What’s Black and White and Read All Over? – DC Showcase Presents Superman vol. 1

For a number of years now, DC has been releasing their Showcase Presents line–500+ page soft-covers in glorious black and white, reprinting piles of comics in each volume, mostly from the 50’s and the 60’s, but then also from the 70’s and even the 80’s.  Some of the titles are long running series like Superman or Batman, while others are more obscure stuff  that might be done-in-one, like Bat-Lash or Atomic Knights.  For a continuity-junkie like myself, these books are a goldmine.  Or maybe more accurately, considering the low cover price, a zinc-mine.  The lack of color can be a little off-putting, but overall I find that a small pay-off for the benefit of having so many pages of story and art made available so affordable.

Showcase Presents Superman 1

What’s the appeal?  Well, as mentioned, there’s the cheapness of course – there aren’t many deals out there that give you more story per dollar (along with the Marvel equivalent, Essentials).  There’s also the opportunity to see so much DC history conveniently collected in a more-or-less chronological order.  And there is at times even something appealing about having to read things in black and white.  It takes a little more effort to get into things, but sometimes that effort serves the reading experience.  DC’s silver age could be a decidedly silly place, and somehow the lack of color can help to give thing a “classic” feel.

These aren’t books that by and large I plow through in one or two sittings.  They sit by the bed, and I make my way through, usually one or two stories at a time, before I want to put them down and go to sleep. And as I am often roughly familiar with the stories that I am perusing, but have never read them in detail before, I often get the pleasant surprise of bumping into some critical piece of DC History (eg. “Hey!  This is where Jimmy Olsen got his signal watch!”).

So I decided to review my collection of Showcase Presents volumes, by title, and give some quick commentary on what someone can expect to find in each one, in terms of story style and notable events in the lives of our favorite fictional characters.

Showcase Presents Superman, Vol. 1

Pages:  560

Titles:  Action Comics (#241-257), Superman (#122-133)

Years:  1958-1959

Creators:  Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Alvin Schwartz (Writers), Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Dick Sprang, Kurt Schaffenberger, Curt Swan, Stan Kaye, John Sikela (Art)

Story Breakdown:  There are 49 stories in this volume, many of which are 10 pages long or less, though there are a few longer ones (which tended to be broken up into “chapters” that were about the same length as most stories.)  All of the stories were “done-in-one” except for one two-parter.

Notable Moments in DC History:  So many!  We have…

• the first appearance of the classic Fortress of Solitude with the giant key

• the first appearance of Brainiac (and his monkey Koko), which means also the first appearance of the bottled city of Kandor which takes up residence in the Fortress after this story and appears several more times

• The “proto” Sugergirl story, in which Jimmy Olsen wishes up a “Super-Girl” for Superman via a magic wish over some sort of totem (which is also used in the story to wish Superman back to Krypton where he becomes part of his parents courtship, and (by crooks) to remove Superman’s powers

• The first appearance of Titano, the giant ape with kryptonite vision

• The first appearance of Lori Lemaris, Superman’s mermaid love

• The first appearance of Metallo, the villain with a Kryptonite heart, who actually dies in this story before he is able to actually put a Kryptonite heart in his metal body

• The first appearance of Supergirl, aka Kara Zor-El.  Similarly, this is also the first appearance of Supergirl’s parents, Zor-El and Alura (although the latter is not named here).  It’s in this story that Kara adopts the Linda Lee identity and is dropped off at Midvale Orphanage.

• I believe the first appearance of Red Kryptonite, although in this story it simply removes Superman’s powers for two hours.

• The first appearance of Bizarro in a Superman story (he had previously appeared in a Superboy story) and the first appearance ever of Bizarro-Lois Lane.

Other Points of Interest:

• There’s a story here in which Clark Kent protects his secret identity by donning a jet pack and jumping out the window of a moving spaceship in order to return quickly to earth (“That chicken!” somebody says).

• In another astounding misunderstanding of space travel, there’s a story in which Lois Lane stows away on a space ship that was heading for the moon, but went too far and wound up landing on Krypton instead!

• There’s another tale in which people from the future mentally compel Superman grab hidden treasures from all over the solar system so they can honor him in the future, which almost results in people getting attacked by an escaped tiger.

