For almost 70 years he has been one of the most recognisable
American icons, but in these early stories, Superman has not
yet been deputised to fight crime. With only invulnerability,
super-strength and enhanced senses as his powers, the Man
of Tomorrow works outside the law to dispense his own brand
of justice. Mad scientists, organised criminals, gamblers
and corrupt businessmen don't stand a chance as the world's
first costumed adventurer continues his quest to abolish injustice
in all its forms...
And so this series continues its never-ending battle to reprint
the complete adventures of the world's best-known comics hero
in exact chronological order, presenting stories that originally
appeared in Action Comics #14-20 (July 1939-January
1940) and Superman #2-3 (Fall-Winter 1939). I say "never-ending
battle" because, unless DC Comics and Titan drastically increase
their publication rate (it's been a year since the
previous volume), we'll still be 70 years behind
in another 70 years' time. So don't hold your breath waiting
for today's strips to make it into this series!
Let me also make something else clear: this chronological
presentation is strictly in terms of the Man of Steel's DC
appearances. It does not include the complete run of the Superman
newspaper strip, which commenced in January 1939. However,
the strips from Superman #2-3 are reformatted versions
of five newspaper stories, beginning with the third one, "The
Comeback of Larry Trent" (which might explain why it
recycles elements from "Superman Plays Football", as the Man
of Steel impersonates a sportsman to help revive his career).
You can see where artist Joe Shuster has extended various
frames in order to fill the page.
Shuster's art has improved considerably since the earliest
strips, though it still looks basic by today's standards.
All his brunettes tend to look like Lois Lane - see for example,
actress Dolores Winters in the final story, "Superman and
the Screen Siren".
Jerry Siegel's writing is similarly unsophisticated, but shows
signs of progress. Duff dialogue includes this expository
gem from "Superman on the High Seas": "I insist you accept
this $3,000 check - your overpowering of those vile crooks
is a sight I, as bank manager, will not soon forget!"
Superman's powers remain somewhat undefined. In "Superman
and the Skyscrapers", it is suggested that an explosion could
kill him. In "The High Seas", he goes to the elaborate lengths
of hiring a ship and crew in his Clark Kent guise in order
to salvage treasure from a sunken wreck. Why not just jump
into the water and take a super-swim as Superman? In "Superman
Meets the Ultra-Humanite", the Man of Steel determines that
a subway tunnel wall has been constructed from inferior cement
because it "crumbles like sand" in his hand. Uh, Clark, that's
because you're Superman - all cement crumbles like
sand in your hands. On several occasions, he is not particularly
careful about using his powers while as Clark Kent.
the mythology does develop. In "Superman Champions Universal
Peace!", the Daily Star's editor is identified as George
Taylor for the first time. Though many of Metropolis's denizens
still seem not to have heard of the Man of Steel, news of
his deeds is starting to spread, as is evidenced by recognition
in tales such as "Superman and the Numbers Racket" and an
untitled text story. He also has numerous rematches with his
brainy archenemy, the Ultra-Humanite, the hero's first recurring
foe (whose name is soon abbreviated to Ultra). The title of
"Superman Meets the Ultra-Humanite" is a little misleading,
though - this is in fact their second meeting.
The Man of Steel is still markedly ruthless when it comes
to dealing with his enemies. For example, he threatens to
crush a gambler's neck and to pulverise a racketeer's face
in "The Numbers Racket", to crack a felon's head "like an
egg shell" in (ironically) "Superman Champions Universal Peace!"
and to wring a crook's neck in "The Skyscrapers". In those
last two stories, he also allows wrongdoers to die from poison
gas and heart failure respectively, and would quite happily
have let some others perish in a plane crash. However, he
remains a staunch defender of the innocent and the oppressed
from all backgrounds and nationalities.
Though far from super in certain respects, these rare tales
offer a fascinating glimpse into the past, and at a very affordable
price. No Superman fan should miss this collection.