Action Comics vol.1 #14 - Cover date July 1939
The Ultra-Humanite proves to, once again, be the mastermind behind a seemingly pedestrian plot of criminal negligence and systemic corruption. Investigating the construction company which has used inferior building materials to construct a subway tunnel, Superman discovers his newly-minted nemesis behind the scheme (and also behind both the wheel of an invisible automobile and the trigger of a raygun which encases the Man of Steel in seemingly unbreakable crystal).
This battle - like the one before it and so many more to come - ends in stalemate.
Who is the Ultra-Humanite? It takes only a little imagination to link the comic book Ultra-Humanite to Siegel and Shuster’s 1933 story, Reign of the Superman, if you’re the sort of person who’s inclined to make such connections (and I am). In that story, a power-hungry scientist named Ernest Smalley recruits homeless man Bill Dunn as a test subject for Smalley’s experimental potion. Suddenly granted terrifying telepathic powers, Dunn turns to evil, apparently slaying Smalley before discovering - to his regret - that the potion’s effects are only temporary. With his powers wearing off, a deflated Dunn returns to his breadline, meek and helpless.
So who is the Ultra-Humanite? Could the brilliant and malevolent Smalley have survived his attempted murder at the hands of his super-human creation, crippled but still maliciously vital? Could he be the once-superhuman Dunn, left wizened and weakened by the failing potion but ironically gifted with a mighty intellect in the wake of his terrible telepathy? Could the Ultra-Humanite be the man who was once called - or the man who once created - The Superman?