Markley’s Fevered Brain: S is for Superman

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1


Perhaps the best known comic book character of all time is Superman. Created in 1939 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, he first appeared in Action Comics #1. He has gone on to become an American icon and the star of stage, screen, radio, movies, and, of course, comics. While the character has evolved a number of times over the years and has been handled by some of comics greatest creators, sadly a great deal of his appearances have never been collected. There are decade’s worth of stories that have never been reprinted or collected, and to be fair, a lot of these only deserve to be collected due to historical value, not that they are that great. Then there is the whole world of Superman’s supporting cast, including two long running titles, which are soon to revived, Superman’s Friend, Jimmy Olsen and Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane. (I am confident in these new versions of these characters the “friend” and “girlfriend” will be dropped.) I am not going to go over all of the ups and downs of the character, as there are many, but I am going to spotlight a few collections of what I consider important for either historical importance or because they are just great stories. Since this is a character that has been in print for 80 years, this is just barely touching the surface of Superman’s publishing history.

Superman was not intended to be a comic book. His creators wanted to do it as a newspaper strip, which at the time in 1938 was a far better and far more profitable profession than comic book creator. Alas, they could not get anyone to pick it up so they submitted it to what would become DC Comics. Legend has it that it was in a pile of rejected submissions when Sheldon Meyer (yes, the creator of my favorite, Sugar and Spike) came across it and pull it out of the pile and said they should publish this strip. The early stories read like a newspaper strip with evenly spaced block panels (6 per page) which was common at the time, but the pacing of the early stories was clearly based on three panel stories. This quickly changed and the character (and Action Comics, which there are at least three different printings of #1 from 1939 and dozens more since then) soon got his own book, Superman. This was followed by radios shows, TV shows (The Adventures of Superman, my favorite), eventually movies, and hundreds of various merchandise items.

Superman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 2

Superman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 2


The earliest appearances of Superman have been collected into six massive omnibuses called the Superman: The Golden Age Omnibus. (Vol. 1 is being reprinted and will be out soon and volume six is coming this summer). These six volumes reprint all of the Superman stories in sequence from Action Comics #1-124, Superman #1-54 and World’s Best/Finest Comics #1-36. (In the early issues of World’s Finest comics Superman and Batman were separate stories, they did not start teaming up till issue #71). Most of these early stories are what you would expect from Golden Age comics. They are primitive by today’s standards although by the time you get to the late ‘40s and ‘50s I really enjoy it, with Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, and eventually Curt Swan taking over. These books are worth checking out because you get so much material (close to a 1000 pages per book) and the historical significance of the character. In the early stories you will not find fancy villains, or aliens or kryptonite (except Lex Luthor does appear very early on) as most of the early tales involve gangsters, crooked politicians, accidents, etc. Also, his powers were toned down in the beginning compared to the later years.

Superman: The Atomic Age Sundays 1949-1953

Superman: The Atomic Age Sundays 1949-1953


Throughout the 1950s the Superman books continued to sell very well and spawned a number of spin-off characters and titles, such as the previously mentioned Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, and the introduction of Supergirl in the back of Action Comics. For the 1950s I would suggest you check out IDWs amazing collection of the Superman Newspaper Strips. I suggest this because there is very little that has been reprinted from this period of the regular comics (come on DC, and do a complete reprinting of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen). The newspaper strips also tend to be more like the traditional Superman than some of the silliness that creeped into the main comic books. (Which was by no means as silly as Batman became in the 1950s). IDW has done three different sets of Superman newspaper strip collections, the Golden Age (1940s), the Atomic Age (the 1950s) and the Silver Age (The 1960s). So far they have reprinted all of the Golden and Silver Age strips. They still have a volume or two of the Atomic Age strips to go but they are currently trying to find missing strips from the 1950s to finish the project. Luckily you can check out all three volumes of the Sunday strips which collect all of the newspaper Superman Sunday strips, drawn by Wayne Boring and written by Alan Schwartz and Bill Finger (yes, of Batman fame). These full color collections perfectly capture the 1950s Superman in both tone and feel. Plus, Boring’s art, at first glance it looks a bit stiff, the more you read the more you will see the beauty in it.

Once again there is a not a lot of reprints for the 1960s and 1970s. There are sporadic collections focusing on a specific villain or storylines, there were a series of volumes called the Superman in the ‘40s, ‘50s. (etc.) reprinting stories from each decade; ‘40, ‘50, ‘60, ‘70, etc. There was one hardcover reprinting the “relaunch” of Superman in 1971 where they updated his look with great art by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, and they toned down his powers. But almost all of these collections are out of print. (As are the Archives that collected the 1960s Superman stories).

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. This volume also includes the classic

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. This volume also includes the classic “For the Man Who Has Everything.”


So I am going to jump forward to 1986 and what I consider to be the best Superman story, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. This was the conclusion of Superman and Action Comics as DC would relaunch both books with John Byrne taking over and changing and discarding a lot of the past. Whatever… is a love letter to the whole concept of Superman going back to his earliest days and was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Curt Swan. This is one of my favorite stories as it is both sad and joyous as it celebrates everything that made Superman great, and draws to a close an era of both Superman, but in some ways, comics. If you buy only one book from this blog, get this one.

Death of Superman

Death of Superman


With Byrne’s relaunch of the character and the years that followed there are a number of collections, including the classic Death of Superman and his return as well as just a slew of collections of more modern material from the 2000’s by such writers as Geoff Johns, J. Michael Straczynski, Greg Rucka and many others. All of these are good but they do not hold the appeal to me of the 1960s or the Alan Moore story do.

The Man of Steel

The Man of Steel


In recent years, DC has restarted Superman a number of times with tweaks to the character each time with the most current revision being by Brian Michael Bendis. This started with a miniseries called Man of Steel and followed with another Superman #1 and Action #1000. These are the newest takes on the character and so far I have enjoyed them. I will admit I have enjoyed Action Comics more than Superman but both feel fresh yet pay respect to the history of the character and are entertaining stories. I think these are probably the best you are going to get given the modern state of comic books. There are two hardcover collections out from DC so far collecting the first arcs of each book with second volumes coming soon. They are worth having a look at.

This does it for my very brief look at the Man of Steel. There is so much out there that still needs to be collected. There are some fine examples of different time periods of Superman, and there is the definitive story. I would like to see a series of reprints starting with John Byrne’s relaunch of the character. Almost all of the trades that reprinted these stories are out of print and they are a good period for the character. So what are your favorite Superman stories? Do you like what I have discussed or am I completely mad? I would like to know what you think. I can be reached at MFBWAY@aol.com or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. All of this babble is mine and does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. As always…

Thank you.

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