Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics
Showcase Presents: Superman Family - Volume 1Published: October 2005
Reviewed by: Bruce Kanin
Starting in 2005-2006, DC began publishing compilations of comic book stories from eras gone by using the heading of "Showcase". SHOWCASE was in fact a DC series begun in the 1950s that lasted through the 1980s (there were some brief revivals since then) before giving way to low readership. It was DC's way of testing new or existing characters and teams with a trial run before awarding them their own book. Some were successful (e.g., the Silver Age Atom, Flash and Green Lantern; Challengers of the Unknown; Lois Lane) and some were not (e.g., Jason's Quest; Nightmaster).
The latest incarnation of SHOWCASE contains black & white reprints and is a soft cover book (not a comic book). For the list price of $16.99 (US) you get your money's worth, despite the lack of color. They are pretty much the same concept as Marvel's "Essential" series, also in B&W.
The SUPERMAN FAMILY book contains all stories in SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN #1 (September-October 1954) through issue #22 (August 1957). It has some "bonus stories" that are reprints from the original SHOWCASE series starring Lois Lane, and a rare original Golden Age Lois Lane solo story. (The Lois Lane stories are not discussed further here.)
What's great about SUPERMAN FAMILY is that fans of premier Superman artist Curt Swan are treated to his work in every story, including many of the reprinted covers. He is often aided and abetted by another classic Superman artist, inker Stan Kaye. Most stories were written by another classic Silver Age Superman writer, Otto Binder.
Since a review of the entire contents of SUPERMAN FAMILY would prove challenging, to say the least, it is worth mentioning some interesting highlights.
For instance, there are a handful of stories that are very similar to episodes of "The Adventures of Superman" (AOS) TV series (the one from the 1950s starring George Reeves), i.e,
In "Case of the Lumberjack Jinx" (#1), Perry White is concerned about a lumber camp not delivering enough pulp-wood to make paper stock. The camp complains that it is "jinxed" and in response White sends Jimmy Olsen to the north woods lumber facility to investigate. Of course, Superman gets involved to expose, with Olsen, that the "jinx" is really someone out for insurance money. This is very similar to the first-season AOS episode "The Ghost Wolf", except that story involved Lois and Clark accompanying Jimmy to a lumber camp that was being haunted by a "werewolf".
"The Boy Millionaire" (#3) reads very much like AOS's "Olsen's Millions" (third season). In both stories, Jimmy saves the life of a cat (well, Superman really does, but Jimmy calls Superman via his signal watch in the comic book story) owned by a rich old lady, who subsequently rewards the cub reporter with a million dollars. Later, he and Lois are trapped by bad guys after Olsen's fortune, and the two of them are forced to burn all of the cash so that Superman can see their smoky SOS. Even the dialogue is the same in some cases, e.g., the last line about Jimmy asking Lois for car fare.
Also in #3, "The Fastest Gun in the West" reads very much like "The Bully of Dry Gulch" (AOS, season three), with both being about a western town run by outlaws and the hijinks that Olsen finds himself in.
The cover story in #4 and another season three AOS episode are both named "King for a Day". As well, both are about Jimmy being mistaken for the young king of a foreign country, due to their resemblance. The stories are very similar, right down to the firing squad that is prevented from killing Olsen due to a last-minute rescue by Superman.
In #5, "The Brain of Steel" has similarities to AOS's second season "The Machine that Could Plot Crimes", including a computer being asked to solve Superman's secret ID at the end of both stories (it doesn't).
It should be noted that Jimmy Olsen had an expression that must have faded by the time he got to the 1960s. Just as Superman took on the exclamation "Great Krypton!" (among others), Olsen would happily shout (or think) "Super-Duper!" throughout the 22 issues contained in SUPERMAN FAMILY. There was even a story called "The Feats of Chief Super-Duper" (#14) in which Jimmy and Superman go back in time to investigate why a present-day statue in an Indian museum resembles, of all people, Jimmy Olsen!
