The Mindless Slaves of Dr. GroutSuperman Sunday Newspaper Strip - December 31, 1939 to February 4, 1940
Clark - and Superman - encounter their second mad scientist, the insidious Dr.Grout who hypnotizes unemployed men into becoming mindless assassins. 
As Superman makes short work of assorted thugs and ne’er-do-wells across multiple media, the cops-and-robbers elements of his stories increasingly give way to elements of science fiction. Ultra initiates the upcoming rogues gallery of mad scientists in the pages of Action, and in this arc of the color Sunday newspaper strips we’re introduced to Superman’s second evil scientific nemesis, “Dr.Grout” (A white-jacketed mesmerist who hypnotizes homeless men into becoming brainwashed assassins - some shades of “Reign of the Super Man” to be had).
Although Superman’s adventures up to this point are largely ground-level, you can at least say in his defense that he’s yet to repeat a theme - he’s put the boot to one wife-beater, one lynch mob, one war profiteer, one overzealous warden, one cruel orphanmaster, and so on. It’s one beating per offense in Superman’s world! 
But, of course, avoiding repetition among the violators of the social trust against whom Superman pits his tremendous strength means that the Man of Steel, in short order, will eventually find himself battling reckless drivers and pinball machine syndicates. Ultimately, labors which test his tremendous powers (and which, in turn, encourage the invention of new powers) become the order of the day, and a small army of mad scientists will lead Superman’s march into science fiction territory…

The Mindless Slaves of Dr. Grout
Superman Sunday Newspaper Strip - December 31, 1939 to February 4, 1940

Clark - and Superman - encounter their second mad scientist, the insidious Dr.Grout who hypnotizes unemployed men into becoming mindless assassins. 

As Superman makes short work of assorted thugs and ne’er-do-wells across multiple media, the cops-and-robbers elements of his stories increasingly give way to elements of science fiction. Ultra initiates the upcoming rogues gallery of mad scientists in the pages of Action, and in this arc of the color Sunday newspaper strips we’re introduced to Superman’s second evil scientific nemesis, “Dr.Grout” (A white-jacketed mesmerist who hypnotizes homeless men into becoming brainwashed assassins - some shades of “Reign of the Super Man” to be had).

Although Superman’s adventures up to this point are largely ground-level, you can at least say in his defense that he’s yet to repeat a theme - he’s put the boot to one wife-beater, one lynch mob, one war profiteer, one overzealous warden, one cruel orphanmaster, and so on. It’s one beating per offense in Superman’s world! 

But, of course, avoiding repetition among the violators of the social trust against whom Superman pits his tremendous strength means that the Man of Steel, in short order, will eventually find himself battling reckless drivers and pinball machine syndicates. Ultimately, labors which test his tremendous powers (and which, in turn, encourage the invention of new powers) become the order of the day, and a small army of mad scientists will lead Superman’s march into science fiction territory…

"Superman Goes To War"Superman Daily Newspaper Strip - December 18, 1939 to March 2, 1940
The daily newspaper strip wraps up 1939 with a dynamic story of sabotage and danger. Clark Kent uncovers enemy agents staging disasters around the United States in order to draw the country’s considerable forces into the world war which was dramatically announced at the end of the last arc. 
Reminiscent of his desperate efforts the save the town of Valleyho way back in Action Comics #5, Superman here must save Elmore from the intentional bursting of its own dam. A few of Superman’s familiar - if not terribly often-used - powers and tactics make debuts in this arc, including his mighty “super-shout” and his ability to carve deep trenches in the Earth in the blink of an eye - changing, as it were, the course of mighty rivers …

"Superman Goes To War"
Superman Daily Newspaper Strip - December 18, 1939 to March 2, 1940


The daily newspaper strip wraps up 1939 with a dynamic story of sabotage and danger. Clark Kent uncovers enemy agents staging disasters around the United States in order to draw the country’s considerable forces into the world war which was dramatically announced at the end of the last arc. 

Reminiscent of his desperate efforts the save the town of Valleyho way back in Action Comics #5, Superman here must save Elmore from the intentional bursting of its own dam. A few of Superman’s familiar - if not terribly often-used - powers and tactics make debuts in this arc, including his mighty “super-shout” and his ability to carve deep trenches in the Earth in the blink of an eye - changing, as it were, the course of mighty rivers …

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Superman vol.1 #3 - cover date Winter 1939
The Man of Steel’s third eponymous reprint volume collects The Breaking of the Valleyho Dam from Action Comics #5, the Phony Superman Set-up from Action Comics #6 and Superman and the Runaway and The Jewel Smugglers from the earlier newspaper strips (now in color). A few non-Superman related gag strips and text pieces see the issue rounded out with another guide to health and exercise narrated by the man himself.
Superman’s co-creator Joe Shuster was famously something of a health nut himself, developing an enthusiasm for weight-lifting back when the exercise was considered something of a fad, and - after  steady income from his work on Superman began to roll in - an appetite for hearty steak dinners, then considered to be the height of healthy eating.

