Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 7

Treasures 46 SEPTEMBER 2012

F
aster than a speeding bul-
let! More powerful than a
locomotive! Able to leap tall
buildings at a single bound! Look up
in the sky
Well, are you looking? If youre a
young-at-heart baby boomer, theres no
way you can resist. Just reading those
stirring words is enough to prompt an
involuntary skyward glance, and send a
host of long-forgotten thrills shivering
up your spine.
Now, add in the sound effects: that
pinging bullet, the relentless chug of
a charging locomotive, the whistling
wind as you-know-who leaps another
tall building, and that stirring, march-
like musical theme. Tying everything
together is the stalwart figure of the big
fella himself. There he stands, hands
on hips, gaze serene, a huge S embla-
zoned across the chest of his somewhat
long-underwear-ish leotard. His knee-
length cape is flapping in the breeze, as
is the huge American flag behind him.
(Yes, he does appear to be standing in
outer space, where breezes are hard to
come by, but why quibble?)
Superman! For hordes of youngsters
during the 1950s and 60s this strange
visitor from another planet was our icon.
We devoured his adventures in a host of
black-and-white TV episodes and a hand-
ful of color ones. In the movie theaters,
we cheered as he battled a seedy-looking
squad of Mole Men. We gobbled up
dime comic book after dime comic book.
When the price escalated to 12 cents, we
loyally stayed with him. We even saved
up our quarters for those 25-cent Giant
Annuals (which seemed to come out
much more often than annually).
Well, how could we resist? Superman
or, in comic book lingo, this Silver
Age version of him was our very own
superhero: ready, willing, and more than
able (as the announcer always promised)
to fight a never-ending battle for truth,
justice, and the American way!
Powers and abilities Far
beyond those oF Mortal Men
Superman had actually been engag-
ing in his never-ending battle long before
the 1950s. The creation of writer Jerry
By DonalD-Brian Johnson
Its A Bird!
Its A Plane!
its Well, you Know Who it is:
The Silver Age SupermAn!
Principal cast members of that 1950s TV
favorite, adventures of superman. From left:
Jack larson (Jimmy olsen); John hamilton
(Perry White); noel neill (lois lane), and
George reeves (superman). (all photos by
Donald-Brian Johnson.)
Treasures 47 SEPTEMBER 2012
Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman
made his debut in the June 1938 issue of
Action Comics #1, published by Detective
Comics (soon to become much better
known as DC).
From the beginning, there were cer-
tain givens:
Superman was not of this world.
(Just before the doomed planet
Krypton exploded to fragments,
a scientist placed his infant son
within an experimental rocket-
ship, launching it toward earth.)
He found it necessary to conceal
his uncanny powers with a secret
identity: Clark Kent, mild-man-
nered reporter for a great metro-
politan newspaper.
And, there was a woman
involved: fellow reporter Lois
Lane, enthralled by Superman,
less-than-enthralled by Clark.
(Why is it you always avoid
me at the office, Lois? Please,
Clark! Ive been scribbling sob
stories all day long. Dont ask me
to dish out another!)
Siegel and Shusters Superman was
somewhat less genteel than the one baby
boomers remember. In his 1938 premiere,
Superman grabs a pistol from a murder-
ous nightclub singer, squashes it beyond
recognition, then proclaims: You little
vixen! Are you ready to sign a confession?
Or shall I give you a taste of how that gun
felt when I applied the pressure? (She
signs). Superman also finds time to give a
wife-beater what-for (Youre not fighting
a woman now!), fling a carful of crooks
into a ravine (as they exclaim, Its the
devil himself!), and force a confession
from a crooked politician by dangling
him from a live telephone wire (Stop!
Stop! Well be electrocuted! Ill talk!)
And so, reads the opening storys final
panel, begins the startling adventures of
the most sensational character of all time:
Superman! A physical marvel, a mental
wonder, Superman is destined to reshape
the destiny of a world! Dont miss an issue!
sci-fi themes were highlighted in Giant
Superman #6 (January 1965). $20 $25.
a perennial in superman comics: ads for the Charles atlas bodybuilding course.
superman made his debut in Action Comics
#1 (June 1938). (This is the cover of the 1970s
reprint, not the million-dollar-plus original!)
$10 $15.
Treasures 48 SEPTEMBER 2012
this is a Job For suPerMan!
Miss an issue? Who would think of
it? Supermans appearance on the scene
ushered in what later became known
as the Golden Age of comicdom. An
entire society of superheroes (eventu-
ally, an entire Justice Society of them)
soon followed, from Batman to Wonder
Woman, Green Lantern to The Flash.
