Thursday, November 10, 2011

You Don't Pull On Superman's Cape...

After finishing the fantastic historical book Men of Tomorrow by G. Jones, I got really pumped up for some Superman action, most notably the earliest newspaper strips of the underwear clad hero. These were exclusively written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by Joe Shuster, creators of Superman (with a little help from their studio) for National Periodicals (DC Comics) wayyyy back in 1939.

Siegel and Shuster's pulp influences shine through as this Superman is grim, a bit of a smart-ass, and a cold-hearted do-gooder before DC (without Siegel and Shuster) removed all edge from the hero.

In just only six months of the strip, we have one suicide attempt, 6 death (most of which are by the hands of Superman himself), one case of animal experimentation (let's face it this one is just plain cruel), child abuse from a orphanage superintendent and Superman delivers some cold justice and Superman's 'cold justice' is literally letting you die.

Here's just some examples from the first few months of the strip (pardon the images as I couldn't scan them from my book but had to take photos).

This speaks for itself.

Superman's patented style of 'persuasion' as he liked to call it.

A little too much 'persuasion' perhaps?

Thugs attempting to escape in a plane? Not with Superman around and
his form of Justice!

Cold, Superman, cold. Dick Cheney better watch out, Superman don't like no war-profiteers.

Oh, and this is just an amazing sequence for any comic strip....

No, Clark, sadly this is not a gag....

Ambrose looks a bit agitated, as well he should for in the next sequence....

Yes, Clark, he's dead. DEAD! Ambrose! Noooooooooooooo!

I love this old Superman strip. He's mostly fighting gangsters, graft and corruption at all levels, definitely a sign of the depression era. Siegel and Shuster's hero was pretty dark and grim, much on the same level as Batman was back then too - a direct influence from the pulps that these creators grew up with in the 1920's. But they were heroes in the eyes of the readers as everyone felt the oppression and hopelessness of the times with breadlines, unemployment and the shadows of the coming war. Superman struck a chord of the times and began an industry.

It's sad that today's comic strips are nothing compared to the grim fantastic tales of the origins of adventure strips. They lack the sexuality of Flash Gordon, the noir of Dick Tracy, and the cold violent reality of the times from Superman. Maybe the print media wouldn't be on the ropes so much if they advanced their comic strips with the times. But times are different and they're constantly changing faster today than ever. It sure would be great to have strips like this promoted by your local great metropolitan newspaper.


  1. Yeah, the watered down nature of current comic strips is a drag. The Jones book is really good, though.

  2. Those are some great strips. It's funny - I like my comics either spare and gritty (but not modern attempts at grit - always very forced and confused it seems, like people trying to write about something completly foreign to them) or completely goofy (a'la Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane).

  3. I'm with ya on all those points, Matt.