The Name Zota

On a 1975 Superman children’s record [Power Records #8169] there’s a thrilling postmodern adventure called “Tomorrow The World.” It begins with manic screaming, bells ringing, rabble-rabble. Superman wakes up from a terrible nightmare that he’s gone on a demented rampage and destroyed ten city blocks. Good thing it was only a dream, he thinks to himself opening his window to get some fresh air… and instead getting a face-full of screaming chaos!

The name Zota?

“Then, it wasn’t a dream!” he moans. “It was all… horribly real.” Turning on the TV news to find out what really happened, he discovers that witnesses agree that it was Superman who plowed down ten blocks. A brief monologue on the topic of suppressed memories ensues.

Before turning himself in to the Proper Authorities, Superman detours to nab Lex Luthor, who has used his “super-scientific wizardry” to hole up behind an impenetrable force field inside “a deserted pavilion left behind from the 1968 World’s Fair” (a strangely specific reference). There’s a nice little scene here of the cops using literal heavy artillery on their own city. This was the era of the Symbionese Liberation Army after all.

As the cops contemplate the use of atomic weapons, Superman busts in. He confronts Luthor who has a “gizmo” spraying a beam into space, which is promptly melted with heat vision. But it’s too late! Luthor reveals that the machine has already destroyed part of the Earth’s atmosphere.

“What layer? The ionosphere? The ozone layer?”
“No Superman! Something even you haven’t heard of — the zota layer!”

Luthor explains that there’s a peculiar type or radiation that affects only Superman when he relaxes or goes to sleep. And with the protective zota layer gone, he’ll now go into a berserker rage if he so much as naps. Superman reports to President Fairlane, who exiles both Superman and Luthor from planet Earth.

Superman builds a spaceship in a week without any rest — lest he go crazy, natch — and launches himself and his nemesis into space… only to suddenly notice that this “Lex” is unaffected by the forces of acceleration. Uncanny valley! The inertia-less Lex android is quickly condemned to fiery destruction in the black void of space while Superman hastily returns to the Oval Office.

It turns out that “President Fairlane” is actually Lex Luthor in a Scooby-Doo style latex mask! Superman tortures Luthor by melting the mask to his face, and in this fusion of plastic identities, we finally get the “real” story:

The gizmo in the 68′ world’s fair pavilion was actually a “dream projector” — Lex Luthor beamed a dream into Superman’s head that he was destroying the city. And while he was asleep, Luthor used a Superman animatronic droid to cause real destruction.

There was no zota radiation and there never was a zota layer protecting us from it. It was just a technological illusion used to make Superman fear sleep.

Plenty of Philip k Dick style paranoid themes here. Was anything else actually a dream? Was Superman still dreaming? Was he sure he only killed an android? Was this android story actually another layer of illusion designed so that Superman would melt the real president’s face off? Was it all just a Martian Memory Vacation? Fun!

Zota: dream machines, scientific wizardry, illusionary fears, implanted memory, conspiratorial history, and a strange relationship to sleep….