Friday, January 10, 2014

Showcase Presents: Superman, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Superman, Vol. 1 contains Superman #122 (July 1958) through #133 (Nov 1959) and the Superman stories from Action Comics #241 (June 1958) through #257 (Oct 1959).

Each Superman issue during this period featured three unrelated stories, often by different writers and artists, while each Action Comics issue had one Superman story, of similar length to the ones in Superman. As usual for stories of the time, there is very little sense of continuity here.

Among the writers are Jerry Coleman, Otto Binder, Bill Finger, and Jerry Siegel. If you asked me to determine who wrote what just by reading the story, I couldn't. Just about every story has at least one moment that makes you laugh and say "what where they thinking?" I especially enjoy the dialogue given to children (Young Kal-El: "Robot throw ball too hard! Me can't catch it…OWWW!").

Superman has never been the most realistic character, but the stories in this volume take things to a ridiculous level of goofiness. This book is packed to overflowing with moments that made me laugh and say "Whaaat?" From Superman being turned into a humanoid lion to his becoming an "old duffer" with a long, indestructible beard, there is no shortage of crazy stories here. In one story, he plays a trick on Lois by showing her his 'true' face:

What happened to "beauty is only skin deep," Lois?

There's a good one where there is a "day when every father must accompany his son to school--dressed in a costume he wore when he performed a heroic deed." One kid's father decides to go dressed as Superman, and of course ends up being mistaken for the real thing by a group of crooks. As if that weren't enough, Clark Kent is taken hostage and must use his powers to make the crooks think the father is the real Superman until he can find a way to get away unseen. There isn't enough I could say to emphasize how ridiculous this story is, so here are a few panels:

"Winters fainted so realistically, he knocked himself out." Haha, okay. But if that crocodile isn't real, why does it react when the Superman dummy is thrown into the pool? And the pool is filled with real acid!? This museum really cares about authenticity.

A favorite moment comes when Clark is trying to get a good story out of a boring assignment:

Of course, no one looks back later and says, "Hey, Old Bongo is out cold/dead. What happened?"

Here's another good one:

And out of all the women on the planet, this is the one that catches Superman's eye...

The art cycles between Curt Swan, Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, and, for the Lois Lane-centered stories, Kurt Schaffenberger, and, despite how much DC did at the time to make sure their characters were always drawn the same way, they all have pretty distinct styles.

Schaffenberger stands out in terms of the quality of his art. He actually manages to make me like Lois and excels at facial and body expressions. Curt Swan is also really good. Al Plastino isn't bad, but has a more cartoony style than the others.

Wayne Boring is the only one I would maybe describe as bad in certain ways. His storytelling and background work is fine, but his figures are very stiff and often awkwardly postured. Then there's the fact that, although Plastino does it also, he seems to reuse the same Superman positions a lot, as well as the same faces for background characters. He also draws people from a particular angle all the time, where they are seen from the side, facing slightly away from the camera. Chances are they will have the same expression too. That said, it makes those stories funnier for me, so I don't mind him cutting corners like that.

See those two kids at the opposite bottom corners? That's what I'm talking about.

In terms of historical significance, some big characters make their debuts in this volume. Brainiac, Metallo, adult Bizarro and Bizarro Lois (the Superboy Bizarro came first), Lori Lemaris, Titano, Supergirl, and even the bottle city of Kandor all first showed up in these issues, making it a must-read for big Superman fans.

This book is highly recommended to Superman fans and anyone who likes the Silver Age at its goofiest.

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