What I thought of Action Comics #12

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Nah, it’ll never catch on.

Man of Steel-What You Might Like to Know About Superman

The new Superman film, Man of Steel is out in the UK this week amid a huge amount of publicity and fuss. It looks like it might even be a bit above the usual American summer blockbuster. It might even be a very good film and it’s got good people in front and behind the camera. It is however an an enormous fuck you to the creators of Superman and their family who have been fighting for as long as Superman has existing to get a fair share of the billions upon billions their creation has made for it’s corporate owners for over seven decades.

 

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and first published in 1938. You can see the pair discuss their creation of Superman here. The media are falling over themselves to provide studies of the myth and meaning of Superman over the last 75 years, but few if any will mention how Siegel and Shuster were shafted  over the creative rights of Superman.

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I didn’t know anything of this as a kid reading comics, not until I read in a fanzine about Neal Adams fighting for Siegal and Shuster to get due credit for Superman in the 1970’s and the story of the messy history between DC (and the companies before it became DC Comics) is in this excellent article here. Siegel struggled to make a living in comics for years, and there’s a mention ins Sean Howe’s excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story about how Stan Lee felt sorry for Siegel in the 1960’s when he was struggling for work, so gave him whatever job he could at Marvel but because his writing style didn’t fit into the Marvel style of the time this meant menial office jobs. The man who was partly responsible for the boom in superheroes and for creating employment for people at Marvel and DC was reduced to struggling for work and favours from friends like Lee. Siegel even worked for IPC’s line of boy’s adventure comics and created The Spider which appeared in Lion, which was a strip I adored as a kid.

 

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In 1975 DC agreed to pay Siegel and Shuster $20,000 for the rest of their lives. At that point, they’d made billions from Superman, and even then this amount was only agreed after the work of people like Neal Adams. This was not something DC out of the goodness of their heart.

By the time of their deaths the dispute still hadn’t been settled, and carried on to their heirs,  who continued to fight for what was a fair share of their creation as the sons and daughters of shareholders made money from Superman but the family of the men who created him didn’t. However due to US copyright law, the rights would revert to Siegel and Shuster’s families, and that would include the film rights as well. Early last year, DC’s parent company Warner Brothers won, which saw Man of Steel go quickly into production to ensure the film rights stayed with Warner’s .

So when you settle down to watch Man of Steel in your comfy chair in the cinema have a wee thought about the creators and their families and wonder why the media is talking about the heroic myth of Superman, but don’t feel it’s important to mention what happened to Siegel and Shuster? I’d imagine because it probably shows the myth up to be just that, a myth.

Siegel and Shuster deserved better. Their heirs deserve better. It would be nice if one journalist, or one person connected with the film mentioned this rather than repeat the same story which marginalises the creators and their plight into a footnote of a larger story rather than being something that taints the myth.