Action Comics vol.1 #8 - cover date January 1939
In this early adventure, Superman turns the power of redemption-through-terror on a group of wild young delinquents whose paths to prison are clearly laid out before them - before the Man of Steel disposes of their Fagin, a crook operating under the unlikely sobriquet of “Gimpy, and impresses the boys by withstanding a brutal belt to the noggin with a wrench (he also hauls them around on top of the telephone wires for a while, just to put a fright into them).
The early Superman stories are applauded for Superman’s drastic sense of social fair play, but this is the first issue which took the time to look at the causes and consequences of wrongdoing; prior to this, Superman’s solution to crooked politicians and spousal abuse was to put someone through a wall and trust that everything would subsequently work out. Here, Superman realizes that the impoverished, filthy, dangerous slums which the kids call home contributes directly to their lawlessness, and he resolves to fix the problem.
Of course, his solution is inimitably of his oeuvre; Superman evacuates the slums and proceeds to smash them to kindling. When the army is called in to subjugate Superman - whose relationship with the law is still ambiguous, if not downright antagonistic - he encourages their wholesale warfare in order to more quickly demolish the blighted neighborhood. In the end, it all works out all right, as emergency construction squads swoop in and erect safe, clean, affordable housing for the displaced residents.
(On a slightly coincidental note, November 1938 - the month of release for this 1939 cover-dated issue - was a heady month for morality messages about juvenile delinquency; the award-winning Angels with Dirty Faces was released at the same time, debuting the young actors who would go on to become better known as The Dead End Kids)