Superman’s had a rich history spanning various media across the decades. From radio serials to film and tv, to his roots in the pages of comics, he’s been showcased in a myriad of ways, each helping influence or add to the facets of this multi-faceted and complex figure of pop culture and modern mythology. His arrival was a whirlwind of change, a display of possibility, a ray of hope. As Grant Morrison so eloquently put it, “Somewhere in our darkest nights we made up a story about a man who will never let us down.” Created in the Golden Age of comics, Superman shook not only the realm of comicbook publishing which was in its relative infancy, but also pop culture at large. Soon he was everywhere, as a country without mythology began to forge its own in that which would come to be known and dubbed as ‘the superhero’. The super indicating the superior nature of the hero compared to all those prior, a word radiating the power of its solar source itself, Superman.
Before he’d enter the Silver Age and become the cosmic explorer contending with the impossible, Superman was still a man who could do the impossible, albeit differently. Originally, he was a hero in the pulp tradition, like Doc Savage and the rest who preceded him. It’s also why he mercilessly threw people around in a way that would kill, because pulp heroes, wouldn’t you know it, killed. But soon, from that root, evolved a new set of conceits, a new context that would come to define the superhero. And so there’s a beautiful progression in the Superman legacy, as we get to see this early pulp-steeped champion of physicality take down bullies, punch down wife-beaters and threaten the rich. This was socialist Superman, guarding the people against the terrifying tomorrow of machinery and uncertainty that lay ahead, representing the assertion of such force and power that it felt like man had a future. And so in a period where the golden age crime-busting hero would await the arrival of The Silver Age for true transformation, we some interesting things. In the lines between the Golden Age and The Atomic Age of comics, Superman takes on a great deal more of crime, given form and life by the terrific and legendary artist Wayne Boring.
This latest new collection, in IDW’s line of DC Newspaper Comics Library, is also drawn mostly by that legendary artist, as plotting and scripting duties are handled mostly by Alvin Schwartz and Editor Jack Shiff. Done in only black and white, these were the strips that greeted a great many americans regularly, helping keep the Superman character in regular public consciousness. In a period where crime was a fascinating subject for a great many in the post-war era, Superman became the hero to tell crime narratives with and what’s more, the newspaper format provides the room to tell them properly and explore the ideas the creatives have. And that they do, putting Superman against all manner of crooks and criminals, both new and implied to be old. It’s really interesting to get a look at this period of Superman, especially since the stories were told in this slightly different format, with absolutely no color whatsoever. The storytelling had to be clear and there was little room for error, which is why Wayne Boring’s art is so crucial.
The only major issue here is the issue that pops up with most such collections, they’re relics of times long past. And as such, they’re very, very dated and more than that, they’re filled with things that are problematic and uncomfortable at points. The treatment of women is a big issue and it can only elicit a sigh, because while it is history, it’s incredibly tiresome.
All that said, if you’re a diehard fan or a collector, you’ll definitely want to grab this, as it’s full of stories that speak to how Superman was viewed and handled for a time. With a great introduction by Sidney Friedfertig, the book is a fine collection to showcase anyone a piece of history.