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The Prankster, by Wayne Boring, from Superman #88

The Prankster

The so-called "clown king of the underworld" (S No. 69/1, Mar/Apr 1951: "The Prankster's Apprentice!"), a "cunning" and "ruthless" criminal with "a dangerous sense of humor" (S No. 50/2, Jan/Feb 1948: "The Slogans that Came Too True!") who is forever playing pranks on people, including his own henchmen (Act No. 104, Jan 1947: "Candytown, USA"; and others), and who likes nothing better than to pull an uproarious prank-filled crime while at the same time making a monkey out of Superman (S No. 55/1, Nov/Dec 1948: "Prankster's Second Childhood"; and others).

Lois Lane has described the Prankster as “the most dangerous of all practical jokers” (S No. 37/2, Nov/Dec ‘45: “Pranks for Profit!”), while Superman has referred to him as an “addle-brained foul ball” (S No. 50/2, Jan/Feb 1948: “The Slogans That Came Too True!”) and Clark Kent has called him an “overgrown juvenile delinquent” (S No. 61/1, Nov/Dec 1949: “The Prankster’s Radio Program!”). Even the underworld is wary of the Prankster, for in the words of gangster “Bugs” Halloway, “He’s got a reputation for making saps outa smart guys” (S No. 22/3, May/Jun 1943: “The Great ABC Panic!”).

By his own, somewhat less modest account, however, the Prankster is “the funniest man in the world” (Act No. 95, Apr 1946: “The Laughing Stock of Metropolis!”) and the greatest criminal of all (S No. 52/1, May/Jun 1948: “Preview of Plunder”; and others). “What makes me so world-famous?” asks the Prankster rhetorically in March-April 1952. “It’s my sense of humor! Larceny with laughs has been my motto!” (S No. 75/1: “The Prankster’s Star Pupil!”).

Described as “Superman’s most fiendish foe” (Act No. 109, Jun 1947: “The Man Who Robbed the Mint!”), the Prankster is a man in his middle 30s, five feet tall, weighing approximately 125 pounds (S No. 41/1, Jul/Aug 1946: “Too Many Pranksters!”). He has slicked-down red hair and a narrow moustache, a pointy nose, and large “cup-shaped ears [that] begin wiggling like mad” whenever he is struck by an evil inspiration (S No. 22/3, May/Jun 1943: “The Great ABC Panic!”). He speaks in a bombastic, highfalutin manner, often saying “Aye and verily,” for example, instead of “yes” (Act No. 51, Aug 1942: “The Case of the Crimeless Crimes”; and others). His laughter has been described as “sinister” (Act No. 109, Jun 1947: “The Man Who Robbed the Mint!”), and he is often portrayed as having wide gaps between several of his front teeth, giving him the appearance of a fiendish jack-o’-lantern (Act No, 51, Aug 1942: “The Case of the Crimeless Crimes”; and many others). On one occasion, the Prankster joins forces with the Toyman and Lex Luthor after a chance encounter of the three at an amusement park (S No. 88/3, Mar 1954: "The Terrible Trio!").

The Prankster is immensely egotistical. In May- June 1948, for example, after reading press accounts of Superman’s recent capture of the Toyman and thwarting of Lex Luthor's latest “gigantic scientific hoax,” the Prankster reacts contemptuously. “Bah!” he exclaims. “If that fool Luthor could think up something gigantic, swiping a library book would be a sensation! And what’s clever about the Toyman? Why—compared to me, he’s just a third-rate petty- larceny punk who made the big time on lucky breaks!”

“What’s eatin’ ya, Prankster?” interjects one of the Prankster’s henchmen. “With them guys in jail, you got less competition!”

“That’s not the point!” retorts the Prankster. “Those punks are getting all the publicity! —While my great criminal talents are being forgotten!” (S No. 52/1: “Preview of Plunder”).

The Prankster is the “prince of practical jokers” (Act No. 151, Dec 1950: “Superman’s Super-Magic Show!”), and his penchant for prankishness is exhibited repeatedly in the chronicles. On one occasion, he frightens the wits out of a Metropolis policeman with a gun that fires little toy parachutes instead of bullets, and on another he and his henchmen invade a bank armed with pistols and machine guns that shoot fireworks, corks, and streams of water (Act No. 51, Aug 1942: “The Case of the Crimeless Crimes”).

Particularly in his early appearances, however, the Prankster is fiendish as well as mirthful— carrying a deadly “miniature gun” concealed inside a playful-looking flute, attempting to annihilate his own henchmen with poison gas so that he can keep their share of the loot for himself (Act No.51, Aug 1942: “The Case of the Crimeless Crimes”; and others).

