Book Review: Superman: The Atomic Age Sundays, Volume 3 (1956-1959): A Wonderful Time Capsule for Fans of the Man of Steel

When it comes to comic book heroes, Superman remains one of, if not the biggest pillars in the industry. With a remarkable history going back 80 years and with a graded copy of Action Comics #1 selling for $3 million plus, Superman is arguably the gold standard by which all other heroes are measured. Like many heroes, Superman has appeared in comic books, but also in Sunday newspaper strips. While this may not be as common now, it was very common in the 1950s.

With comic values for older hero books becoming more and more out of reach and original Sunday comic strips being very difficult to find, fans of these great characters have limited options when wanting to read the material that made them great in the first place. Fortunately, The Library of American Comics has a solution for that with Superman: The Atomic Age Sundays (1956-1959), the third and final volume collecting the Sunday adventures of the Man of Steel from this era.

The book lovingly reprints all the strips from July 1, 1956, to October 11, 1959. There are 13 stories in all, with some being original to the Sunday strips while others were alternate versions of stories published in the comics. The book’s introduction, written by Mark Waid with John Wells, speculates as to whether the Sunday strips copied the comics or vice versa and while they come to no definitive conclusion, they suggest the dates involved say that the comics were copying the Sundays. In addition to the strips themselves, the book includes a gallery of eight comic book covers done by artist Wayne Boring, who also illustrated the Sundays.

The stories themselves run the gamut from the absurd (Superman polishing off 200 wheat cakes and worrying about his physique looking not so super in the mirror) to reminding readers that Superman’s other weakness besides kryptonite was magic as he struggles to fight a supernatural genie. The former has a humorous pair of panels that find Clark Kent’s pajamas ripping when he gets out of bed while the latter finds Superman in outer space and conversing with talking rocks. Great stuff, all brilliantly illustrated by Boring and written by Alvin Schwartz.

Another set of strips has Superman running for Senator. Not being born in the United States (or Earth for that matter), Superman could not run for president. It does give us a great title though in “The Great Superman Filibuster.” This story, as all the others in the book, is like a walk back in time with the period-correct clothing and cars. A simpler time perhaps, but the story does raise the question of what would we do if someone like Superman came to Earth and wanted to run for public office? It’s not like anyone would be able to stop him.

Bill Finger scripts the classic story “Superman Versus the Futuremen,” one now considered to be the last Golden Age Superman story. It retells the origin of Superman, establishing that the Earth 2 Superman did not have a career as a teenager. This was during a period when DC had relaunched some of their classic heroes, relegating their namesakes to Earth 2 status. In the case of Superman, his story had gone on uninterrupted, so some changes needed to be made to accommodate an Earth 2 version of himself. This, of course, has been changed over numerous times since then, but in 1958, DC’s continuity was decidedly less confusing and complicated.

For fans of the Man of Steel or vintage comics in general, Superman: The Atomic Age Sundays, Volume 3 (1956-1959) is a no-brainer to own. History buffs will love taking a step back in time with the clothing and dialogue and images while Superman fans will find a lot of great, rare material all neatly collected in one place. Highly recommended.

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