Superman vol.1 #23 - Cover date July-August 1943
Behind a cover depicting an enraged Superman descending upon the terrified crew of a super-imperiled Nazi submarine, this issue chooses to ask the question “Is Superman needed for the war?” Possibly not – his loss to an American armed forces unit during maneuvers seems to indicate that the Allies are in good hands, thanks to our boys serving over there – but he sure is good for putting the fear of a living god into the Axis.
Elsewhere in the same issue, Superman becomes involved in stopping the murderous rampage of a college professor deranged by jealousy, then is pitted against a fashion-world neer-do-well operating under top hat, tuxedo and the amusing nom-du-crime of The Dude.
Lastly, Clark and Lois take in a baseball game where Superman makes repeated appearances. It’s one of those entertaining stories where Clark and Superman must dash about under any number of pretenses to keep Lois’ scrutiny from exposing his increasingly flimsy dual identity.

Superman vol.1 #23 - Cover date July-August 1943

Behind a cover depicting an enraged Superman descending upon the terrified crew of a super-imperiled Nazi submarine, this issue chooses to ask the question “Is Superman needed for the war?” Possibly not – his loss to an American armed forces unit during maneuvers seems to indicate that the Allies are in good hands, thanks to our boys serving over there – but he sure is good for putting the fear of a living god into the Axis.

Elsewhere in the same issue, Superman becomes involved in stopping the murderous rampage of a college professor deranged by jealousy, then is pitted against a fashion-world neer-do-well operating under top hat, tuxedo and the amusing nom-du-crime of The Dude.

Lastly, Clark and Lois take in a baseball game where Superman makes repeated appearances. It’s one of those entertaining stories where Clark and Superman must dash about under any number of pretenses to keep Lois’ scrutiny from exposing his increasingly flimsy dual identity.

21 notes

World’s Finest Comics vol.1 #10 - Cover date Summer 1943
Superman confronts the purple-clad, goggle-eyed Insect Master, who reasonably enough is able to command insects to commit his acts of evil. Saving Metropolis from a deadly swarm, the Man of Steel is nearly killed – or lengthily inconvenienced, anyway – by a quicksand trap at the Insect Master’s infested swampland hideout, the site of his own apparent death …

World’s Finest Comics vol.1 #10 - Cover date Summer 1943

Superman confronts the purple-clad, goggle-eyed Insect Master, who reasonably enough is able to command insects to commit his acts of evil. Saving Metropolis from a deadly swarm, the Man of Steel is nearly killed – or lengthily inconvenienced, anyway – by a quicksand trap at the Insect Master’s infested swampland hideout, the site of his own apparent death …

50 Plays

"The Midnight Intruder" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - November - December 1942

Because fans of superheroes become accustomed to boundaries – characters “belong” to specific companies, or to dedicated timelines, particular eras, specific continuities, etc – we might look at The Midnight Intruder as the radio show’s first example of uniting its original 3-day-a-week run with its newly invigorated 5-day-a-week existence. What begins as a weird but slightly whimsical adventure –figures dressed as clowns and cartoon characters (Mickey Mouse, specifically) are breaking into homes to smash a particular brand of novelty plastic statue – eventually ends up reintroducing the Japanese agent The Leopard Lady. She’s returned and is sending her henchmen to smash the statues looking for a cleverly hidden formula for a super-explosive! Naturally, Superman is on hand to keep the super-explosive safe in Allied hands…

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60 Plays

"The Headless Indian" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - October - November 1942

In many ways, the new-for-1942 incarnation of The Adventures of Superman is as much a horror program as an adventure show, pitting the Daily Planet staff and their allies against intimidating, often seemingly superhuman threats. With a protagonist who can shrug off bullets, bombs and poison darts, the threat of danger benefits from being indistinct, apparently omnipresent and generally difficult to simply punch into unconsciousness.

This episode ladles it on, with the murderous apparition of the episode’s eponymous headless Indian partnered with a “Wandigo”, prowling the deep and frozen north woods where the cast has found themselves on a mission to help one of Perry White’s friends. Also in attendance is an obese, looming antagonist, unflappable and obscene, a man I’d categorize as the radio show’s one true entry into the super-villainous Class of 1942 – The Laugher.

At their first meeting, even tough and unflappable Superman is taken aback by the Laugher’s grotesque appearance – a giant of a man, unbelievably obese (“My chins are three and my stomach, though only one, is big enough for six men!” he oddly brags), with sick-seeming eyes and a gray pallor, “a toad” as the Man of Steel dubs him, glittering diamonds festooning his fat fingers and every button of his shirt. Most unsettling, though, is the Laugher’s limitless cheer – a booming, velvet chuckle, rumbling like thunder and percolating like flood water rushing through a drain, a smooth but intimidating giggle that hides a terrible malevolence. “I will even laugh – at my own death” he tells Lois Lane, having lured her into the frozen woods in order to kill her where no superhuman eyes can follow.

