October 5, 2006


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Superman: The Dailies, 1939-1942, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2006, 380 pages)
Superman: Sunday Classics, 1939-1943, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Sterling Pub­lish­ing Co., Inc., 2006, 190 pages)

When Superman died, American kids were bummed.

I'm not talking about his comic book death more than a dozen years back. I'm talking about a scene in the recently released film Hollywoodland. Children in a suburban neighborhood are downcast and kicking the ground because George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on television, had been found dead, apparently at his own hand. Adventures of Superman, the TV show, ran from 1952 to 1958, introducing a generation of Baby Boomers to a living breathing man of steel.

These kids, however, are really the second generation to grow up in awe of Superman. The first got their look at the Man of Steel in 1938, when the Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster creation first appeared in a comic book. In 1939, the pair took the justice-loving, corruption-fighting figure to the world at large with a daily comic strip. The first few strips, collected in Superman: The Dailies, deal with the end of Krypton and Jor-L's decision to save his son after the planet's government denies his request to save the entire population (yes, "Jor-L"; Jor-El appeared in 1942). One short strip tells the story of Clark's upbringing (at an orphan asylum Clark Kent's life with the Kents of Smallville, like many aspects of the Superman myth, comes later in the comic's development). Then we have Clark Kent, fully grown and deciding to fight injustice not only as the super-power-having Superman but also as crusading journalist Clark Kent for the Daily Star (the Daily Planet also came later).

What's perhaps most surprising about this early Superman served up in a daily dose is that Superman really does stand here for truth, justice and the American way and he fights for these principles not against super villains with extraordinary powers and weapons of their own but more often than not against criminals, gangs and corruption-spreading baddies. Superman here is dedicated to helping the helpless, to afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, as the old journalism adage goes. This motivation behind Superman's good deeds has been to some extent lost as Superman in serials, in George Reeves' TV show and in subsequent movies has become more about his powers and the outrageous, world-domination-focused villains he fights. Here, however, we get a scrappy crusader fighting smirky, fedora-wearing fat cats and crime bosses who would pick on the little guy, a hard-working underpaid average Joe not unlike, by the way, the readers of the papers that carried this strip.

A few months after the debut of the daily, a color Sunday strip appeared. These strips also highlight our hero's attempts to protect the little guy in slightly more self-contained 11-panel stories. (More self-contained than the dailies but still a serial think of the dailies as All My Children and the Sundays as Desperate Housewives). Though in color, these panels share with the dailies a certain simplicity in their illustrations. Though a very visual medium, the comics are at least as concerned with the story told inside the dialogue bubbles as the pictures shown outside of them. The Dailies: B+ Sunday Classics: B+
Amy Diaz