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  1. #1
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    Default Went through Superman Golden Age Omnibus Vol 1 this week...some thoughts

    Been on a bit of a Golden Age kick lately - reading Superman Smashes the Klan, watching the Flesischer shorts, and a few days ago I took it up a notch by going back to the source and reading the original Siegal/Shuster Superman stories.

    Now it'd been years since I'd last read them chronologically and my knowledge of Superman and my perception of the superhero genre has evolved considerably over time, so in a sense it almost felt like I'm reading them for the first time.

    The omnibus covers Action Comics # 1-19 and Superman # 1-3 (as well as the World's Fair special).

    Here are some of my thoughts from the (re)read:

    -Yup, Superman is very much the ultimate vigilante here, doing whatever the f#ck he wants and not giving a sh#t about public opinion, politics, the police, the media, anybody! In many ways he reminded me of Batman in the way he threatens to kill criminals to get them to give up information. He doesn't really have a specific agenda as such, beyond destroying anything that harms people and taking down any kind of bad-guy - be it a white-collar criminal, 'respectable' businessmen who skimp on worker/customer safety, corrupt officials, street criminals and racketeers, war-mongers...the list goes on. A lot of people tend to cite Superman's actions in these stories against businessmen to present him as a 'socialist' or 'left-wing' hero, but I don't see that as being the case. This is a Superman who doesn't care about politics just like he doesn't care about anything other than helping the helpless.

    -This bit actually surprised me...its amazing just how important Clark Kent and his role as a Daily Star reporter is to these stories. Virtually every story begins with Clark carrying out an investigation as a reporter and uncovering some crime/conspiracy/problem which he then solves as Superman (though he often gets to work solving things as Clark). He may be 'mild-mannered' and occasionally act as a weakling, but Clark Kent is no disguise or bumbling idiot in these stories, but a fearless reporter who's probably second only to Superman in cleaning up Metropolis, through his exposes. Frankly, I never get the perception from these stories, which some people like to impute to the Golden Age Superman, that ''Superman is real'' and ''Clark Kent is fake''. There's no split-personality or disguise here - Clark Kent and Superman are both equally important parts of the protagonist's crusade. Also, the narration sometimes interchangeably uses 'Clark Kent' or 'Superman' at times when describing the title character regardless of what he's wearing (there's a panel in one of the issues where the narration refers to Superman while we see him using his powers dressed as Clark Kent during an emergency...and of course Action Comics # 1 refers to Clark Kent's superhuman strength).

    -Another bit which surprised me was Lois Lane's role, or rather, lack thereof. Clark Kent is the top reporter of the Daily Star in these stories, not Lois Lane. Lois in fact is mostly relegated to writing sob-stories and other such stuff, and only gets to be involved in investigative journalism when Clark requests her to assist him. I guess this is down to the sexism of the era, where a female journalist would be unlikely to get all the important and/or dangerous assignments, but its still a bit jarring. This actually explains some of the downright contempt Lois displays towards Clark in these stories - its not just because he appears to be a coward and doesn't fare well against Superman; its because he gets to be the hotshot reporter with all the big scoops while she hardly gets out of the office on an assignment at all. This is made explicit in Superman # 3 where Lois gets 'demoted' to handle the lovelorn desk, while Clark gets promoted for all his investigative work. Lois also isn't in as many stories as you'd think...there are long-ish stretches of stories where she either doesn't appear or appears very briefly.

    -The ''triangle for two'' is very much present and a lot more explicit and blatant than probably any other version of it since. And frankly, no one comes off looking particularly good here! The triangle actually starts around Action Comics # 5, which is the story where Lois first explicitly says that she's in love with Superman and starts obsessing over him. Clark is smitten by Lois since Action Comics # 1 and keeps trying to date her (and later on, uses his clout with Editor George Taylor to force her to accompany him on assignments, which I must say comes across as a mildly creepy). Lois practically hates him because she thinks he's a pathetic spineless coward (but also because she's low-key envious of his professional success). Lois is in love with Superman for his strength and the mystery surrounding him, and because he keeps saving her. Superman goes out of his way to be cold and indifferent towards Lois every time he saves her. And when Clark first finds out that Lois, the girl he keeps pestering for a date, is in love with Superman, his response is to...go to his office to have a private laugh! Yeah, the whole thing comes off as a bit neurotic...

    -Superman's powers are of course limited, but his super-hearing and X-ray vision are actually introduced a lot earlier than I'd have thought (somewhere around Action Comics # 10 give or take a couple of issues). He also isn't completely invincible...a powerful explosion or getting hit by a locomotive is presented as being potential fatal to him. That said, in the context in which he's operating, where all his antagonists are ordinary human beings, he pretty much is unbeatable in a way no later incarnation of Superman will ever be. In all the stories I've read so far, the only villain who has actually posed a physical threat to Superman is Ultra-Humanite, owing to his powerful and dangerous weapons. It got to the point where, if a criminal has a device that actually makes him a challenge to Superman, you can bet he's working for Ultra!

