Newspaper strips in the mid-twentieth century were far more prestigious and more profitable for writers and artists, which made it ideal for Jerry Siegel when DC publishers hired him back for the daily publication. Siegel and writers Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, and Jerry Coleman mined stories of Superman from past comics, completely redrawn and changed to fit the format. The Comics Code Authority had already censored the industry into near bankruptcy, so supervillains and violence were a no-no. Instead, Superman faces reality TV aliens, sour-faced philanthropists, ugly pro wrestlers, and one very clingy Lois Lane. Kooky doesn’t begin to describe it.
The simplicity charms the reader, such as in “The Super-Clown of Metropolis.” Billionaire “Sad Sam” Smith knocks at death’s door and wants to experience laughter before he kicks the bucket, but there isn’t a clown or comedian alive who can break his frown. Naturally, he assumes Superman can, because that’s exactly what made Superman famous. Comedy! If Superman makes him laugh, orphans get Smith’s fortune. If not, Smith incinerates the money. So, imagine children in 1960 reading this and thinking, "This is how philanthropy works: square-jawed heroes hire midgets to hit them with cream pies until the wealthy are satisfied." Is it mere coincidence that Jerry Lewis started his annual telethon soon thereafter?
Other stories are relics of the time. Take “The Ugly Superman.” Lois Lane covers a wrestling match and falls in love with an ape-faced contender just because he wears Superman’s threads. It’s up to Clark Kent to stop the wedding. It should seem obvious to everyone that Lois does not truly love Ugly Superman, since neither she nor the writer ever refers to the guy by his real name. Just “Ugly Superman.” That’s it. Her married name would literally become Lois Ugly Superman, or Lois Lane-Ugly Superman if she felt daring.
Then, there’s “Captive of the Amazons,” in which Superman is rendered powerless after he refuses the marriage proposal of Queen Jena of the planet Adoria (pronounced “adore ya” -- wink!). The women in these stories all want to feel completed by a big, strong man. Of course, since Superman’s audience at the time had barely touched puberty, he couldn’t very well marry a girl. Gross. The one exception is “Superman’s Return to Krypton,” a touching tale in which Superman accidentally travels through time, lands on Krypton, befriends his parents, and falls in love with a Kryptonian woman named Lyla Lerrol. Will he save his home world, and thereby erase his time on Earth?
One of the funnest stories is “Earth’s Super Idiot,” a prophetic tale warning 1960s America of the future reality TV invasion. Superman is at the mercy of Raj Boz, a producer of insanely popular and illegal “realies,” in which powerful figures are filmed in pre-scripted and humiliating circumstances. If Superman refuses to act like a jerk, Raj Boz blows up Earth. Showbiz satire is actually a surprisingly common theme in these stories. Superman takes part in several sci-fi movie productions, including one on the planet Krypton. Let me repeat that. They film sci-fi movies on Krypton. With film cameras. On Krypton.
The stories are all over the place. They include dinosaurs, knights in shining armor, and baby Lois Lane. Silver Age stories knew no limits. Grant Morrison was able to transform predicaments like these into his modern classic, “All-Star Superman.” Some of it is silly. Some of it is archaic. Any Super-fan will enjoy it. Any fan of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller can appreciate the campy abyss from which they delivered us.
Superman: The Silver Age Dailies Vol. 1 Is Three Burning Piles of Orphanage Money out of Five.