Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1

Cover 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.

5Story - 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.

4Art - 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.

5Cover 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



  • 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”




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