Superman, created by two Jewish kids in Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, first appeared in the June 1938 issue of Action Comics #1. In the 75 years since then, this “strange visitor from another planet” has gone through many iterations in comics, films, and television. Warner Bros. Animation has put together a terrific 2-minute short to commemorate this anniversary. Produced with style and wit by Zack Snyder (director of Man of Steel and the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman) and Bruce Timm (co-creator of Superman: The Animated Series), the short depicts the evolution of Superman’s appearance through the years.
The Superman I knew from comics in the 1950s, drawn variously by Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, and Al Pastino, was solid, plus-size, like John Wayne. I was always struck by how massive his neck was, as thick as a bull’s.
Action Comics #1 is arguably the Holy Grail of comic books. Copies sell for staggering amounts. Two years ago Nicolas Cage sold a copy in an online auction for the record price of $2.16 million. A pretty good return, considering that he’d bought the same copy for $110,000 in 1997. He reportedly only sold this truly rare item in order to pay tax liens and other debts. I think we can safely assume Cage is a major Superman fan, since in 2005 he named his newborn son Kal-El. I guess that’s not quite as indulgent as Frank Zappa naming his kids Dweezel and Moon Unit, but it’s in the ballpark.
I’m trying to imagine the context for the following panel. Think of the uproar there would be if these images appeared in a comic book today, or anywhere, for that matter.
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, a 3-hour history of superhero comics was shown on PBS on Tuesday, October 15. I haven’t been able to find out if it will be rebroadcast, but the documentary is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon. I haven’t watched all of it yet, but based on what I’ve seen, it’s very well done. Here is a segment dealing with Superman.
But as comprehensive as this documentary attempts to be, I doubt that it includes the appearance in the fourth issue of Mad of “Superduperman,” written by Harvey Kurtzman and drawn by the great Wally Wood. This helped to boost the popularity of Mad, and set a precedent for the hundreds of parodies that would follow, after a threatened lawsuit by the publisher of Superman comics was never filed. I first read Mad comics in a series of paperback reprints, and especially loved these often totally bonkers parodies. Behold the first page!
Superman seems more than able to survive Mad magazine and as many reboots as filmmakers want to throw at him (see my take on the latest reboot, Man of Steel, in a post from last June). He’s been a powerful part of the popular culture since before I was born, and will doubtless still be here long after I’ve been shipped off to the Phantom Zone. — Ted Hicks