The Laugher is preceded by his reputation – the underworld fears him almost as much as they fear Superman, sometimes moreso. The depths of his cruelty are limitless, his wrath terrible to behold. Despite his size, he’s not an equal to Superman’s terrific might – who is? – but he resists the Man of Steel’s choking grip, and laughs as powerful steel-hard fingers threaten to crush the breath from his throat. And even more terrible than his perversity and bulk – his mind; although the script takes pain to backtrack, it’s clear upon the first meeting between The Laugher and Clark Kent that the villain has – owing to a subconscious verbal slip on Kent’s part – figured out Superman’s dual identity!

(Although there’s clearly no relation between the two characters, The Laugher routinely reminded me of Judge Holden, the malicious, impenetrable and infernal presence of writer Cormac McCarthy’s powerful Blood Meridian. Given to waxing philosophic, deeply intelligent and flamboyantly eloquent, and – of course – physically tremendous, as well as renowned for inconceivable and occult acts of cruelty, The Laugher even shares with The Judge an antagonistic but intimate relationship with nature. Sadly, unlike Holden, we find The Laugher can indeed die, blinded and frozen to death in the bitter white wasteland of the snowy woods…)

Action Comics vol.1 #49 - Cover date June 1942
The Puzzler, who debuts in this issue, remains one of the Golden Age Superman’s most well-remembered foes, despite having only made a handful of appearances, often only in cameo – very possibly his inclusion in the character catalog Who’s Who In The DC Universe helped, particularly as repeat villains were so few and far between.
A serious and callous gamesman who plays for mortal stakes and rigs his victories, the Puzzler is one of a pair of villains who will debut this year and who use bald-faced trickery to battle the Man of Steel, despite their lack of super-powers. Unlike his more ambitious peers, like Luthor or Ultra, the Puzzler’s goals falls far short of world-beating and are simply matters of personal pride.
What makes Superman’s underpowered villains work so well against him are these otherwise modest goals – the tremendous power wielded by the Man of Tomorrow arms him well against would-be world conquerors, but he’s comically overqualified to stop a puzzle, prank, toy or magic trick. 

Action Comics vol.1 #49 - Cover date June 1942

The Puzzler, who debuts in this issue, remains one of the Golden Age Superman’s most well-remembered foes, despite having only made a handful of appearances, often only in cameo – very possibly his inclusion in the character catalog Who’s Who In The DC Universe helped, particularly as repeat villains were so few and far between.

A serious and callous gamesman who plays for mortal stakes and rigs his victories, the Puzzler is one of a pair of villains who will debut this year and who use bald-faced trickery to battle the Man of Steel, despite their lack of super-powers. Unlike his more ambitious peers, like Luthor or Ultra, the Puzzler’s goals falls far short of world-beating and are simply matters of personal pride.

What makes Superman’s underpowered villains work so well against him are these otherwise modest goals – the tremendous power wielded by the Man of Tomorrow arms him well against would-be world conquerors, but he’s comically overqualified to stop a puzzle, prank, toy or magic trick. 

The ImageSuperman Sunday Newspaper Strip - February 8, 1942 to March 15, 1942
In this brief arc, Superman is pitted against a daring jewel thief who calls himself The Image, and has perfected a device which allows him to create dozens of illusory duplicates of himself in order to confuse pursuers. As the adventure progresses, so do The Image’s abilities, and soon he’s creating false doors, duplicate victims, and an army of rigid illusions masking his escapes.
The strength of this adventure lies largely in the visuals; dozens of duplicate Loises in singular peril, falling down a stark crevice, a half-dozen guns looming large in duplicate hands to threaten to terrify a potential squealer, Superman barreling past a barricade of frozen illusions…

The Image
Superman Sunday Newspaper Strip - February 8, 1942 to March 15, 1942

In this brief arc, Superman is pitted against a daring jewel thief who calls himself The Image, and has perfected a device which allows him to create dozens of illusory duplicates of himself in order to confuse pursuers. As the adventure progresses, so do The Image’s abilities, and soon he’s creating false doors, duplicate victims, and an army of rigid illusions masking his escapes.

