Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics
Action Comics #1Cover date: June 1938
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Joe Shuster
Reviewed by: Justin "NotSuper" Adams
As a distant planet is destroyed by old age, a lone rocket ship containing an infant is launched into space. The ship eventually lands on Earth, and a passing motorist finds the baby inside. The baby is placed into the care of an orphanage and the attendants are shocked by the child's astounding feats of strength, unaware that his physical structure is millions of years beyond their own. The child soon has a name - Clark Kent - and becomes much stronger as he reaches maturity. He is able to leap one-eight of a mile, raise tremendous weights, run faster than a train, and possesses skin so hard that nothing less than a bursting shell could pierce it. When he reaches adulthood, Clark becomes Superman, hero to all those in need.
We are treated to a scientific explanation for Clark's great strength, in the form of regular ants and grasshoppers. We next flash forward to Superman carrying a bound and gagged woman. After leaving her in a safe place, he knocks on a house and when the door is open he demands to see the governor: "I must see the governor, it's a matter of life and death!" After the man refuses to let him in, Superman simply breaks down the door. When the man won't take him to the governor, Superman easily picks him up and carries him up the stairs.
When Superman finally gets there, he notices that the door is locked and made of steel. "It's locked!" says Superman. The man replies, confidently, saying, "Yes! And made of steel! Try and knock this door down!" To the shock of the man, Superman does just so, saying, "It was your idea!" Superman brings the startled governor a signed confession, stating that Evelyn Curry is about to be electrocuted and that the confession is proof of her innocence. The governor's aide takes this opportunity to fire a gun at Superman, which doesn't affect him at all.
A clock shows us how long Evelyn Curry has before she is executed, while Superman disarms the aide and finally gets the governor to listen. Thankfully, the governor's call reaches the penitentiary in time to save her. His job done, Superman leaves before any questions can be asked about him, but he leaves a note saying that the real murderess is bound and gagged outside. The next day, Superman (in his civilian identity of reporter Clark Kent) sees a newspaper of the event and is relieved that he isn't mentioned. Meanwhile, the governor addresses his associates in his private chambers, happy to know that this "Superman" is apparently on the side of the law.
In the office of the editor, Clark is questioned on whether he's ever heard about Superman. Clark confidently tells the Chief that if he can't find out anything about Superman, no one can. On the way out of the office, Clark receives a tip about a wife beating on 211 Court Avenue. It is Superman, however, that appears at the house. In a particularly vindicating scene, Superman manhandles the abusive husband, giving him a taste of his own medicine. After the man attempts to stab Superman with a knife (which shatters upon impact) the man faints. When the police arrive at the scene, they are greeted by a seemingly bewildered Clark Kent.
Later on at the Daily Star, Clark asks reporter Lois Lane out on a date. Reluctantly, Lois agrees. While the two are dancing that night, Lois mostly ignores Clark and seems to be bored by the whole affair. Unfortunately for Lois and Clark, notorious gangster Butch Matson is also at this restaurant, and he takes a particular liking to Lois. Clark plays the part of the timid reporter while Lois shows Butch how she feels about him by slapping the taste out of his mouth. Lois leaves shortly thereafter. Clark tries to stop her but Lois ridicules him for his weakness. Butch isn't a very forgiving person, however, and he soon follows the taxi Lois took in his own car. Superman looks on as Butch rams the Taxi and abducts Lois from it.
As the gangsters drive away with Lois in their car, Superman appears in front of them, with not an ounce of fear toward the speeding car. With a powerful leap he goes over the car and begins to give chase. He easily catches the car and holds it in the air, shaking all of its passengers out. Finally, he smashes the car by slamming it against a rock formation (just like on the cover). When Butch tries to flee, Superman catches him and hangs him from his shirt on a power line pole. Superman faces the shocked Lois, uttering the words, "You needn't be afraid of me. I won't harm you." Superman carries Lois to the outskirts of the city and advises her not to publish this whole ordeal.
The next morning, when Lois tries to explain to the editor what happened with Superman, she isn't believed, and she treats Clark even colder than before. Clark's next assignment is to travel to the South American republic of San Monte as a correspondent during a war. Strangely, Clark instead takes a train to the nation's capitol - Washington D.C. While Clark is there he attends a session of Congress, and seems very interested in one Senator Barrows. After leaving, Clark manages to take a picture of Barrows talking with a suspicious looking man. Clark later discovers that the man is Alex Greer, one of the slickest lobbyists in Washington.
