THE MAN OF STEEL’S EARLY RUN

by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

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First panel, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Sunday 1, November 6th, 1939.

continued from last issue’s
THE FIRST DAYS OF THE ACTION ACE

see also My Checklist:
√ 20 Original Months of Superman
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the first superman

It wasn’t until December 14th, in 1978, upon the theatrical release of SUPERMAN [THE MOVIE] that DC Comics, Inc., finally published a FAMOUS 1ST EDITION of SUPERMAN, as a natural follow up to their ACTION COMICS No. 1 facsimile edition in the same format–five years after that first FAMOUS 1ST.
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House ad for the latest DC tabloid-size comics–FAMOUS 1ST EDITION C-61 and ALL-NEW COLLECTORS’ EDITION C-62, in ACTION COMICS No. 494 (April ’79).

The 1939 SUPERMAN had no issue number and was possibly intended as a one-shot. It proved so popular that the National publishers did two more printings in the same year. The comic collects the first four Superman stories from ACTION COMICS plus some extra featurettes (see 20 Original Months of Superman for the full run down of the contents).

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Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, SUPERMAN [No. 1, 1939]* on sale May 18th, 1939;
*This issue was not numbered nor cover-dated and may have been intended as a one-shot. There were two other print runs which came out in ’39 after the original May 18th release–the only difference being in the house ad at the back of the book. While Vin Sullivan was credited as editor, M. C. Gaines also worked as an editor on this book asking Siegel and Shuster for additional new material.

For the first adventure, Siegel and Shuster restored some of the panels and pages they left out when that story was originally published. However, they likely didn’t go looking through their trash can for the strips they cut out when they pasted up their story for ACTION COMICS No. 1.

It seems most probable that the added panels and pages are newly drawn or redrawn especially for the first SUPERMAN: the new work has the Action Ace wearing red boots–the old work has Superman with his odd blue brogues As well, there’s lots of line shading for the panels originally intended for a newspaper daily strip, not so with the added panels; and each old panel is numbered in sequence–as is the fashion in 1938 comics–but the 1939 panels have no such numbering.
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the last son of krypton

For this expanded first story, Siegel and Shuster also provide a longer origin for the Man of Steel and this seems to be all new, not culled from old material.

sd0006aFor the reader this would have been a great surprise; however, a more detailed legend of Krypton’s tragic fate had aready appeared that year in the newspapers that carried dailies from the McClure Syndicate, beginning on January 16th.

Jor-L and Lora with the infant Kal-El, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 6, January 21st, 1939. For this continuity, Shuster’s art shows the strong influence of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon strip.

The first continuity for Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster is fulsome in its account of how Jor-L and Lora sent their baby son, Kal-L, to Earth when their doomed planet was destroyed. In fact, the full grown Superman does not appear in costume until the 12th and final strip of this continuity, two weeks into the run.

It’s surprising that no one at DC thought to simply reprint this continuity in SUPERMAN. It’s certainly one of Joe Shuster’s best works and would have looked spectacular in four colour printing. Yet the early funny books spend little time on Superman’s origins.

sd0284x85It’s a question if the Last Son of Krypton even knows that he’s an alien. This version of Superman isn’t one for deep thoughts, but you’d think it would occur to him that there must be a reason for why he’s different from anyone else. To have gotten to his age and not asked himself that fundamental question seems beyond belief.

Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Dailies 284 – 285, December 12th – 13th, 1939.

When Lois Lane asks him where he’s from (in one of the newspaper continuities), the Man of Tomorrow simply says he doesn’t know. Is this true or is he merely being coy? After all, he may not want to give Lois a straight answer for fear of revealing too many details about himself.

In any case, the question is hardly addressed in the early adventures.
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america’s greatest adventure strip character

Reprints from the daily comic strip appear in the next two issues of SUPERMAN. The first three issues all come out in 1939 and all three are almost exclusively made up of reprints, either from ACTION or the daily strip–publishing all new material in the SUPERMAN title wasn’t a priority that year.
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Superman comic strip promotional booklet from the McClure Syndicate (circa 1939).

sd0032x33The two best strip continuities that were reprinted in those issues are Larry Trent’s comeback (continuity 3) reprinted in SUPERMAN No. 2 and little orphan Frankie Dennis (continuity 7) reprinted in SUPERMAN No. 3.

Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Dailies 32 – 33, February 21st and 22nd, 1938. Superman saves a would-be suicide who turns out to be ex-heavy-weight champ, Larry Trent.

The Larry Trent continuty is much like the early adventures in ACTION COMICS, where Superman assumes another identity for the sake of teaching some moral lesson. It would torture logic to say that Superman does this in the interest of social justice. The Man of Steel is not so prosaic. It’s more likely he does it for caprice.
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orphan on the run

Of those dailies reprinted in 1939, the greatest was the stirring tale of Frankie Dennis.
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sd0133x34Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 127, June 12th, 1939; Dailies 133 – 134, June 19th and 20th, 1938. Clark Kent makes a huge demand of Frankie (sometimes it seems like Kent has ice water in his veins), when he asks him to return to the orphanage, where the boy has endured such savage abuse. Yet our young hero shows the greatest bravery in accepting this mission.

