Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Episode #160: The Search For The Silver Age Superman!

Near the end of the previous episode, I shared my plans for this podcast for 2011. With the rapid growth of the number of Superman podcasts in 2010, especially in the latter part of the year, I thought it would be good to narrow the scope of Superman Fan Podcast. Instead of being a general Superman podcast, I decided to focus on the Silver Age Superman. The Thrilling Adventures Of Superman and Golden Age Superman cover the Golden Age Superman. Superman In The Bronze Age highlights the Bronze Age of Superman, edited by Julius Schwartz. From Crisis To Crisis, also part of the Superman Homepage website, covers the Superman reboot era up to the Infinite Crisis mini-series. And Superman Forever Radio, in one of its segments, covers the Superman titles published after Infinite Crisis.

One era that was not being covered was the Silver Age Superman. So I decided that the best thing for me to do with this podcast is to give the other Superman podcasts plenty of space to explore their eras of Superman comics. Besides, the Silver Age is when I began reading comic books, in the early 1960's, and even before I learned to read. I would like to thank Michael Bailey and Jeffrey Taylor of the From Crisis To Crisis podcast, for tolerating me playing in their sandbox from time to time.

In two previous episodes I discussed the classic Superman, episode #22, Superman Vs. Superman, and episode #63, The Return Of The Silver Age Superman.

So, when I decided to begin a month by month look at the Silver Age Superman stories, the obvious question was, When does the Silver Age begin for Superman? I think most comic book fans and historians would agree that the beginning of the Silver Age of comic books began with the publication of the first Barry Allen Flash story in Showcase #4, cover dated September/October 1956, and published around July 19 of that year. That led me to wonder if the Superman titles that were published the same month marked a similar beginning of a new era for the Man of Steel.

Superman #108 carried the cover date of September 1956, and was published around July 26, 1956. The issue contained three stories. The Brain From The Future, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye, was about a machine that was found in Metropolis. It made some accurate predictions and seemed to be from the future. Perry White, Jr., Demon Reporter, was written by Alvin Schwartz. and drawn by Boring and Kaye. Perry White's son began working at the Daily Planet after journalism school. He was paired with Clark Kent on a story about the manhunt for a Metropolis criminal leader. When Clark disappeared to become Superman to deal with the gang, Perry, Jr. suspected that Clark was actually the gang leader. In The Girl Cops Of Metropolis, drawn by Al Plastino, was about Clark Kent's visit to a Metropolis police station. When he slipped away to become Superman, and save the station from a bomb, some policewomen suspect that Clark was Superman.

The Superman story in Action Comics #220, also cover dated September 1956 and released on July 31, 1956, was The Interplanetary Olympics. It was drawn by Al Plastino. Superman participated in an outer space version of the Olympics, and discovered that he was not the strongest man in the universe after all.

There's nothing in these stories to mark them as different from golden age comic book stories. The story about Perry White, Jr. might have marked the beginning of a new era in Superman stories, showing a second generation beginning their careers at the Daily Planet. But Perry, Jr. never became a regular member of the supporting cast.

Another source of information about the first Silver Age Superman stories is the website Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics, at http://dcindexescom/.  It denotes the Golden Age and Silver Age of Superman, and DC Comics in general, using another invention of the Silver Age, the multiverse. When DC Comics reintroduced their original, Golden Age superheroes, they decided to have them live on an alternate Earth, called Earth-2. The modern, or Silver Age, superheroes live on Earth-1.

According to that website, the Silver Age Superman began with Superman #46, May/June 1946, published around March 7, 1947. The third story of the issue, That Old Class Of Superboy's, is regarded as the first Earth-1 Superman story. It was written by Jerry Siegel, pencilled by Joe Sikela and inked by George Roussos. In the story, Clark was reunited with some of his old classmates. The reason this is considered the first Earth-1 Superman story is because it is the first mention of Superboy in a Superman story.

There are several problems with considering this as the beginning of the Silver Age Superman. For one, it was published about a decade before the beginning of the Silver Age. Second, even though this story contained the first mention of Superboy, the designation as the first Earth-1 Superman story itself was a ret-con of the Silver Age itself.

So, finally, I decided to go to the source, DC Comics, via the podcast and blog Collected Comics Library. On its Library page, where host Chris Marshall lists the various types of collected editions for the various comic book publishers, the Silver Age Superman collected editions are listed. Both the Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow Archives and the Showcase Presents: Superman editions begin their Silver Age Superman stories with Action Comics #241, June 1958. It was originally published around April 29, 1958. What stands out about this issue? The Superman story was titled The Super Key To Fort Superman! This story featured the introduction of one of the main staples of the Silver Age for Superman, his Arctic Fortress Of Solitude.

