‘Superman: Golden Age Sundays (1946-1949) Volume 2’ - Hardcover Review

Superman is God. That’s the hidden implication of this collection of Sunday comic strips from the late 1940s, featuring the Man of Steel. In stories about the Justice League, or in the DC Comics universe as a whole, it could be argued that Superman is a god, part of a pantheon. In these pages, though, he’s the one and only deity.

In his Sunday adventures, Superman is all powerful. There’s no challenge he can’t face, no danger that can destroy him, and, most importantly, no Kryptonite. There are also no other superpowered beings to even the score. It’s just Superman vs. a bunch of regular mortals.

In the previous volume, this was less of an issue, since for most of it, he had a worthy opponent: war. The majority of the stories were about Superman helping out our troops during WWII. Individual Nazis fell easily to his might, but the war itself dragged on, a constant presence, in the face of all of Superman’s efforts.

Now that the war has ended, though, there’s literally nothing that the Man of Tomorrow can’t do. Of course, he can survive bullets, bazookas, dynamite, and any other weapon used against him, without batting an eye. He can move faster than light, in order to make it seem like Superman is actually rescuing Clark Kent. He can also use that super speed to break the time barrier and send a prehistoric enemy back to its own era. And, he can build absolutely anything out of the rawest of materials, from cutting down trees to build a house, to melting sand into telescope lenses.

It goes without saying that Superman uses his powers to help people in need. What’s interesting, though, is how loose the definition of “people in need” is here. Sure, he’ll thwart a bank robbery or stop an attempted mugging, but he’ll also solve more mundane problems in a super fashion. He spends an afternoon performing a one-man, superpowered circus act to help out the owner who’s down on his luck. He buys insurance from a man who’s about to lose his job. In my personal favorite story, he uses all of his fantastic power to promote a new brand of hot dogs in creative ways.

Why does he go to all that trouble? As a god on Earth, he’s by far the most famous and revered person on the planet, so merely slapping his face on billboards should be enough to make the dogs sell. Why spend all of this time and effort on stunts like launching miniature flying saucers around the globe that say, “Eat Teenie Weenies” on them? Honestly, I think it’s because he’s bored.

In one of his earlier adventures, Superman takes an afternoon to visit a local skeptics’ society and pass whatever tests they throw at him to prove his existence. One of the challenges involves flying to South America to solve a mystery and find a lost ship that’s been missing for days, all in the space of a single second. Of course, he does it. For several weeks, we see that single second tick off, while Superman looks for clues, locates the ship, fights off a monster, and more, before returning home successful.

This is how powerful Superman is in these strips. Any physical or mental feat can not only be accomplished, but accomplished instantly. If he can operate on that level, then simply catching bank robbers in the act must pose no challenge for him at all—and indeed, it seems like it doesn’t. So, how does the most powerful being on the planet deal with the fact that nothing and no one can challenge him? He finds ways to channel his powers into absurd tasks that will keep him amused. But, he’s a benevolent god, not a selfish one. So, he can only perform these crazy stunts if they’re in the name of helping someone else, whether it be saving their life or saving their marriage.

Obviously, I’m reading way too much into this. These adventures aren’t remotely meant to be philosophical or theological. They’re just silly fun. The authors no doubt brainstormed crazy or unusual ways that Superman could apply his powers and built adventures around them. That crazy silliness is something we don’t see a lot of in Superman adventures, particularly nowadays where everything is a gritty reboot. Indeed, it’s a bit refreshing.

Many people over the years, myself included, have voiced the concern that Superman’s vast superiority to everything and everyone make his adventures less than compelling. Each new movie has to come up with bigger and more powerful enemies, to challenge Superman to his breaking point. But, even so, weall know that, in the end, Superman will be up to the challenge and save the day, because, in the end, he’s God, and there IS no one who can challenge him.

In these Sunday comic strips, they seem to recognize that fact, and instead of trying to push Superman to his breaking point, go the opposite route. As I pointed out in my review of the previous volume, the question in these adventures isn’t, “Will Superman save the day?” but “HOW will Superman save the day?” The silliness aspect works well in that regard. These ridiculous adventures and absurd resolutions are played for laughs, with the writers, and even Superman himself, totally in on the joke. It’s all in good fun, and that makes these strips entertaining, even when the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

There are still some more serious situations contained in these pages, though, even in the middle of the crazy silliness. Even though the war is over, Superman still has a great respect for the men who served our country, and several adventures are about his going out of his way to help them with their personal problems.

We tend to think of the years just after WWII as a time of prosperity and good times. The war was over, the Depression was over, and there were plenty of jobs and money and food for everyone. Well, that wasn’t always the case, and some of these stories address that. A lot of the veterans had a hard time finding work or earning enough money to support their families, and the shortages that they had during the war persisted. Fortunately, with Superman as a friend, these former GIs didn’t have to worry for long. Still, there’s a very clear message to the reader: support our troops, even now that they’re home.

This is a very fun collection, and definitely worth reading—more so, I think, even than the first volume. It’s lighter, not only in subject matter, but in format. The previous volume’s strips seemed much denser, and the adventures considerably longer, to the point where trying to read it all at a sitting was exhausting. Here, things are kept short and to the point. It’s still a bit long to read all in one sitting, but the story lengths are just about the perfect size for consuming in smaller, more manageable increments. They’re also easier to enjoy without the weight of the war and the ensuing moral implications. If you’re a fan of classic comics, or are just interested to see Superman in a wacky, comedic light, then you’ll want to check out this collection.

Last modified on Friday, 28 December 2018 19:18

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