Aping their illustrious predecessor, one
and all concealed their unique talents
behind secret identities, when not step-
ping out to save the world in circus-y
spangled attire. Some wore masks; oth-
ers simply removed their eyeglasses, let
down their hair (or both), and believe
it or not no one recognized them.
Superman, the comic book character,
proved such an immediate hit that it
wasnt long before he found his way to
other media: a radio version hit the air
waves in 1940, starring Clayton Bud
Collyer (later famed as the host of TVs
To Tell The Truth). Buds meek Clark
Kent tenor would drop to a robust
baritone, as he intoned the line that had
evildoers shaking in their shoes: This is
a job for Superman!
In 1941, Paramount brought the Man
of Steel to the movies, with a series of
animated cartoons. Two live-action movie
serials starring the somewhat Superboy-ish
Kirk Alyn followed in the late 40s, before
the tights were donned in 1951 by an actor
who would become forever associated with
the Superman role (at least in the minds
of those whose childhoods coincided with
the fabulous 50s): George Reeves.
A reliable second lead in the movies,
Reeves many previous credits included
a turn as one of the Tarleton Twins
in MGMs 1939 classic Gone With The
Wind. He had the requisite muscular
Superman physique (although sloping
shoulders called for at-times-obvious
costume padding). Reeves Superman
projected a distinct gentlemanliness
and politeness that firmly established
him as one of the good guys. Criminals
were gently remonstrated with (and
given a chance to reform), before being
tossed through a wall. And, it was
always Miss Lane, not Lois. Parents
breathed a sigh of relief. Like Hopalong
Cassidy, this Superman was a role
model they could live with.
suPerMan in silver
Supermans Silver Age on TV and
in the comic books lasted from the
mid-1950s until just about 1970. The
supergirl (supermans cousin) was the star
of a comic first a complete book-length
novel! Action Comics Presents Supergirl
#360 (March/april 1968). $20 $25.
Even supporting characters eventually rated
their own annuals. Supermans Pal Jimmy
Olsen Giant Annual #113 (august/september
1968). $15 $20.
Treasures 49 SEPTEMBER 2012
Silver Age Superman was less rough-
and-tumble than his Golden Age
predecessor, a direct result of 1954s
Comics Code Authority. (The code
was established to combat a supposed
correlation between comic-book read-
ing and a rise in juvenile crime.) As
the stories became less threatening,
the audience age drifted downward.
The brawny, brawling Golden Age
Superman was a favorite with service-
men during World War II. Kinder, gen-
tler Silver Age Superman (still a force
to be reckoned with, but with the rough
edges rounded off) found his most fer-
vent fans gathered in elementary and
junior high playgrounds. New storylines
catered to that youthful audience (The
Amazing Superman Junior; The Boy
in the Bottle), as did the ubiquitous
comic book ads. In nearly every issue,
Charles Atlas and his muscular competi-
tors promised puny young bookworms
I Can Make You A Real He-Man,
while novelty suppliers Honor House
and Johnson Smith offered bargains on
such perennial knee-slappers as X-Ray
Specs, Joy Buzzers, and Whoopee
Cushions (place one on a chair, and
watch the fun begin!).
Now less occupied with run-of-the-
mill cops-and-robbers capers, Superman
found himself immersed in sci-fi adven-
tures perfectly attuned to the futuris-
tic 50s. There were encounters with
super-intelligent criminal masterminds,
both alien (Brainiac) and domestic (Lex
Luthor). There were ongoing run-ins with
the imperfect Superman doppelganger,
Bizarro, and nasty fifth-dimensional
prankster, Mr. Mxyzptlk, plus stories
with such creature-feature themes as
The Thing That Stalked Smallville and
The Creature of 1,000 Disguises.
Supporting characters also moved
to greater prominence. Supermans pal,
Jimmy Olsen, Supermans girlfriend,
Lois Lane, Superboy, Supergirl, Krypto
the Superdog, and other cohorts often
starred in their own magazines or solo
features. Superman even found time to
join forces with fellow caped crusader
Batman and assorted members of the
now-renamed and reconstituted Justice
League of America.
As the Superman mystique grew, ques-
tions arose. For instance: just what was
really responsible for all of those amazing
superpowers? The advanced civilization
of Supermans home planet, Krypton?
