The Startling Stories of Superman #1 – “Superman”

By Will Barber Taylor

Following on from the ending of The Dark Tales of the Dark Knight, we begin a retrospective of the adventures of the first ever superhero, the Man of Steel himself; Superman. We go back to this iconic figure’s very first appearance to learn why the Metropolis Marvel has such enduring appeal for fans of comic books and the viewing public. It may be a simple tale, but it is still a startling one. (Action Comics #1)

Superman came from the minds of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, two men who had often experienced prejudice because of their Jewish ancestry. The creation of Superman has, therefore, often been seen as an emotional outpouring of their feeling of fear of persecution and a desire to see a figure who, despite his “alien” origins, could be able to save people and gain respect from the world.

This may certainly be part of the reason behind the creation of the Man of Steel but you wouldn’t exactly know it from the story. This is hardly surprising given that, the idea of a comic book in 1938 was to simply entertain and inspire awe in the reader. The story is, in fact, less of a story and more a series of vignettes that are only held together by them occurring after one another.

Beginning with Superman’s origin it transitions into a brief section in which Superman saves a woman from being electrocuted by giving the Governor a confession from the real killer. How Superman was able to deduce this isn’t revealed but what becomes apparent is that this isn’t the boy scout that we all know and love. Rather, this Superman acts like a stereotypical Batman – threatening, using violence and using it and not wanting to be known to the general public. Given this first story was printed a year before Batman’s debut it is somewhat ironic how initially similar, they were.

After this we are introduced to the Last Son of Krypton’s civilian identity, Clark Kent who is assigned the story on Superman. Clark asks Lois Lane out on a date which ends badly when Lois smacks a gangster called Butch Mason. Mason then, perhaps because he had nothing better to do, attempts to kill Lois in his car before she is saved by Superman who tells her not to mention he saved her. Lois informs her editor, George Taylor, who somewhat dismisses her though his reasoning isn’t exactly clear. Later Superman discovers that a lobbyist in Washington is taking dirty money to push a bill through Congress. Superman kidnaps him and takes him to the Capitol. This ends the “story”, promising further adventures from the Man of Steel.

Though the story is fairly simplistic and produces a much harder version of the character than readers may be used to, it is still an engaging tale that quickly and stylistically tells us Superman’s origin and demonstrates his surroundings and abilities. What it lacks in substance it makes up for in style and it certainly is a breath-taking introduction to Superman and demonstrates why the character became so popular with comic book readers – though still in the mould of the old comic book protagonist his alien origins and powers were a breath of fresh air into the market and instantly recognisable.

The artwork is fairly decent for the time and Superman’s outfit, though primitive, is instantly recognisable and eye catching. Similarly, the iconic scene of Superman lifting up the car and smashing it against the sidewalk has an elegant reductionist quality to it which makes it so memorable.

Though loose on the plot, the first adventure of the Man of Tomorrow is both engaging and unforgettable and still strikes a cord with readers today as it did over eighty years ago. Whilst a simple idea, Superman is a truly effective one and will continue to enthral readers and cinema goers for many decades to come.

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