Almost from the very beginning of his long career, Superman has employed dummies and robots of Clark Kent and Superman—as well as of his loved ones and closest friends—to help him carry out his customary super-tasks and protect the secret of his dual identity. The greatest of these so-called Super-Robots—which are housed both at the Fortress of Solitude and behind a secret panel in Clark Kent's Metropolis apartment;are immensely sophisticated and complex, possessing mighty super-powers and capable of human emotion, independent thought, and autonomous action. In the early years of the chronicles, however, this was not the case and the complex robots that exist more recently are the products of a gradual evolution spanning many years of texts.
In March 1944 Clark Kent uses a Superman dummy to help him outwit The Thinker, employing ventriloquism to make the dummy appear to talk.
In September 1949, Superman employs a Superman robot in an elaborate scheme to dupe a band of aliens from the planet Uranus into believing that all earthlings are actually robots. Superman makes his robot appear life-like by manipulating it like a puppet at invisible super-speed while employing ventriloquism to make it talk. (WF No. 42, Sep 1949: "The Alphabetical Animal Adventure!")
As the years progress, the Superman robots become progressively more advanced.
Arriving as a superman from Mercury in February 1952, Superman uses a robot named Krag which he manipulates "with control buttons and ventriloquism". He has to "switch makeup and costumes with Krag...so that sometimes [he] was Krag and the robot became Superman". He arranges for this robot to appear to defeat himself as Superman so that he can meet the Crime Czar (Act No. 165, Feb 1952: "The Man Who Conquered Superman!").
In May 1952, a Clark Kent robot appears in the texts that can move by itself, but Superman continues to throw his voice to make it talk. A bump on a boat shakes the robot's mechanism and makes it fail, so the Man of Steel arranges this mishap to seem as if Clark had fainted after seeing a paper dinosaur, and he repairs it later (S No. 75, May 1952: "Mrs. Superman!").
In December 1955, Superman creates a remote-controlled Superman robot that Jimmy Olsen can control while he is away in space diverting a runaway planet that was on a crash course with Earth. It was equipped with a "built-in tv screen originally devised by Dr. Ultra" so Jimmy could "see and hear everything, as if [he] was there [himself]." The robot has super-strength and can fly (SPJO No. 9/3: "The Missile of Steel").
By May 1958, Superman has succeeded in devising robots so sophisticated that his Clark Kent robot—kept concealed behind a secret panel in a supply room at the Daily Planet—is actually capable of carrying on his duties at the Daily Planet whenever his presence is required elsewhere as Superman. "The robot Clark will replace me here in the office, as usual!" thinks Superman. "Remote-control impulses from my X-ray eyes will guide him and operate his voice box!" Superman also utilizes a sophisticated Superman robot during this period to carry out a mission in outer space.
In December 1958, Superman has begun housing several Superman robots in a secret closet in Clark Kent's apartment, each equipped to duplicate one of Superman's super-powers, such as super-strength, the power of flight, X-ray vision, or super-breath. "Each is designed to use one of my super-powers when needed!" notes Superman. "I send out the robots when Clark's absence would be suspicious! Or when I suspect that criminals are waiting to use kryptonite against me!"
By January 1960 Superman has clearly increased the complexity of his robots even further, for he is now quoted in the Daily Planet as saying that "my robots possess all my super-powers."
In February 1960, when Superman conducts guided tours through his Fortress of Solitude for the benefit of charity, two of his Superman robots stand outside, scanning the incoming crowds with their X-ray vision to ensure that no bombs or other dangerous devices are carried into the Fortress. Indications are that the robots are carrying out their duties autonomously, without any outside help from Superman.
In June 1960, Superman, busily occupied with putting on a demonstration of his super-powers for children at a local hospital, dispatches a Clark Kent robot to keep a lunch date with Lois Lane, confident that the robot is so thoroughly lifelike that Lois will not be able to tell it from a human being.
In March 1961, one of Superman's Superman-robots, acting entirely on its own volition, carries out an intricately convoluted ruse involving human emotion, sophisticated independent thinking, and the ability to invent and construct complex scientific devices. (Action Comics No. 274/1: "The Reversed Super-Powers!")
