The Puzzler

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PUZZLER, THE.

An utterly ruthless villain—an extortionist, kidnapper, and murderer—whose diabolical crimes revolve around the symbolism of parlor games, tricks, and puzzle. His personal symbol is a bent nail, one-half of a commonplace nail puzzle, of the type that can be purchased at any novelty shop. Of himself, the Puzzler has made this comment: “A genius at solving puzzles, I decided to utilize the principles that win games to launch a crime campaign unrivaled in history. That I’ve been successful is a testimony to my brilliance.” The Puzzler is also fond of leaving complex clues to the whereabouts of his next crime and the location of his secret hideout, because, in his words, “It tickles my vanity to think I can outsmart Superman!” (Act No. 49, Jun 1942: “The Puzzler!!”).

The Puzzler is an expert in games of all kinds, but, as in his battles with Superman, he frequently comes off second best. He fancies himself, for example, “the world’s most brilliant checkers expert,” but Superman outplayed him in June 1942 (Act No. 49: “The Puzzler!!”). Similarly, although the Puzzler is adept at such varied card games as poker, rummy, blackjack, hearts, casino, and bridge, he is bested by champions in each of these games when he enters a card-playing tournament in January-February 1943 (S No. 20/4:“Not in the Cards”).

“Parlor games, tricks, and puzzles can be harmless fun,” notes Action Comics No. 49, “- -but when a twisted intellect utilizes their principles to commit clever crimes, they can be dangerous indeed” On one occasion, for example, in June 1942, the Puzzler kidnaps Lois Lane and spins a grisly wheel of fortune to decide her fate. “. . . [ the indicator land on the red instead of the blue section,” gloats the villain fiendishly, “a strangling device will automatically put you out of your misery!” But the game is rendered even more diabolical by the fact that the Puzzler has rigged it in advance to stop on the red. “One minute a gallant sportsman, and the next a double-crosser!” muses one of the villain’s henchmen ruefully. “Must be something twisted in his nature” (Act No. 49: ‘The Puzzler!!”).

On another occasion, in January-February 1943, the Puzzler deliberately sends a carload of his own henchmen hurtling off a bridge as a means of diverting Superman’s attention while he himself makes good his escape. “So you’re deliberately sending your own men to their deaths- -just to save your own miserable hide!” cries Superman. “Any thing to outsmart you!” replies the Puzzler. “I’d like to attend to the Puzzler,” muses Superman grimly, “- -but above all I must save human life.. - No matter how little those thugs deserve it (S No. 20/4: “Not in the Cards”).

In June 1942, the Puzzler and his henchmen commit a series of heinous crimes—involving extortion, kidnapping, and attempted murder—only to have Superman pursue them finally to their secret hideout and rescue Lois Lane and five other kidnap victims from the villains’ clutches. The Puzzler, however, determined not to be taken alive, clambers up the cables of a high suspension bridge “in a frantic effort to escape,” and, cornered finally by Superman, tears himself free of the Man of Steel’s grasp and, in an apparently suicidal leap, “plummets down--down toward the far distant water....” “I wonder if the Puzzler really perished,” thinks Superman to himself, after searching the river bottom to no avail, “or if he and Superman are fated to cross wits again?” (Act No. 49: “The Puzzler!!”).

In January-February 1943, after being narrowly defeated by champions in six different card games in a card-playing tournament at the prestigious El Dorado Club, the Puzzler angrily pulls a gun on bridge champion Morton Thornton, only to be apprehended on the spot by Superman, who has been covering the tournament in his Clark Kent identity. “Don’t look so happy and relieved, you game champions,” cries the villain bitterly as members of the Metropolis police force prepare to lead him away. “Somehow I’ll escape. And every man who defeated me today will pay with his life for having damaged my pride!” With that, the Puzzler lunges for the light switch, plunges the room into darkness, and escapes.

In the days that follow, the Puzzler, true to his fiendish threat, sets out to avenge his humiliating defeat in the El Dorado Club card tournament by murdering the six men who defeated him in ways suggestive or symbolic of the card games in which they are expert, as when he bludgeons poker champion Harlow Gates to death with a fireplace poker and tries to kill bridge champion Morton Thornton by shoving his car off a bridge.

After thwarting all of the murder attempts but one, however, and apprehending the Puzzler’s henchmen, Superman pursues the villain to his secret hideout, where he finds the Puzzler seated in a large glass cubicle situated at the center of a gigantic maze. The pathway through the maze is fraught with deadly perils—including poisonous gas, red-hot flames, and a net of electrically “super-charged wires”—but Superman easily withstands them all- Seizing the glass cubicle with the villain inside it, Superman flies the cubicle to the nearest police station, only to discover, upon his arrival, that the cubicle is empty and that the Puzzler has somehow escaped (S No. 20/4: “Not in the Cards”).

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