June is generally considered Superman's birth-month by virtue of his debut in ACTION COMICS #1 [June, 1938]. This year isn't one of those landmark anniversary, but do we need a landmark to salute the character and the creators - Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster - who transformed the comic book from a novelty item to a multi-million dollar industry? I think not.
Superman's adventures in that initial appearance were cobbled together from newspaper strips prepared years earlier. Siegel and Shuster certainly planned a full day for their hero. He rescued an innocent woman from the electric chair by finding the real killer and getting an instant stay of execution from the state's governor. He used his powers to stay the crap out of a wife-beater. Then he kidnapped lobbyist Alex Greer. To explain that last one, I'll turn to THE GREAT SUPERMAN BOOK, that classic 1978 work by comics writer Michael L. Fleisher:
After overhearing Alex Greer conspiring with U.S. Senator Barrows to railroad a bill through the U.S. Senate whose effect would be to embroil the United States in the coming war with Europe, Superman seizes Greer and leaps high into the air with him, racing precariously along some telephone wires and then bounding to the dome of the Capitol, in an effort to terrify his captive into revealing the identity of the mastermind behind his lobbying efforts. From the Capitol dome, Superman makes a mighty leap toward the roof of a distant skyscraper, but either through accident or design, he misses his mark and the two men hurtle toward the pavement far below...
In the following issue, Greer and Superman don't die and the frightened lobbyist gives up the name of the munitions magnate for whom he works. Supes gives arms manufacturer Emil Norvell a first-hand look at the horrors of war - relatively subdued for ACTION's young readers - and then returns him to the U.S. Norvell promises to stop making munitions.
Yes, this does seem like an odd turn of events given the war in Europe and the growing likelihood of American involvement there and in the East. The world was moving pretty darn fast in the late 1930s and the isolationism favored by many Americans could not hold before the evil of Hitler and his allies.
Supes didn't want the U.S. to rush into war without Congress considering the "full implications" of such action. We could have used the Man of Steel a few years ago.
As for Norvell, I'm guessing he resumed manufacturing guns and ammunition after Pearl Harbor.
Superman was joined in the pages of ACTION COMICS #1 by a mix of heroes: Chuck Dawson, Zatara the Magician, Sticky-Mitt Stimson, Marco Polo, Pep Morgan, Scoop Scanlon, and Tex Thomson, who would eventually go the costumed hero route as Mr. America and then the Americommando. Superman would emerge as the clear star of ACTION COMICS and the comics world in general, but he didn't even appear on all of the title's early covers.
TOT will be saluting Superman all month long, leaping across his exploits in five-year increments. We'll be visiting 1943 next time around.
Now let's see what else I have for you today.
THE SUPERHERO BOOK
Back in March, I reviewed THE SUPERHERO BOOK, stating I had only read sections "A" through "C" of the tome. I was tentative in discussing and grading the book:
"THE SUPERHERO BOOK can be a fun and even useful tome, but the reader needs to realize that its accuracy and critical conclusions are sometimes questionable. That being the case, the best score I can give it is two out of five Tonys."
Today I'm doing something I've never done before with an item I've reviewed. I'm taking back even the modest two Tonys I awarded to THE SUPERHERO BOOK.
Why the change of heart? It's because an entry I read on page 229 of the book so infuriated me that, were the book not so heavy as to have caused serious damage to my office, I would have hurled it across the room.
Here's the claptrap that got to me:
DC Comics introduced the first costumed super-hero, Superman, in ACTION COMICS #1 (June, 1938). The creation of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman had unsuccessfully been marketed to newspaper syndicates as a daily strip. Although Superman was chosen by television network VH1 as the second most recognized figure in its 2003 "200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons" poll, DC took an enormous risk in 1938 by publishing the untried character, given the depressed economic climate of the day.
What a load of crap! DC took no more risk publishing Superman than it did publishing anything else back then. It was one feature in a book of multiple features and it's clear - from the absence of Superman on the cover of most early issues of Action Comics - that DC was not betting the farm on the character.
Enormous risk, my aunt's fanny! If anyone was taking a risk, it was Siegel and Shuster.
Depression-era or not, DC's owners were doing quite well for themselves and did even better as the Superman profits poured into their bank accounts. It was the freelance writers and artists who were risking that publishers in this new field would go under owing them money or publish their work without paying them the low page rates of the era. And, as history would so tragically prove, these publishers couldn't be trusted to do right by the creators who made comic books so enormously successful.