    But above all, I have to say that these stories are FUN! Simplistic, yes...but it really is entertaining to see Superman beat the crap out of criminals without thinking twice and figuring out how he's going to investigate and solve a particular problem. Looking forward to getting Vol 2 soon...

  2. #2
    Extraordinary Member Robanker's Avatar
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    There's a lot to love in the rough-and-tumble golden age to be certain. Glad you took the dive and got to experience it.

  3. #3
    Extraordinary Member Vordan's Avatar
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    Yeah Golden Age Superman is a trip lol, I love the issue where he forces an arms dealer to join a foreign war he’s been profiting off of as a soldier by threatening to kill him if he doesn’t. People perhaps ascribe more depth into GA Superman’s politics than perhaps they should (as you say he goes after everyone), but his sympathy for the poor, downtrodden, and oppressed, and how often he fights against the rich or those who are obsessed with money is why the socialistic label has been fostered on him. He’s not out to destroy the system of capitalism, merely curb its worst practitioners.

    The love triangle is so f***** up but that’s kind of why I love it ? Like you say it’s downright neurotic at certain points. I think the Silver Age is where Clark starts to see “Superman” as his real self since GA Superman didn’t even know his origins whereas SA Superman remembered Krypton and thus didn’t consider Clark to be his true self or the Kents to be his “real” parents (although he still loved and mourned them).

    It is fascinating how we’ve more or less come full circle back to the original Superman in terms of Kal considering both Clark and Superman to be integral parts of who he is.
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  4. #4
    The Man Who Cannot Die manwhohaseverything's Avatar
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    I don't see kal el as superman.simply put.Superman is distinct identity..It is not tethered to any of the nonsense like krypton or kansas.It's tethered to truth and justice for the oppressed in metropolis.That's that..
    the way i see it,
    golden age is superman untethered and unchained with the focus on the man of action.
    silverage and bronzeage is the immagrant story entirely about kal el..
    postcrisis is about clark kent(which one?the glasses identity is non-existant.Clark truly himself is portrayed as a nerd sometimes ) .
    I prefer superman to be centre of attraction.Not kal el or clark kent...They are supporting acts for me..I don't care for utopian visions of the man of tomorrrow.I don't care for the nostalgia driven view of the past in the man of steel..It's amazing how i get siegel's superman in the monkey d luffy.

    Batman wasn't the original vigilante hero.It was zorro whom inspired superman.Batman fought crime in general.It's true.clark is an action hero first and foremost.The foes and the fights clark goes through is define clark's leaning.It defines batman's as well.While bruce will fight bank robbers.Clark would have no problem going in to a corrupt establishment and stealing.That's my take.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by manwhohaseverything View Post
    I don't see kal el as superman.simply put.Superman is distinct identity..It is not tethered to any of the nonsense like krypton or kansas.It's tethered to truth and justice for the oppressed in metropolis.That's that..
    the way i see it,
    golden age is superman untethered and unchained with the focus on the man of action.
    silverage and bronzeage is the immagrant story entirely about kal el..
    postcrisis is about clark kent(which one?the glasses identity is non-existant.Clark truly himself is portrayed as a nerd sometimes ) .
    I prefer superman to be centre of attraction.Not kal el or clark kent...They are supporting acts for me..I don't care for utopian visions of the man of tomorrrow.I don't care for the nostalgia driven view of the past in the man of steel..It's amazing how i get siegel's superman in the monkey d luffy.

    Batman wasn't the original vigilante hero.It was zorro whom inspired superman.Batman fought crime in general.It's true.clark is an action hero first and foremost.The foes and the fights clark goes through is define clark's leaning.It defines batman's as well.While bruce will fight bank robbers.Clark would have no problem going in to a corrupt establishment and stealing.That's my take.
    I agree with you that the Golden Age stories are more focused on Superman than Kal-El or Clark Kent. But I think that's mostly down to Kal-El not really being established yet (hell, the names Jor-El, Lara or Kal-El aren't even mentioned in the first 20-odd issues of the comic-books...though they'd already shown up by this point in the newspaper strip), and Clark Kent's personal life not being fleshed out beyond his role as a journalist and his infatuation with Lois Lane. These were the early days of the genre, where the heroics of the costumed alter ego were front and center - the personal lives and backstories of the heroes just weren't a priority.

    That said, between Kal-El and Clark Kent, the Golden Age Superman definitely leans towards the latter. He definitely self-identifies as Clark Kent, simply because its the only 'real' name he has since he's unaware of Kal-El. And as I've mentioned, Clark Kent's journalistic career plays a crucial role in these stories - a good 90% of Superman's adventures start out with Clark's investigations.