As well, there were some other noteworthy stories, e.g.:
In #8, "The Betrayal of Superman", Jimmy's friend Dick Crane, a private eye, falls gravely ill and needs an expensive operation to survive. He calls on Jimmy to complete his latest case for him, one that will enable Crane to be paid and then afford his surgery (OK, a bit hokey, but then again, somewhat clever for these sometimes simple-minded stories). It turns out that the case Crane was given was to find out Superman's secret identity! Jimmy tracks down the person who hired Crane (a bad guy, of course) and before long, the bad guy has tracked down Clark Kent, cornering him in a room, and proving that Kent is Superman by shooting him in the back (doing no damage, of course). However, Kent escapes by bursting through the wall in front of him, never turning around to reveal his face, thus protecting his identity. Again, hokey, because Clark could have super-sped out of the room without his face being seen. But fun stuff, nonetheless.
In #18, "Superbaby, Jimmy Olsen's Pal!", a glitch in Olsen's signal watch causes Superman to be hurled into the past and replaced in "present day" by Superbaby, who ends up aiding Jimmy in various adventures. Eventually Jimmy is able to partly resolve the situation by having Superbaby change places with Superboy, who super-reengineers the watch so that he and his older self can return to their proper times. Quite a strange story!
In #21 is a story called "The Wedding of Jimmy Olsen", in which he thinks Lois Lane is smitten with him and he proposes to her. He even imagines being married to the girl reporter. Pretty strange if you ask me, since Olsen is supposed to be somewhat younger than Lois - and she only has eyes for Superman!
It should be mentioned that in virtually every story presented in SUPERMAN FAMILY, Jimmy Olsen's famous signal watch is triggered by the cub reporter, generally towards the end of a yarn, so that the Man of Steel can make an appearance and save the day.
Several stories have Olsen gaining one or more of Superman's super-powers, pretending to have super-powers, pretending to be Superman or other powers, e.g.;
"The Man of Steel's Substitute" (#1)
"The Flying Jimmy Olsen" (#2)
"Superboy for a Day" (#8)
"The Invisible Jimmy Olsen" (#12)
"The Boy Superman" (#14)
"Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon" (#15)
"The Boy of Steel" (#16)
"Superman's Kid Brother" (#19)
"The Merman of Metropolis" (#20)
"Wonder Lad" (#21)
Finally, virtually every story in SUPERMAN FAMILY is fairly innocent and simple. Some are a bit hokey, but others are really very good Superman adventures in which Jimmy Olsen is a key player. Often Clark Kent gets involved, since he and Jimmy work at the Daily Planet, and in many cases Kent's secret ID is in jeopardy, only to have a Superman-engineered cover-up protect his double life (much like he does in the companion comic book, SUPERMAN'S GIRL FRIEND, LOIS LANE).
Superman's weakness, Kryptonite, shows up from time to time, and even Luthor and Toyman make brief appearances. (I've always noticed that in the 1950s Superman and Superman-related stories, Luthor was rarely, if ever, referred to as "Lex Luthor". He was usually referred to as the criminal mastermind "Luthor". Maybe giving him a first name sounded too nice and calling him just plain "Luthor" made him sound more menacing. Similarly, Green Kryptonite was just referred to as "Kryptonite" - before the deluge of red, blue, white, gold, etc. varieties hit the scene during the heyday of the Silver Age.)
The story art, as mentioned, was primarily done by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye. Despite the lack of color, the quality of the art is top-notch. Perhaps it can be argued that George Klein, who came along later in the Silver Age, made for a slightly better inker with Swan than did Kaye, but the Swan-Kaye team is wonderful. Kaye even seems to make up for one of Swan's minor drawing defects - making male characters have seemingly the same face. Kaye appears to change enough in each face to make the characters look different.
This book full of Swan-Kaye art is a real treat.
