Action Comics #1
November 1, 2010
The man of steel! The man of tomorrow! The man who will wreck your stuff!
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Hey, kids, it's Secret Origins Month!
(To clips of various superhero movies, cartoons and TV shows, the title "Secret Origins Month" appears; cut to a shot of a cover for a superhero comic called "Secret Origins")
Linkara (v/o): Welcome to Secret Origins Month! Basically, a thought occurred to me a few months ago.
(Cut to a shot of some bottles of grape-flavored G2 Gatorade)
Linkara (v/o): Grape G2 Gatorade is really good. Yeah, it has nothing to do with this, but it really does taste good.
(Cut to a montage of other "secret origin" comics of superheroes)
Linkara (v/o): Anyway, I was wondering about the superheroes that I loved so much and got to thinking how much has changed over the years about them. After all, some of these guys are over 70 years old. There are bound to be a few things that writers and artists have tweaked over the years.
Linkara: And thus we have Secret Origins Month. We're going to take a look at the very first issues of some classic characters. First, is the one you can say started it all: Superman!
(The theme for the Superman movie plays as we cut to another montage, starting with a shot of Superman)
Linkara (v/o): To be fair, though, Superman is not really the first superhero. It's hard to say who exactly that is, since the definition of a superhero can vary wildly from person to person.
(Cut to a shot of a comic featuring the Mighty Hercules)
Linkara (v/o): After all, Hercules, who's a Greek myth, is currently a Marvel superhero, and who's to say ancient demigods don't fit the bill?
(Cut to shots of various pulp heroes)
Linkara (v/o): Pulp heroes might count, too, like the Shadow, Zorro, or the Phantom.
(Cut back to Superman)
Linkara (v/o): Still, Superman can probably be considered the father of the traditional concept of powers and abilities beyond mortal man and wearing a bright colorful costume. Originally, Superman was conceived as a villain with mental powers in 1933 by his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Over time, the concept evolved into the hero we know today, with some tweaks here and there. They drew inspiration from...
(A shot of the movie poster for Metropolis is shown)
Linkara (v/o): ...movies, actors, other actors...
(Back to Superman again)
Linkara (v/o): ...and just general thought about what the character should look like.
(The montage now focuses on the plight of Superman's creators)
Linkara (v/o): Sadly, Siegel and Shuster got kind of screwed over with their creation. There's a lot of legalese involved, but needless to say, no one could have anticipated just how much Superman would be a part of American pop culture after so many decades and how much money the brand had made.
(Cut to a clip of CNN Headline News telling about the apparent death of Superman)
Linkara (v/o): Superman's death in 1992 made national news, for crying out loud.
(An article is shown, displaying the original creators' family trying to reacquire the rights to Superman)
Linkara (v/o): But yeah, they sold the original rights to Superman for $130, and they and their families have tried for years to reacquire the rights, even after their deaths. I'm not gonna say who's right or wrong, but I know some of you would want me to mention it.
Linkara: But we're not here to talk about that. We're here to talk about the comic itself. So let's dig into "Action Comics #1", the very first appearance of Superman.
(AT4W title sequence plays; title card has "Can You Read My Mind" from the Superman movie playing in the background; cut to a closeup of the comic cover)
Linkara (v/o): Now, of course, I don't have a copy of the original comic. If I did, I wouldn't have it for very long, because I'd immediately sell it. There aren't many copies left in the world. After all, who knew that a silly little comic book published in 1938 would be worth a million bucks 70 years later? Oh, and just a little disclaimer here: this is all in good fun. I'm evaluating the comic with modern standards, and of course it's probably not gonna stand up. I freaking love Superman, and this is all just for laughs. Anyway, let's start with our cover. Like I said, I'm reading from a scanned copy, but gee, someone really put this one through the wringer. Every edge is worn and ripped. It's kind of dirty. Didn't anybody have a reprint they could use for the cover? But yeah, "Action Comics #1" for ten cents. You know, at the time of this review, there's debate about the rising price of comics to $3.99 per issue.
Linkara: Man, money was so much better during the Great Depression! (beat) Wait...