    Clark also really doesn't feel like a 'false identity' or 'disguise' here. Yes, he occasionally acts as a weakling, mainly when confronted by danger around Lois or other people he knows. But apart from that and the glasses there really is no distinction between the two identities. You don't get the feeling that ''Superman is real, Clark is the act''. Rather, the roles of reporter Clark Kent and vigilante strongman Superman are both important to the protagonist's crusade, and the protagonist self-identifies as 'Clark Kent'.

  6. #6
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    I remember that, after he had done the MAN OF STEEL six issue mini, somewhere John Byrne said, in hindsight, it would have been better if he hadn't done the Krypton origin in the first issue and had saved that for later. Since it was all new to the reader, this would have kept us in suspense--not knowing what Superman's actual origin was until it would be revealed in issue 6.

    It occurs to me just now that if Siegel and Shuster had to do it all over again, they could have arranged the panels in ACTION COMICS No. 1 to hold back the revelation that Clark Kent is Superman, and the origin of Superman, until the end of the story.

    Bill Finger and Bob Kane did this in DETECTIVE COMICS 27--saving the revelation that Bruce Wayne is the Bat-Man until the final panel. Now, that was a very short story and I'm not sure how much suspense a reader would have been in at the time. But still, I think Clark being Superman or Bruce being Bat-Man would not be a foregone conclusion if you had never read anything else before and that would have built up suspense--especially for Clark's origin.

    Since Siegel and Shuster were pasting up their story, from the daily strips they had done in hopes of selling Superman to one of the syndicates, they probably didn't think of changing the sequence.

    I remember reading in some comic book that one of their influences was THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. And when you read that novel, it seems pretty obvious how the secret identity is similar.

    As far as how the character is played in the original stories, it gets confusing talking about Superman and Clark. Let's just call him Alpha. Alpha is the real guy. Sometimes Alpha is not being genuine--so let's say that's Beta. But he's always deep down Alpha.

    It's about irony--something that's consistently used in all Superman comics. The reader is in an ironic position--knowing what other people don't know. So when Alpha is Beta, the reader knows it (most of the time) and the reader gets a thrill having that special knowledge. He's always really Alpha--but he plays around at being different types of Beta.

    I think this is a basic rule of thumb for all the comics. The real guy is Alpha--whenever he's not genuine, he's Beta. And that's the ironic device.

    I know that people look at the old comics to try and find differences--but I've been there, done that. These days, I'm interest in finding how the comics are the same. I think that, when you get past certain sylistic and market-oriented distinctions, there are certain motifs and ideas that are always there no matter the time period.
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Kelly View Post
    I remember that, after he had done the MAN OF STEEL six issue mini, somewhere John Byrne said, in hindsight, it would have been better if he hadn't done the Krypton origin in the first issue and had saved that for later. Since it was all new to the reader, this would have kept us in suspense--not knowing what Superman's actual origin was until it would be revealed in issue 6.

    It occurs to me just now that if Siegel and Shuster had to do it all over again, they could have arranged the panels in ACTION COMICS No. 1 to hold back the revelation that Clark Kent is Superman, and the origin of Superman, until the end of the story.

    Bill Finger and Bob Kane did this in DETECTIVE COMICS 27--saving the revelation that Bruce Wayne is the Bat-Man until the final panel. Now, that was a very short story and I'm not sure how much suspense a reader would have been in at the time. But still, I think Clark being Superman or Bruce being Bat-Man would not be a foregone conclusion if you had never read anything else before and that would have built up suspense--especially for Clark's origin.

    Since Siegel and Shuster were pasting up their story, from the daily strips they had done in hopes of selling Superman to one of the syndicates, they probably didn't think of changing the sequence.

    I remember reading in some comic book that one of their influences was THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. And when you read that novel, it seems pretty obvious how the secret identity is similar.

    As far as how the character is played in the original stories, it gets confusing talking about Superman and Clark. Let's just call him Alpha. Alpha is the real guy. Sometimes Alpha is not being genuine--so let's say that's Beta. But he's always deep down Alpha.

    It's about irony--something that's consistently used in all Superman comics. The reader is in an ironic position--knowing what other people don't know. So when Alpha is Beta, the reader knows it (most of the time) and the reader gets a thrill having that special knowledge. He's always really Alpha--but he plays around at being different types of Beta.

    I think this is a basic rule of thumb for all the comics. The real guy is Alpha--whenever he's not genuine, he's Beta. And that's the ironic device.

    I know that people look at the old comics to try and find differences--but I've been there, done that. These days, I'm interest in finding how the comics are the same. I think that, when you get past certain sylistic and market-oriented distinctions, there are certain motifs and ideas that are always there no matter the time period.
    Yeah, its a bit surprising that even today, most retellings of Superman's origins/early years make it a point to start with Krypton rather than having the reader 'learn' about Krypton at the same time Clark does. This despite the fact that 99.99% of the readers will know about Krypton going in anyway. Morrison's New 52 story, and I think American Alien are among the few tellings of the origin that don't start with Krypton.