At 8:30 AM, Superman listens to the conversation of the two men by eavesdropping outside their building. It appears that in exchange for a pay-off, Senator Barrows will attempt to pass a bill, which will cause war between the U.S. and Europe. After hearing enough of this treachery, Superman enters and makes his presence known to the men. Superman tries to get Greer to inform him who is behind him in corrupting Barrows, but he isn't very receptive. Not taking "no" for an answer, Superman grabs Greer and leaps outside the building. He easily runs across telephone poles, much to the terror of Greer. Superman intimidates the crook by threatening to leap onto the objects that would severely hurt the man. The story ends with Superman leaping toward a building, still carrying the screaming Greer.
Story - 5: June 1938, the date that the very first issue of Action Comics was released to the public. The character featured on the cover would go on to become the archetype of the super-hero. Siegel and Shuster, Superman's creators, would have no idea just how successful their character would become. He would go on to inspire heroes like Batman, Captain Marvel, the Martian Manhunter, and many others. In truth, nearly every super-hero created owes their existence to the Man of Steel and this very comic.
But let us judge the story itself, shall we? While it's true that Superman's adventures only last thirteen pages, much is accomplished in them. Superman's origins as the last son of a dead planet were established (even though the name of the planet isn't given, nor are the baby's parents named). Superman's powers were much different than today's version of the character, as was the reason he had them in the first place. Superman could leap great distances, could outrun any man-made object, had unmatched strength, and was invulnerable to everything short of a bursting shell. His powers were a result of him being "millions of years more evolved" than regular humans, while the planet he came from is said to have died of "old age", indicating that the people of this world have been alive much longer than humans. Superman's escape from his doomed planet to his new life on Earth most likely resonated with immigrants from the era (as Siegel and Shuster likely intended). The idea of a hero who keeps his birthplace in his heart yet also loves his adopted home is a fantastic concept. In many ways, Superman was sort of a combination of Doc Savage and Gladiator. Despite that fact, he was unique.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect was how Superman pretended to be meek and mild, while he was really the opposite. Siegel and Shuster tapped into a feeling of inadequacy felt by teenagers (and yes, even adults) by doing this. There's always that part of us that wishes we were more like we see ourselves in our head. People could relate to Clark because he was rejected, like some of them were; yet underneath he was brave and good. Don't we all wish that people could see the Superman inside us?
By tapping into this feeling, Superman became a character whom readers could both relate to and, at the same time, aspire to be. Few characters can truly accomplish that goal successfully. And who could forget the love triangle between Superman, Lois, and Clark? This concept sustained the character for many decades, and gave rise to many good stories. It should be noted that in this issue, Lois isn't as smitten with Superman as she later would become. Quite the contrary, she is startled by his power at first when he saves her. I find this reaction much more realistic than Lois falling for him the first time she sees him. You really have to admire her prudence in these early issues.
Siegel and Shuster present us with a tougher Superman than we're used to. He's practically a vigilante, and people are even scared of him! What would people think of Superman today if he did these kinds of things? Obviously, some would enjoy it while others wouldn't. As for myself, I simply view as a different (yet equally valued) interpretation of the character. Whether he's a boy scout, alien paragon, or vigilante, Superman has always managed to capture the hearts of young and old alike.
In the end, this story establishes the Superman legend and sets the stage for future writers. Because of this, and the fact that it's an entertaining story by itself, it receives my highest recommendation.
Art - 4: While there is nothing really wrong with Shuster's art here, he went on to draw much better versions of Superman than the one seen in this issue. Despite that fact, I've always been a sucker for the old "lantern-jawed" and squinty-eyed Superman. Another problem I had was Superman's "S" insignia not being very visible. I feel that greater attention should have been made into having this part of the costume standout.
Other than those complaints, the art here is good for the time period.
Cover Art - 5: This is without a doubt the most famous Superman cover of all time. It has been duplicated many times due to the awe-inspiring nature of it. I have to wonder what the youngsters of 1938 thought when they saw this strangely costumed man easily lifting and destroying a car. It's one of those images that fuels the imagination and makes you believe in the seemingly impossible.
As a bonus, the scene from the cover actually takes place in the book, and that's always a plus.
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 LaneŠ DeadŠ 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!
- Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (Spring 1978)
- 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
Back to the Mild Mannered Reviews contents page.