Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Superman: The Dailies, 1939-1940

This 1999 Kitchen Sink Press paperback reprints the historic first year of the Superman newspaper strips. I re-read this volume right after reading the first few issues of the DC Comics “Rebirth” titles. The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that Clark Kent and Superman were always meant to be one and the same. They have two distinctive personalities, and it’s NOT the glasses that differentiates them. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster depicted Kent as a straightforward, sometimes brash reporter intent on doing a good job. He was at times timid, and that stereotype would develop continuously throughout the series. For Siegel and Shuster there was never any danger of Kent’s Superman identity being uncovered because they followed a logical pattern of development for both characters. Kent was exactly what a reporter should be in 1939; he was patriotic, fair-minded and possessing of those qualities that embody the ideology of truth, justice, and the American way. By comparison, Superman was more like a carnival strongman in a gaudy costume, but equally fair-minded and patriotic. Superman’s curl is akin to Samson’s long hair, a symbol of his masculinity, and the “S” shield on his chest shining like a policeman’s badge. Superman and Clark Kent are believers in the American Dream, but go about embodying that dream’s reality in opposite ways. The idea that the two could be the same person would appear far-fetched to everyone – except, of course, the readers. Both Siegel and Shuster and their loyal readers were all willing to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the roller-coaster adventures printed here in Superman: The Dailies, 1939-1940, or in the pages of the comic books themselves. These early Superman strips are a goldmine of vital Superman history. Superman’s origin on the planet Krypton was embellished here, providing his father a name, Jor-L, later revised as Jor-El. Lois Lane is here, and The Daily Planet under editor George Taylor. Perry White had yet to arrive on the scene. The cover artwork on this collection is by Peter Poplaski.

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