    In hindsight, I guess it would have been more powerful for Byrne to save the Krypton reveal for issue 6, which is when Superman learns about it. Especially since Man of Steel really emphasized Clark Kent's humanity, and the notion that he believed himself to be an enhanced human for a long time. But I guess the Superman origin story had a set formula (it still does arguably) - Krypton -> Smallville -> Metropolis.

    Revealing that Clark was Superman at, say, the end of Action Comics # 1 could have been a great move too but I guess Siegal and Shuster simply weren't interested in building suspence about Superman's identity. Honestly, they really weren't interested in building any mystery around the character - they explained away all the crucial details in the first page (how Superman got his powers, what he does when he isn't wearing the cape) so that they could get on to Superman being the man of action. Kane and Finger on the other hand, wanted to build the Bat-Man up as a mysterious figure, so keeping his identity secret from the reader till the end of the first issue, and waiting a few issues before giving his origin, worked for them.

    As for your Alpha-Beta comparision, yeah it makes sense and its a less confusing way to talk through secret identities than using the actual names (which different people interpret differently). Using your analogy, I think Alpha is Clark Kent, the ace Daily Star reporter AND Superman. But sometimes he acts as Beta, which is Clark Kent the mild-mannered reporter, around Lois and other people he knows. It actually maps well to the idea of a ''real Clark'' and a ''Metropolis Clark'' that was introduced around Birthright I believe.

  8. #8
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    Reading Golden Age Superman is one of the ultimate Red Pill/Blue Pill moments in Superhero comics. You read and either you quickly try to pretend you didn't see what you saw so as to preserve the idea of the celebrity styled, paragon of good who's totally non threatening, or you dive into the world of this fiery, passionate guy, who is much more devil may care and ambitious. I think for people who are more general DC fans that want a particular set up for all of the characters in the DCU to behave in a way that creates a particular picture then you're likely to stick with Paragon of Good Superman. If you're a fan of Superman then I think most are compelled to keep going with the Golden Age.
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  9. #9
    Superfan Through The Ages BBally's Avatar
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    The stories back then start out like a traditional detective story during the Lois and Clark scenes but once Clark turns into Superman, it turns into a mix between swashbuckling hero and a modern day strongman type of story.

    At his core, Superman is an amalgamation of the greatest heroes in fiction.
    No matter how many reboots, new origins, reinterpretations or suit redesigns. In the end, he will always be SUPERMAN

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  10. #10
    Astonishing Member Johnny Thunders!'s Avatar
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    It's not my favorite era of Superman but it's not because of the character of Superman. Being an old guy, I enjoy movies from that time period and at times those comics read like an attempt to recreate the dialogue and character dynamics of that era. When it works it works though! For my money, Clark Kent looks like Harold Loyd but Superman looks and acts like Gary Cooper. I highly recommend tracking down "Meet John Doe" or watching the "Pride of the Yankees" to see what I mean. The 1936 "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" is worth a watch too! Plus Gary Cooper socks a guy in the jaw when he has to, just like Superman.

  11. #11
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    Those Gary Cooper movies are after the Hays Code, around when movie production became slicker. I'd say that early Siegel and Shuster have something in common with pre-Code Hollywood talkies, when the movies weren't as neatly packaged.

    I watched some pre-Code William A. Wellman movies just awhile back and they felt rough and raw, like early Superman. Two from 1933 that I'd suggest checking out are HEROES FOR SALE--about a W. W. I vet who falls on hard times--and WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD--about a bunch of youngsters riding the rails out east in hopes of finding work (just as my Dad did at that age and in those times, except he rode the rails out west).

    Comic book creators tend to be a little bit behind the times--influenced by the pulps, movies and comic strips they consumed when their creative interests were first being formed.
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    Astonishing Member Johnny Thunders!'s Avatar
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    That makes sense Gary Cooper might be too goofy to be like Golden Age Superman but there is something here and there where he looks like Superman to me.

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    To me, Joe Shuster's Superman/Clark doesn't seem as big and tall as Gary Cooper--although he might have some of his personality (short on words, big on actions). Shuster's Supes is a tough scrapper taking on the bigger bullies, a John Garfield type.
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  14. #14
    Astonishing Member Johnny Thunders!'s Avatar
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    There is something about the lines on his face when Gary Cooper is serious or smiles that reminds me of Golden Age Superman, but I definitely see that boxy look that John Garfield has. I am going to have to watch those movies. Gary Cooper is more of an Alan Scott. I am sure I read they based Superman on Johnny Weismueller too.
    Last edited by Johnny Thunders!; 06-10-2021 at 04:15 PM.

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