Another in a series of WBM posts adopting the blogs anniversary theme:
Action Comics #1 (50th anniversary edition)
The summer following my graduation from high school, a few friends and I piled into a van for a road trip to Washington D.C. I had been there just a few years before and covered the bunch of things at the top of the list of sightseer destinations– the Lincoln Memorial, National Archives, Washington Monument, and our Boy Scout uniforms even got us a peek into the oval office (though Ronnie wasn’t in at the time). This afforded me the opportunity to move a little down the list and visit some of the secondary destinations on my return visit. Early on in the trip I visited the Smithsonian’s American History museum; when I last visited, I saw the sets from the freshly-concluded television series M*A*S*H*. This time, something far cooler was waiting past Fonzie’s jacket and Archie Bunker’s chair: it was 1988, the 50th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance, and to my surprise an entire exhibit was devoted to the strange visitor from another planet. And waiting for me inside, inches away from my sweaty fingers behind a protective glass case, was a copy of the holy grail of comics looking like it just came off the newstand, an original copy of Action #1.
That was pretty much the high point of the trip for me. I think I went back to that exhibit three or four times to press my nose against the glass until the moisture from my breath set off some sort of alarm sensor and security dragged me away. I was in a comic geek wonderland, one of the most serious museums in the world whose walls were adorned with old cartoon art, George Reeves’ costume, decades-old comics, and Byrne’s Man of Steel tpb in the gift shop. And at the center of the whole thing was that one amazing book that most comic fanatics never get the chance to actually gaze upon in the flesh (pulp?) in their lifetime of collecting. Screw Ford’s Theatre, I say.
The story I read in this reprint edition is miles away from the Superman we know, as most reading this blog surely already know. No power of flight, no vision powers, just a really strong guy with tough skin leaping around while dressed in a circus performer’s costume. Since it’s the character’s first appearance, and entire single page is devoted to his origin before we see him battle a succession of villains: a wife beater! A gang of kidnappers! A corrupt Washington lobbyist! It’s interesting to note this story was a failed pitch for a newspaper strip which was pasted up in comic book form, which means in some parallel universe Siegel & Schuster had a successful syndicated strip and we all became baseball card collectors. I also like to imagine those two jewish kids in Cleveland dreaming up this story about an alien whose homeland is destroyed so he comes to America, changes his name to assimilate, and discovers he has the power to singlehandedly wage war on the forces of evil. No subtext there, no sir, just pure escapism.
Reading this again gave me an idea for my own Superman pitch: his earliest foe returns to challenge him again: Butch the kidnapper! The villain drives a car which was manufactured on a distant planet orbitting a red sun, so that Superman cannot lift it over his head. Just imagine the dramatic cover on that book!