Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Action Comics #4

Action Comics #4

Cover date: September 1938

Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Joe Shuster

Reviewed by: Micah Nichols

Issue #4 doesn't take its sweet time to break into a thrilling story. The first frame shows us a drunken driver speeding down the street. At the last second he strikes a pedestrian! As a crowd gathers around the man, Superman springs into action as he saw the tragedy from afar. The hit-skip car stalls on a train track, meanwhile the train conductor sneaks a sip of his flask. As he sips he notices a man running faster than the train, so fast that he passes it! Telling his coworker what he saw, the man instantly suspects him of drinking.

Superman beats the train to the stalled car, but the driver struggles to stay in. At the last second Superman pulls the driver out who has died of a heart attack. Superman jumps into the Pull-man Car and takes cover when someone enters.

Superman overhears the Coach of Cordell University telling some men that he will lose his position if he loses the game. He then offers the men a wealthy sum to play on the team to insure Cordell's victory! He also tells them to "get" the opposing team's best players at the beginning of the game.

The next day Clark Kent examines Cordell Football photos and discovers that Tommy Burke has a very similar build to himself so he dons some make-up grease-paint and states that Tommy's mother wouldn't be able to tell the two apart! Meanwhile the real Tommy Burke is told by his girlfriend that she will not go with him to the movies because he claimed that he would be a big football hero and has been a substitute who hasn't gotten to play one game in the seven years he's been playing.

Angry from the news, Burke walks home unaware that he's being trailed and states that he will show Mary, he'll make the team and be famous! Clark reveals himself and shouts, "Don't move!" Tommy is astonished to see himself! Clark uses a hypodermic needle on him so that Burke loses consciousness! When Clark gets Tommy back to his apartment he explains that he is going to take his place for a few days on the team. Clark goes to the locker room, instantly greeted with mocking about being a bench warmer! Clark goes for the wrong locker and is attacked by its owner "Say! What th' blazes you doin' in my locker!" The team is noticing that Burke can really take a beating without so much as a flinch, but suddenly Clark lightly taps the football player sending him across the room knocking him out cold! Oliver Stanley, the coach, rushes into the room demanding to know who did this! When he finds out that Burke is causing trouble he kicks him off the team!

In the locker room Clark decided that he was gonna suit up and play anyway and show coach Stanley a thing or two! Coach Stanley orders the team to get him off the field, but Superman barrels though dragging the entire team behind him! Instantly Coach Stanley says, "Burke! Have you been holding out on me?"

Coach Stanley and the team decide to let Burke play in their last game which decides the championship. Coach Stanley is so excited that he calls the Sports News! Dale University (their rival) hears the news and talks about making their star player disappear.

The day before the game coach sends them all home with strict rules not to drink or smoke! Thugs from Dale University sneak into Burke's apartment and tie him up, but they are unaware that Burke is under the influence of a sleep-inducing drug and that Superman is observing them from the molding overhead.

When the kidnappers drive off Superman races in pursuit. Burke is brought into a deserted house and awakens confused. The thugs tell him he is tied up until after the game is over and gag him before Tommy has a chance to explain that he is not the one that will be playing. Observing from the window Superman smiles because the thugs have taken Tommy off his hands and don't seem to mean any physical harm to come to him.

As crowds come to the stadium the next morning, Coach Randall is surprised to learn that Burke has not disappeared because Coach Stanley is introducing him to him! When Superman and Randall are alone Superman lets him know that he knows all about the dirty work he's been pulling and threatens to expose him if he doesn't come clean.

The thugs with Dale University decide the only way to get "Tommy" is with a knife during the game. During the first play Superman receives the ball and takes off! Meanwhile the REAL Tommy has struggled free of his bonds and is on his way to the stadium!

Superman scores touchdown after touchdown, but his teammates are far from delighted and want to do something about it. Meanwhile Tommy is also upset about Superman being an impostor and thinks about calling a cop, but at that instant he hears his girlfriend's voice in response to her date not feeling like he's getting enough attention. "You may be a tennis champ, but compared to my Tommy you're a lilly!" Realizing that he is now idolized by the crowd, Tommy catches their enthusiasm and cheers himself on!

On the field Superman feels a knife snap on his though skin and attends to his two attackers. Meanwhile Coach Randall sends his resignation to the Dale University President.

Back in the locker-room during half-time, Superman meets up with Burke and says they need to switch clothes and that Burke is to carry on now. As the second half commences, the ball bounces near Burke - he chases it about awkwardly and desperately. When he finally snags it, every player on the field piles onto him! Later when he regains consciousness his girlfriend says the he was wonderful, splendid even "but you must promise you'll give up football! It's too dangerous!" "Give up football? You don't know what you ask, but I'll do it for YOU!"

5Story - 5: This issue seemed to have the perfect amount of excitement throughout and had a cute little unrealistic happy ending (as most of these early issues do). We have yet again another example of Superman in disguise as someone to save the day while Clark is in disguise to get the story. This third disguise stuff can get confusing! To top it off he was in disguise as a real person who was also in the comic! I'm not a football fan, but the issue did keep me on my toes. It's a little strange that Clark uses a hypodermic needle on someone! Where did he get that? Although it's not part of the story, I especially enjoyed the "acquiring super-strength" lesson at the end. It instructs children in the knowledge that lifting a chair is hard, but if you lift smaller things and gradually work your way up to a chair, one day the chair will be a cinch! HA!

3Art - 3: Shuster is the root of all Superman sketches, but his drawings can be very... I don't want to say lazy (but I'm going to) in the early days. Tommy's girlfriend Mary looked exactly like Lois. Hairstyle, color, face shape, the only difference was the dress color. It can be pretty hard to tell some of his characters apart in this issue.

Cover Art: Excellent cover, lots of emotion, but this cover has nothing to do with Superman as it is for another story within Action Comics.

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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