Linkara (v/o): But about the cover itself, I'm just curious about a few things. One, why were people driving around what looks like the middle of the desert? Two, was that guy underneath the car? I mean, he's crouching, and he looks rather surprised about this, like, "Geez, what the hell happened?" And then there's this guy who looks like he needs some Alka-Seltzer for his headache. (the comic opens to the first page) We open with Superman's origin story. Just a little bit of trivia for the format here: it was originally pitched as a comic strip, but when National Publications, the comic publisher at the time, was planning on making "Action Comics #1", they told Siegel and Shuster to reconfigure the story so it was in comic book format. So they had to literally cut and paste their strips into thirteen pages. Hence, why every page of this story has three rows of the exact same length and width.
Narrator: As a distant planet was destroyed by old age, a scientist placed his infant son within a hastily devised space-ship, launching it toward Earth!
Linkara: (as narrator) In retrospect, since the planet was dying of old age, they really should have seen this one coming.
Narrator: When the device landed on Earth, a passing motorist, discovering the sleeping babe within, turned the child over to an orphanage.
Linkara: Calling the police had not been invented yet.
Narrator: Attendants, unaware the child's physical structure was millions of years advanced of their own, were astounded at his feats of strength.
Linkara: (as an attendant) My God, fellow orphanage attendants! That child is lifting that inflatable chair!
Narrator: When maturity was reached, he discovered he could easily: leap 1/8 of a mile; hurdle a twenty-story building... raise tremendous weights... run faster than an express train... and that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!
Linkara: Uh... (holds up index finger) Wait, he learned all this when he reached maturity? What the hell was going on in the intervening eighteen years or so? Did the orphanage attendants just forget about the incredibly strong child? (as one attendant) Uh, sir, don't you think we should tell someone about (points thumb behind him) the fantastically strong kid? (as another attendant) Quiet! No interruptions during Fibber McGee and Molly!
Narrator: Early, Clark decided he must turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind.
Linkara: (as narrator) And thus The Weather Channel was born.
Narrator: SUPERMAN! Champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!
Linkara (v/o): Here's another trivia note for you: Shuster and Siegel were both children of Jewish immigrants.
(Cut to shots of a wartime comic where Superman battles Adolf Hitler (the real deal, not just some clone))
Linkara (v/o): And while there were very few stories that saw Superman directly engaging Nazis in World War II, the two did publish a story in 1943 for Look Magazine that showed Superman taking Hitler and Stalin and bringing them to the League of Nations for war crimes trials against their own people. And that is awesome!
(Cut back to the first comic)
Narrator: A scientific explanation of Clark Kent's amazing strength!
Linkara: (putting his head on his hands eagerly) Oh, this ought to be good.
Narrator: Kent had come from a planet whose inhabitants' physical structure was millions of years advanced of our own. Upon reaching maturity, the people of his race became gifted with titanic strength!
(Cut to that same old shot of the Hitler clones from "Superman At Earth's End")
Hitler Clone: Of course. Don't you know anything about science?
Linkara: (recoiling, with his hands up) Whoa! Just had a humbling thought: "Superman At Earth's End" was the eventual result of this comic. (becomes nervous)
Linkara (v/o): The story proper begins with Superman leaping through the air... Yeah, when Superman was first invented, he didn't fly, just leap... and carrying a woman tied up and gagged. Yeah, when Superman was first invented, he was a kidnapping asshole. Superman goes to the Governor's mansion and demands to be let in. The guy at the door – I presume it's the butler – says he can come back in the morning.
(Cut to a clip of The Wizard of Oz)
Oz: Go away and come back tomorrow!
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Superman, though, is not one to be stopped by doors and just bursts his way in! Oh, and his cape keeps disappearing.
Superman: Answer my question! Are you going to take me to the Governor?
Butler: No! I won't!
Superman: Then I'll take you to him!
Linkara: (as butler) But... But I answered your question!
Linkara (v/o): Superman proceeds to goofily lift the butler up over his head with one hand and walk up the stairs, the guy screaming for help all the way. They reach the Governonr's room, which is guarded by a locked steel door.
Linkara: Is the Governor routinely menaced by costumed super beings? Why does he have a steel door for his bedroom?
Butler: Try and knock this door down!
Linkara (v/o): And Superman proceeds to do just that, ripping the thing off the wall.
Superman: It was your idea!
Linkara: (as butler) Okay, I admit I kind of walked into that one.
Linkara (v/o): The Governor is woken up, Superman explaining that an innocent woman is about to be executed for murder, but he has a signed confession from the real murderer. The butler tries to shoot Supes, thinking him to be some crazy man. Crazy strongman, considering the door thing, but whatever. Naturally, the bullet ricochets off of him. Also, in the bottom-left corner is this silly little clock.
