So far, we’ve mostly looked at current comics–stories that you can probably find at your local comic book store today. However, we’ve only begun to scrape the surface of the vast and incredible history of comic books and superhero mythology.
This week, we’re going all the way back to where it all started with Action Comics and the first- ever appearance of Superman. The last survivor of the planet Krypton, Superman landed on Earth as a baby and was given amazing powers when exposed to our yellow sun.
To protect his adopted planet, he has sworn to use his powers to fight for truth, justice and the American way.
Though not officially recognized as the first-ever comic book superhero, there’s debate over who started the definition of what constitutes a superhero.
Superman is considered to be the template that most all other modern superheroes have been derived from. He wears a colorful costume, has powers beyond mortal men, and he has a strong code of ethics and justice.
Superman’s original creators, Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster, drew inspiration for the character from various movies and comic strips until they finally came up with the character we have known and loved since its creation in 1938.
We open by recapping Superman’s origin story– with Superman leaping through the air.
However, Superman’s ability to fly wouldn’t come until later; for now, all he can do is jump high. Superman arrives at the governor’s mansion and demands to be let in.
He’s there because the state is about to execute an innocent woman for murder, but he has a signed confession from the real murderer.
After bullying the governor’s butler a bit, the governor agrees to pardon the innocent woman. Despite misgivings about his immense inhuman power, the governor appears happy that Superman is on the side of law and order.
While at work, mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent (Superman’s civilian identity) is informed about a story involving a wife beating and Clark decides to investigate it, but not as a reporter. Superman arrives and tosses the abuser into a wall.
Later readers see Clark Kent and Lois Lane out on a date. Some tough guy tries to cut in and Lois has none of it, but Clark wants to maintain his disguise of a meek and cowardly man and does nothing. Lois on the other hand just slaps him across the face, which helps destroy the 1930s’ sexist depiction of women.
Rather than being a damsel in distress, Lois Lane is able to defend herself.
Lois leaves and calls Clark a coward, showing that while Superman might be able to bench press a mountain if he had to, Lois still wears the pants in their relationship.
The guy and his goons chase after Lois but are stopped by Superman who brings Lois home.
The next day, Clark is assigned to go to Europe to act as a war correspondent, but instead goes to Washington D.C.
He’s there to stop a lobbyist–by threatening to drop him off a building and the comic ends rather abruptly. As much as I love Superman, there are definitely some flaws in this comic. Superman seems to have some issues with violating due process and using excessive force.
However, these flaws are forgivable because at the time no one really knew what to do with him just yet or who he was. I liked how Lois was depicted–she’s still feminine, but she’s also a much stronger and willful woman than I would have expected out of a comic from the 1930s.
When some thug tries to attack her, she just slaps the guy, and the only reason she gets captured is because the thug calls his buddies over.
I think the flaws stem from the fact that none of Superman’s memorable villains have been invented yet and so there aren’t many obstacles for him to face.
The artwork in this issue is reflective of the time period. This story was originally pitched as a comic strip rather than a book, so when the idea to make it into a comic book surfaced, Seigel and Schuster had to cut and paste the strips they’d already made into book form.
Superman’s design is okay; it hasn’t quite found itself yet, but there is something to be said for the classic look.
This comic is a true classic, but sadly doesn’t hold up well today. It’s not terrible, but Superman certainly had some growing to do before he became the Man of Steel fans love.
Wes Serafine can be contacted at