Category Archives: Comics Curmudgeon

No Dark Past for Superman

Yesterday (May 24, 2015), Charles Moss wrote this article claiming that Superman had a “dark past” and that “Man of Steel” and the upcoming “Superman v. Batman” were simply brining him back to his roots.

Here is my response to that premise:

Mr. Moss, you’re article is based on incomplete and incorrect information. As such, it is completely misleading to people who have only a casual acuaintance of the Caped Kryptonian. The purpose of this post is to rebut your assertion that Superman has a dark past and that a darker depiction of Superman would be a return to his roots. This is utterly wrong.

To further your premise, you state that “…in the very early stages of the character’s development, he wasn’t a hero at all, but a villain. And even after Superman became an enforcer of good in his earlier years, his brand of justice was as gray, morally speaking…”. Your assertion presents incomplete information. I feel that it’s my duty to explain what’s missing for reader to get a more clear picture.

Your premise is based on the fact that the very first conception, by teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, of a character called “Superman” was of a villain that is far removed from the character that would eventually been seen in print. This excerpt from the Superman article on Wikipedia explains it fairly well:

“Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, then students at Cleveland’s Glenville High School, first conceived Superman as a bald telepathic villain bent on world domination.[5][6] The character first appeared in “The Reign of the Superman”, a short story from Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization #3, a fanzine published by Siegel in 1933.[6] Siegel re-envisioned the character later that year as a hero bearing no resemblance to his villainous namesake, with Shuster visually modeling Superman on Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and his bespectacled alter ego, Clark Kent, on a combination of Harold Lloyd[13][14] and Shuster himself…”

It’s important to note that the original conception of Superman never was published! By the time Siegel and Schuster published the first Superman story, they had completely reworked the concept. The only elements to remain from the original concept was the name of the character. the “bald villain bent on word domination” was later realized by the creation of a character called the Ultra-Humanite and then later by Lex Luthor. So to insinuate that Superman was originally a villain, is a totally misleading statement.

You also state that Superman’s brand of justice was “gray, morally speaking” is based on examples from early stories where Superman was rougher with perpetrators than what we saw in later years.

In his first story, Superman…
saves an innocent woman about to be executed while delivering the real murderess, bound and gagged, and leaving her on the lawn of the state Governor’s mansion after breaking through the door into his house with a signed confession
comes to the aid of a woman being beaten up by her husband, who faints when his knife shatters on Superman’s skin
rescues Lois Lane from a gangster who abducted her after she rebuffed him at a nightclub
goes to Washington, D.C., instead of South America, to “stir up news” as his editor wants, to investigate a Senator that he suspects is corrupt, and prompting a confession by leaping around high buildings with the terrified man, which leads into the next issue.

Yes, Superman does take the law into his own hands in the early stories. These kinds of actions might be the reason you call his brand of justice “gray”. If his brand of justice is gray, his motivations are not! He saves an innocent woman from being executed, keeps a woman from being beaten by her louse of a spouse, rescues a reporter from a gangster and helps expose a corrupt politician.

So, your premise that Superman started as a dark character is a stretch at best and a total misrepresentation at worst. These are the facts as I know them. Superman does not deserve this kind of treatment from Zack Snyder or you.

Michael A. Moore

Incubation – Stage 2

As you know from my previous posts on this subject, by this time I was hooked on Action Comics. The comic book infection I was already experiencing was about to get much worse. On another trip to the grocery store, I notice a comic book called “Justice League of America” (#112). I didn’t know anything about it, other than I had seen some Justice League of America cartoons in the 60s, there were some recognizable characters (like Superman and Batman) on the cover and it had a tag line stating, “Here come TV’s Super Friends!”. I figured, I like Superman and Batman. I’ve seen the Super Friends and I enjoy the cartoon, so why not!