For the most part the covers were somewhat lighthearted, although intriguing enough to a young reader at the time to grab their attention, enough so to plunk down their ten cents.
It should be noted that not only did Olsen appear on each cover, but Superman did, as well. I'm fairly sure that every Superman-related book, whether his own (SUPERMAN and ACTION COMICS) or the Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane series, had to feature Superman in some shape or form - even if he was depicted in a "photo" drawn on the cover. In some cases, even where Superman himself didn't make an appearance, his costume would, usually worn by, in the case of SUPERMAN FAMILY, Jimmy Olsen. As such, Superman remained the main draw on these covers, for obvious reasons.
Once again, the Swan-Kaye covers were crisp and wonderful to look at.
All told, SHOWCASE PRESENTS: SUPERMAN FAMILY belongs on the shelf of any Silver Age fan of Superman - or Jimmy Olsen.
Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews
- Action Comics #1 (June 1938)
- Action Comics #2 (July 1938)
- Action Comics #3 (August 1938)
- Action Comics #4 (September 1938)
- Action Comics #5 (October 1938)
- Action Comics #6 (November 1938)
- Action Comics #7 (December 1938)
- Superman Archives: Volume 1 (1939)
- Superman #1 (Summer 1939)
- Action Comics #8 (January 1939)
- Action Comics #9 (February 1939)
- Action Comics #10 (March 1939)
- Superman #13 (November/December 1941) - The Archer
- Superman #19 (November/December 1942) - Case of the Funny Paper Crimes
- Action Comics #60 (May 1943) - Lois Lane - Superwoman
- Superman #30 (September/October 1944) - The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk
- Action Comics #80 (January 1945) - Mr. Mxyztplk Returns
- Superman #38 (January/February 1946) - The Battle of the Atoms
- Superman #42 (September/October 1946) - The Death of Clark Kent
- Superman #45 (March/April 1947) - Lois Lane, Superwoman
- Superman #53 (July 1948) - The Origin of Superman
- Action Comics #124 (September 1948) - A Superman of Doom
- Superman #60 (December 1949/January 1950) - The Two Identities of Superman & Superman Fights the Super-Brain
- Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - The Mightiest Team in the World
- Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - Superman's Lost Brother
- Superman 3D (1953) - The Man Who Stole the Sun, Origin of Superman and The Man Who Bossed Superman
- Superman #87 (February 1954) - The Prankster's Greatest Role
- Superman #88 (March 1954) - The Terrible Trio
- Superman #89 (May 1954) - Captain Kent the Terrible, Superman of Skid Row, and One Hour to Doom!
- Superman #91 (August 1954) - The Superman Stamp and Great Caesar's Ghost
- World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes
- Superman #115 (August 1957) - The Midget Superman!
- Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse
- Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - The Super-Duel in Space
- Superman #123 (August 1958) - The Girl of Steel
- Superman #127 (February 1959) - Titano the Super Ape
- Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - The Menace of Metallo and The Supergirl From Krypton
- Superman #129 (May 1959) - The Girl in Superman's Past
- Superman #130 (July 1959) - The Curse of Kryptonite!, The Super-Servant of Crime!, and The Town that Hated Superman!
- Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal
- Superman #134 (January 1960) - The Super-Menace of Metropolis
- Jimmy Olsen #42 (January 1960) - The Big Superman Movie!, Perry White, Cub Reporter!, and Jimmy the Genie!
- Jimmy Olsen #44 (April 1960) - The Wolf-Man of Metropolis
- Adventure Comics #271 (April 1960) - How Luthor Met Superboy
- Jimmy Olsen #46 (July 1960) - Jimmy Olsen, Orphan
- Superman #141 (November 1960) - Superman's Return To Krypton
- Superboy #85 (December 1960) - The Impossible Mission
- Jimmy Olsen #51 (March 1961) - The Girl with Green Hair
- Jimmy Olsen #52 (April 1961) - Jimmy Olsen, Wolf-Man
- Superboy #89 (June 1961) - Superboy's Big Brother!
