Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (wwh27539@mindspring.com).


Superman #1

Superman #1

Cover date: Summer 1939

Story: Jerome Siegel
Art: Joe Shuster

Story 1, Part 1. "Just before the doomed planet, Krypton, exploded into fragments, a scientist placed his infant son within an experimental rocket-ship, launching it toward earth!" Once the ship reached earth, the child was found by an elderly couple named Kent. At first, they placed the child in an orphanage, but returned to adopt the child as their own (much to the pleasure of the orphanage director, since the baby had been destroying everything in sight), naming him Clark. As years pass, the Kents shaped the boy's future, warning him to hide his powers to prevent people from being scared of him. As he grew older, the boy found that he could "hurdle skyscrapers... leap an eighth of a mile... raise tremendous weights... run faster than a streamline train... and nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin." After the death of his parents, Clark turned his strength to benefit mankind and created Superman, Champion of the oppressed.

Moving to Metropolis, Clark Kent applies for a job as a reporter at the Daily Star. Editor Taylor speaks with the man, but there are no openings (I know I haven't any experience, sir, but still I think I'd make a good reporter. Sorry fella! Can't use you!) Leaving the building Kent turns into Superman and leaps to the ledge outside the editor's office and overhears a telephone call of a mob attacking the county jail.

Seeing this as a way to impress the editor, Superman leaps to the jail. An angry mob was about to lynch a prisoner. After the quieting the mob, the prisoner confides in Superman. "I'm being held for the murder of Jack Kennedy. But I didn't do it... and neither did Evelyn Curry, the girl who's being electrocuted tonight for it!" "Who is the murderer," asks Superman. "Bea Carroll, singer at the Hilow Night Club."

Changing back to his civilian identity, Kent calls the Star, and reports in. The editor is pleased with Kent's good work and hires him on the spot. But Clark pursues the story, going to the Hilow Club to confront the singer. Changing to Superman, he goes to her dressing room tells her to confess. Her reply is to pull a gun, but Superman crushes the weapon then grabs the girl's arm squeezing until she yells in pain. As Bea Carroll admits to the murder, the radio announces that Evelyn Curry will be executed in half an hour.

Grabbing up the singer in his arms, Superman goes to the Governor's mansion, but is turned away. Smashing through the door, he demands to be taken to the governor. When the aid refuses, Superman lifts him above his head and says, "Then I'll take you to him." The governor's bedroom is protected by a steel door. Try and knock this door down, says the aid. Ripping it off the hinges, Superman goes to the governor, handing him Bea Carroll's signed confession and convincing him to pardon Evelyn Curry only minutes before her execution.

On his way to work, Clark sees the headline of the Daily Star, and is pleased that Superman was not mentioned, but when the governor meets with his top aids, all he can say is, "Thank heaven he's apparently on the side of law and order."

At the Star, Editor Taylor assigns Clark to find out about this Superman fellow. "Listen Chief. If I can't find out something about this Superman, no one can."

Leaving the office, Clark is given a tip that a man is beating his wife. Superman appears on the scene, stopping the beating and throwing the husband into the wall. When the man pulls a knife, the blade breaks on Superman's chest. "Now you're going to get a lesson you'll never forget," screams Superman. But the man faints.

Returning to the Star, Clarks asks Lois on a date. "I suppose I'll give you a break - for a change," says Lois. At a nightclub, Clark asks Lois why she always avoids him, but Lois avoids the answer. At another table, several gangsters see Lois, and one tries to cut in on their dance. Kent reluctantly adheres to his role as a weakling, but Lois slaps the gangster and charges out. Upset the gangster heads out after her, forcing Lois' cab into a ditch, and kidnapping her. As their car speeds down the road, the lights come across a man dressed in blue and red. They attempt to run him down, but he leaps over the car, then speeds after it. Superman grabs the car from the rear, lifts it over his head shaking the occupants out, and then smashes the car to bits.

After seeing this spectacle, Lois is petrified with fear. But Superman tells her that she doesn't need to be afraid. Lifting her into his arms, he leaps to the city, then asking her not to print this escapade. But Lois, being Lois, goes to the editor. Instead of believing her, he thinks she has had too much to drink. In the office, Lois treats Clark even more coldly than before.

After attending a congressional session, Clark stumbles upon a new story. Senator Barrows is accepting bribes from Alex Greer, a slick lobbyist, to push a bill through. Superman confronts Greer to find out who is behind the plan. But when Greer refuses to answer, Superman grabs Greer by the foot and starts leaping across the city. Greer is petrified with fear, but refuses to answer.

Story 1, Part 2. As they topple to the street, eighty stories down, Greer relents. Emil Norvell, the munition magnate is funding the lobbyist. While Superman flies to the top of the Washington Monument to locate Norvell's estate, Greer calls to warn Norvell. But regardless of what he anticipated, Norvell is not ready for Superman. Coming through the window, Norvell orders his men to shoot with a machine-gun barrage. Superman only smiles and the security men flee out the window. Superman grabs up Norvell. Bending an iron bar in his bare hands, Superman tells Norvell that if he is not on the steamship Baronto, leaving the country by tomorrow, "I swear I will follow you into whatever hole you hide in and tear out your cruel heart with my bare hands." "I'll be on it," whimpers Norvell.