The Fortress had its humble beginnings during the Golden Age of comic books. It was referred to as Superman's "secret citadel", on the side of a mountain outside of Metropolis in Superman#17, July/August 1942, published on May 6, 1942. This citadel appeared in the third story of the issue, Muscles For Sale, written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by John Sikela. The story has been reprinted in Superman Archives, vol. V.

This new Fortress was in the side of a deep cliff, it's only access a giant gold door. The giant key which Superman used to open it also served as an aviation marker. Editor Mort Weisinger really developed Superman's world and supporting cast. His writers and artsists didn't just write stories about Superman fighting the bad guys, but also introduced a lot of characters that fleshed out his supporting cast. But the Fortress of Solitude was the cornerstone of that expansion.

Curt Swan pencilled the cover, which was inked by Stan Kay, who also inked the story itself. Jerry Coleman wrote this first Fortress story, which was pencilled by Wayne Boring. This story wsa reprinted in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow Archives, vol. I and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

The story began with Clark, Lois and Jimmy walking in downtown Metropolis on their lunch hour. Lois saw a pearl necklace she admired in the window of a jewelry store. Jimmy had his eye on a sports car in an automobile dealership.

After work, Clark changed into Superman and flew to the ocean, where he dove into the water and used his x-ray vision to locate a perfect pearl. Then he flew at super speed to his Arctic Fortress of Solitude.  Inside, Superman had a room dedicated to each of his closest friends. In his Lois room, he placed the new pearl onto the necklace he was creating for Lois, displayed on a Lois mannequin. In the Jimmy Olsen room, complete with a life sized Jimmy statue, Superman hand molded a scrap piece of steel into the front bumper of a custom made sports care he was building for his Pal. This was either a sign of devotion to his closest friends, or the introduction of Stalker Superman, about 50 years before the film Superman Returns. In order to protect his secret identity, Superman even had a Cark Kent room. It was either that, or a little self absorption.

In the room dedicated to his best friend in crime fighting, Batman, Superman built a robot detective, to assist the Caped Crusader if he ever died.

To relax, Superman used his telescopic vision to paint a landscape, of a scene on a far distant planet. It resembled a crude Salvador Dali painting. Later, the Man of Steel put on a lead suit to experiment on kryptonite, in a search for an antidote. At the end of his day, Superman returned to Metropolis.

The next day, a scientist called on Superman to test a new metal he had forged, which he hoped was stronger than even the Man of Steel himself. Superman took it to the Fortress. Once inside, the Man of Steel found a glowing message written on the wall, challenging him to figure out who wrote it. Superman searched various rooms in the Fortress for signs of an intruder, through various trophy rooms and even his interplanetary zoo, but found none.

Superman then got down to business, and tested the block of new metal. He punched right through it on the first hit.

Then the Man of Steel wrote in his diary, a giant book of metal pages, which he scribed with his fingernail, writing in Kryptonese. That way noone could read his diary. But today, with people able to write and converse in Star Trek's Klingon and Tolkein's Elvish language, I don't think Kryptonese would be as much of a challenge to decipher as it was in the late 1950's.

At the end of the day, Superman used his heat vision to fuse shut the keyhole to his Fortress as an added security measure.

Superman returned to the Fortress on the next day, after dousing a fire in Metropolis. He entered the Fortress by crashing through the cliff, and would fill the hole later. The Man of Steel discovered that someone had added to his painting, but nothing that was on that alien world.  To relax, Superman played a game of chess against a robot at super speed, barely winning by thinking faster than the robot. He then found a second message written on the wall. The author claimed to know who Superman was.

That night, in his bed in Metropolis, Clark Kent had a nightmare about a phantom that haunted him with the threat of exposing his secret identity.

The next day, Superman rescued a stranded ship, but almost tipped it over because he was so distracted ove the threat to his secret identity. Returning to the Fortress, the Man of Steel discovered a sign hanging on the Clark Kent statue. It declared that Clark Kent was Superman. In the Batman room, a blue and gray blob under the Batman statue gave the Man of Steel a clue to the identity of the Fortress' graffiti artist.