Superman vol.1 #3 - cover date Winter 1939

The Man of Steel’s third eponymous reprint volume collects The Breaking of the Valleyho Dam from Action Comics #5, the Phony Superman Set-up from Action Comics #6 and Superman and the Runaway and The Jewel Smugglers from the earlier newspaper strips (now in color). A few non-Superman related gag strips and text pieces see the issue rounded out with another guide to health and exercise narrated by the man himself.

Superman’s co-creator Joe Shuster was famously something of a health nut himself, developing an enthusiasm for weight-lifting back when the exercise was considered something of a fad, and - after  steady income from his work on Superman began to roll in - an appetite for hearty steak dinners, then considered to be the height of healthy eating.

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Action Comics vol.1 #19 - Cover date December 1939
The Ultra-Humanite’s final arc begins in earnest as the mad genius unleashes on Metropolis a fatal, fast-moving “Purple Plague”. His goal - to wipe humanity from the planet and make way for a subsequent race of his own design.
It’s a surprisingly grim episode, even considering that it revolves around the deadly promise of genocide - citizens barricade themselves in their homes, starving themselves even as fear of the highly contagious bug drives them to hunker down in their homes. The hospitals fill with the dead and dying, children collapse in the streets, and the hollow rattle of hoofbeats echo along the abandoned buildings as horse-drawn carts carry away the dead and stricken.
I found that last image to be surprisingly permanent in my imagination - this is bustling Metropolis, a vital urban center in fast-paced 20th century America, but when the streets begin filling with the dead there are no sleek ambulances or comandeered busses to be seen. Instead, there’s only the Victorian clatter of the black carriage on pavement pockmarked with unmoving shadows.
It’s worth remarking, though, that neverminding his intentions to fully annihilate humanity in its vast multitude, Ultra won’t sink so low as to steal the library book which contains the deadly details of the plague; he dutifully returns once he’s done developing the virus… 
Superman, in the meantime, is a very busy man. Just about every element of a typical Action Comics adventure is in play in this issue - crusading Clark Kent uncovers the disease and races to research a cure, a seemingly unstoppable physical menace overcomes the city, meanwhile Superman helps clear the name and reputation of a disgraced scientist who can save humanity from the plague. In between the crusade and redemption, Ultra’s super-scientific deathtraps emerge, Superman briefly succumbs to the scientist’s sinister inventions, and finally there’s ironic comeuppance - even as the cure to Ultra’s Purple Plague are being distributed to the city, Ultra himself dies, the victim of his own malfunctioning super-weapons.
It’s a testament to the menace of the Ultra-Humanite - and the appeal of having a true nemesis to menace Superman - that the death of Ultra’s feeble, aged, physical form is only the beginning of his final Golden Age arc …

Action Comics vol.1 #19 - Cover date December 1939

The Ultra-Humanite’s final arc begins in earnest as the mad genius unleashes on Metropolis a fatal, fast-moving “Purple Plague”. His goal - to wipe humanity from the planet and make way for a subsequent race of his own design.

It’s a surprisingly grim episode, even considering that it revolves around the deadly promise of genocide - citizens barricade themselves in their homes, starving themselves even as fear of the highly contagious bug drives them to hunker down in their homes. The hospitals fill with the dead and dying, children collapse in the streets, and the hollow rattle of hoofbeats echo along the abandoned buildings as horse-drawn carts carry away the dead and stricken.

I found that last image to be surprisingly permanent in my imagination - this is bustling Metropolis, a vital urban center in fast-paced 20th century America, but when the streets begin filling with the dead there are no sleek ambulances or comandeered busses to be seen. Instead, there’s only the Victorian clatter of the black carriage on pavement pockmarked with unmoving shadows.

It’s worth remarking, though, that neverminding his intentions to fully annihilate humanity in its vast multitude, Ultra won’t sink so low as to steal the library book which contains the deadly details of the plague; he dutifully returns once he’s done developing the virus… 

Superman, in the meantime, is a very busy man. Just about every element of a typical Action Comics adventure is in play in this issue - crusading Clark Kent uncovers the disease and races to research a cure, a seemingly unstoppable physical menace overcomes the city, meanwhile Superman helps clear the name and reputation of a disgraced scientist who can save humanity from the plague. In between the crusade and redemption, Ultra’s super-scientific deathtraps emerge, Superman briefly succumbs to the scientist’s sinister inventions, and finally there’s ironic comeuppance - even as the cure to Ultra’s Purple Plague are being distributed to the city, Ultra himself dies, the victim of his own malfunctioning super-weapons.

