve the world in some small way, and by doing so give a bit back in return for her loss,” she had once vowed.
Upon her return to Japan, she had investigated the mystery of the apparent return from the dead of Takeo Sato, alias Sunburst. That still remained a painful mystery, since all she had discovered was the newly dead body of her friend, alongside the body of his enemy, nearly two years after she saw him buried. (*) To this day she still had still found no explanation for this bizarre reanimation, and it had been so traumatic that it had taken another crisis — the worldwide alien invasion in the summer of 1987 — for her to become Doctor Light once more. (*)
Now, Dr. Hoshi stood up and glanced around her office. She had no regrets about moving to Tsukuba. The science cities were innovative and held untold opportunities for a woman of her education. The community had actually been formed earlier that year when five small rural villages were combined and hundreds of bright minds were lured there by the promise of state-of-the-art labs, educational facilities, and high-paying jobs.
She had tried to concentrate on her work, but her emotions and her memories had plagued her all morning. Or was there something else troubling her?
Closing her eyes, she then opened them again. Slowly, as she stared around the room, she began to detect a faint glow that was invisible to the naked eye but could be seen by one with her special vision. The sunlight is different, she thought. Something is distorting or altering it. It’s not something that I can clearly discern. I can only make out a subtle manipulation that should not be present. But I can track the change to its source.
She locked her door and slipped out of the Rei Kawakubo designer suit she had been wearing and into the white and black costume and tiara of her Doctor Light identity. She flew out of the office as a beam of light and traced the distortion until she came upon a scene of blazing combat in Tokyo.