Book Review: Superman: The Golden Age Dailies 1947-1949 by Alvin Schwartz, Wayne Boring, et al.

Superman remains one of the most beloved and collected superhero characters of all time. Some of the rarest Superman collectibles are the newspaper strips that ran from 1939 to 1966. Many of these were thrown away as “yesterday’s news,” with few saved for posterity. The fantastic partnership between DC Comics, IDW Publishing and the Library of American Comics has been aiming to correct that, lovingly reprinting these strips in hardcover form. The latest, Superman: The Golden Age Dailies 1947-1949, is a lavish collection of 15 post-war episodes of the Man of Steel.

The strips, written by Alvin Schwartz and drawn by Wayne Boring (and later James Winslow Mortimer), represent a departure from the World War II-era Superman comics. Gone were Nazis and war bonds references and in were more domestic-type battles, often against stereotypical for the times mobsters or gangster types. The Baby Boom was in full swing and Superman’s problems took on a decidedly less global tone. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of adventures to be had in these stories, however.

The collection begins with “Who Is Miss Whisper?”, a story about a rich millionaire named Jonathan Dexter who, while recording the voice of Captain Grumley on the S. S. Mauretius across the ocean, accidentally hears a woman’s voice. Dexter immediately falls in love with the woman and, being a man of influence, offers to donate $1 million to charity if anyone can find out the identity of Miss. Whisper as she is called. Superman is enlisted to help find the woman, using his laser vision to etch a new recording of her voice after the previous copy gets destroyed and using tuning forks to determine the real Miss Whisper from the imposters. Lois Lane joins the search by enlisting a team of scientists to create a composite sketch of what they believe Miss Whisper to look like. The sketch is not attractive and people are stunned that Dexter would be in love with such a woman. It is one of several instances in the book that no one would have batted an eye at in the 1940s but would probably be considered inappropriate or sexist today. The premise is absurd, but fun, and it is well written with fantastic artwork.

“The Perfect Woman” finds Olivia Hill, who was a champion golfer, bestselling author, and Miss America for 1947 pining for Superman. After all, she was considered the perfect woman and he the perfect man. She was used to getting what she wanted, so marriage was inevitable in her eyes. Superman wants no part of her and goes out of his way to embarrass her, going as far as spanking her publicly. The moves backfire, making Hill all the more determined to win Superman over, staging a kidnapping at one point so he could rescue her in dramatic fashion. Superman decides to get engaged to Hill, but then to act in an over-the-top domineering way to try and get her to call it off, controlling what she wears and saying she (and women in general) should spend more time in the kitchen. The story goes out of its way to show that Superman does not approve of acting like this, but it is still obviously something that would never appear in a comic published today.

The Ogies make their second Superman strip appearance in “The Return of the Ogies,” a story about a pair of disembodied voices who are bent on making Clark Kent/Superman miserable and revealing his secret identity to all. The pair’s invisible nature makes for some comedic moments as people think park benches are talking to them, but they provide extra trouble for Kent/Superman when they materialize as beautiful blonde twin sisters. The pair can only do this during leap years and they have to wait for the year to end to change back, as the alternate way they can disappear again is very painful for them. Stories such as this one show Schwartz to be adept at handling more lighthearted fare and not having Superman be dependent on a rogue’s gallery to be entertaining.

Lois Lane takes center stage in “Lois Lane’s Solo Adventure,” a story that finds her not winning a best newspaper woman award because the judges could not determine how much help she had from Superman on her stories. Furious, Lois sets out to prove her detractors wrong and ends up tangling with some gangsters when a piece she wrote angered Kim West, a rich debutante with a mean streak. The story is full of mystery, murder, suspense, and a somewhat surprising twist at the end. It is a highlight of the collection and is a gritty tale, more in line with something you might see in Batman than in Superman.

“The Millionaire Ex-Reporter Clark Kent” finds Kent fired from the Daily Planet after he inherits a fortune from a man with no next of kin whose name he cleared in an article some years back. Kent was fired because it was determined that someone with that kind of money doesn’t need the job. Not wanting to gain any unwanted publicity that could compromise his secret identity, Kent tries to concoct several ways to get rid of the money, all while seeming interested in keeping the money. It is a mess for Kent and features the return of Kim West as an antagonist. Good stuff.

Mortimer takes over the artwork on “Superman, Jailbird,” a story that finds Superman jailed in a small country town for driving 25mph. Though he could easily break out, Superman respects the law of course and does his sentence, but when a criminal element tries to drum up business at a hotel so people could gawk at Superman in jail, he needs to act to stop them before people get hurt, building a Betatron to attack the potassium nitrate molecules in the criminals’ guns to disable them. The machine has an unexpected and humorous side effect though, making for a fun ending to an otherwise serious story.

The book features an introduction by Sidney Friedfertig that really goes over the history of this period well. Where today’s comic stories tend to get right to the action, these daily strips extended a story about two months each, really allowing the creative team to build tension with frequent cliffhangers. The stories are all in black and white, but the reproduced artwork looks fantastic throughout.

Post-war Superman was very different in tone than the adventures from just a few years before. That said, the creative team behind these stories was able to adapt and make for some very entertaining tales, all with excellent artwork. Superman: The Golden Age Dailies 1947-1949 collects these rare stories all in one place, making it a must own for fans of the Man of Steel and of comics from this period.

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