Late at night in a quiet suburban neighborhood of Metropolis, Alice White grew concerned when she awoke, turned over, and noticed that her husband Perry wasn’t in their room. That wasn’t too unusual, so she listened intently for the telltale sounds that would reveal his location as she did whenever she discovered his absence. After so many years together, she knew to listen for either the click of a typewriter from the study or the clatter of dishes and bowls from their kitchen. Oddly enough, neither work nor a late night snack seemed to be the source of the famous newspaper editor’s absence.
Donning a robe, she entered the living room below, where she saw a dim light. Perry White was poring over a stack of photo albums. He sniffed as if he had a cold or, even more miraculous, had been crying.
“Dear, what are you doing?” she asked softly. “It’s three in the morning.”
Perry sniffed and said, “I was looking at the family album, seeing old shots of the kids that were almost new to me. It just took me back — made me aware of how much time I robbed myself of by working all the time.”
As Alice drew near, the light revealed a worried, sorrowful expression on her husband’s face. “Perry, you know the kids adore you,” she said, soothing his concerns. “So do their wives and the grandkids, for that matter.”
Perry frowned. “But I was a bad father, an even lousier husband,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I was raising a paper, for God’s sake — a thing of paper and ink — and I neglected you all for it. How can you forgive me? How can I forgive myself?”
They sat up until morning with little improvement in his attitude. He was a man who suddenly felt convicted that he had lost precious years, and as a result those lost years had cost his loved ones more than he could ever repay.
The next day brought no relief to Perry White’s troubled mind. He was a strong-willed man with heroic principles that directed him to use his Great Metropolitan Newspaper to print the truth, yet he also lived and died by these selfsame values. One of the things most dear to him was his family, but he was suddenly obsessed with how his ambition had deprived him of time that he could have spent with them. He sat morosely in his office at the Daily Planet Building, and the hum of conversations barely intruded upon his thoughts.
The office walls were lined with awards, ranging from a 1940s Press Association Award for his story about the Blackhawks and Hitler’s Secret Olympics to numerous Pulitzer Prizes.
I wasted my life! he thought. Those awards are nothing but cold reminders of time I could have better spent at home. Other men ran papers, yet still kept regular hours. That’s why a man has staffers, is it not? Oh, but not the great Perry White, with printer’s ink in his veins where warm blood should have been. He sighed deeply, too wrapped up in his troubles to do any work at all. This was hardly a typical day for the usually energetic and feisty newspaper editor.
Meanwhile, in an office that could best be described as cute, feminine decorations marked the room as one quite different from the usual bland office practicality.
The occupant of the small office could also best be described as cute, and had been throughout her life. Even today, with her normally perky features devoid of any makeup, young Meg Tempest was adorable by any definition of the word. Still, the girl reporter known for her fluff pieces on quaint lawn ornaments or Elvis impersonators was not feeling her usual chipper self.
She sighed as she looked at old photos from her pageant days and grew more depressed. “All I’m good for is my looks,” she mused. “The beauty queen titles that got me this far don’t change a thing about the reality. I am no Lois Lane. I can do light filler pieces, and people like me because of my looks. I don’t have the journalistic instinct or credentials to back up my demand for heavy stories.”
That day Meg had arrived at the Daily Planet weary and worried without her usual stylish makeup and feathered hairdo. She was trying to see if people would still treat her well if she was ordinary. The experiment had proved to be rather pointless, since everyone else also seemed oddly preoccupied with their own concerns.
Meg Tempest was feeling unworthy and wished she could offer the working world more. She had never lacked for self-esteem before, but now she wondered if she shouldn’t simply head back home to the small town that launched her career as a pageant winner and journalism student.
Jennifer Owens sat at her usual spot as Daily Planet receptionist and fought to control her emotions, barely able to stop herself from weeping. Her curly hair and vibrant manner usually marked her as a perfect greeter for the very busy office building, but today love’s slings and arrows brought her down.
“Jimmy may be with me physically, but his heart belongs to that flashy Lucy Lane,” she sighed. “It’s just a matter of time before she flies right back into his life, and of course he’ll just rush off after her like a lovesick puppy. I was crazy to try to compete with a beauty like her!”
In other offices, still more staffers suffered their own crippling feelings of guilt, shame, or lack of value. The atmosphere was draining and defeating, and yet an unseen being from afar fed off the dark emotions with tremendous pleasure, whispering dark, self-destructive suggestions in the staffers’ minds with their own voices in order to trick them into thinking that they were their own thoughts.
Mr. Action, as Jimmy Olsen liked to call himself, wanted a bit of action himself. Although he walked listlessly down the streets of New York City, he saw very little of the dynamic city around him. Jimmy Olsen had departed from the Daily Planet that morning on an early flight, yet even with the change of scenery he still couldn’t shake the feelings of uneasiness that plagued him.
“Am I a true journalist or just a thrill-seeker who attracts readers and viewers through sensational stunts?” he muttered to himself. “You don’t see Clark jumping off planes, but he still has a loyal readership. I’m just a flavor of the day who will lose his readers when he can’t pull off daring stunts.”
Jimmy didn’t understand the doubts that haunted him. He had been ready for anything up until the last day or so. Then he began to wonder if he lacked depth, and he also questioned the distance between his wealthy father and himself. Oh, sure, Mark Olsen had turned out to be a willing and proud parent in recent years, but Jimmy still ached over their many years apart. He thought of Lucy Lane, the love of his life, who had teased and tormented him by being warm one moment and cold the next. He wondered if being Superman’s Pal as he was famous for really meant all that much, since in truth he lacked the true confidence of the hero.
“He never really tells me many things about his life,” said Jimmy, frowning. “I mean, wouldn’t a true friend share everything? For all I know, Superman could be some coach or taxi driver when he’s not wearing the cape. Why can’t he just trust me?” His somewhat irrational thoughts had caused him to neglect the scheduled interview that had brought him to New York in the first place, and yet he found that he still couldn’t pull himself free of his worry, doubt, or negativity.
Then, while walking down Christy Street in Greenwich Village, he spotted a weird little shop across the street with painted words on the window that read: Madame Xanadu, Advisor. Some powerful instinct within urged him to visit. Crossing the street, he read the sign posted on the front door. “Enter freely — unafraid,” he muttered, and he swung it open.
As Jimmy glanced around within the odd little shop, he saw shelves lined with jaws and containers, as well as odd scrolls, pictures, mirrors, and many other things he wouldn’t have been able to identify if his life had depended upon his doing so.
But the most striking and precious thing in the shop was not one of these inanimate objects at all, for nothing of metal, glass, or wood could equal the dazzling glamor of the woman called Madame Xanadu.
The esoteric figure swept into the room without a sound except perhaps the silken rustling of her alluring purple gown. Her strange-looking bat-winged heels made no sound as she seemed to float across the shop in a sea of exotic perfume that intoxicated the observer almost as much as did the lovely woman’s dark and compelling beauty. For once in his life, Jimmy Olsen was utterly speechless.