In the course of more than twenty separate encounters with Superman, the Prankster has employed a number of ingenious aliases and alternate identities to help him carry out his nefarious schemes, including P.R. Ankster and Ajax Wilde (S No. 37/2, Nov/Dec 1945: “Pranks for Profit!”); Mr. Van Prank, Colonel P.R. Ankster, Mr. Frank Ster, and Professor Smythe (S No. 61/1, Nov/Dec 1949: “The Prankster’s Radio Program!”); and Dr. Dawson (S No. 70/3, May/Jun 1951: “The Pied Piper Prankster!”).

In the texts, the Prankster is alternatively referred to as the Chuckling Charlatan, the Clown King of Crime, the Comedy Crook, the Mirthful Miscreant, and the Rollicking Rogue.

In addition, he has been described as “that cherubic, clowning comedy king of crime,” a “mastermind of malignant mirth,” and the “mirthful marauder” (Act No. 51, Aug 1942: “The Case of the Crimeless Crimes”); “that whimsical wizard of whacky crimes” (Act No. 69, Feb 1944: “The Lost-and- Found Mystery!”); “that ribald rogue of mirthful menace” (S No. 29/1, Jul/Aug 1944: “The Wizard of Wishes!”); the “mocking mountebank of mischief” and “clowning crime-king” (S No. 37/2, Nov/Dec 1945: “Pranks for Profit!”); “the waggish wizard of clownish crimes” (S No. 41/1, Jul/Aug 1946: “Too Many Pranksters!”); “that grinning engineer of evil” (Act No. 109, Jun 1947: “The Man Who Robbed the Mint!”); “that rollicking rajah of rogues” and “Superman’s madcap enemy” (S No. 61/1, Nov/Dec 1949: “The Prankster’s Radio Program!”); “that clownish character with a crooked streak” and “Superman’s old enemy, who blends his larceny with laughs” (S No. 66/1, Sep/Oct 1950: “The Babe of Steel!”); “that crook with a yen for clownish crimes,”“one of Superman’s arch-enemies,” the “crime clown,” and the “master of mad mischief” (S No. 69/1, Mar/Apr 1951: “The Prankster’s Apprentice!”); “that pixie crook” and “that pixie practical joker” (S No. 70/3, May/Jun 1951: “The Pied Piper Prankster!”) the “menacing jokester of crime” and a “grinning clown of crime and Superman’s most annoying foe” (S No. 72/1, Sep/Oct 1951: “The Unfunny Prankster!”); and the “arch-clown of crime” and “one of Superman’s trickiest foes” (S No. 87/3, Feb 1954: “The Prankster’s Greatest Role!”).

In August 1942, with the aid of funds they have acquired by robbing a bowling alley and other strictly penny-ante crimes, the Prankster and his henchmen set in motion an elaborate scheme designed to enable them to loot one of Metropolis’s wealthiest banks. On two separate occasions, the villains barge into a bank during business hours, line the patrons and employees up against the wall at gunpoint, and force them to endure a series of infuriating but harmless pranks— as when the Prankster tricks a bank president into blackening his entire face by lending the unsuspecting banker a gimmicked handkerchief with which to wipe his brow—and then peacefully depart, leaving behind, to the amazement of bank officials and onlookers alike, a satchel filled with money as a gift for the bank.

“Why did you forcibly enter those banks and leave money there?” asks a bewildered judge, after Superman has taken the criminals into custody following their second bizarre robbery-in-reverse. “Just a childish whim, judge,” replies the Prankster coyly. “Playing cops and robbers has always intrigued me. I’m a wealthy man, and if I desire to give money away to banks, who is there to say nay?”

Indeed, when the Prankster and his cohorts barge into their third, and last, bank, the bank’s president is only too eager to accommodate them, certain that he is about to become the next recipient of the Prankster’s well-publicized largesse. Only too late, after the villains have laughingly looted the vault of millions of dollars’ worth of jewelry, currency, and bonds does the bank official realize that he has just been the victim of an actual robbery.

When Superman attempts to intervene, the Prankster takes Lois Lane hostage, forcing Superman to retreat, but the Man of Steel manages to infiltrate the villain’s hideout disguised as one of his henchmen, and before long he has rescued Lois, apprehended the Prankster’s henchmen, and set out in pursuit of the escaping Prankster. However, as the villain flees into the darkness of a subterranean cavern, Superman sees “avalanching boulders topple down upon the mirthful marauder,” and he assumes that he has just witnessed “the end of the Prankster!”

But Superman is mistaken, for the wily criminal has miraculously escaped death by “taking refuge on a ledge.” When he gloatingly examines his bag full of bank loot, however, he discovers that the hoard of money and jewelry has been replaced by worthless “blank paper.”“He [Superman] must have substituted it for the swag at super-speed while I was off- guard!” mutters the Prankster. “So Superman has the last laugh- -this time! But we will clash again- - soon! And perhaps next time it will be the Prankster who will laugh loudest- -and the longest!” (Act No. 51: “The Case of the Crimeless Crimes”).

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