- Action Comics #279 (August 1961) - The Super-Rivals
- Superman #147 (August 1961) - The Legion of Super Villains
- Superman #149 (November 1961) - The Death of Superman!
- Jimmy Olsen #57 (December 1961) - Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl
- Superman #155 (August 1962) - Superman Under the Green Sun and The†Downfall of†Superman
- Justice League of America #13 (August 1962) - Riddle of the Robot Justice League
- World's Finest #129 (November 1962) - Joker-Luthor, Incorporated
- Superman #158 (January 1963) - Superman in Kandor
- Superman #160 (April 1963) - The Mortal Superman
- Superman #161 (May 1963) - The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent
- Superman #162 (July 1963) - The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue
- Superman #163 (August 1963) - Wonder-Man, the New Hero of Metropolis and The Goofy Superman
- Justice League of America #21 & #22 (August/September 1963) - Crisis on Earth-One! and Crisis on Earth-Two!
- Superman #164 (October 1963) - The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman
- Superman #165 (November 1963) - The Sweetheart Superman Forgot
- Superman #166 (January 1964) - The Fantastic Story of Superman's Sons
- Superman #167 (February 1964) - The Team of Luthor and Brainiac
- Superman #168 (April 1964) - Luthor - Super Hero and Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor
- Superman #169 (May 1964) - The Man Who Stole Superman's Secret Life
- Action Comics #314 (July 1964) - The Day Superman Became The Flash
- Justice League of America #29 & #30 (August/September 1964) - Crisis on Earth-Three! and The Most Dangerous Earth of All!
- Superman #173 (November 1964) - The Triumph of Luthor and Brainiac
- Action Comics #318 (November 1964) - The Death of Luthor
- Action Comics #319 (December 1964) - The Condemned Superman
- Superman #175 (February 1965) - Clark Kent's Brother
- Superman #181 (November 1965) - The Superman of 2965
- The Legion of Super-Heroes - Archives Volume 4 (1965)
- Superman #184 (February 1966) - The Demon Under the Red Sun
- Action Comics #338 (June 1966) - Muto - Monarch of Menace
- Action Comics #339 (July 1966) - Muto versus The Man of Tomorrow
- Superman #189 (August 1966) - Krypton Lives Again
- Action Comics #346 (February 1967) - The Man Who Sold Insurance to Superman and The Case of the Superman Imposter
- Superman #194 (February 1967) - The Death of Lois Lane
- Superman #196 (May 1967) - The Star of Steel
- Superman #199 (January 1967) - Superman's Race With The Flash
- Superman #200 (October 1967) - Super-Brother Against Super-Brother
- The Flash #175 (December 1967) - Race to the End of the Universe
- Justice League of America #63 (June 1968) - Time Signs a Death Warrant for the Justice League
- Superman #211 (November 1968) - The Name of the Game is Superman!
- Superman #215 (April 1969) - Lois Laneä Deadä Yet Alive
- Superman #224 (February 1970) - Beware the Super-Genius Baby
- Action Comics #393 (October 1970) - Superman Meets Super-Houdini! and The Day Superboy Became Superman!
- Jimmy Olsen #133 (October 1970) - The Newsboy Legion
- Action Comics #394 (November 1970) - Midas of Metropolis and Requiem for a Hot Rod!
- World's Finest #198 (November 1970) - Race to Save the Universe!
- Action Comics #395 (December 1970) - The Secrets of Superman's Fortress and The Credit Card of Catastrophe
- Jimmy Olsen #134 (December 1970) - The Mountain of Judgement!
- World's Finest #199 (December 1970) - A Race to Save Time!
- Superman #233 (January 1971) - Superman Breaks Loose!
- Jimmy Olsen #135 (January 1971) - The Evil Factory!