However, when the ship sails, both Clark and Lois are passengers. The first night at sea, Superman visits Norvell, telling him that he made a good choice following his orders. But after Superman leaves, Norvell offers a reward to the first man to kill Superman. The thugs throw Superman overboard, but when the henchmen ask for their reward, Norvell refuses. The Henchmen double-cross Norvell. This time, it is Superman that save Norvell. As payment for saving his life, Superman tells Norvell that he must enlist in the San Monte army. Norvell figures that he can join, then escape at the first opportunity, but when he enlists, he finds Superman has enlisted as well. In the middle of battle, Norvell fears for his life. "When it's your own life at stake, your viewpoint changes!" says Superman.

Flying to the enemy camp, Superman takes pictures of the generals, and sends them to the Evening News, Cleveland Ohio.

Lois meets Lola Cortez, a wealthy Traveler, who is also a spy, who plants a stolen document in Lois' room. Security officers find the document, and arrest Lois. She is tried for espionage, and sentenced to die before a firing squad. On the day of the execution, Superman shields her from the bullets and flies her to safety. First man to battle a plane in the sky single-handed.

Grabs the two opposing generals. Tells them to settle the war by fighting between themselves. When they say that they are not angry with each other, they realize that they cannot remember why the war is going on. Shake hands, end the war. When Kent returns to the paper, the editor says that since Kent has been gone, there have been no Superman sightings. I have a hunch he'll make his appearance again... soon.

Story 2. Stanislaw Kober trapped in a mine cave-in. Superman streaks to Blakelytown to help. Disguising himself as a miner, so he won't be detected, Clark drops into the mine. Fighting poisonous gas, he rescues all of the miner and the rescuers, but Kober is paralyzed for life. He knew that the mine was unsafe, but when he told the owner he did nothing.

Kent goes to Thornton Blakely. Asks if he is going to assist the miner, Kent is told that Kober was careless, that this is business, he is not a humanitarian. Superman again dresses as a miner and goes to the Blakely estate, but is captured. Blakeley is having a party and challenges the partygoers to risk death in his mine. Lead by Superman, they descend into the mineshaft. Moving quickly, Superman produces a small cave-in, which panics the entire group. Fearful for their lives, the crowd turns rabid. And when they try to use some of the mine's safety devices, devices that have been broken for a long time, the crowd turns on Blakely. The pleasure-seekers dig with picks, are knee-deep in water and eventually pass out from exhaustion. Superman clears a path allowing miners to rescue the group. Several days later, Blakely tells Kent that he is going to make his mines safer, and take care of the injured miner. Congratulations on your new policy. May it be a permanent one. (If it isn't, you can expect another visit from Superman.)

Story 3. Careening down the streets of Metropolis, a drunken driver strikes a pedestrian and speeds off. Clark changes to Superman, and heads off after the man. When he finds him, he has stopped on the tracks. Superman races past the train, amazing a startled engineer, and in the nick of time, Superman grabs the man just as the locomotive strikes the car. Ironically, the man dies of a heart attack.

Quickly entering the train, Superman over-hears the football coach of Dale University hire two thugs to play on his team, and kidnap Cordell University's star player. "If I don't win this game... it means I lose my position as coach," he tells the thugs.

Going over the roster, Superman finds a player that he resembles. He goes to Cordell University, and disguises himself as Tommy Burke, a player that has only been a substitute. Even his girl friend has lost patience with him.

Superman drugs Burke and disguised as Burke, Superman attends the next football practice, and shows the coach what he can do. And to think that I let this guy sit on the bench for six seasons!

Even though the thugs have gotten rid of Cordell's best players, Superman plays for Tommy Burke and they quickly score three touchdowns. Tommy regains consciousness and returns to the stadium. He thinks about calling the police, but when he hears the cheering and sees his girl yelling for Burke, he lets it go. At halftime, the Dale coach sends his resignation to the president of the school and Superman exchanges clothes with Burke. On the first play of the second half, Burke tries to catch a kick-off and is smothered by the opposing team. After the game, his girl asks Burke to give up football. For you, I'll do it, he says.

All in color for a dime! 64 pages of art. Yet, Superman #1 is the first of many DC reprint books, actually reprinting the first four episodes from Action #1-4. The only new material was a 2-page origin story and 4 pages omitted from the first Action story.

1Story - 1: All of the stories in this first issue were more ponderous, disjointed "snippets" than a continuous, flowing story. There were no transitions between one episode and another, rather they all ran together.

2Art - 2: Even for 1939, the drawing in these panels was simple and crude. There are particular panels that are very well composed, but of course, Joe Shuster was only in his mid-twenties when he drew these stories.

5Cover Art - 5: The strongest point of this whole issue was this cover. This particular cover has been emulated, but never equaled. The energy that went into this cover has never been reproduced and may be the reason the Superman became the character that it was. However, there is evidence that the cover of Superman #1 was actually adapted from the splash page of Action #10. While it seems that one of the background buildings was slightly redrawn to fit within the oval frame of the Superman image on the cover, the rest of the image is an obvious reproduction of that panel, right down to the speed lines of the Superman figure. In fact, the image is so close that some wonder if it was even redrawn. That poses the possibility that the central image of the cover to Superman #1 was a actually a photostat (a photographic reproduction), or a slightly modified adaptation of the panel from Action #10 within the new oval frame.


Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews

1938-1949

1950-1959

  • 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”

1960-1969

1970-1979

1980-1986

Compilation Volumes

Miscellaneous

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