It’s a testament to the menace of the Ultra-Humanite - and the appeal of having a true nemesis to menace Superman - that the death of Ultra’s feeble, aged, physical form is only the beginning of his final Golden Age arc …

"Underworld Politics"Superman Daily Newspaper Strip - November 13, 1939 to December 16, 1939
Superman stands behind a crusading District Attorney whose war on crime earns the ire of corrupt political boss “Big Mike” Hennesey. It’s a boilerplate Superman-Versus-Crime story but, more importantly, it makes one of the pivotal changes of the Superman mythos: The Daily Star is idly rechristened The Daily Planet, the name it will bear in the upcoming radio serial and, very soon, in the pages of the comic book itself. 

"Underworld Politics"
Superman Daily Newspaper Strip - November 13, 1939 to December 16, 1939


Superman stands behind a crusading District Attorney whose war on crime earns the ire of corrupt political boss “Big Mike” Hennesey. It’s a boilerplate Superman-Versus-Crime story but, more importantly, it makes one of the pivotal changes of the Superman mythos: The Daily Star is idly rechristened The Daily Planet, the name it will bear in the upcoming radio serial and, very soon, in the pages of the comic book itself. 

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"Twenty-Four Hours to Run"Superman Sunday Newspaper Strip - November 5, 1939 to December 24, 1939
Having already broken the daily newspaper strip barrier, Superman’s next skyscraper-busting single-bound is into the four-color world of the weekly Sunday strip.
Running a distinct storyline from the six-a-week daily newspaper strip, the Sunday strip bore its own continuity from week-to-week, meaning that while a single plot in the dailies might wrap up in two or three weeks, the Sunday strips would run an arc over the course of several months. This debut story - wherein Superman must protect logger Mike Hensley from his rival’s repeated attempts on his life - runs from the first week of November 1939 through Christmas Eve.
The story abounds with the classic Siegel and Shuster energy of the early strips, written and drawn as it is by the original creators. The workload, however, has officially reached a tipping point and both strips would begin to boast a parade of luminaries working as ghosts to Superman’s original artist.
Paul Cassidy is the first to take up the reins, providing inks and detail work on early strips. Throughout the Forties, a multitude of other artists from Leo Nowak to Jack (Starman) Burnley to, of course, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye would provide the artwork. 
Tireless Jerry Siegel remains the writer of the strips until drafted in 1943, continuing to forge his singular - if evolving - vision of the Man of Tomorrow.

"Twenty-Four Hours to Run"
Superman Sunday Newspaper Strip - November 5, 1939 to December 24, 1939

Having already broken the daily newspaper strip barrier, Superman’s next skyscraper-busting single-bound is into the four-color world of the weekly Sunday strip.

Running a distinct storyline from the six-a-week daily newspaper strip, the Sunday strip bore its own continuity from week-to-week, meaning that while a single plot in the dailies might wrap up in two or three weeks, the Sunday strips would run an arc over the course of several months. This debut story - wherein Superman must protect logger Mike Hensley from his rival’s repeated attempts on his life - runs from the first week of November 1939 through Christmas Eve.

The story abounds with the classic Siegel and Shuster energy of the early strips, written and drawn as it is by the original creators. The workload, however, has officially reached a tipping point and both strips would begin to boast a parade of luminaries working as ghosts to Superman’s original artist.

Paul Cassidy is the first to take up the reins, providing inks and detail work on early strips. Throughout the Forties, a multitude of other artists from Leo Nowak to Jack (Starman) Burnley to, of course, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye would provide the artwork. 

Tireless Jerry Siegel remains the writer of the strips until drafted in 1943, continuing to forge his singular - if evolving - vision of the Man of Tomorrow.