- Superman #234 (February 1971) - How to Tame a Wild Volcano
- Jimmy Olsen #136 (February 1971) - The Saga of the D.N.Aliens
- Superman #235 (March 1971) - The Sinister Scream of the Devil's Harp
- Superman #236 (April 1971) - Planet of the Angels and The Doomsayer
- Jimmy Olsen #137 (April 1971) - The Four-Armed Terror!
- Superman #237 (May 1971) - The Enemy of Earth
- Superman #238 (June 1971) - Menace at 1000 Degrees
- Jimmy Olsen #138 (June 1971) - The Big Boom!!
- Superman #240 (July 1971) - To Save a Superman
- Jimmy Olsen #139 (July 1971) - The Guardian Fights Again!!!
- Superman #241 (August 1971) - The Shape of Fear
- Superman #242 (September 1971) - The Ultimate Battle
- Jimmy Olsen #141 (September 1971) - Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?
- Jimmy Olsen #142 (October 1971) - The Man from Transilvane!
- Jimmy Olsen #143 (November 1971) - Genocide Spray
- Jimmy Olsen #144 (December 1971) - A Big Thing in a Deep Scottish Lake!
- Superman #247 (January 1972) - Must There Be A Superman
- Jimmy Olsen #145 (January 1972) - Brigadoom!
- Jimmy Olsen #146 (February 1972) - Homo-Disastrous!
- Jimmy Olsen #147 (March 1972) - A Superman in Super-Town!
- Jimmy Olsen #148 (April 1972) - Monarch of All He Subdues!
- Superman #292 (October 1975) - The Luthor Nobody Knows!
- Action Comics #458 (April 1976) - Make Me a Super-Hero! and Masquerade of the Nutty Kid!
- Action Comics #484 (June 1978) - Superman Takes a Wife!
- Superman #328 (October 1978) - Attack of the Kryptonoid
- Action Comics #489 (November 1978) - Krypton Dies Again and Where There's a Will... There's a Fray
- Superman #329 (November 1978) - I Have Met The Enemy... And He Is Me! and The Secret of the Talking Car
- Superman #330 (December 1978) - The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis!
- Action Comics #490 (December 1978) - No Tomorrow For Superman
- Action Comics #491 (January 1979) - A Matter of Light and Death
- Superman #331 (January 1979) - Lockup at 20,000 Feet
- Action Comics #492 (February 1979) - Superman's Secret Afterlife
- Superman #332 (February 1979) - The Eternity Cage
- Action Comics #493 (March 1979) - The Metropolis UFO Connection
- Action Comics #494 (April 1979) - The Secret of the Super S
- Action Comics #495 (May 1979) - Attack of the Ultimate Warrior
- DC Comics Presents #14 (October 1979) - Judge, Jury... and No Justice!
- The Superman Story (1979) - The Life Story of Superman
- DC Comics Presents #57 (May 1983) - Days of Future Past
- DC Comics Presents #67 (March 1984) - 'Twas the Fright Before Christmas
- DC Comics Presents Annual #3 (1984) - With One Magic Word
- Superman: The Secret Years #1 (February 1985) - Dreams and Schemes and Feeling Proud!
- Superman: The Secret Years #2 (March 1985) - Reach Out and Touch
- Superman: The Secret Years #3 (April 1985) - Terminus
- DC Comics Presents #80 (April 1985) - A World Full of Supermen!
- Superman: The Secret Years #4 (May 1985) - Beyond Terminus
- DC Comics Presents #85 (September 1985) - The Jungle Line
- Superman Annual #11 (1985) - For The Man Who Has Everything
- World's Finest #323 (January 1986) - Afraid of the Dark
- DC Comics Presents #97 (September 1986) - Phantom Zone: The Final Chapter
- Superman #423 & Action Comics #583 (September 1986) - Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?
- Showcase Presents: Superman Family - Volume 1 (October 2005)
- Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons (December 2007)
- Not Brand ECHH #7 (April 1967) - The Origin of Stuporman
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