Dennis Neville did the finishes over Shuster’s layouts on this continuity and they create a sympathetic yet delightful character in little Frankie.

Not only does this tale of the plucky orphan tug at the heart-strings, it also is one of the first adventures that teams Lane and Kent as investigative journalists. Prior to this, Lois is mainly competing with Clark–and being he’s in reality the Man of Tomorrow, he always has the unfair edge over his peer.

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Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 156, July 15th, 1939.

Here, Lois works with Clark to get the story, both because it’s an important exposé for their paper and because the plight of these orphans appeals to her social conscience.

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SUPERMAN No. 3 (Winter ’40); cover art and pin-up art: Joe Shuster; on sale November 15th, 1939. When the Frankie Dennis continuty was reprinted in this issue it rated a cover appearance.

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princess tania

sd0230aNot reprinted in the comic books for 1939, the longest yarn up to that point in the daily strips (continuity 8) begins on July 24th and runs until November 11th.

Princess Tania, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 230, October 10th, 1939.

As this saga begins, Lois has decided to give Clark Kent one more chance and invited him over to her place. Although, just how she imagines that evening ending up never pays off, because Clark has hurried away on Superman business–leaving Lois in the lurch.

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Lois and Clark, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 163, July 24th, 1939.

sd0211aClark Kent, as presented in the comic books and comic strips from the late ‘30s, is an odd duck. He will act in the most cowardly way and then turn around and be the hero.

Princess Tania and Clark Kent, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 211, September 18th, 1939.

Lois Lane has taken an instant dislike to Clark and she’s probably right, if for the wrong reasons. Her allegation that he’s a coward is not entirely fair; however, he can’t be trusted.

Although, he has his own peculiar charms.
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Lois and Clark, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 232, October 12th, 1939.

Lois must be truly confounded by Kent’s actions in this adventure–he gives her the slip, romances a princess, collaborates with terrorists and plays Lois for a fool time and again.
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Superman risks his life and is nearly killed when the enemy submarine explodes as Princess Tania looks on, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Dailies 177 and 183, August 9th and 16th, 1939.

sd0223aWhen the Man of Tomorrow saves the yacht carrying Princess Tania and her father, King Boru of Rangoria, he’s thrown into a terrorist plot to overthrow the Rangorian monarchy.

Superman and Princess Tania, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 223, October 2nd, 1939.

The princess, used to always getting her way, makes no secret of her lust for the Man of Steel as she attempts to seduce him. He, on the other hand could care less.

This is the most sophisticated story from Jerry Siegel thusfar.  Clark seems to throw in his lot with the terrorists, the “Black Gang.” All this intrigue allows for amusing scenes between Lois and Clark, Superman and Princess Tania, Princess Tania and Clark, Lois and Superman. Ultimately, the Action Ace is too dedicated to his mission to bother with romance. Yet, his Clark Kent act leaves women nonplussed.
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Princess Tania attempts to seduce the Man of Steel, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Dailies 227 – 228, October 6th – 7th, 1939.

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the daily planet

sd0123aMany crucial developments for the Man of Tomorrow occur first in the newspaper adventures rather than the comic books.

Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 123, June 7th, 1939. Superman’s city is identified as Metropolis, N.Y., and the editor of the DAILY STAR is named as George Taylor.

Perhaps because the syndicated strip had a shorter gap in time between production and publication,
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George Taylor (STAR editor), Metropolis (Superman’s city, not Cleveland) and ultimately the DAILY PLANET are all introduced in the newpaper strip well before the comic books adopt the same conventions.

Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 259, November 13th, 1939. Clark’s paper is renamed the DAILY PLANET.

The newspaper was renamed because there were too many papers across the continent named the STAR (including the TORONTO DAILY STAR, the origin of the name).

sunday1aOn November 5th in ’39, a Sunday page was added, demonstrating the success of Superman as a multi-media champion.

Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Sunday 1A (1939). This was a Sunday page that was used in different papers when they first began running the syndicated Sundays.

A few months later, there would be the radio show, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, with Bud Collyer voicing Superman and Clark. And then, in ’41, there would be the Max Fleischer cartoons, with Collyer again lending his voice.

actioncomics 1939adAll these media would motivate further changes in the Champion of the Oppressed that show up in the comic books. For example, the change in George Taylor’s name to Perry White and establishing that Superman actually flies, he doesn’t just jump really well.

1939 promotional copy directed at retailers for ACTION  COMICS.

