Monday, July 22, 2002

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet...

I was on Metafilter today and saw this link to a site with a complete scan of Action Comics #1 on it. It's the comic most historians believe to be the beginning of the Golden Age of comics, lusted after by serious comic collectors world over - there are only 75 or so known copies and only fifteen of those are in what would be considered near mint condition - and one of those is currently stolen.

I've read a lot of old comic book reprints but I've never seen this seminal comic of the gods in it's entirety. One thing I found interesting was that Superman's logo has hardly changed at all since 1939. The costume's a bit different, there are no supervillians to be found (those came later) and the artwork is hardly what comic fans are accustomed to today. Basically, though, the recipe for the modern superhero is all there. The extraordinary powers, the secret identity, the love interest he can't tell - everything. It's amazing to think that in a superhero-less world, something like this sprung full-blown and totally realized from the heads of two young guys (Siegel and Shuster) who were just knocking out funny books for kiddies and surely had no idea what they'd created or that it would last for generations and remain popular and in the forefront of the world's culture.

It seems that superheroes are more popular than ever these days and I wonder if it has anything to do with all the military conflict going on. For comics, the Golden Age was WWII. During the second World War, comics sold in the millions, many more than are sold now. They were everywhere. My dad used to tell me stories about hauling off big piles of them (some of which would be priceless now, I'm sure) on a little cart for recycling as part of the war effort.

I think in wartime superheroes take on a different and more powerful meaning, which may account for the incredible popularity of Superman and his hordes of imitators in the 40's and the current infatuation with Spiderman and the other upcoming superhero movies. Who wouldn't want some Superman to come along and save the day in times like these - someone better than us, more powerful, more enlightened - someone honest and just. Then there's the escapist aspect of it - you can open the pages of a comic book and be taken away to a place where there are troubles, menacing villians, doomsday devices...menacing and yet existing in a realm of fantasy in which you know that in the end, truth, justice and (no offense to my friends from other countries) the American Way will prevail. I think the first of the superheroes, Superman, sums all these qualities up as well as anyone, still. Here's a few Super-links:

Riding high on the wave of Spider-mania, we can look forward to not one, but two (?) Superman movies in the near to semi-near future. There's a Superman vs. Batman team-up and a straight-up George Reeves.

The old-timey Superman radio show's first sixteen episodes in Quicktime format.

If that's not enough for you, here's a page with massive amounts of Superman lore and linkage. Great Scott!

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