Action Comics vol.1 #57 - Cover date February 1943
The Prankster returns with possibly his greatest scheme in tow - and he outdoes Luthor, the Ultra-Humanite, Metalo, The Lightning Master, The Ghost and any dozen more of Superman’s swelling ranks of super-foes; he leaves Superman knocked unconscious on the carpet.
Prankster’s plot bears some resemblance to his earlier scheme - some seed cash from local crooks, what appears to be reverse robberies - but it’s spiced up with a celebrity glad-handing scam, the avenging ladies of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ostriches and, best of all, Prankster tricking Superman into knocking himself out under his own misdirected superpower.
Superman vol.1 #20 - Cover date January-February 1943
If 1942 was the year when Superman was introduced to the idea of the supervillain in bulk, then 1943 is the year when he starts to meet allies - or, at least, potential allies - in his war against crime and injustice.
Decked out in a color reversed costume - blue cape and red tights, a bold “H” in a chest insignia - Herman the Heroic shows up in Metropolis as an up-and-coming, but bumbling, would-be second Superman. He actually ends up acquitting himself fairly well against a cat-cowled menace called The Leopard, although he disappears promptly thereafter. Much as with the modern day, and excepting a lengthy partnership with Batman, Superman rarely keeps close allies unless they all happen to go to the same tailor.
It’s intriguing to imagine what Siegel might have been trying to say with this story, if anything; at a time when National was suing the short red pants off of any other company’s Superman imitator, was Siegel giving tacit approval - possibly even to Superman’s red-suited competitor over at Fawcett comics? Was he acknowledging that even his and Shuster’s great invention wouldn’t have been possible without having been liberally inspired by the heroes who preceded their own?
The lead story for this issue is a shocking affair where a prank ends up revealing Superman’s secret identity - luckily Clark’s terrified antics while “disguised” as his super alter ego put suspicions to rest - and is followed by a befanged Nazi scientist conveniently known as Dr.Fange unleashing sea serpents on America’s maritime might.
Lastly, the Puzzler returns, in the story which famously sees him murder a professional poker player with a fireplace poker, cementing forever his reputation as the super-villain whose gimmick is poor sportsmanship and puns.
Action Comics vol.1 #56 - Cover date January 1943
In this issue, Shuster may have invented comics’ first (and there can’t be many more) Mad Architect in the form of Emil Loring, a twisted architectural genius who engineers dire destructive threats against the world’s greatest monuments.
Giant hail stones pound the Washington Monument, a weird green laser chips away at Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty is threatened by a tsunami, and so on. It’s all part of Loring’s plan to destroy the competition to HIS great masterpiece, a tremendous sky-piercing tower - built by slave labor abducted from Metropolis’ eager labor force, no less (dynamically, the would-be slaves are sent to Loring’s remote, undisclosed building site via cartoon rocket).
Whatever his bona fides as an architect. the stunted, misshapen Loring obviously harbors a little mad scientist in his DNA, what with the weird lasers and weather controlling machines…
World’s Finest Comics vol.1 #8 - Cover date Winter 1942
It’s been a while since Superman got to merely have a bit of fun without Nazi saboteurs or fledgling super-villains bringing life-and-death into the occasion. This time around, the Man of Steel lends his talents to a quintet of stage performers, all eager young hopefuls on the verge of surrendering their dreams, to help them succeed in making showbiz their career!
The antics of this light-hearted story anticipate Siegel’s and Shuster’s later creation, the clown-like superhero Funnyman, and mirror the kind of banter which Siegel is using over at his Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy feature.
"The Villainy of the Voice" Superman Daily Newspaper Strip - December 21, 1942 to April 17, 1943
The Man of Steel faces off against, effectively, an invisible man – The Voice, an Axis agent who operates almost exclusively by means of radio broadcasts. The Voice, otherwise unseen – and those who see The Voice, DIE – even makes a sneaky appearance as part of the supporting cast for this arc.
With 1942 wrapping up, you may have noticed a theme running through many of Superman’s newly-minted pseudonymous villains in the daily strips. Here, we meet The Voice, and previously in the daily strip we met The Monocle and The Leer. Seems we narrowly avoided The Mustache, The Glance and The Molar.
Action Comics vol.1 #55 - Cover date December 1942
Al Capp – creator of Li’l Abner – was arguably the world’s most famous newspaper cartoonist, but was he terribly well-liked? It’s hard to say if this parody of Capp – as an unscrupulous Daily Planet staff cartoonist who gains inspiration for his wildly popular comic strip by actively plagiarizing the antics (and then deliberately complicating the lives) of a group of friendly, well-meaning hillbillies – was inspired by a dislike for the man’s admittedly abrasive style, jealousy over his success, or was merely a satire much in the vein of Li’l Abner itself…