Two superstars team up: Giant Worlds Finest
Starring Superman & Batman #170 (october/
november, 1967). $15 $20. a mint copy of
this issue sold for nearly $1,500!
superman makes a cameo cover appearance:
Wonder Woman Super-Spectacular #211.
The issue mixed new stories with vintage
Golden and silver age Wonder Woman
adventures. (april/May 1974). $15 $20.
Treasures 50 SEPTEMBER 2012
The lighter gravity of Earth? The rays
of Earths yellow sun, versus the red sun
of Krypton? At one time or another, all
were offered as possible explanations, and
young readers of Superman comics rel-
ished picking out contradictions.
Each issues Letters to the Editor
column tried to talk its way out of such
thorny corners, but eventually a solu-
tion was reached. In the mid 1960s,
DC announced that the Golden Age
superheroes actually existed on a par-
allel Earth (Earth-Two). Here on
Earth-One, however, the updated
Silver Age lineup carried on as usual.
Inconsistencies in character heritage
were thus wiped away with the stroke of
a pen. (Even better: the parallel Earths
were only separated by a vibrational
field. In some cases say, in the ser-
vice of a good storyline that field
could be bridged, permitting a spec-
tacular multiverse team-up!)
sky-high (and down-to-earth)
In todays comic book market, prices
for some especially-prized Superman
issues can soar higher than Superman
himself. In 2010, a copy of the June
1938 Action Comics #1, (the debut
of the mighty man), brought over
$1,000,000 at auction. (The original
dime cover price definitely qualifies as
a smart investment.)
There is, of course, a reason for such
stratospheric prices: comic book rarities
are almost impossible to obtain, espe-
cially in mint, or near-mint condition.
These were, after all, cheaply made
magazines, (and by now, really old mag-
azines), not designed for permanence.
hes come a long way since 1938: 400th
anniversary issue of action Comics, issued as
the silver age of superman came to a close
(May 1971). $10 $15.
lEFT: honor house ad for novelty products,
a staple of silver age superman comics.
BEloW: almost as much fun as the sto-
ries were long-running ads in silver age
superman comics for toy soldiers and log
cabins.
Treasures 51 SEPTEMBER 2012
They were simply meant to be read and
enjoyed, over and over and over. And
they were! Completely unblemished
copies are thus few and far between,
and a complex grading system takes
into account the tiniest tear, crease, or
color variation. Even that million-dollar
Action Comics #1 rated only 8.5 (Very
Fine +) on a 10-point scale!
Fortunately, reading copies of
Superman comics, particularly those
from the Silver Age of the 1950s and
60s are easier to come by and much
more affordable. While mint issues
from this era (mint as in untouched
by human hands ever) can sell for
$200 $250, copies with slight damage,
but still presentable and in perfectly
readable condition, range from $15
$20 for regular (10 or 12 cent) edi-
tions and $20 $25 for the originally
quarter-priced Giant Annuals. Among
the most desirable in any condition:
the 80-page Giant Superman Annual
#1, dating from August, 1964. Even a
reading copy will fetch $50 $75. (For
faithful pack-rats, an excellent return
on that original 25 cents.)
still Flying high
Since the Silver Age, the Superman
saga has seen many permutations.
There was the Bronze Age (1970
1985), with its darker, more ominous
storylines. In later years, Superman
died. He came back to life. He lost his
powers. He got them back. He even
married Lois Lane. George Reeves
on the small screen gave way to
Christopher Reeve on the big one. Later
incarnations came courtesy of Dean
Cain, Tom Welling, and Brandon Routh
(plus Henry Cavill, in the as-yet-to-be-
seen Man of Steel).
For many a baby boomer however,
the true golden age of Superman will
always be the Silver Age. After all,
thats when we first made his acquain-
tance. Im thinking of a drugstore, in
a small town in Minnesota. Its the
early 1960s. A young boy stands in
front of the revolving magazine rack,
avidly watching as the clerk fills it with
comics. Its a Tuesday. And the new
Superman comics always come out on
Tuesday. Will there be one today? Yes!
Up, up, and awaaaay!
Donald-Brian Johnson is the co-
author of numerous schiffer books on
mid 20th-century design, including
Postwar Pop: Memorabilia of the Mid-
20th Century. he used to have lots of
superman comics (until his Mom
cleaned house!). Please address inqui-
ries to: donaldbrian@msn.com. u
The silver age of comicdom meets the Golden age in Worlds Greatest Super-Heroes Super-Spectacular #6 (1971). Earth-one Justice
league and Earth-Two Justice society members join forces for a unique crime-fighting adventure. $20 $25.