Friday, January 16, 2015

Golden Age Superman Annotations Part 1 Action Comics #1 June 1938

This is the first installment of a series looking at Superman as the readers learned of him from his earliest appearances, in order. The source of this information is Superman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 1. Consequently, once all the stories in that volume are covered, this series will then take a break until when/if Vol. 2 is published.

The rules I’m playing by are as follows:
·        As covers are not normally an actual part of the story, if something happens first on a cover, than inside, both are noted;
·        The reverse will be true sometimes but not all the time; basically when it’s relevant to the marketing of the character, as the cover is intended to sell the comic;
·        Firsts are noted in the order that a reader of the 1930s-1940s would experience them, even if other material was written and drawn earlier;
·        An emphasis here is recurring concepts and themes; while not ignored entirely, one-shot concepts are downplayed, and not every minor character who appears in a Superman story is noted;
·        Another emphasis here is information not readily available elsewhere; for example, the story of how Superman came to be published in Action Comics #1 has been told in numerous texts on the history of comics and is easy to find, thus not discussed here. However, if people have interesting stories to tell on the creation of other issues that can be folded in, I’ll add that later, as that kind of information is harder to find;
·        Particularly large captions are treated as a separate panel as long as there is a clear separation from any image;
·        As the comics progress, material from other sources such as the radio show and comic strip start to get folded into the comics. For now I am only looking at the original comics, but if anyone wants to add information on material that appeared in other media prior to the comic strip, I will add that in;
·        Dates are always cover dates. If anyone has the actual release dates, I’ll add them in;
·        All material written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Joe Shuster unless otherwise noted.

This story is untitled. The Golden Age Omnibus calls it “Superman, Champion of the Oppressed!”

Cover: First appearance of Superman (unidentified), first use of super-strength (lifts car)

Page 1
Aside from a small section at the end  delving further into his powers, page 1 is basically Superman’s first origin story.
·        Panel 1: First use of Superman logo; first appearance of Krypton (referred to as "a distant planet"), first depiction of Krypton exploding; first appearance of the rocketship carrying the future Superman to Earth (and thus first reference to Superman as infant being in the rocketship); first mention Superman’s birth father, here referred to only as a scientist;
·        Panel 2: This panel depicts the front of a car owned by a passing motorist (not seen), headlights shining on the rocketship. The notable thing here is that, unlike most later accounts of Superman’s origin, it is not the Kents who find the rocketship: the text suggests that only one person is in the car, who takes the infant to the orphanage (first mention of an orphanage being part of Superman’s origin), and as the motorist is not mentioned again, there is no reason to believe he/she (or for that matter anyone) adopts the infant in this telling of the origin;
·        Panel 3: First depiction of Clark (unidentified) as a baby; first in-story use of super-strength (baby Clark lifts chair with one hand as attendants – one male, one female – look on)
·        Panel 4: First depiction of Clark (unidentified) using super-leaping (leaps 20-story building);
·        Panel 5: First in-story case of Clark (unidentified) using super-strength as adult (holds steel girder with one hand);
·        Panel 6: First depiction of Clark (unidentified) using superspeed (outraces an express train);
·        Panel 7: First use of name Clark (no image in panel)
·        Panel 8: First in-story depicted of the Superman costume, first use of name Superman outside of the logo
·        Panels 9-11: First attempt to explain Superman's powers, shared caption reveals his full name of Clark Kent

After page 1, some background information is in fact necessary: Superman was at one point intended as a comic strip, so the Superman story in Action Comics #1 is largely if not completely composed of rearranged panels from that strip. However, after the origin page, the rest of the story in this issue omits an earlier section of the story. The full version of this story appears in Superman #1, but here we join the story in progress. The implications are twofold: we’re joining a story in progress and Action Comics #1 makes no effort to catch the reader up on what happened in the missing pages. Also it means that material that should have been firsts in the Superman mythos is not because it got published later. Such material will be discussed in annotations for Superman #1.

Page 2
·        Panel 1: Due to the missing pages resulting in the story being started in progress, Bea Carroll, the woman tied and gagged is unidentified in this issue. We also only know at this point that Superman that this is necessary to save a life. His leaping with her bound and gag is probably the first instance of early Superman breaking the law for the greater good;
·        Panel 6: Superman breaking down the governor’s door is the first undeniable instance of early Superman breaking the law for the greater good.

Page 3
·        Panel 3: For some reason the governor’s bedroom has a steel door; this is the first instance of Superman bending steel with his bare hands;
·        Panel 5: At this point the reader catches up with the missing pages, as Superman tells the governor that he is trying to save an innocent woman, Evelyn Curry from being executed; the reference to the signed confession makes it fairly clear that Carroll is the true murderer;
·        Panel 8: The governor’s butler tries to shoot Superman in the neck; this is the first time we that Superman can be shot unharmed; part of the panel is a bit vague but it appears we see the shadow of the bullet but not the bullet itself.
Page 4
·        Panel 6: First appearance of Clark's traditional reporter garb, first reference to Clark being a reporter; first depiction of a Daily Star newspaper (unnamed);
·        Panel 7: A closer up view of the newspaper identifies it as the Daily Star (which would later be renamed the Daily Planet); this panel also concludes the Evelyn Curry storyline; Clark whispers, “Good! I’m not mentioned!” thus confirming that it’s a secret that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person;

Page 5
·        Panel 1: First appearance of the Daily Star office (identified); first confirmation that it is in fact the Daily Star where Superman works; first appearance of the then unidentified editor and first time he and Clark are seen in the same panel (in later issues identified first as George Taylor and then as Perry White – later accounts would treat Taylor and White as separate characters but likely this was a renaming originally);
·        Clark first refers to the editor as Chief, a name Jimmy Olsen would later often call Perry White;
·        Panels 5-7: Superman goes after a wife beater; in early stories Superman was more interested in helping the common person than battling super-villains.

Page 6
·        Panels 1-3: More of the wife beater; the first two panels are the first time an item is shown before and after breaking off Superman’s skin, in this case a knife; we don’t actually see the breaking, just the before and after;
·        Panel 6: First appearance of Lois (only first name given) and first time she and Clark appear in the same panel;
·        Panel 8: The three criminals on the front cover appear, with the guy running away on the cover being identified as Butch.

Page 7
·        Panels 1, 3-4:  First time Clark feigns being a coward; note that in his early appearances Clark was supposed to be cowardly rather than clumsy.

Page 8
·        Panel 2: First instance of Lois being kidnapped and thus needing to be rescued by Superman.

Page 9
·        Panel 2: As Superman shakes everyone out of the kidnappers’ car, we see Superman in costume and Lois in the same panel for the first time;
·        Panel 3: This is a recreation of the front cover scene, though one of the crooks is missing from the panel.

Page 10
·        Panel 2: First time Superman in costume speaks to Lois; it’s implied that Lois has never met Superman previously except as Clark;
·        Panel 5: First panel with Lois and the editor together; while Lois is unsuccessful in getting the story of her kidnapping printed, her efforts to do so show one of the main constants of her character: her ambitions as a newspaper reporter;
·        Panel 7: Yet another storyline starts, as the editor sends Clark to San Monte (a fictional South American country) as a war correspondent; this story continues through the rest of the issue and into the next issue.

Page 11:
·        Panel 3: Since Superman has to hang from a window to eavesdrop on a conversation, he apparently does not have super-hearing at this point;
·        Panel 5-6: We learn that the conflict of this storyline involves corrupt Senator barrows passing a bill that will embroil the United States in a conflict with Europe somehow (the specifics are vague).

Page 13
·        Panel 7: This is an out-of-story panel concluding things for this issue; first depiction of Superman breaking out of chains.

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