SUPERMAN : THE GOLDEN AGE VOLUME 1 review
SUPERMAN : THE GOLDEN AGE VOLUME 1 review
SUPERMAN : THE GOLDEN AGE VOLUME 1 by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel ( DC Comics : 2016 tpb). Collects ACTION COMICS #1-12, SUPERMAN #1-4 and NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR COMICS #1 ( 1938 – 1939 ).
This book is where you go to read the very first Superman story, “Superman, Champion of the Oppressed!” from the comics world’s Holy Grail, ACTION COMICS #1.
And the title fits this first Superman quite well.
In fact, his vigilante activities against capitalist enterprises and corrupt civic institutions would mark him as either a revolutionary or a terrorist in his own day and ours.
In “Superman Declares War on Reckless Drivers” ( ACTION COMICS #12 ), Superman destroys a used-car lot that sells defective cars, then goes on an anti-clunker rampage all over town. Next, he chews out a fat cat manufacturer of defective cars and then destroys his factory. He blasts through a radio station wall twice and commandeers the station, threatening the staff the first time and roughing the announcer up the second time. He pulls the mayor of Metropolis from his speeding roadster and flies him to the window of a morgue, filled with traffic victims. He accuses the mayor of killing the victims by not enforcing the traffic laws strongly enough, then extorts a promise of zero tolerance on traffic violators.
In “Superman in the Slums” ( ACTION COMICS #8 ), Superman destroys the entire slum section of Metropolis, even tricking fighter pilots into aiding the destruction with the missiles they’re aiming at the Man of Steel. His goal ? To force the local and federal government to build new housing.
In SUPERMAN #1 (July 1939), we get the very first version of the origin story, as well as a “Scientific Explanation of Superman’s Amazing Strength –” explaining Superman’s original powers as a result of Kryptonian physical perfection and Earth’s lesser gravity, likening his strength to that of an ant and his jumping to that of a grasshopper. Superman can “hurdle skyscrapers,””jump an 1/8th of a mile, “run faster than a streamline train,””raise tremendous weights,”and “nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin.”
This first Superman is different from most others that we have known, and he is very different from the Superman of today. He is weaker, yes, but he’s freer as well. Liberated from society’s restrictions by virtue of his own personal power, he acts with total certainty that the ends justifies the means.
Destroying capital, attacking America’s evil plutocrats and their media mouthpieces, tricking America’s Army Air Corps into attack an entire American neighborhood – all in a day’s work for the first Superman.
Of course, this behavior is diametrically opposed to the moral absolutism of the Big Blue Boy Scout persona ( BBBS ), the one that the general public associates with Superman.
So, what happened ?
World War II happened, erupting across the globe as 1939 gave way to 1940. As America’s involvement deepened, Superman was enlisted to fight for America in various ways, and he quickly adopted the BBBS persona.
Superman, Champion of the Oppressed has been largely forgotten, although I wonder if – and how – the original, vigilante spirit of Superman might have inspired Bob Kane in creating Batman. I can’t recall such an anti-capitalist character appearing again until Namor the Sub-Mariner first appeared in MARVEL COMICS #1 ( Oct. 1939 ) – the first comic book from Timely Comics.
Anyway, the art in these first ACTION COMICS stories is pure Joe Shuster goodness, with some cover art by Leo O’Mealia et al. Highbrow critics might argue that the art is crude, simplistic. However, I’d say that Shuster’s distinctive style transcends mere representation. His art is crucial to the story-telling, and it succeeds so well because Joe Shuster had successfully created an entire visual vocabulary for establishing superhero comics story conventions. This visual vocabulary became instantly recognizable to his readership, and so it is still. Comics has come a long way, but many of these conventions are with us today.
So, taking all of this together, I would recommend the first stories in ACTION COMICS to anybody who reads superhero comics, and especially to anybody interested in comics history.
Hence, SUPERMAN : THE GOLDEN AGE VOLUME 1 is one you have to read.
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE 5
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You can also find these stories in…
THE SUPERMAN CHRONICLES VOLUME ONE ( DC Comics : 2006 tpb ), which collects ACTION COMICS #1-13, NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR #1 and SUPERMAN #1 (1938-1939), and,
SUPERMAN : THE GOLDEN AGE OMNIBUS VOL. 1 (2013 HC), collecting ACTION COMICS #1-31, NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR #1, NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR 1940, and SUPERMAN #1-7.
Recently, it seems that the Man of Steel is getting in touch with his revolutionary roots, and he is becoming acknowledged as the World’s Most Recognizable Childhood Arrival. He is even taking on toxic Americanism again, just as he did when he fought the Ku Klux Klan in the original radio serials.
Here’s a Gallery that shows what I mean.