A Tribute to the of

Happy 2005!  Thanks for joining us for the very first edition of the Silver Age Sage for the New Year! 

First, a bit of trivia:  Do you know the significance of this year?  That's okay; I didn't either until the diligent webmaster made me aware that this is the 70th anniversary of DC Comics.  In order to observe that magnificent milestone, we're going to spotlight some classic stories from the Golden Age from time to time over the course of 2005.  It should be a good time and never fear, we aren't forsaking the Silver Age or our mission to explore that era.  With that in mind, it seems only fitting that we go back to the Big Kahuna:  Action Comics #1 from June of 1938, which everyone knows contains the debut of the greatest hero of them all, the mighty Superman!  As any comic fan worth their salt also knows, he came to us from Jerome Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist).  Now despite my great collection, I do not own this landmark issue in its original form, but I have a couple of copies of the Famous 1st Edition reprint.  I'd had a copy when I was a kid and I'm not sure what happened to it, but thanks to eBay I remedied that situation a few years ago.  Then, for my recent birthday, the webmaster sent me another copy of it, but this one is unique.  It's autographed by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and on the back cover by the very talented Neal Adams!  Is that not fabulous?  You better believe it!  It holds a special place of honor in my collection.  All right.  Enough gloating.  I'll start with the introduction by Carmine Infantino on the inside cover of this oversized comic, who was the publisher when it was printed in 1974:

The year was 1938.  Our nation was submerged in an awesome depression, and in Europe, the greatest holocaust in history was beginning. 

National Comics, having succeeded with DETECTIVE COMICS, the first comic magazine to feature all-new stories, was preparing a new publication—ACTION COMICS.  It would feature all sorts of action-oriented heroes, as the previous title had featured detectives.  One thing was needed—a lead feature.  National had one, but…

What was so different about it?  There had been tales of beings with mighty powers, far beyond those of normal man, since men had begun to invent storytelling.  The pulps were full of mysterious avengers who hid their activities behind a secret identity.  Many science-fiction heroes wore skin-tight outfits, like those of circus acrobats.  Visitors from other worlds had multiplied in the preceding decades.  Detectives were a dime a dozen—so were crusading newspapermen.  But, all these in one character?  It was unheard of!  Who would buy it?

The answer stunned even the publishers themselves.  The character—SUPERMAN—became a sensation.  Yet, it took a while for them to realize how big he was.

Furthermore, many early issues of ACTION failed to depict SUPERMAN on the cover.  Yet, in spite of all this, the Man of Steel took off like the rocket that brought him from Krypton.  He has become an imperishable part of American folklore; he has appeared on radio and television, in movies, in books, and on records.  He has inspired countless imitations.  And he turned the fledgling comic industry into a booming, thriving business.

The first issue sold for 10c!  Today, a mint copy would be worth over ten thousand times that to collectors!  (And believe me; it's gone up considerably since then – Prof)  It is rare that anyone gets a chance to see what it looked like.  We decided to remedy that.

Here, reproduced exactly in every detail, in our majestic new size, is the magazine that made history as no comic has before or since.  With great pride, we present ACTION COMICS NUMBER ONE!

Thank you for that excellent introduction, Mr. Infantino.  Without further ado, the story called simply "Superman":

Siegel and Shuster began with a short explanation of this new character on the first page and it contains some of the elements of Superman's origin that we all know so well.  "As a distant planet was destroyed by old age, a scientist placed his infant son within a hastily devised space-ship, launching it toward Earth!  When the vehicle landed on Earth, a passing motorist, discovering the sleeping babe within, turned the child over to an orphanage.  Attendants, unaware the child's physical structure was millions of years advanced of their own, were astounded at his feats of strength.  When maturity was reached, he discovered he could easily leap a1/8 of a mile; hurdle a 20-story building…raise tremendous weights…run faster than an express train…and that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!  Early, Clark decided he must turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind and so was created…Superman!  Champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!  They then proceed with a "scientific explanation of Clark Kent's amazing strength," elaborating that the inhabitants of his home planet had a physical structure millions of years advanced of our own and that in nature we have insects such as ants and grasshoppers that have super strength, relatively speaking.  Now to the story itself, beginning on the next page:

Superman is in mid-leap, high over the nearby countryside, with a blonde woman, bound and gagged in his arms.  The uniform is the usual blue with red trunks and cape, but instead of red boots his footwear resembles something almost like a ballet shoe with the bindings running up the calf.  As a matter of fact, the Golden Age Green Lantern had a similar setup.  The chest emblem is a nearly indistinguishable "S," perhaps because it's yellow on a yellow background and there is no similar symbol on the cape.  Soon he's deposited the woman near a tree and is pounding on the door of the Governor's mansion, demanding access.  The robed man at the door dismisses Superman due to the hour, but he promptly breaks down the door.  The man continues to resist helping him, so the man of steel simply lifts him overhead and marches up the stairs.  Speaking of steel, the Governor's sleeping quarters are guarded by a steel door.  Superman rips this one off its hinges as well and enters, explaining to the Governor that he has a signed confession in hand that will exonerate Evelyn Curry, a woman who is to be electrocuted for murder in 15 minutes.  Once again, the robed figure returns, this time identified as the butler, with a pistol in hand.  Superman tells him to put it away, but the man fires at point blank range.  The bullet ricochets off and the handy clock in the corner of the next two panels show "a life hanging in the balance" as the Governor reviews the paper and then calls the penitentiary to grant a pardon.  Superman, meanwhile, has disappeared, but left behind a note informing the Governor that the real murderess is on the lawn of his estate.

The next morning, Clark Kent is on his way to the newspaper where he is employed (The Daily Star) and he notes that the front page story says that Miss Curry was released and he is delighted to see no mention of his alter-ego.

