Nowadays Superman is well known as the defender of truth,
justice and the American way. But his earliest stories show
a Man of Steel who takes no prisoners, makes his own laws
and gleefully delivers his own brand of justice, even if it
means dangling a crook by the ankle above the city, or giving
a wife-beater a taste of his own medicine. Superman's early
adventures reveal a raw superhero in the making...
The Batman Chronicles,
this series promises to present the complete adventures of
a world-famous DC Comics hero in exact chronological order.
This volume reprints the first thirteen months' worth of Superman
stories, from the pages of Action Comics #1-13, New
York World's Fair Comics #1 and Superman #1. The
covers are also presented, though in many cases the Action
Comics covers don't actually depict Superman.
surprisingly, aspects of these strips have not aged well.
The artwork, storylines and even the lettering appear crude
by today's standards - and as for the characterisation...
Lois Lane comes across as a real bitch. She is downright rude
to Clark, which makes you wonder why he continues to pursue
her. And hoodlums utter such gritty dialogue gems as: "Good
heavens! He won't die!"
from a historical and cultural point of view, this book is
truly fascinating. Many of the familiar elements of the Superman
mythology are present and correct: Clark Kent, Lois Lane,
Superman's mighty strength and speed, and the titles "Man
of Steel" and "Man of Tomorrow". However, other aspects of
the myth would evolve later. For instance, the newspaper for
which Clark and Lois work is called The Daily Star,
rather than The Daily Planet, and their editor remains
nameless for now.
As most readers probably already know, Superman couldn't fly
in those days, but instead leapt great distances. He possesses
super-hearing, super-vision and x-ray vision, yet these powers
are vague and undefined. The Man of Steel needs to be right
outside a window in order to eavesdrop upon a conversion.
He rarely uses his x-ray vision, preferring to smash into
buildings to look for things (evidently there was a lot of
lead in the paint in those days). In Superman Plays Football,
he seems to believe that the impact of a speeding train could
initial origin story involves an orphanage, though the expanded
version that subsequently appeared in Superman #1 revises
this aspect and introduces Clark's kindly (though at this
point unnamed) adoptive parents. Top tip: as the book explains,
Superman #1 reprinted the first four Superman stories
from Action Comics, therefore only the original material
from Superman #1 is reproduced here. This includes
the expanded introduction that prefaced the reprint of the
first Action Comics story. Readers will get the best
satisfaction if they read the Superman #1 prelude first.
terms of his character, the late '30s Superman is somewhat
shocking. He is not averse to intimidating people if he feels
that the ends justify the means. In Superman vs. the Cab
Protective League, a struggling racketeer slips from the
superhero's grasp and plummets to his death. The Superman
of today would have agonised about such an event, and might
perhaps even consider resigning, but the Superman of 1939
shrugs off the incident as not being his fault and states
that the villain got no less than he deserved.
In Superman in the Slums and Superman Declares War
on Careless Drivers, he causes tremendous deliberate damage
to public and private property, and is not always on the same
side of the law as the police. In other stories, he gives
cruel profiteers such as an arms dealer, a mine owner and
oil magnates bitter tastes of their own medicine. Rather than
battling for "truth, justice and the American way", the early
Superman is a "champion of the helpless and oppressed". If
he'd carried on like this in the 1950s, he'd have probably
been denounced as a communist!
vs. the Cab Protective League, the final complete strip
in this collection, sees the introduction of the genre's first
super-villain, the crippled but super-intelligent Ultra-Humanite.
With his bald head, it is tempting to see this character as
a precursor to Lex Luthor, though he is clearly inspired by
Sherlock Holmes's arch nemesis, the "Napoleon of crime" Professor
to say, it would cost a small fortune to purchase the individual
magazines in which these strips originally appeared. In that
respect, this volume is undeniably super value for money:
more than 200 pages for less than a tenner! Bargain.
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