To some degree, this volume, which collects Sunday comics between 1953 and 1956, provides more of the same. The very first adventure we see is a perfect example. Clark and Lois have been assigned to report on a convention of the most brilliant minds on the planet; however, instead of doing that, Superman decides to play a game with Lois, wherein he takes her on a trip throughout time and lets her try to guess his secret identity. It’s a strange and fun adventure that takes us to the Trojan War, the Pilgrims’ landing, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Still, I kind of wanted to see what was going on at the symposium of the world’s greatest minds. Superman, on the other hand, found it too boring to be worth his time.
Not all the adventures are like that this time, though. In fact, they’re finally finding ways to limit Superman’s abilities and level the playing field. In one story arc, two Kryptonian criminals (sadly, neither is Zod, though they have a similar origin story) come to Earth and try to take over. In fact, they actually beat him up once or twice and fight him to a standstill another time. Superman isn’t powerful enough to defeat these hooligans, so he has to find some other way to get rid of them. More importantly, unlike most of the adventures in previous collections, he doesn’t immediately know what needs to be done and has to think for a while before coming up with a viable plan.
There are other examples of stakes too high for Superman’s power as well. Occasionally, he mentions that he’s not fast enough to reach a particular citizen in time to save them from falling debris, and so has to devise another method of getting them out of harm’s way. In another adventure, we actually see the Man of Steel weakened by Kryptonite and turned (however briefly) into an ordinary, powerless human being.
It’s a good thing, too. The portrayal of Superman as all-powerful but bored is fun for a while, but it eventually wears thin. It’s fascinating to see him use his powers in clever and innovative ways, but if he never struggles, then the stakes simply aren’t high enough to make things interesting. Even the most perilous life-and-death situations are a breeze for the Last Son of Krypton, and eventually it gets boring.
Exploring the limits of Superman’s power and putting him in situations that challenge even him is a good way of raising the stakes a bit and keeping us invested. Still, I don’t recommend reading it all in one sitting. As I’ve mentioned before, these Sunday comics are denser than regular comic book adventures and give you a lot more to process in approximately the same amount of pages. Because of this, reading adventure after adventure, and story arc after story arc, gets a little overwhelming after a while. Remember, they were designed to be read at the rate of one page a week, over the course of several months. These adventures are fun, but they start to lose their charm if you try to go through them all at once. Stretch it out over at least a couple of weeks, and they’ll be a lot more interesting and enjoyable.
I think it’s for this reason that one of my favorite story arcs in this volume is barely about Superman at all. Instead, we follow the adventures of Alice Talbot, Girl Process Server. She wants to be a lawyer at her uncle’s firm, but her uncle is a sexist jerk who thinks the business world is no place for a woman. So, he gets her a job as a process server, serving court summons and subpoenas—and instructs her bosses to give her all the most difficult jobs, so that she’ll fail, give up on her dream of a law career, and go back to the kitchen where she belongs.
However, Ms. Talbot is made of sterner stuff than that and serves a number of people whom even the seasoned veteran process servers couldn’t reach. Occasionally, she gets help from Metropolis’ benevolent god (whom she also served with a summons), but mostly she uses her own ingenuity and initiative to get the job done. She’s a lot like Superman, finding innovative ways to accomplish tasks—except that Alice Talbot isn’t all-powerful, which makes it a lot more interesting. I would read a spinoff comic that was just about Alice Talbot’s adventures as a process server.
There’s a lot to like about this collection of Superman adventures. It’s not quite up to the standard of some of the previous volumes, but if you like cheesy 1950s comics as much as I do, you’ll definitely get a kick out of it. Just remember to pace yourself while reading and not take it too seriously, and Superman: Atomic Age Sundays Vol. 2 will be fun and enjoyable.