Another factor, that motivates changes in Superman and sets the Man of Steel on a distinct course in the early ’40s from that in the late ’30s, is the departure of his real editor.

Not George Taylor but Vin Sullivan.

Once Vin has gone, the Champion of the Oppressed is in the hands of Whitney Ellsworth and, in one capacity or another, he will pilot the fate of Superman for the next two decades.

for more about Superman’s first editor, see the Extra page:
Begin the Begin, Vin Sulivan

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the winters tale

[SPOILERS AHEAD]
act20.p1In the ‘40s and beyond there were would be several stories where Clark visits a movie set. The Superman adventure in ACTION COMICS No. 20 looks like it’s going to be the first of these. Par for the course, on page 2, Clark saves the life of a screen siren. Naturally, she’s grateful and grants him an interview. But on page 3 that’s where the story goes in a completely different direction.

Superman by Siegel and Shuster, ACTION COMICS No. 20 (January ’40); art: Joe Shuster and Paul Cassidy; on sale December 1st, 1939.

This movie star, Delores Winters, wants nothing to do with reporter Kent. Well Hollywood actors are like that. Clark thinks nothing of it, until Winters gives up a life before the cameras and, on a farewell cruise, abducts many of her former associates in the film industry.

What has gotten into Delores Winters?

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Superman by Siegel and Shuster, ACTION COMICS No. 20 (January ’40); art: Joe Shuster and Paul Cassidy; on sale December 1st, 1939.

It isn’t until page 12 of this 13 page story that the penny drops. Winters is Ultra. Or rather there is no Winters–her brain is probably laying in some waste bin somewhere–Ultra’s henchmen removed that brain from Delores’ beautiful head and put Ultra’s brain in there.

We had seen Ultra apparently die in the previous issue, when the large gun he intended to blow away Superman blew him away instead. Yet that wasn’t enough to kill him dead.

Siegel and Shuster have revealed a villain of amazing potential: A beautiful woman with the brains of a man.
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Superman by Siegel and Shuster, ACTION COMICS No. 21 (February ’40); art: Joe Shuster and Paul Cassidy; on sale December 27th, 1939. Used in Michael L. Fleisher’s THE GREAT SUPERMAN BOOK (1978).

When Ultra returns for yet another adventure in ACTION COMICS No. 21, she makes the moves on a young scientist, Terry Curtis.

act21.coverHe falls for Ultra’s feminine wiles, but she is simply out to get his atomic-disintegrator. It’s always the same old story, a woman with the brains of an evil mad scientist is never interested in a guy just for his personality, she always wants to get her hands on his atomic device.

ACTION COMICS No. 21 (February ’40); cover art: Joe Shuster and Paul Cassidy; on sale December 27th, 1939.

This is the first issue of ACTION COMICS where Whitney Ellsworth is the editor of record. Yet since this story picks up where the previous issue left off, pretty much, I think it’s a safe bet that Siegel plotted this story while Sullivan was still the editor.

And supporting that theory is the fact that this is the last story to feature Ultra. It seems probable that Whitney Ellsworth decided there was nothing more to be done with the character. Rather the next issue gets Lane and Kent into a war in Europe–a two parter that serves to introduce the evil genius, Luthor–your more typical arch villain.

sd0059aThe male-female nature of Ultra would have been something to play around with in future–but maybe too weird for the times.

Lois and Clark, the same old dance, Superman by Siegel and Shuster, Daily 59, March 24th, 1939.

However, the novel chemistry that Superman had with Princess Tania and Delores Winters shows the undeveloped potential in having more women, besides Lois Lane, interfering with the Man of Steel.
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Superman and Princess Tania, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Daily 229, October 9th, 1939.

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THE FIRST DAYS OF THE DARKNIGHT DETECTIVE
coming soon!
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to Murphy Anderson

July 9th, 1926 – October 22nd, 2015

supermanmurphy.1homageUnfortunately, I’ve gotten used to hearing that yet another one of my comic book heroes has gone to meet his maker. But it never gets easier.

Murph in the last chapter of his spectacular life became reknowned for his re-creations of comic book art from yesteryear that often paid homage to other comic book artists’ work.

This re-creation of the first SUPERMAN’s cover art graced the cover of the OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE No. 32 (2002):

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Anderson did more than a few of the covers for the PRICE GUIDE, including the 31st edition (2001) which re-created the Bob Kane cover for DETECTIVE COMICS No. 31 (September ’39).

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supermanmurphy.14superman14fredrayWhile Murphy’s re-creation of Fred Ray’s cover for SUPERMAN No. 14 (January-February ’42) was used for the 38th edition of the PRICE GUIDE (2008).

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Research information gleaned from Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, the Grand Comics Database, Who’s Whose in the DC Universe, THE GREAT SUPERMAN BOOK and other sources.

All characters, logos, and images are owned and © 2015 by current copyright holders. They are used here for educational and review purposes.

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