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.