THE SUPERHERO BOOK has too many shaky conclusions and outright distortions to be of use to the serious comics fan or historian. Toss in the trash and hope that the next book of this nature will be much better.
THE SUPERHERO BOOK gets absolutely no Tonys.
NOTES ON THE 100
Saturday's TOT ran my list of 100 random-selected things that I love about comics, along with my promise of further comments in future columns. You can read my list here:
Not at all coincidentally, the item we'll be discussing today is this one:
8. JERRY SIEGEL'S FAMILY. I hope they get everything they're asking for. If they win their legal fight for their just rights in Superman, Superboy, and other properties, it will be the best day for comics creators...ever!
I received the expected favorable e-mails on that one, along with three e-mails which were not entirely favorable and not at all unexpected. In the interest of clarity and because I believe the e-mails were not intended for publication, I'm going to attempt to paraphrase them for you.
E-mail #1: "I don't want DC to lose Superman. The DC Universe wouldn't be the same without Superman!"
To the best of my knowledge, no one has declared DC would lose Superman if the Siegel family receives the property rights to which they're entitled by law. DC and even Time-Warner knows full well how valuable Superman is; they'll write checks as fat as they must to keep the Siegels happy once this process reaches its inevitable conclusion.
E-mail #2: "Why are you picking on DC?"
I'm not. DC isn't even mentioned in the item reprinted from my list. For good reason.
DC has tried very hard to negotiate a fair settlement with the Siegels. My information is that such a settlement was negotiated, only to be torpedoed by DC's corporate masters. In this case, no matter what past DC management might have done to bring suffering on Siegel and Shuster, the current management has tried to balance its own needs with those of the Siegels. Based on the information I have, I commend DC for these efforts.
This doesn't mean I'm letting DC off the hook for other times when it hasn't done right by creators and continues to not do right by creators. Would that good will similar to that shown Siegel and Shuster, albeit belatedly, was extended to other creators as well. DC's record in this regard isn't universally horrendous, but there remains considerable room for improvement.
My personal differences with DC aside, I stand ready to cheer the company on whenever it does right by creators. I think doing right by creators is good for creators, good for readers, and good for business.
E-mail #3: "How come you're picking on DC when you gave Archie Comics a free ride on the Dan DeCarlo stuff?"
That "free ride" stuff will come as a real surprise to some of my friends at Archie. They weren't doing high-fives over a lot of what I wrote in support of the late DeCarlo's attempts to get what he felt was proper compensation for his creation of JOSIE and his co-creation of SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH.
Here's where I am on this today:
I wish Archie Comics and Dan DeCarlo had been able to come to an agreement which would have satisfied both parties. Once again turning to my best information, at one point, Archie believed that they had reached such an agreement with DeCarlo and were surprised when he then filed his lawsuit against the company.
Since I haven't seen that agreement, I'm not going to weigh in on whether or not it was a fair agreement. Archie Comics believed it was and, for a time, believed DeCarlo felt so as well. Clearly, DeCarlo either never felt it was a fair agreement or later came to feel it wasn't a fair agreement.
All the wishing I can muster won't change what happened next. It's a comics tragedy that things didn't work out better all around and an even sadder dissolution of the long and creatively fruitful association between the artist and the company.
Creator/freelancer and editor/publisher issues are not always or even often black and white. My absence from day-to-day comics writing finds me less "in the loop" than in years past, but I don't think I would be far off the mark to state that almost every comics company could do better by creators and freelancers and that, given half a chance, most of the creators and freelancers would work with those companies to craft fairer agreements to mutually benefit both parties. This would be - say it with me - good for the creators, good for the readers, and good for business.
I'll have more notes on the "100" for you soon.
TONY'S CENTENNIAL COVERS
Whenever I do one of the above "notes on the 100," I'll also be bringing you a centennial comic-book cover. Just because I can. Even when I don't know much about the issue being shown. Like, for example, ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #100 [May, 1967].
I do know this 100th issue of "America's Funniest Comic Mag" had the first "Jerry's Art Mess-terpieces" pin-up. And that Neal Adams drew the *next* issue. Pretty slim, huh?
I'll try to do better next time.
Everybody's a critic, right? Well, this week, our TONY POLLS questions put that to the test.
The Television Critics Association has announced the nominees for its 21st annual awards. There are eleven categories, including the Heritage Award (honoring shows which have had a lasting impact on TV and popular culture) and the winners will be announced at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, July 23, in conjunction with the group's Summer Press Tour.
We're asking you to vote on all 11 categories. You can cast your ballots by going to:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: