Friday, February 04, 2005

50 in 05: Superman in the Fifties

#4: Superman in the Fifties, by various writers and artists. I picked this up after reading the Grant Morrison interview a few entries below. It contains 17 Superman stories from the 1950's, though none as delightfully strange as the one Grant mentions. When Superman first appeared in 1938 he was a social crusader who taunted and threatened crooks, killed them sometimes, and broke the rules; more than a decade later he had settled into his role as a super-policeman, with creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster working on other projects. Superman was one of the few superheroes still appearing in a comics medium dominated by Westerns, romance books, science-fiction and crime stories, and George Reeves was playing the Man of Steel and battling mobsters and crooks on television.

There are a few inspiring moments in the book. A two-parter featuring Bizarro features a number of twists--including the appearance of a "Handsome Bizarro," and a battle over a "graveyard of the sea"-- that I didn't see coming. But sometimes the twists were more convoluted than clever, such as when Mr. Mxyztplk arrives with a plan to humiliate Superman that involves plastic proxies of Metropolitan personalities, which Lex Luthor installs with robot engines to mechanize them.

It's hard to get a sense of an entire decade based on 17 stories, but many of these tales dealt with meteor showers and crashing rocket ships that also contained fellow Kryptonians--three space villains, Superman's supposed big brother, Superman's pet dog Krypto, and Superman's long-lost cousin Supergirl. But then you'll turn the page and find the story that introduces Brainiac, who has a scheme to repopulate his homeworld by shrinking and bottling the very best Earth cities and then transporting them across the cosmos. That's the story that introduces the bottled Kryptonian city of Kandor, by the way.

What I see most in this volume is potential--I'd love to see a collection of Superman tales that ranged over many decades, edited by Grant Morrison. I can only imagine the weird fever-dream stories that came from the 50's and 60's, and it's a shame there isn't a reasonably priced collection that showcases them. You get only a taste of that wonderful strangeness in this volume.

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