On Sunday, October the seventeenth, 1943 Colonel Flip Corkin was talking to Terry, a piece of writing so powerful that it was read into the Congressional Record in its entirety and is now immortalized as the 'Pilot's Creed'.
Superman? He was playing Cupid to Mary Starr and Bob Martin, an episode ending with the less than immortal line: "If you think Superman isn't capable of striking a woman -- you'd better come along!"
On Sunday, December the tenth, 1944 Val, "the light of madness" in his eyes, was drawing back the draperies in Aleta's throneroom, preparatory to carrying her away from her suitors.
Superman? He was carrying Tony the barber ("I'da lika very moch to worka for the boys --") and Mamie the manicurist across the Pacific to 'G.I.s who want nothing more exciting than ***a good haircut***!'
[And Mamie destroys a 'Nipponese fighter' by tossing a brick which, "just fer luck I brought along in my tray". Madness? Prince Valiant didn't know the half of it!]
I would love to tell you what Alex Raymond, the third of the great trinity of Foster-Raymond-Caniff was doing with 'Flash Gordon' but I can't. (More on that later.)
The point is that 'Superman' wasn't in the same ballpark as the other great strips in the Golden Age of the newspaper adventure comic strips. I wouldn't put it in my personal pantheon of 'Top Ten' strips'; frankly, it would struggle to crack even the 'Top Twenty'.
But all that said I like this book quite a bit. Those other strips present heroic ideals -- what we would like to have been -- where this one is a mirror to society as it actually was. So, taken on its own terms -- a historical artefact, no more but no less -- this is like stepping into a time-machine.
There is a casual racism and sexism that jars on a 21st century sensibility but is perfectly true to its time. The racism ends with the war, with a particularly cruel sequence that runs for three weeks in September 1945.
The sexism, however, runs unabated. Superman is as good as his word -- and does put Lily Field across his knee to give her a spanking. And on April 14, 1946 he encourages Evad to give Arda, queen of Suprania, precisely the same treatment.
Even Lois Lane is not quite the daredevil reporter but merely the 'heartthrob editor' of the 'Daily Planet'.
But there is also the unprecedented social unity of the early years of the war, when people stand together to beat the foes that even Superman cannot touch, beating Gremlins with ration books and war bonds.
On a more serious note, Superman teaches Sally Wilshire -- and the reading public at large -- the value of "the war's most unglamorous job", of the infantryman. The episode of Judy King talks of inter-service cooperation.
And there are stray bits that remind us just how far removed from the world of the 1940s;
" "'Djever see a Jeep?" a G.I. asks his dancing companion, to which she responds, "What's a Jeep -- a lady Jap?"
This particular story ends with the most touching sequence of the book, when the commanding officer of the camp orders a captain to "let the sun set five minutes late tonight" for "when the bugler sounds Retreat it means the end of the ball for all our He-Cinderellas".
Any volume issued under the Library of American Comics imprint is bound to have better than average production values, and this book does not disappoint. That said, I wish the digital retouching had been done with a stronger hand -- some of the panels display the dreaded publishing gremlins. (Take a look at the last panel of 11-18-1945 panel, where the reds of 'The Origin of Superman' are all over the place.)
Speaking of colors, it is weird to see how casually DC Comics treated the now-famous telescoping Superman logo. On 12-5-1943 (Page 39), for instance, the familiar red and blue were dropped for a logo dressed in shades of green.
Speaking of colors, take a look at the dust-jacket. When you spread it out, the inner left panel, the width of the cover, and the inner right panel offer the Superman trinity of red-white-blue. (A tip of the hat to Art Director Lorraine Turner and Editor Dean Mullaney for this tribute.)
So, wny four stars rather than a full panoply of five?
First, I really do think that the strip restoration could have cleaned up some of the murkier panels.
Second, more irritatingly, this book does not reprint the earliest strips. The Superman Sundays began on 11-05-1939 but this book's first strip is dated 5-9-1943. (And *that* is why I can't compare it to any contemporary 'Flash Gordon' strip.)
Dean Mullaney points out in a brief introductory note that the first 183 strips have already been published by Kitchen Sink and DC Comics. This is true but the same logic was not followed for the likes of 'Steve Canyon' and 'Li'l Abner', which too were originally Kitchen Sink publications. Of course, that first volume of Superman Sundays can be picked up easily enough but it is still irritating. (To me, anyhow, because I don't want to wait for seven or eight more volumes before the first strips are reprinted.)
Recommended -- and waiting for the next volume to be announced.