Recurring Feature (at least until Dec. 26): Gifts from Christmas Past…

28 Nov
Recurring Feature (at least until Dec. 26): Gifts from Christmas Past…

I received the following gift from my friend Robert for Christmas 1997:

The Silver Age of Superman: The Greatest Covers of Action Comics from the ’50s to the ’70s

This is an invaluable collection of pop-art from my favorite period of comics. When I think of Superman, I think of the comics published in the 1960s through the early 1970s. I regularly raided the back issue bins of comic book stores for issues from this vintage. They were barely 20 years old at the time but still seemed to provide a glimpse into another, simpler world. The stories burst with unrestrained imagination. There were literally no limit as to what could happen.

This is why I defend the old “Superfriends” series — specifically the Legion of Doom season. I think it reflects the fun and, yes, goofiness of the period, and I’ll always choose charmingly goofy over unintentionally goofy (e.g. The Joker in bad KISS make-up in “The Dark Knight”).

“The Silver Age of Superman” collection is less about the stories between the covers but the covers themselves. Unfortunately, superhero covers are a lost art — replaced by in my opinion dull pin-up covers that you could slap on any old story in which Norman Osborn bangs Gwen Stacy (yeah, that happened). They don’t compel you to save your pennies or plead with your parents for the spare change to buy the issue. They told more of a story in just one page than many comics today do over the course of a trade paperback.

A critical component of my childhood was a library copy, checked out once a month for about three years, of “Superman: From the ’30s to the ’70s” (just discovered on Amazon and purchased as I write this). Stories from each decade were introduced with a color cover gallery. The covers from the ’60s and ’70s period (very early ’70s as this book was released in 1971) were imprinted in my brain and served as the checklist for my back-issue hunts. I had to know whether Superman’s son was “man or beast” and what exactly was the “secret of the wheelchair Superman.”

I didn’t actually track down the “Secret of the Wheelchair Superman” issue (“Action Comics” No. 397) until my early 20s — by then it had an unfortunate association due to Christopher Reeve’s recent acciden. When my friend Robert finished reading it, he announced, “Now, that I know the secret of the wheelchair Superman, I can leave! I’ve actually got Brainiac in the trunk. He’ll pay through the nose for it.”

“The Silver Age of Superman” had dozens more covers than “Superman: From the ’30s to the ’70s.” Most of them I own either through acquisition of the originals or the recent black-and-white “Showcase” trade paperbacks. One I do not own, which frustratingly enough, is also my favorite cover <Muhammad Ali voice>of all time</Muhammad Ali voice> is actually not a Silver Age comic. Technically, Superman’s “Silver Age” period began in 1958 with the publication of “Action Comics” No. 242 (“The Super-Duel in Space,” which is also the first appearance of the villain Brainiac). My white whale was published just a few months earlier in April (“Action Comics” No. 239 — “Superman’s New Face”).

As you can see, the cover features a reporter interviewing Superman, whose face is covered in bandages, and demanding that he “admit that the reason you are wearing that mask is because you now resemble the alien in this sketch!”

Superman’s only response is a terse, “No comment!” This also recalls a 1951 episode of “The Adventures of Superman” (“The Human Bomb”) in which Superman, for reason I won’t reveal here, repeatedly states, “No comment until the time limit is up!” (It apparently resonated with Larry David, as well.)

I had to know the secret of Superman’s “new face” but I could never find the issue, and because it just misses the Silver Age starting point, it wasn’t reprinted in the first Silver Age Superman Showcase collection. (I see it’s on sale online for $40 but that’s hard to justify.)

But ultimately it doesn’t matter because the cover stands on its own. It represents everything I love about the period. The story could be great. It could be lousy (sadly many didn’t live up to the promise of their covers). But I can’t imagine my life without this cover. I even think Robert and I discussed wearing the bandage-mask at my wedding but that’s the sort of thing that gets vetoed quick. Few brides enjoy having their groom intone, “No comment!” when asked the key question during the ceremony.

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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Pop Life


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