This issue was a bit different than the Action Comics that I had been purchasing. This one, was a THICK comic book! Instead of the 32 pages of the comic books I had been getting, this one boasted a full 100 pages! Being a much heftier magazine, the price was heftier too. It was 60 cents as opposed to the 20 cents I was spending on the previous ones.

Inside, I was treated to a story entitled “War with the One-Man Justice League!”, in which the heroes of the Justice League, reactivate an android who, in the past had fought them and had the ability to duplicate all of their powers! They had done this in an effort to restore the abilities of six in their rank (Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Flash and Elongated Man) half of whose powers had been stolen by another villain in the previous issue.

I was introduced to so many characters in this story! It was a thrill ride from start to finish. All the while there were a myriad of hints dropped that there was a history behind these characters and this team that I could scarcely imagine. I left the story with far more questions than I had going into it. Rather than discourage me from reading further issues, it induced in me a fever to know! I had to know who these people were. I needed to learn their histories. I was hungrier than ever for comic books.

Immediately following the story, there was a two page feature that briefly gave more information about the history of the android they fought. It seems that he was originally created by a mad scientist to steal the powers of the Justice League’s member and destroy them all. Some of my questions were answered, but they were replaced now, with other still.

In the pages following the main story, I was introduced to the concept of a “reprint”. These were stories that had previously been published and were now being printed again in this book. I was later to learn that by some readers, these reprints were disdained in favor of new stories, but I loved them. Suddenly my comic book universe expanded to include not one hero, not a few heroes, but literally dozens of heroes and history that spanned decades, not merely months or years!

In the rest of the book I was introduced to Starman, Martian Manhunter, The Seven Soldiers of Victory (including Green Arrow, Speedy, Vigilante, Shining Knight, Crimson Avenger, the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy) and the villains Black Star and Dr. Destiny (among others).

Since, at the time, Justice League of America was published on a bi-monthly schedule, I had to wait for two whole months for the next issue. I didn’t know how I was going to survive until then, but I knew that Superman would come to my rescue at least once in that time.

In the meantime, I re-read that book at least a dozen times. I practically absorbed every word and every piece of art in it. I still have the book and cherish it. To call it dog-eared is giving it being charitable. Not knowing any better at the time, the cover is now held together by more than one piece of transparent tape.

Even now, just writing about my experience with this book, my eyes get moist just thinking about the beauty, wonder and enjoyment I experience with it.

My comic book infection was bad by this point, but it was about to get (thankfully) much worse!

Incubation – Stage 1

In my previous post, I told the tale of how I was infected by a love of comic books. Continuing the story of the progress of the disease, we come to approximately one month later.

Again, I was grocery shopping with my mother. As I passed the comic book rack, I spied the next issue of Action Comics (#434). On the cover, it showed Superman, sitting in a dentist’s chair. The dentist has some pliers in Superman’s mouth and was obviously pulling a tooth. Superman seemed to be in immense pain! How could this be? Superman was invulnerable to everything! How could he be in pain? How did he get in this condition? Well, there was no hesitating… I HAD to purchase this issue! I had to know!

On the way home, I started to read. The main story was called “The Krypton Connection!”. I won’t go into too many details but the situation was caused by two rogue Kryptonians who were plotting against the Man of Steel. At the end of the story, I encountered something surprising and frustrating. This was only the first part of a two-part story! I was going to have to wait another WHOLE MONTH before this story would be resolved! How could this happen? How was I going to survive? One thing I did know was that every trip I made to the supermarket, I was going to be checking the comic book rack thoroughly so I could satisfy my curiosity.

The second story in the book was a Green Arrow store entitled “Zatanna’s Double Identity!”. In it, I got to meet three characters that I didn’t know… Green Arrow, Black Canary and Zatanna. I enjoyed this story a lot too.

The Superman story was, again, written by Cary Bates and the Green Arrow story was written by Elliot S! Maggin.