Narrator: A life hangs in the balance. 12 minutes to go.
Linkara (v/o): After Superman's cape vanishes again, the Governor asks to see the papers, and now it's nine minutes to go. So, what, three minutes passed between Supes getting shot and then saying the Governor can save the innocent woman? What's even goofier about this is that that's the last time the clock thing happens. And I know you're thinking that it'd make more sense when this was strips and not pages for a comic book, but no! Or what if in the next day's comic strip doesn't have the clock thing, either?
Linkara: I mean, you can't just have some pointless clock appear for suspense reasons (the comic's clock appears in the corner, reading "9 minutes to go") and not do anything with it! (he sees the clock and stares silently at camera)
Linkara (v/o): So yeah, the woman is pardoned, and Supes departs, leaving a note saying that the real murderer is on the front lawn. Due process? What's that? The next day, Clark is relieved to see he's not mentioned in the report.
Linkara: (reading paper) "Mysterious man in spandex and vanishing cape shows he's smarter than the Metropolis police force. Editor's note: Steel doors – Are they the way of the future?"
Narrator: Miles away, in the Governor's private chamber...
Linkara (v/o): Yes, his private chamber that has eight people in it. The Governor's just happy that someone with that kind of power is on the side of law and order.
Linkara: Which is why he broke into your house and beat up your butler and broke your property and obtained a confession from an unwilling woman! Seems to me that Superman is on his own side of law and order there, Governor.
Linkara (v/o): And yes, we know it was an unwilling woman. Otherwise, why the heck would she be tied up and gagged? Don't answer that. We cut to the Daily Star, which is what it was originally called, where Clark's editor [Perry White] tells him to try to figure out anything he can about Superman. However, that's interrupted when he's given another assignment.
Perry White: Hurry, Kent-- a phoned tip... wife-beating at 211 Court Ave!
Linkara: (as Perry) Get some great pictures of the woman getting beaten by her husband! Oh, and interview their kids, too! This is gonna be a great story! (normal) Seriously, what the hell?
Linkara (v/o): Naturally, Superman shows up at the place, where a man is beating his with... uh, a squash? Superman lifts the guy up by his clavicle, where he, of course, goes into this awkward position. Supes then proceeds to throw to the jackass into a wall!
Superman: You're not fighting a woman, now!
Linkara: BECAUSE I AM A MAN!
(As always, he reaches out and punches offscreen, then pulls that which he has punched into frame. In this case, he has punched... Iron Liz!)
Linkara: (surprised) Liz! Where the heck did you come from?!
Iron Liz: (looking around, confused) I don't know...
Linkara (v/o): Later, Clark asks Lois Lane out for a date. She takes pity on the guy who's wearing khakis with a dark suit jacket, and they go for dinner and dancing. At a nearby table, three goons are talking. One of them [Butch Matson, as the comic mentions] decides to cut in and dance with Lois. Lois of course objects, but Clark wants to maintain his facade of being weak. Fortunately, Lois is no pushover. (a punching sound is heard)
Butch Matson: Fight... you weak-livered pole-cat!
Linkara: (as Butch) Even though it was the lady who hit me!
Linkara (v/o): (as Butch, shoving his hand in Clark's face) Smell my hand! SMELL IT! (normal) Lois, walks away, calling Clark a coward for not wanting to fight the thug. Said thugs decide to chase after Lois for hitting that guy. They run her off the road and kidnap her, but fortunately, Superman chases after them and lifts their car up, shaking them all out and giving us our cover shot of smashing it against the rocks. He takes the jerk and lifts him up.
Superman: This will take but a few seconds.
Linkara: (as Superman) Time for a power wedgie! (lifts up his arms as if giving a wedgie)
Linkara (v/o): Supes takes Lois home. I admit, it's kind of sweet in hindsight, considering their future marriage and especially...
(Cut to footage of the Superman movie showing Superman flying Lois through the air)
Linkara (v/o): ...the original Superman movie. Still, just imagine how goofy this scene would be in the movie if Superman was hopping around instead of flying.
(The picture jumps up and down repeatedly; cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): The next day, Clark receives yet another assignment.
Perry: Kent the front page is getting so dull, I've even got to headline card-games.
Linkara: (as Perry) And we all know this Yu-Gi-Oh crap is never gonna take off!