The strength of this adventure lies largely in the visuals; dozens of duplicate Loises in singular peril, falling down a stark crevice, a half-dozen guns looming large in duplicate hands to threaten to terrify a potential squealer, Superman barreling past a barricade of frozen illusions…

Superman vol.1 No.14 - Cover date January-February 1942
Behind an iconic cover, Superman meets an alumnus of the soon-to-be-bustling super-villain Class of 1942, THE LIGHTNING MASTER. As the name implies, the hooded figure packs an arsenal of electricity-based weaponry which he uses to bedevil the Man of Steel. Handily defeated – Superman is an old hand at electricity-wielding mad scientists, after all – he disappears.
Besides facing down that old saw “evil electricity”, Superman also re-encounters the menace of mesmerism as a gang of crooks use broadcast hypnotism to turn radio listeners into easy pickings. Both of these pale somewhat, though, in comparison to what is easily the Man of Steel’s most fantastical adventure to date – Superman intervenes of behalf of an otherwise-peaceful race of mer-people in order to halt a war-like contingent of bellicose sub-mariners hell-bent on conquering the surface world.
Even Superman’s wildest adventures – keeping in mind that he’d earlier stymied the war-plans of a subterranean city deep under Metropolis - seem positively quotidian when compared to an entire undersea race of sea-people suddenly found to be populating the planet.
However, there’s a relevant poignancy to the final story of this volume, an otherwise understated adventure of the guardian angel variety. A young inventor creates a fantastic fire-fighting powder, but unscrupulous business types sneak a shady contract on the man and end up robbing him of the proceeds. Superman steps in to aid the boy in recovering the fortune his innovation earned, but which crooks cheated him out of, and it’s hard not to imagine that Siegel was writing about parallels in his own experience. Even this early in Superman’s run, Siegel’s relationship with Jack Liebowitz had effectively become wholly acrimonious, largely over the matter of compensation …

Superman vol.1 No.14 - Cover date January-February 1942

Behind an iconic cover, Superman meets an alumnus of the soon-to-be-bustling super-villain Class of 1942, THE LIGHTNING MASTER. As the name implies, the hooded figure packs an arsenal of electricity-based weaponry which he uses to bedevil the Man of Steel. Handily defeated – Superman is an old hand at electricity-wielding mad scientists, after all – he disappears.

Besides facing down that old saw “evil electricity”, Superman also re-encounters the menace of mesmerism as a gang of crooks use broadcast hypnotism to turn radio listeners into easy pickings. Both of these pale somewhat, though, in comparison to what is easily the Man of Steel’s most fantastical adventure to date – Superman intervenes of behalf of an otherwise-peaceful race of mer-people in order to halt a war-like contingent of bellicose sub-mariners hell-bent on conquering the surface world.

Even Superman’s wildest adventures – keeping in mind that he’d earlier stymied the war-plans of a subterranean city deep under Metropolis - seem positively quotidian when compared to an entire undersea race of sea-people suddenly found to be populating the planet.

However, there’s a relevant poignancy to the final story of this volume, an otherwise understated adventure of the guardian angel variety. A young inventor creates a fantastic fire-fighting powder, but unscrupulous business types sneak a shady contract on the man and end up robbing him of the proceeds. Superman steps in to aid the boy in recovering the fortune his innovation earned, but which crooks cheated him out of, and it’s hard not to imagine that Siegel was writing about parallels in his own experience. Even this early in Superman’s run, Siegel’s relationship with Jack Liebowitz had effectively become wholly acrimonious, largely over the matter of compensation …

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Superman vol 1 No.13 - cover date November-December 1941
Standing on the precipice of 1942, the new year is going to be quite exciting for the Man of Steel. Not to seem too juvenile about the reasons, but suffice it to say that after many years of putting the rights to tin tyrants, saboteurs, corrupt greedheads, cheap hoods and gangsters both respectable and not, Superman finally begins to face super-villains in abundance.
Some of the specifics still need hammering out – there aren’t a lot of returning characters among this early rogues gallery, and the powers on display sometimes fall fairly short of challenging the seemingly limitless strength of Superman – but still, they’ve arrived, and the granddaddy of superhero books starts to catch up to the colorful coterie of ne’er-do-wells populating so many of his imitators’ titles.
In this issue, Superman first faces The Light, a hooded genius who uses a dazzling hypnosis ray to abduct important Metropolitan citizens, and proves to be, beneath his disguise, the insidious Luthor! Following that, a masked hunter stalks the city’s most wealthy citizens, decked all in green and dubbing himself The Archer – and while arrows may not be much of a match for bulletproof skin, the canny assassin’s skills as a predator of man and beast make him a slippery catch for Superman.
The third story in this issue is the first time our hero will encounter this trope: a baby is mysteriously left on Clark Kent’s doorstep, leading our intrepid investigator into a complicated espionage adventure. Following that, collapsing buildings and other terrifying disasters reveal an ancient hidden civilization under Metropolis (another first; we’ll see more hidden civilizations under Metropolis’ foundations in future stories).
 

