Reign of the Supermen #50: Golden Age Superman

Source: Action Comics #1 (1938) to Superman #121 (1958)
Type: The real deal (since retconned)Not to be confused with the Superman of Earth-2 (who'll get his own entry), Kal-L, the Golden Age Superman, was technically written out of continuity when the Silver Age hit, but that continuity had been eroding away for years. In the first stories, Clark Kent worked for the Daily Star, but by 1939, it was already becoming the Daily Planet. Similarly, though we now identify the Golden Age Superman's S shield as having the definite border, the costume was evolving throughout that era's two decades, from a triangle to a pentagon, and from a stylized S to the designed fish shapes of today's "Kryptonian" S shield. Superman's stories progressively grew from fairly standard Golden Age fare - beating up on organized crime and Axis agents - to the almost EC-esque science fiction stories with a final twist that we identify with the Silver Age. It didn't happen overnight. The Earth-2 Superman is an invention that puts all the disused concepts into the same character, though his adventures may not correspond to those told in Action and Superman between '38 and '58.

The original vision of Superman just vanishes at some indeterminate point in the era.

At the end of the first Crisis, when the redundant heroes were phased out of the timeline completely and all other Golden Age characters restored to DC's mainstream history, Roy Thomas wrote a really fun issue of All-Star Squadron that told us how those "lost" Golden Age stories might have gone. He could just have said that Superman's early stories just never happened. It's not like there was much of a crossover between books at the time, except in JSA stories. But that would have been too easy. Consider the Case of the Funny Paper Crimes from Superman #19 as retold in All-Star Squadron #64.
Classic Superman artist Wayne Boring does a good job recreating Dobrotka and Sikela's original comic strips, though this time, they're read by Johnny Quick instead of Clark Kent.
As in the original story, these various strips come alive and attack the world under the direction of supervillain mastermind "Funny Face".
The All-Star Squadron story doesn't make them all giants, but it's a great homage to Superman that an entire team is required to solve the "Case" where just one man was enough. Just as the Daily Planet becomes the Daily Press, someone had to play Lois Lane's part in the story, so poor Firebrand ends up trapped inside a piece of paper in her stead.
Superman did have help at the end of this caper, as the hero characters liberated from the comic strips wanted to return to their duo-dimensional worlds. In the new version, it's the All-Stars that do all the work. It's good to know that thought the Golden Age Superman is essentially gone, all those two-bit crooks still got what was coming to them. And though gone, his legacy lives on in today's version of the character. Superman is still out there stopping muggings, arresting mad scientists and lifting cars over his head.


Anonymous said...

I've heard the argument that Golden Age Superman is not the same as Earth-2 Superman, but as far as I know, they are officially the same guy as far as DC is concerned.

Golden Age Superman was, strangely enough, an amped-up Doc Savage (because Kryptonians were nothing more than man in highly evolved condition). "Man of Bronze? We'll make ours a Man of Steel." "The most all-competent man alive today? Our guy will be a Man of Tomorrow!"

Of course, originally Kal-L couldn't fly, all he could do was leap tall buildings. I always like looking at the old Max Fleischer cartoons as a record of Kal-L's transitional period, when his leaping got increasingly flight-like as he began to exert control over his trajectory:

Note: Captain Marvel was already flying by this point, and doing the things we later associate with Superman. I know who ripped off whom.

Jeff R. said...

The fact that you're splitting these kinds of hairs makes be think that you might actually be writing up the Lame Duck Superman, (The one between Crisis #10 and Man of Steel #1 in the non-'imaginary' stories) which would be great...

Siskoid said...

I don't know if I'm splitting hairs exactly, but there is a difference between the Golden Age Superman, and the older salt and pepper version that disappeared in between Crises.

The "waiting for Man of Steel" Superman will be represented a number of times, including some time next week! That "era" was full of imaginary stories and stunt covers that supplied us with various Supermen. I've already done Superix.

Kandou Erik said...

I have a suggestion for your Reign of the Superman segment: The Golden Age Style Superman that appeared in Adventure of Superman #615 (around that issue; it was a whole arch).

The story featured the Hollow Men, and a Original Version of Superman vs the Modern One. (The Classic version, in fact, acted just like the original - crashing into places to see justice done, dropping off suspects with a forced confession. These kind of tactics, used by the old Superman, didn't mesh well with the times of today, with things like due process and thelike.)

Siskoid said...

Sure Erik, the Supermen of the 40s, 60s and 70s used through that arc will appear in Reign. Keep your eyes peeled!


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