In a secluded area of the Fortress, we saw Batman hiding. The Fortress began to shake, and Superman appeared, followed by an avalance that included a kryptonite rock. Batman revealed himself, and tried to find a way out and to dispose of the kryptonite. Unfortunately, both heroes were trapped. So Batman revealed how he had broken into the Fortress. He had used a welding torch to make an opening in tip of the key and hid there until Superman used the key to unlock the door (no mention of how he kelt warm while he waited. Must have been some super thermal underwear). Then the Caped Crusader hid inside the Fortress.

Superman couldn't hold it in any longer, and began laughing. He admitted that he had caused the avalanche, and the kryptonite was fake. The Man of Steel staged his little trick after he figured out that the blob under the statue was the old Batman figure, and the real one had taken its place. (Superman didn't mention anything about possibly detecting another heartbeat with his super hearing, but maybe he relaxes at his Fortress pad and doesn't use his sensory powers.)

Batman revealed the reason for his actions. He was shopping for a birthday present for Superman, when he saw a display of puzzles at a department store. (The sight of Batman in full cape and cowl at a department store is strangley funny, and reminds me of the quirkiness of the Adam West Batman TV show about seven years later. I don't think we'll ever see that in a modern Batman story.) And so the pair celebrate Superman's birthday with a giant birthday cake Batman baked himself, complete with candles whose tips were shaped like the Man of Steel's head.

Superman would get even with Batman in World's Finest Comics  #155, about eight years later. In the story, Exit Batman - Enter Nightman, the Caped Crusader had to solve the mystery of the identity of Superman's new partner, Nightman. Batman discovered that Superman had hypnotized him and that when he went to sleep, Batman would wake up and operate as Nightman without remembering it. So basically, Batman was chasing his own cape. I guess Jim Croce was right, you don't tug on Superman 's cape. The Silver Age Man of Steel wasn't a guy you wanted to mess with.

Apart from some of the comments I made about this story, this was a classic Superman story, and one I enjoy today. It has one of the most common plot dvices of this era of Superman tales: Superman and his friends tricking one another. Sometimes I wonder if it was a peak inside the mind of Mort Weisinger, and a hint at how he treated others. Gerard Jones, in his book Men Of Tomorrow, didn't mince words about how Mort treated his creative staff, unless they stood up to him.

While I understand how comic book fans who began reading in a more modern era may find these Silver Age Superman stories hard to take, I still enjoy their innocent charm. They were written in a less sophisticated time, when comic books were viewed more as children's entertainment, and were created to fit that audience. But I find myself, sometimes, when I've had a bad day or want to read something to cheer me up, instead of going to a current comic book title, I'll read a Silver Age story from my childhood and get lost in the days of yesteryear.

Now that I'll be concentrating on the Silver Age of Superman, where do I go from here? Well, I not only want to cover the main titles of Superman and Action Comics, but some of the Superman family related titles, like Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane and even World's Finest Comics. As I discovered, that presented a problem. What was considered the beginning of the Silver Age for World's Finest  and Jimmy Olsen  began a few years earlier, in 1954. So what I've decided to do is to alternate titles.

Beginning next week, I'll begin with the "Superman Family" of books, World's Finest Comics and Jimmy Olsen, with the cover dates of September/October1954. Lois Lane won't get her own title for another year. I wonder if any chauvanism was involved? I'll pick up her title when her #1 issue was published when we get to the titles cover dated March/April 1958.

In two weeks, I'll begin my look at the Man of Steel's titles of Action Comics and Superman, beginning with the cover dates of July 1958. When we get to her, I will also cover the Supergirl stories, which were for a time the backup stoiries in Action Comics.

So I will keep alternating the Superman related titles in this fashion, all the way unil 1970 and the last Superman story edited by Mort Weisinger. That should keep my busy for a while. I briefly considered beginning with the cover dated issues of 1954 I mentioned previously, and go straight throught, but I didn't want to wait until I went through four years worth of comic book stories before I got to the main Superman titles. I think this way gives a little more variety each month of podcasts. I'll be interested in your comments.

There are two exceptions to my look at the Superman related titles. The first is the Legion of Super-Heroes. While the Legion is my second favorite comic book title, there are at least two podcasts that I know of which cover the Legion very well, Super Future Friends and the Legion Of Substitute Podcasters.

The other exception is Superboy. For one reason I don't have many non-Legion Superboy comics, plus there aren't a lot of Superboy reprints outside of his Legion stories. Plus, I haven't been able to determine when the Silver Age began for the Boy of Steel. Maybe that's the topic for another podcast. If anyone out there is looking for a subject for their own podcast, maybe this is a job for a Superboy Fan?

Next Episode: Superman Family Of Stories, September/October 1954!

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