• As mentioned, Superman at one point returns to Krypton to help his parents get together.  I have no idea if this was the first time Superman returned to Krypton or not.  Interestingly, when he gets there, he’s immaterial, not (as he usually is) because he’s alive somewhere else at the same time, but because he’s there before he was born.  However, later, when he leaves Krypton, he becomes material again and can interact with Jor-El and Lara.

• A story of young Superman in college trying to preserve his identity

• A story in which Superman gains the power to create a miniature avatar of himself out of his fingers, which has all his powers

• A story in which Jonathan and Martha Kent show up, claiming to be visiting from the past, but it turns out to be an elaborate trick by some bad guys.

• Mxyzptlk turns up once, still looking more like his “Golden Age” appearance, but spelled in the modern way (as opposed to Mxyztplk

• A Superboy story in which Superboy unknowingly helps Lois Lane, Perry White, and Jimmy Olsen in the past

• A story where it’s commented that someone thought Superman was the only super-powered man on earth

• There is one story where Clark Kent becomes a fireman for a story for the Daily Planet, and spends the day doing good deeds and trying to protect his secret identity.  Then later, there’s another story in which Clark does this again, this time becoming a police officer.

Comments:  Originally, I planned to review all of the volumes of a singe line at all once, but I found so much crazy stuff in just this first volume of Superman reprints that I had to write about it straight away.  There are a lot of stories in this volume, with a lot of classically-silly DC stuff.  A prime example of this is the very first story, which introduced Superman’s Arctic Fortress of Solitude.  In it, Superman is genuinely stressed out because an unknown enemy is apparently able to penetrate his Fortress very easily.  Eventually, Superman figures out it is actually Batman, pranking him.  So Superman pranks him in return by making it appear that they are both going to die in a cave-in!  Welcome to the Silver Age!

Though there are a few tales of Superman dealing with genuinely dangerous foes (Brainiac, Bizarro, Metallo, and of course, Lex Luthor, for example) I’d say that at least half of the stories deal with Superman facing no larger threat than the exposure of his secret identity.  There are several other stories where Superman has to perform elaborate ruses in order to trick or flush out an enemy (once, he pretends to abandon the surface world for the sake of some mer-people, another time he pretends to be a super-evolved Superman from the future, another time he pretends that he’s a super-powered Clark Kent who is compelled to  earn tons of money and then to give it all away to charity).  And of course, there is a lot about Superman dealing with Lois Lane’s romantic shenanigans.  In fact, Superman proposes to Lois twice in this book – once because they are trapped on an island together and he thinks there is no way for him to escape, and another time because he’s trying to teach her a lesson by making her think he really looks like Alfred E. Newman.  There’s a lot here which has given Superman the reputation for being a bit of a jerk, especially to Lois.  But then, she’s no charmer either in these tales.

There are a number of recurring elements to the Superman mythos that are introduced are appear here, but having said that there are very few recurring cast members.  Generally, his supporting cast is limited to Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White, unless we’re in some sort of time travel or flashback story, where we might get Jor-El & Lara or Ma & Pa Kent.  Batman shows up three times all together (once with Robin) where it is stated that he is the only person on earth who knows all of Superman’s secrets.  Supergirl debuts but appears only once (except for a single panel in another story) and Krypto turns up a couple of times.  The only villain to appear more than once is Lex Luthor (and even he only shows up a handful of times), other than the one two-parter which featured Bizarro.

Overall, I quite enjoy re-reading these stories, although just like the first time it’s hard to stick with too many in a row.  The fact that they are so short makes them easy to get through, and also makes it all the more special when a  longer one suddenly turns up.  Notably, there is an issue length story that tells kooky tale of what would have happened to Superman if Krypton had never been destroyed.  It’s one of three “imaginary tales” that are in the book which are not labeled as such, but are instead given some sort of framing device as an in-story excuse.  For example, in one Jimmy Olsen dreams of Superman becoming president, and in another Lois Lane dreams that she receives super-powers from a blood transfusion from Superman (powers she eventually passes on the clumsy and oaf-ish Clark Kent via another transfusion).  In this case, it’s a scenario that Superman is watching on some sort of Super-Computer, with Batman and Robin.  It turns out that if Krypton hadn’t been destroyed, Kal-El was fated to be orphaned anyway, and to become a super-powered champion named Superman – just on Krypton.  It’s a bit silly, of course, but a fun read getting there.

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