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Action Comics vol.1 #18 - Cover date November 1939
Being as Superman is a true representative of fair play, not even Clark Kent’s chosen profession of journalism is immune from the scrutiny of his crusade against injustice. 
In this issue’s adventure, Clark is disgusted and horrified to discover that rival newpaperman Gene Powers will gleefully violate personal trust and individual privacy in order for a sensational story (in this case, Lois and Clark honor a would-be suicide victim’s plea for obscurity, afraid of the terrible shame her attempt at self-destruction would wreak upon her loved ones - the eavesdropping Gene Powers isn’t as kind-hearted and pens a juicy write-up).
More than that, Powers and his publisher Hamilton represent a blackmail ring which uses the paper’s own propensity for yellow journalism - and a scheme involving knock-out gas, a sexy siren and a set-up senator named Hastings - to extort money from prominent public figures. 
In a classic display of the early Superman’s no-holds barred approach to making society safe from the institutions which take advantage of it, the Man of Steel not only runs Gene Powers out of town on a rail and tears up the incriminating staged photos of Senator Hastings, he completely destroys Hamilton’s printing press, putting a permanent end to the paper completely.

Action Comics vol.1 #18 - Cover date November 1939

Being as Superman is a true representative of fair play, not even Clark Kent’s chosen profession of journalism is immune from the scrutiny of his crusade against injustice. 

In this issue’s adventure, Clark is disgusted and horrified to discover that rival newpaperman Gene Powers will gleefully violate personal trust and individual privacy in order for a sensational story (in this case, Lois and Clark honor a would-be suicide victim’s plea for obscurity, afraid of the terrible shame her attempt at self-destruction would wreak upon her loved ones - the eavesdropping Gene Powers isn’t as kind-hearted and pens a juicy write-up).

More than that, Powers and his publisher Hamilton represent a blackmail ring which uses the paper’s own propensity for yellow journalism - and a scheme involving knock-out gas, a sexy siren and a set-up senator named Hastings - to extort money from prominent public figures. 

In a classic display of the early Superman’s no-holds barred approach to making society safe from the institutions which take advantage of it, the Man of Steel not only runs Gene Powers out of town on a rail and tears up the incriminating staged photos of Senator Hastings, he completely destroys Hamilton’s printing press, putting a permanent end to the paper completely.

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Action Comics vol.1 #17 - Cover date October 1939
The mad genius calling himself the Ultra-Humanite will soon be facing the end of his machinations - in the familiar form of his twisted, aged, crippled body, at the very least. In this penultimate appearance for his original fragile form, “Ultra” is discovered to be at the heart of a sabotage ring which has already claimed the ocean-going vessel Clarion and - if not for the timely intervention of the Man of Steel - almost takes the life of everyone on board.
Ultra, like many of Superman’s most interesting and popular enemies, succeeds so well as an adversary because he embodies qualities which exist in opposition to Superman’s immense physical might and crusading sense of morality. Ultra and other popular villains such as Toyman, Prankster and Mxyzpltk - all of whom will be debuting in the upcoming decade - are no physical match for Superman, but bring malicious brilliance, wild unpredictability and impossible contrivance to bear on our hero.
As Superman’s polar opposite, even Ultra’s portrayal in the story differs wildly - while Superman bounds, leaps and barrels his way through action and danger, Ultra is a wily a pernicious force operating invisibly in a thousand criminal empire. In this episode, much as it has been for the entirety of his conflict with Superman, Ultra appears only at the end of the story to reveal himself, test the Man of Steel against his insidious and bizarre weaponry, and then to vanish again.

Action Comics vol.1 #17 - Cover date October 1939

The mad genius calling himself the Ultra-Humanite will soon be facing the end of his machinations - in the familiar form of his twisted, aged, crippled body, at the very least. In this penultimate appearance for his original fragile form, “Ultra” is discovered to be at the heart of a sabotage ring which has already claimed the ocean-going vessel Clarion and - if not for the timely intervention of the Man of Steel - almost takes the life of everyone on board.

Ultra, like many of Superman’s most interesting and popular enemies, succeeds so well as an adversary because he embodies qualities which exist in opposition to Superman’s immense physical might and crusading sense of morality. Ultra and other popular villains such as Toyman, Prankster and Mxyzpltk - all of whom will be debuting in the upcoming decade - are no physical match for Superman, but bring malicious brilliance, wild unpredictability and impossible contrivance to bear on our hero.

As Superman’s polar opposite, even Ultra’s portrayal in the story differs wildly - while Superman bounds, leaps and barrels his way through action and danger, Ultra is a wily a pernicious force operating invisibly in a thousand criminal empire. In this episode, much as it has been for the entirety of his conflict with Superman, Ultra appears only at the end of the story to reveal himself, test the Man of Steel against his insidious and bizarre weaponry, and then to vanish again.

Superman vol.1 #2 - cover date Fall 1939
Superman’s second eponymous issue includes a few original pages - specifically a text piece wherein he first uses his telescopic vision, an ad for the World’s Fair featuring the Man of Steel, and an illustrated piece on healthy living (healthy advice from which is pictured above).
The bulk of the content, however, reprints in color the newspaper adventures The Comeback of Larry Trent, The Most Deadly Weapon (poor Ambrose!) and Skyscrapers of Death (under different titles).