Superman vol 1 No.13 - cover date November-December 1941

Standing on the precipice of 1942, the new year is going to be quite exciting for the Man of Steel. Not to seem too juvenile about the reasons, but suffice it to say that after many years of putting the rights to tin tyrants, saboteurs, corrupt greedheads, cheap hoods and gangsters both respectable and not, Superman finally begins to face super-villains in abundance.

Some of the specifics still need hammering out – there aren’t a lot of returning characters among this early rogues gallery, and the powers on display sometimes fall fairly short of challenging the seemingly limitless strength of Superman – but still, they’ve arrived, and the granddaddy of superhero books starts to catch up to the colorful coterie of ne’er-do-wells populating so many of his imitators’ titles.

In this issue, Superman first faces The Light, a hooded genius who uses a dazzling hypnosis ray to abduct important Metropolitan citizens, and proves to be, beneath his disguise, the insidious Luthor! Following that, a masked hunter stalks the city’s most wealthy citizens, decked all in green and dubbing himself The Archer – and while arrows may not be much of a match for bulletproof skin, the canny assassin’s skills as a predator of man and beast make him a slippery catch for Superman.

The third story in this issue is the first time our hero will encounter this trope: a baby is mysteriously left on Clark Kent’s doorstep, leading our intrepid investigator into a complicated espionage adventure. Following that, collapsing buildings and other terrifying disasters reveal an ancient hidden civilization under Metropolis (another first; we’ll see more hidden civilizations under Metropolis’ foundations in future stories).

 

99 notes

Action Comics vol 1 #39 - cover date August 1941
What constitutes a super-villain, exactly? Superman has already had his share of mad scientists, and two – Ultra and Luthor - of them have been repeatedly christened as his nemeses. Likewise, he’s had to deal with saboteurs and spies using colorful sobriquets like The Yellow Mask, the Laughing Gas Bandits and the seemingly pseudonymous  Mister Deutch.
His foes at this point have had colorful names, imaginative weapons and devilish schemes supreme, but still, are they super-villains?  If super-heroes have particular characteristics – which Superman, being the grandpappy of them all, helped establish; the alternate identity, the striking costume, the strange powers and telling nom de guerre – then, as the opposite of a super-hero,  a proper super-villain would have those characteristics too.
Enter THE GHOST, secretly presumed-dead physicist Brett Bryson - cloaked in a white hood and suit, glowing ominously, possessed of tremendous strength and a touch of death! Although an unrepentant thief – and, well, he murdered a few people along the way, too – we discover that the explosion which seemingly killed him and cursed him with these terrible powers was rigged by one of his coworkers. The scheme – to give Bryson deadly super-powers and trick him into using them to steal!

As plans go, it’s got flaws, and Bryson murders his conniving fellow physicist before succumbing to radiation poisoning himself, thus ending the short-lived career of what might be Superman’s first super-villain – unless he returns as a ghost…

Action Comics vol 1 #39 - cover date August 1941

What constitutes a super-villain, exactly? Superman has already had his share of mad scientists, and two – Ultra and Luthor - of them have been repeatedly christened as his nemeses. Likewise, he’s had to deal with saboteurs and spies using colorful sobriquets like The Yellow Mask, the Laughing Gas Bandits and the seemingly pseudonymous  Mister Deutch.

His foes at this point have had colorful names, imaginative weapons and devilish schemes supreme, but still, are they super-villains?  If super-heroes have particular characteristics – which Superman, being the grandpappy of them all, helped establish; the alternate identity, the striking costume, the strange powers and telling nom de guerre – then, as the opposite of a super-hero,  a proper super-villain would have those characteristics too.

Enter THE GHOST, secretly presumed-dead physicist Brett Bryson - cloaked in a white hood and suit, glowing ominously, possessed of tremendous strength and a touch of death! Although an unrepentant thief – and, well, he murdered a few people along the way, too – we discover that the explosion which seemingly killed him and cursed him with these terrible powers was rigged by one of his coworkers. The scheme – to give Bryson deadly super-powers and trick him into using them to steal!

As plans go, it’s got flaws, and Bryson murders his conniving fellow physicist before succumbing to radiation poisoning himself, thus ending the short-lived career of what might be Superman’s first super-villain – unless he returns as a ghost…

135 notes

The Grayson Submarine
Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - May 1941

Jimmy, Clark, Perry and Lois all find themselves embroiled in the U.S. government’s attempts to protect inventor Charles Grayson’s groundbreaking new submarine from the destructive hands of enemy agents, personified in the mysterious Dr.Deutch (The counterintuitive spelling of his name actually plays a role in the next story arc).

The series’ second recurring villain - depending if you count Keno and The Wolf altogether as part of The Yellow Mask’s entourage - Mr.Deutch personifies an increasing presence of “foreign agents” in these pre-war adventures.

105 notes