A Tribute to the of

I’m a little late to the party, but I just finished off Sean Howe’s “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.” I got wind of a screaming deal on it at Amazon, so $2.07 later, the kindle edition was on my handy little reader.

It was quite a read, even though I’m a loyal DC guy, partly because so many of the names were people I’d had the chance to meet or interview or interact with in one way or another. Shooter, Steranko, Ditko, Springer, and on and on. Guys I’d either interviewed or swapped e-mails with or what have you. I even have a couple of e-mails from Stan himself. After all, it was kind of a revolving door between the Big Two back in the day, so despite my interview efforts being all about DC creators, when you get right down to it, there weren’t that many exclusive to DC. Maybe Joe Kubert, Joe Giella (even though the latter Joe did some work for the competition) and a smattering of others. But I learned one surprising thing going through the book. At some point in time, none other than Jerry Siegel was employed at the House of Ideas as a proofreader. I was really amazed.

So, to honor Jerry and also Jules Feiffer, who, as I type this, is celebrating his 90th birthday (I sent him an e-mail congratulating him on another decade; quick side note, it’s also Sal Buscema’s birthday, speaking of interviewees mentioned in Howe’s book) we take a quick trip back to the Golden Age, very early Golden Age at that, to take a peek at the untitled Superman story from Action Comics #5 (October 1938) reprinted in Feiffer’s wonderful “The Great Comic Book Heroes.” It’s dubbed Superman and the Dam and of course was written by Jerome Siegel and illustrated by Joe Shuster with editing by Vin Sullivan andM.C. Gaines.

I get a kick out of the dramatic captioning and dialogue in these old stories. It’s like they were made to order for a radio adventure story: “Telegraph lines broadcast to the world news of a terrible disaster! The Valleyho dam is cracking under the strain of a huge downpour! Should it give way, a mountain of water will sweep down the valley killing thousands and destroying the fertile land!

Switch scenes now to a harried editor at the Daily Star hollering for Clark Kent. Unfortunately, the reporter is nowhere to be found, but Lois Lane offers to take the assignment. The crabby and wound-tight editor rebuffs her with, “Can’t! It’s too important! This is no job for a girl!” Lois immediately begins to hatch a plan and then, meeting Clark in the street, begins to execute it. She tells the lovestruck Kent that she needs him to cover an assignment for her at the maternity ward of city hospital where Mrs. Mahoney is about to deliver septuplets. (That may be the first time I’ve ever typed that word.) Eagerly, Clark agrees, calling her a “peach.” It’s definitely the late 30s…

A bit later, Lois is catching the train to Valleyho while Clark discovers there is no Mrs. Mahoney, so, with furrowed brow, he pounds the pavement back to the Daily Star where the apoplectic editor dresses him down, shrieking that the last train to Valleyho has left while Kent was wasting time elsewhere. He’s instructed to report to the cashier. “You’re fired!

In the next panel, the transformed Kent is now in a familiar red and blue uniform and has vowed to get that story. Leaping from the top of the Daily Star building, Superman is on his way, traveling by literal leaps and bounds. Remember, the original Superman didn’t have the ability to fly yet.

He then spots the locomotive on its way to Valleyho and, “More powerful than a locomotive,” he outruns it along the tracks until he reaches a trestle and notes that the supports have been weakened by the raging torrent, tilting the tracks and “—making a wreck inevitable!

No big deal for the Man of Steel. He leaps down to the shaky support and bolsters it with his superhuman strength, holding it steady until the train passes over and then allows it to crash into the river. Noting the narrow escape, the conductor instructs another railroad man to issue a warning at the next junction that the bridge is out.

As the train arrives at the station, Lois fights her way out while people from Valleyho mob the locomotive to evacuate. She hails a cab, but the taxi driver, caught up in the mob mentality, surrenders his vehicle to her while he flees the potential flood from the failing dam.

Lois guns the old hoopy toward the dam where Superman is fighting to keep it stable while the citizens evacuate. Abruptly, the structure crumbles and Lois is directly in the path of the roaring waters. Superman spots the car and goes in for the rescue, even though the car and its passenger are inundated within the flood. Tearing the reporter from the vehicle, Superman swims to the surface, then sprints ahead of the flood with the unconscious Lois in his arms. He finally reaches a jutting mountain peak and uses his might to push it over, diverting the floodwaters away from Valleyho.

Lois, witnessing the feat, gives Superman a kiss, despite his protest of “Lady! Please!” He scoops her back up and says, “Enough of that! I’ve got to bring you back to safety—where I’ll be safe from you!” Professing her love, she begs him to stay, but the he-man Superman simply says, “Perhaps we’ll meet again,” and he’s on his way.

A little later, Clark Kent is at a payphone, calling his editor to explain he caught a plane to Valleyho and has the scoop. Is he rehired? “O.K. Connect me with a rewrite man…

The final panel has the fedora wearing Clark telling Lois that it wasn’t a nice stunt she pulled, but he still likes her. Coldly, she replies, “Who cares?” Her thoughts reveal that she considers Kent a spineless worm and she “…can hardly look at him after being in the arms of a real he-man.”

A simple story in those 9 pages, short on plot but big on action. The love triangle and the beleaguered Clark Kent are on full display and while it may have been unsophisticated, these were the tales that laid the bedrock foundation for the original and greatest superhero of all time, the one and only Superman!

We who love the medium are forever indebted to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for bringing us the Man of Tomorrow and all that he wrought in the following 8 decades. Here’s to you Cleveland natives!

This ongoing feature will be back on the 15th of February with another review and don’t forget your sweetheart on the day before. Until then, be sure to drop a line with any questions or comments. My handy e-mail address is: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you then and…

Long live the Golden Age!

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