Since 1959, Superman's sophisticated super-robots have been housed in two principal locations: The Fortress of Solitude and the secret closet in Clark Kent's Metropolis apartment.
The closet, which is referred to as a "secret closet," is concealed behind a fake wall which slides open at the touch of a secret button. It also slides open when a special box on Clark Kent's table is opened. In the event an intruder inadvertently activates this sliding-wall mechanism and discovers the secret closet, however, a special security device on the closet door makes the phone in the apartment ring. When the intruder answers, he hears the voice of Superman, on a prerecorded tape, asking Clark Kent to return the robots he has recently "borrowed." This device has many times protected the secret of Superman's dual identity.
The robots used most often by Superman have been robots of Superman and Clark Kent, but the Man of Steel has also used robots of Lois Lane and Lana Lang, Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, and robots of himself both as the teen-age Superboy and as a super-baby.
The robots address Superman as "master" and Superman addresses them, when he addresses them verbally, either by a number, such as "Robot One," or by a letter of the alphabet, such as "Robot Y."
The chronicles contain little real information concerning the workings of Superman's robots beyond that they run on sophisticated batteries, that they contain complex circuits and energy cells, and that each is controlled by an electronic control center located somewhere in its body.
Superman can activate and control his robots either with verbal commands or by means of his X-ray vision. Even from a long distance away, Superman can summon his robots into action either with his X-ray vision or with a ventriloquistic signal. In the event of an emergency, Superman's robots can also be activated by the Superman Emergency Squad, but they will not respond to anyone's voice but Superman's.
Even if a villain could somehow succeed in commandeering one of Superman's robots, there are indications that the robots, having been created only to do good deeds, would refuse to perform evil ones. In addition, Superman has installed a special self-destruct mechanism in each of his robots - designed to destroy completely any robot that becomes disabled while performing a mission - to prevent unscrupulous individuals from cannibalizing the parts of disabled robots and using the sophisticated circuitry for evil ends.
Even though Superman's robots possess all of Superman's super-powers, they are not as powerful or as indestructible as Superman himself. Even Superman's best robots have been crushed by undersea water pressure, demolished by the flame-breath of a Kryptonian flame dragon, destroyed by a powerful electromagnet, repelled by a powerful anti-magnetic device, blacked out by sophisticated electronic machinery, shattered by Lex Luthor's vibro-gun, short circuited from sudden sunspot activity, or had their motors destroyed by a super-powered villain's X-ray vision.
Although Superman's own costume is indestructible, the ones worn by his Superman robots are not.
Because Superman's robots are not vulnerable to kryptonite, they are extremely useful in certain emergencies in which Superman's life would otherwise be in jeopardy. Superman has programmed his Superman robots to feign vulnerability to kryptonite in public, however, to prevent outsiders from distinguishing the real Superman from his robot surrogates. This programming strategy enables Superman to use his robots to help protect his secret identity by standing in for him as Superman, while preventing anyone from realizing that they are dealing only with a Superman robot. It is common knowledge, however, that Superman has and uses Superman robots. All newly constructed Superman robots are forced to undergo a period of arduous training before they are permitted to work alongside Superman's other robots on an equal footing.
Over the years, a number of present and former Superman robots have played important roles in the chronicles, including Superman Robot Z (Act No. 274/1, Mar 1961: "The Reversed Super-Powers!"), Superman Robot X-3 (SGLL No. 30/2: chs 1-2 --"Superman's Secret Family!"; "The Robot Paradise"), Wonder-Man (S No. 163/1, Aug 1963: "Wonder-Man, the New Hero of Metropolis!"), Adam Newman (S No. 174/1, Jan 1965: pts. 1-2--"Clark Kent's Incredible Delusion!"; "The End of a Hero!"), Powerman (WF No. 94, May/Jun 1958: "The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team!") and MacDuff (S No. 414, Dec 1985: "Revenge is Like -- Death to Superman!").
Superman later retires his robots because of deleterious effects from pollution in the earth's atmosphere (WF No. 202, May 1971: "Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!"; and others).