Saturday, January 4, 2014

Showcase Presents: Superman Family, Vol. 1

Superman Family, Vol. 1, collects the first 22 issues of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen (Sept-Oct 1954 through Aug 1957), and the Lois Lane-centric Showcase #9 (Jul-Aug 1957), as well as the first Lois Lane solo story from 1944's Superman #28. These issues are from way before DC had any audience in mind other than young children, so that should give an idea of what to expect here.

Each issue contains 3 stand alone stories, almost all written by Otto Binder, with no sense of continuity between them, even within in the same issue. Despite Jimmy Olsen being the focus of his own comic according to the title, Superman plays a key role in every single story here. Often Jimmy will be trying to get a scoop on a story or capture criminals himself, with Superman having to rescue him once he gets into trouble. The Lois Lane stories involve Lois trying to prove Superman loves her, or having a dream about what it would be like to be married to Superman.

All the stories here are pretty goofy to varying degrees, sometimes involving time travel by Jimmy or Superman with no questions given to possible consequences, or often having Jimmy gaining temporary superpowers. A lot of the earlier ones make attempts at humor that don't really work…at all…but there is so much inherent humor in the stories being told that you don't need more. In a way, the writing is simplistic, with characters doing something just because the story needed it to happen to move along, or making far-fetched assumptions that turn out to be true for the same reason. A lot of the stories have the same basic structure as well. At the same time, there is a lot of creativity here in terms of the solutions to problems, even if they tend to be completely ridiculous.

An example of something happening just because, AND someone making an assumption that just happens to work out.
NOT an example of one of the more creative solutions to a problem.

All the Jimmy Olsen stories are illustrated by Curt Swan. Swan was a relatively dynamic artist for the time in terms of his figures. Rather than reusing the same postures over and over like Superman-artist Wayne Boring tended to do, every Swan drawing feels fresh and original. When his characters are reacting to something, you can tell what they are feeling just by looking at them. He also puts much more detail into his backgrounds than is strictly required for stories like this. In terms of layouts and storytelling, however, he is pretty straightforward, just giving you what you need to know what's happening. There is also a noticeable change in the art from the early issues to the later ones. The figures get cleaner and start looking more consistent as the book goes on, but the backgrounds become somewhat less interesting.

1954--Rougher figures, interesting backgrounds

1957--Cleaner figures, backgrounds are still interesting and detailed, but don't feel quite as developed

These stories are fun, but entirely forgettable. If you are looking for something with lasting impact on any of the characters, this is not where you are going to find it. There aren't even any Superman villains here. Unless you are a huge Superman fan, a Silver Age fan, or someone who finds unintentionally goofy comics funny, I'd recommend skipping this one.

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