After an excruciatingly long month, it was time for the conclusion of the tale I read weeks earlier. Action Comics #435 showed an obviously infuriated Superman crushing a globe of the Earth (or was it the Earth itself?). The cover exclaimed, “Look out Earth! It’s Doomsday when Superman screams… ‘I Want to Wreck the World!’”.

I had to buy the issue anyway, but if there had been any doubt in my mind, this cover would certainly remove it! Luckily for me, this was just a two-part story and the sweet resolution did come within those pages.

The “backup” story was, again, one starring The Atom and it was entitled, “The Unmasking of the Atom”. It was very enjoyable as I had begun to expect they always were.

The Superman tale was penned by Cary Bates and the one starring The Atom was done by Elliot S! Maggin.

Without even knowing what would be in store for me in the next issue, I did know that in another month, a copy of it would be coming home with me!

I was falling in love with comic books and didn’t realize it. I guess love works like that a lot of the time.

Infection

OK… I’m old school when it comes to (DC) comic books. I was born in 1961. Comic books were on the periphery of my life for my earliest years. I would occasionally run across a comic book at a friend’s house, in the barber shop, doctor’s waiting rooms, etc. I would read them and enjoy them but they never were an important part of my life at those ages.

I did enjoy super-hero cartoons, movies and television shows. Since I was born in ’61, I was too late to have caught “The Adventures of Superman” on TV when it aired originally, but luckily there reruns available at various times on one of the local stations (WDRB in Louisville, KY). I always enjoyed super-heroes and especially Superman. Comic books were only a side item until one fateful day.

I don’t know exactly what day it was or the month, but it was most likely in December of 1973 when it happened. I was at the local supermarket (Coonie’s I believe) with my mother, doing some grocery shopping. Near the checkout, I passed by the comic book rack. (Yes, at one time, there were no stores dedicated to selling comic books but rather; they were sold at grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores and many other places that sold magazines.)

Anyway, as I passed the stand, I noticed a comic book with Superman on the cover. The cover showed three invisible people (we could see their outlines through the magic of Superman’s various vision powers) pulling Superman along, by the cape, through the air. The trio looked to be ordinary humans. What the heck was going on here!? As I said, I had read superman comic books in the past and had enjoyed them, but until that moment, I had never actually purchased one. I thought, “I haven’t read a comic book in a while, it might be fun.”

On the way home, I started examining my new prize. The cover told me that the book was Action Comics #433. Inside, I learned that the story referred to on the cover was called “The Man Who Was Buried on Page 64!”. I won’t get into the story here, but I will say that I enjoyed it very much. The second story in the book starred a character called “The Atom”. He was a hero who wore a colorful, skin-tight costume and could shrink to sub-atomic size. I had never seen this character in a comic book, but I did remember him from some cartoons in the 60s. I especially remember him from the old Justice League cartoons, where he often perched on one of the other heroes’ shoulders as they sped to confront a menace. The story was called “Affair of the Bouncing Chair!”. Again, I won’t go into the story here, but I enjoyed it as well.

I later realized that the Superman story was written by Cary Bates and the Atom story was written by a fellow named Elliot S! Maggin. (They would soon become two of my all-time favorite comic book writers.) Little did I know it, but I was infected by comic books that day and after 41 years, no cure is in sight!

Introduction

Welcome to the first posting of the Comic Book Curmudgeon blog.
I’m a 40 something fellow who read and actively collected comic books in the 1970s and slightly into the 1980s. I mostly read DC comic book. I quit reading comics when DC had its “Crisis on Infinite Earths” storyline. I had invested a lot of time in understanding the DC multiverse. With “Crisis”, DC completely scrapped their 40+ years of history and re-wrote it. I’ll grouse more about that some other time.

At any rate, my purpose with this blog is to celebrate the golden, silver and bronze ages of comic book. I promise that I’ll try to keep the criticism about the newer stuff down as much as I can. Come with me now on a journey into yesterday. This was a time when heroes were heroes and villains were villains. Most comic book stories lasted one issue and character cross-overs were a special event.