The Early Superheroes

Hey guys! For today’s post we read Supermen, a compilation of various superhero comics from 1936-1941 (up to page 124), “Historical Considerations”, “Comics Predecessors”, and “The Great Comic Book Heroes” from The Superhero Reader.

Upon reading Supermen I was very disappointed. I now see why many of those comics didn’t make it past the superhero decline of the 1950s. Many of the comics included in this selection were very all over the place with their story and not all that entertaining. They all attempted to be witty and clever, but most fell short. A common thing I saw, among these particular comics, was a rush past plot and content in order to just get to the action. There was a lack of built up suspense when it came to the action, as the detail had been sparred. This could be because we are reading just snippets of each comic, without its full context, and for some characters I can see how there could have been more to the story; but for many of the “superheroes”, the stories fell flat.

As I’m writing this I am relating it to Peter Coogan’s “Comics Predecessors” in The Superhero Reader. While many of these early superheroes did follow the conventions of a superhero he laid out in his own book Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre, namely, “ the mission has to be a prosocial one, the powers above those of ordinary humans, and the identity a double one…”, these other early superheroes seem to fall more into the mystery genre, rather than the superhero one. Many of these early superheroes do not possess superhuman strength, making them more of mysterious costumed do-gooders than superheroes.

Reading “The Great Comic Book Heroes” was my favorite part of this week’s reading. Jules Feiffer tells of the early days of comics. He talks about the writers and the artists who were working so hard to not only break into the medium, but to create and publish their own stories within it. I love history, and so to hear how hard these people worked attempting to create a culture around them, making very little money but just doing what they loved. I think that is what is so great about comics, it is such a passionate and creatively driven field that it allows for so much imagination and delight to happen.

That’s all for now! Thank you for reading! Feel free to post questions or comments!

The Early Superheroes

4 thoughts on “The Early Superheroes

  1. Anonymous says:

    I agree with your view on the plot for these comics. Everything seemed so rushed and there were times I felt very confused as to who was doing what, despite the pictures. There were characters were just thrown haphazardly into the story; many of these were women come to think of it. The only comic I felt I wanted to continue reading was about The Comet since he “turned bad”. I’m curious as to how you felt about the lone female superhero, Fantomah. What did you think of her appearance in the midst of these supermen and what about her story? She was barely in it!


  2. I like you was very disappointed in the Supermen comics. I thought that they were scrambled and out of place but at the same time I liked that this book allowed its readers to have access to so many superheroes that have become lost.


  3. charleshatfield says:

    “Many of these early superheroes do not possess superhuman strength, making them more of mysterious costumed do-gooders than superheroes.” I suppose that’s why Coogan would argue that the pre-Superman characters really don’t qualify as superheroes. Of course, if we take Superman as our prototype, we can easily see how earlier characters didn’t quite “get there.” But I like the fact that Greg Sadowski (the book’s editor) takes a more liberal view of the genre and includes various mystery men and SF heroes. Those antecedent genres are crucial!

    I do think there are several good comics in the “Supermen!” collection, good in the sense of accomplished and moving in new directions, even if they’re rough by our standards (contrast Jack Cole or Jack Kirby’s work with some of the other, more stolid, more constricted early comics; there are definitely signs of change there). And I’ve even say that Cole’s “The Claw Battles Daredevil” (in the second half of “Supermen!”) is a lively, interesting, well-drawn comic. It’s just that it’s also appallingly racist and xenophobic!

    As I said, the book gives an honest, unvarnished view of the genre’s roots. Maddy, why do you suppose the comics stint on plot development and favor action?


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