Linkara (v/o): Apparently, there's a war going on in a South American country and he's being sent as a news correspondent. However, Clark instead takes the train to Washington, D.C. Yes, our hero ignores the news assignments given to him to do whatever the hell he feels like. In this case, he observes a senator [Senator Barrows] talking to a lobbyist and overhears their plans to meet later. At the senator's home, Superman is waiting outside to listen in on their conversation.
Senator Barrows: I've told you to avoid me in public. What would people think if they knew I had anything to do with you?
Linkara: (feigned surprise) A lobbyist meeting a politician?! What new spore of madness is this?!
Linkara (v/o): By the way, is it just me or is this lobbyist Vincent Price?
Lobbyist: I had to see you. Tell me: do you think you'll succeed in pushing the bill thru? [sic]
Linkara: And yes, they spelled "through" like that. It's either a thing they did in the 1930s or this was a precursor to text messaging.
Sen. Barrows: There's no doubt about it! The bill will be passed before its full implications are realized. Before any remedial steps can be taken, our country will be embroiled with Europe.
Linkara: My God, that son of a bitch wants America to oppose Hitler! (points to camera) STOP HIM, SUPERMAN!
Linkara (v/o): Well, admittedly, it leaves it pretty vague about that, since the only line he says is, "embroiled with Europe", which could mean getting America to side with the Axis powers, but it's kind of wince-inducing now if they meant to end America's neutrality at the time. It's also kind of amusing, considering a year after this comic was published, America's Neutrality Act would be amended to allow cash-and-carry arm trades to Great Britain and others opposing the Axis powers. It's a funny old world, idn't it? As Vincent Price leaves the office the senator's office, Superman intercepts him and drags him out a window. They jump onto telephone wires, Vincent Price panicking because he thinks they'll be electrocuted.
Superman: No, we won't! Birds sit on telephone wires and they aren't electrocuted-- not unless they touch a telephone-pole and are grounded!
(Linkara is seen reading a book called "The Physics of Superheroes"; he looks up)
Linkara: Damn, he's right! You win this time, comic, but I'll find another way to call on your science somehow!
Linkara (v/o): And so, our story ends with Superman taking Vincent and leaping towards another building as if to fall.
Narrator: And so begins the startling adventures of the most sensational strip character of all time: SUPERMAN! A physical marvel, a mental wonder, Superman is destined to reshape the destiny of a world!
Linkara: (dramatically, raising his arms in the air) All shall bow before Superman, or he shall knock down your steel doors and wreck your cars!
(Cut to shots of comics in the book; there's more than just "Superman")
Linkara (v/o): I went back and forth about whether I'd talk about the other stories in "Action Comics #1", since in both the Gold and Silver Ages, comics had more than one story in them, but I think I'm gonna hold off on them for the time being. They're not really all that impressive. There's a black-and-white Western ["Chuck Dawson"]; "Zatara", a Golden Age magician superhero, whose nemesis is a woman called the Tigress... who does not go out of her way to look anything like a tiger; a short prose story ["South Sea Strategy"] meant to be continued next month; a humor story ["Sticky-Mitt Stimson"]; a story of Marco Polo; a slightly racist little boxing story about a blond-haired white guy facing off against an Aborigine "wild Bushman"; a black-and-white crime drama ["Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter"]; and finally, another Western ["Tex Thomson"]. Maybe I'll come back to somewhere down the road, but right now, we're talking about Superman.
(Back to the Superman comic briefly)
Linkara (v/o): His first outing established a lot of things that had become common: his relationship with Lois, mild-mannered reporter, enhanced strength, etc., etc. On the other hand, though, he's guilty of destruction of private property, threatening lives, coercing confessions, kidnapping, and reckless endangerment.
Linkara: So basically, when Superman started out, he was the superhero equivalent of the Kool-Aid Man. See you next week for more of Secret Origins Month! (gets up and leaves)
(End credits roll)
Yes, I know, the clock's in the bottom RIGHT, not the bottom LEFT. These things happen.
Hey, this was actually the first Golden Age comic to be featured on the show. Spiffy!
So who called the newspapers before they called the police about a wife beating?
(Stinger: Linkara pulls in Iron Liz, who looks around, confused)
Linkara: (surprised) Liz, where the heck did you come from?!
Iron Liz: I... don't know...
Linkara: (seeing a pair of sunglasses on her head) Those are my sunglasses! (grabs them)