Book review: "Superman Sunday Pages 1943-46"

Book review by Bill Henley: SUPERMAN, THE GOLDEN AGE SUNDAYS, 1943 TO 1946 (official title; on the front cover, the book is identified simply as SUPERMAN SUNDAY PAGES, 1943 TO 1946);  published by IDW Publishing (Library of American Comics), in collaboration with DC Comics and with permission of the Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster families; edited and designed by Dean Mullaney.  I previously posted a detailed review of just one of the strip storylines appearing in this book, and promised a more general review of the entire book.  Here it is. This is a handsome and well-produced volume of the color SUPERMAN Sunday newspaper comic strip pages appearing from May 9, 1943 through Aug. 4, 1946.  (An editor's note explains why, though this is the first volume of this book series, it does not start by reprinting the previous Superman Sunday strips published from 1939 through May 1943.  Those earlier strips appeared in a previous volume published by Kitchen Sink Publishing and DC Comics, and it was decided not to print them again at this time; if this series lasts long enough, after the run of the Superman Sunday strip is completed, they will go back to cover the earlier strips in this new series.)  All of the strips in this volume carry the byline "by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster," but, according to the cover notes, some of the wartime strips were written by in-house DC Comics staffers (possibly editor Whitney Ellsworth) while Jerry Siegel was in the Army himself, and the art for the strips was done by Jack Burnley and then by Wayne Boring,  Though he remained officially a Shuster "ghost" during this period, Boring became the main Superman artist after Siegel and Shuster involuntarily left the series in 1947, and this book shows the development of Boring's distinctive style which would define the look of Supeman through the 1950's and beyond.  The majority of the strips reprinted here were produced during American involvement in World War II and reflect the war.  The Superman comic books published during WWII (many of which are available to current readers in DC Comics' series of Archive hardcovers) sometimes depicted Superman fighting Germans and Japanese on the covers, but the comic book stories inside kept Superman on the home front fighting racketeers, pranksters and the like.  The newspaper strips in this volume take a somewhat different approach to the war.  Superman still doesn't lead troops into battle or try to win the war singlehandedly, as you might expect if he were a real person existing during the war.  But he'll do almost anything for our men in uniform except fight the enemy alongside them, which in one strip he says would feel "presumptuous".  He launches something he calls "Superman's Service for Servicemen," in which he reads servicemen's mail and then uses his super-powers to do favors for them.  These range from straightening out busted romances, to making sure a lonely soldier gets plenty of mail from home, to giving some sailors a break from their normal duties by swabbing the decks of their ship at super-speed, to bringing a soldier home to be present for the birth of his child.  According to the introduction by Mark Waid, this series of storlyines was inspired when a real G.I. wrote DC Comics expressing the wish that Superman was real and could fly him all the way home on his one-day leave.  Though clearly well-intentioned, these storylines of Superman helping G.I.'s get repetitive after a while, and more than a bit silly to the modern reader.  And as Mark Waid notes, they involve a lot of obnoxious (by modern standards) racial stereotyping of the German and especially Japanese enemy-- depicting them as evil but largely ineffectual clowns and neither as the human beings they were nor the dangerous adversaries they also were.  (Superman does actually fight the Nazis and "Japs'" in some of these stories, but only in order to overcome obstacles to carrying out one of his "service for servicemen" missions.)  Another element of these strips which reflected changing standards of behavior and will be jarring to modern readers-- particularly right now, with the brouhaha over abusive football player Ray Rice in the news-- is a couple of scenes of Superman either spanking a "naughty" woman or encouraging someone else to do it.  (No, it's not Lois Lane in either case.)  It's something of a relief when the wartime strips end and Superman can move on to other types of adventures.  One of them is a well-done retelling of Superman's origin; not only the familiar story of the doom of Krypton and the infant rocketed to Earth to grow to supermanhood, but the storyline of Superman's first adventure originally appearing in ACTION COMICS #1 and 2, in which he stopped a lynching and saved an innocent man from being executed.  There's also an entertaining 1946 storyline in which Superman accompanies Lois Lane and a scientist on a spaceship journey to other planets.  This may be a landmark in the Superman mythos; as far as I'm aware, it was the first time in any medium that Superman did travel into space and to another planet.