Superman vol.1 #2 - cover date Fall 1939

Superman’s second eponymous issue includes a few original pages - specifically a text piece wherein he first uses his telescopic vision, an ad for the World’s Fair featuring the Man of Steel, and an illustrated piece on healthy living (healthy advice from which is pictured above).

The bulk of the content, however, reprints in color the newspaper adventures The Comeback of Larry Trent, The Most Deadly Weapon (poor Ambrose!) and Skyscrapers of Death (under different titles).

67 notes

Action Comics vol.1 #16 - Cover date September 1939
 In the second of a two-issue break from the final Ultra-Humanite storyline, Superman saves a self-confessed embezzler and gambling addict from a suicide attempt. The next morning –ruminating about the many evils of organized gambling – the Man of Steel begins a fiery crusade against the underworld numbers game in both his Clark Kent and Superman personas. Over the course of this breakneck tale, Superman has busted up bookmaking operations, exposed corrupt cops, up-ended entire gambling dens and, just for good measure, mugged a man for his watch (lest I besmirch his reputation, let it be known Superman was only stealing the man’s watch so as to crush it in front of his eyes, in the classic “Get on the straight and narrow or I’ll bust you one” mode of Super-morality).
 In these early stories, Superman’s mission on Earth is only loosely defined by parental directive – his mother admonishes him to use his powers to help others, his father urges him from his deathbed to fight evil. Whatever values young Clark’s upbringing imparted upon him must be inferred (and will be by countless writers going forward over the next seven decades) as the readers join him fully grown - We know nothing of his friends, his hardships, his insecurities and experiences. Superman arrives, as it were, fully formed and dedicated to his cause from the git-go.
 This story represents one of the earliest glimpses into Superman’s drives, a chance human encounter which weighs heavily upon his mind, spurring him to action. Unlike his earlier encounters with troubled and suicidal victims of crime and shame, this encounter informs Superman’s mission on a large scale – here, he’s not fixing Larry Trent’s broken life or saving an orphan from his cruel guardian, he’s undertaking a rout on a particular breed of crime and criminal inspired solely by a chance personal encounter.  In fact, Superman never again meets the troubled man whose life he saved – if his crusade aids him, it’s only as a consequence of Superman putting an end to the crime which victimized him.
A brief, passing encounter shapes the motivation of Superman’s crusade for justice, and in doing so begins a trend towards a more well-rounded, more realistic and more human Man of Tomorrow…

Action Comics vol.1 #16 - Cover date September 1939

 In the second of a two-issue break from the final Ultra-Humanite storyline, Superman saves a self-confessed embezzler and gambling addict from a suicide attempt. The next morning –ruminating about the many evils of organized gambling – the Man of Steel begins a fiery crusade against the underworld numbers game in both his Clark Kent and Superman personas. Over the course of this breakneck tale, Superman has busted up bookmaking operations, exposed corrupt cops, up-ended entire gambling dens and, just for good measure, mugged a man for his watch (lest I besmirch his reputation, let it be known Superman was only stealing the man’s watch so as to crush it in front of his eyes, in the classic “Get on the straight and narrow or I’ll bust you one” mode of Super-morality).

 In these early stories, Superman’s mission on Earth is only loosely defined by parental directive – his mother admonishes him to use his powers to help others, his father urges him from his deathbed to fight evil. Whatever values young Clark’s upbringing imparted upon him must be inferred (and will be by countless writers going forward over the next seven decades) as the readers join him fully grown - We know nothing of his friends, his hardships, his insecurities and experiences. Superman arrives, as it were, fully formed and dedicated to his cause from the git-go.

 This story represents one of the earliest glimpses into Superman’s drives, a chance human encounter which weighs heavily upon his mind, spurring him to action. Unlike his earlier encounters with troubled and suicidal victims of crime and shame, this encounter informs Superman’s mission on a large scale – here, he’s not fixing Larry Trent’s broken life or saving an orphan from his cruel guardian, he’s undertaking a rout on a particular breed of crime and criminal inspired solely by a chance personal encounter.  In fact, Superman never again meets the troubled man whose life he saved – if his crusade aids him, it’s only as a consequence of Superman putting an end to the crime which victimized him.

A brief, passing encounter shapes the motivation of Superman’s crusade for justice, and in doing so begins a trend towards a more well-rounded, more realistic and more human Man of Tomorrow…

32 notes