Shortly after reaching the office, Kent is summoned into the editor's office when he's asked if he's ever heard of Superman.  The editor explains that he wants coverage of Superman to be Clark's steady assignment. 

A little later, Clark is dispatched to check out a wife-beating at 211 Court Avenue.  Rather than Clark Kent, reporter, however, it is Superman who arrives to find a man abusing his wife.  The man of steel lifts the rogue and throws him into the wall with the observation that "You're not fighting a woman, now!"  The man then pulls a knife and tries to attack, but when it snaps on contact with Superman, he faints dead away.  A quick change of clothing before the arrival of the police and Clark has his story. 

Back at the Daily Star, the meek reporter timidly asks Lois on a date.  She coolly replies, "I suppose I'll give you a break…for a change."  Hard to get, eh, Lois?  As they're dancing, Kent asks why she always avoids him and the aloof Lois says she's been scribbling sob stories all day long and doesn't want to do another one.  The lady reporter has caught the eye of Butch Mason, who insists on cutting in on the dance.  When Clark immediately backs down, Lois slaps Mason and leaves in a huff.  Clark catches her at the cab, but she tells him that she avoids him because he is a spineless, unbearable coward.  The rejected Butch decides to tail Lois and teach her a lesson, but unbeknownst to either of them, she is under the watchful eye of Superman. 

It isn't long before Butch and his companions are running the cab off the road and forcing Lois into their car.  Shortly, however, they spot a familiar figure standing in the road.  Superman leaps over the vehicle before impact and then gives chase until he lifts the car over his head, shakes the passengers out and smashes it into the nearby outcropping, duplicating the cover of this issue.  Superman then scoops Butch up and hangs him by his clothes from a nearby power pole.  He then takes Lois back to safety.  The stunned woman cannot even speak when the man of steel tells her not to print a story about this.  Apparently it didn't occur to her to wonder how he knew her line of work.  The next morning she's in the editor's office telling him about her encounter with Superman, but the editor is unconvinced.  She is colder than ever toward Clark.

Kent is again summoned into the editor's office where he's given a new assignment; to cover a war in a small South American republic.  Kent soon boards the train, but the destination is not "San Monte," but Washington D.C. 

Soon Clark is observing a session of Congress from the gallery when he spots Senator Barrows.  He later spots the Senator speaking to a "furtive man" requesting an audience.  Kent snaps a photo and later has it developed.  He asks a man at the local newspaper who the other figure in the picture is and he is identified as Alex Greer, the slickest lobbyist in Washington who is backed by unknown interests.

A switch of scenes finds Superman on a ledge outside a skyscraper where he listens to a conversation at Senator Barrows' residence between the Congressman and Greer.  The Senator tells Greer he's to never meet with him in public, but Greer gets down to business and asks if he's going to succeed in pushing the bill through.  Barrows replies that there's no doubt and that it will be passed before the full implications are realized, embroiling the country with Europe.  The pleased lobbyist replies that the Congressman will be taken care of financially for this favor, at which point he dons his bowler and departs. 

He is, of course, intercepted by Superman outside the building and denies the allegation that he's corrupting the Senator.  Superman then grabs the man and leaps to a nearby set of power lines, sprinting down them while the terrified Greer begs him to stop before they're electrocuted.  The man of steel replies that birds sit on power lines and they aren't electrocuted, but if he should touch a pole and be grounded, well that would be another story.  Superman then leaps from the power lines to the dome of the Capitol while Greer continues to scream for help.  Superman then prepares for one final leap from the dome to a building over the protests of Greer, but when they near the structure, the man of steel says, "Missed—doggone it!"  Then that most dreaded of phrases in the bottom of the panel:  To be continued (in the next issue).

Comics have changed pretty drastically since these pioneering beginnings.  This issue contained 64 pages of stories with advertisements only on the inside of the front cover (and it was really just a contest announcement by Action Comics, inviting the reader to color and tear out the first page of Chuck Dawson and mail it to their New York City offices for a potential cash award of $1.00.  The problem being, Chuck Dawson followed directly behind the Superman story, so one can only imagine how many issues were mutilated by some kid trying to win a dollar.  It breaks the heart…) and the back cover, which has a veritable mosaic of miniature ads (I counted 49, all from Johnson Smith and Co.) for everything from pocket radios to Japanese rose bushes.  It contained 9 separate and stand-alone stories, from Superman to cowboys, the humor strip Sticky-Mitt Stimson, Zatara the magician, a serial text story, Marco Polo, boxer "Pep" Morgan, and Five Star Reporter "Scoop" Scanlon.  A couple of them were simply black and white while others, including Superman, enjoyed rudimentary color.  I noticed one thing of passing interest on Superman.  While it's common in the following years for the pages to be numbered, this story had numbers for each panel.  98 in all.  Taken collectively, not bad for a dime.  Now, contrast all that with the recent issue of the JLA I picked up:  (The Crime Syndicate of America is suddenly back and I just had to know how.  I'll get back to you on that in the future.)  One story.  36 pages.  14 pages of ads, not including a 2-page glossy insert ad and the two on both inside covers AND one on the back cover, so you're down to 22 pages of actual story and I forked out $2.25.  Like I said a pretty drastic change in seven decades. 

Action #1 is the heritage of all the great and wonderful stuff that has followed and we owe those fine creators a great debt. 

Once again I'll dispense with my customary rating for this issue since it isn't part of the Silver Age and there isn't a satisfactory rating for this bit of history anyway.  It stands and shall ever stand the test of time, which is the finest tribute to any classic.   

In two weeks the latest edition of this feature will be in this very spot.  Make certain to come back and join us and if you have anything on your mind, tap me out an e-mail at professor_the@hotmail.com.

Thanks for your patronage and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2005 by B.D.S.

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