Imagine being a kid in America in 1939 when you’re gripped in not just a depression, but there’s looming war in Europe? Imagine how grim it’d be? Imagine then coming across a copy of Action Comics #12 with its bright, gaudy cover of a space ship, a man in an shiny top hat and the promise of Superman; the first superhero. Imagine opening up the issue and seeing this first panel in the Superman story?
You would quite literally wet yourself.
The story itself is astonishing. A friend of Clark Kent is killed by a reckless driver and after asking the mayor of the city (this is early days so much of the mythos of Superman hasn’t formed yet) he decides to take matters into his own hands.
Early Superman didn’t fuck about. Deciding to tell the city that he’s not fucking about he goes to a radio station to tell the city that he really isn’t going to fuck about here because he’s fucking Superman!
Superman tells the city that he’s pissed off with the city having the worst safety record in the country for driving, and that in future reckless drivers are going to answer to him.
Quite bluntly, Superman is a angry twat here but its amazing to see a character which for years became so bland being so angry, and remember, this is 1939, this is radical stuff for what are still children’s comics. Still, Superman isn’t finished as he takes on the 1939 version of Swiss Toni.
Superman kicks off scaring the hell out of drunken drivers and the police equally as he continues his crusade scaring the shite out of hit and run drivers before taking on corrupt industrialists, as this Superman is a proper socialist firebrand.
As I’ve said, reading this decades later is extraordinary a Superman seems more like Judge Dredd with a hint of Tony Benn as he smashes up factories, busts corrupt policemen and pulls up the mayor for failing to enforce speed laws in an utterly brutal way. Remember, these were children’s comics in 1939…
This is genuinely brilliant stuff from the Golden Age of comics. This is a social active Superman that sees a problem, thinks ‘fuck it’ and does something about it while the crudity of Siegel and Shuster’s art and script make the strip effectively brutal in its delivery. It’s a little sliver of joy for kids at the time who I’d imagine have to deal with reckless drivers in those early days of mass automotive transport.
The icing on the cake of this is the last panel advertising a new strip in Detective Comics that same month.
Nah, it’ll never catch on.