The second half of Supermen! contains some more interesting plots than the first half, covered in the February 2nd post. The silver streak is reminiscent of The Flash with his amazing speed and strength. Even though, The Silver Streak’s speed is inconsistently portrayed for added drama. It takes the Silver Streak only moments to reach the evil insect wreaking havoc, but it takes much longer for him to catch up with the car running away. Not too long of course to save the child in harms way. In any case, the character of the Silver Streak acts as a prototype to The Flash, especially with the added humor throughout the comic. The Daredevil in name only at least, reminds me about Daredevil, the blind lawyer. Even though, The Daredevil is a wealthy individual with plenty of gadgets and his full sight, there are elements of the character as a superhero which remind me of Daredevil. The full body costume and acrobat finesse sets the groundwork for the action in Daredevil. Overall, a lot of the latter half of Supermen! seem to be setting up some of the now traditional tropes of superheroes. Some of the more introspective ideas of dual identity of being a superhero as contemplated by The Daredevil, however briefly, are further explored in later comics. In addition, the action is also much more contemporary. The act of being the hero being put in a sticky situation with The Daredevil and Sub-Zero, is a fairly common situation with other superhero comics like Spiderman or Batman. The hero is captured or the hope to overcome the villain seems lost. Yet, miraculously, our hero finds a way to fight and defeat the villain. Personally, I observe these tropes as being fairly evident in most of the works that were being published. Fully admitting that it is a generalized assumption of a large genre of work, I still think that it is a common tactic to add dramatic weight to a situation where the hero possesses an incredible amount of strength. After all, some sort of dramatic tension needs to be added in order to make the hero overcoming evil that much more impressive.
The characters and stories in Supermen by Greg Sadowski are reminiscent of pulp-fiction or dime novels from the 1920s. The vast quantity of different stories and the plurality of characters encompass some of the most bizarre circumstances: such as vampires from Pluto, or an entire fleet of vultures invading Earth. Most of the time the premise for the conflict in these stories are ridiculous. What is even more ridiculous however, is the dialogue, which attempts to capture minimum exposition without wasting too much time. One common feature these stories share in addition to strange premises is the fast paced action that doesn’t linger too long on justifying the actions. Because a woman who just lost her parents and family would definitely be travelling to a planet with a stranger. The fast paced action with minimal justification reminds me of a lot of Hollywood action films that don’t linger to much on plot so long as it provides just enough material to revolve the action around. The structure of the plot in these comics is poorly constructed.
Much like the pulp-fiction novels in the 1920s, comic books were a digestible form of entertainment that didn’t require too much effort from the reader. The naivety of the characters seems child like, which may be mirroring the naivety of a young audience. In addition to the plurality of the characters, it’s interesting to see how Superman emerged from the same time period of these types of superhero comics. Similar to how Conan the Barbarian is one of the few characters from the pulp-fiction novels, that still survives today. Most of the other characters aren’t really superheroes in the sense that they posses supernatural powers. The characters remind me more of Batman rather than Superman. Personally, I think what makes Superman and Conan timeless characters is not their super capability. Rather, both Superman and Conan have a code that is challenged by others and their society. It is Superman’s journey of overcoming the obstacles that challenge him that defines Superman as a great hero. Conversely, the heroes of the comics in Supermen don’t portray the same kind of struggle. The comics tend to focus on the action between the material good and the material evil. It is sort of like a Michael Bay Transformers film, focusing on women and explosions compared with a Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, which focuses on correcting injustice.
Who is the villain in the Action Comics issues of Superman? Sure, there are a few characters that are sinister and crooked who seem to be the main antagonists of the plot. Yet, all these characters’ actions are exploitations of a system or institutions. The fence takes advantage of the poor children who steal for them, the stockbrokers who sell shares of the worthless oil company or the chain gang boss who tortures the prisoners. All of these characters are taking advantage of weaker individuals in one way or another. Rather than the villains being catalysts for injustice in the world, they are simply symptoms of an unjust system. Superman’s true enemy that he fights against is the corruption of the institutions that are supposed to provide for the social welfare of humanity. Not only does Superman correct the injustice these individuals partake in, Clark Kent writes about it and gives the news to people. After all, if Superman’s actions weren’t shared with people, how would society know that injustice could be corrected?
In Action Comics #13 a new villain is introduced. Much like how Superman is a representation of virtue, the mad scientist, “The Ultra-Humanite”, is a representation of evil. Notice the similarity between the names between the two. “The Ultra-Humanite” seems like just another way to say “The Super-Man.” However, the Ultra-Humanite has intellectual superpower rather than the physical. The first villain for Superman acts as an anti-thesis to his superpower. Action Comics #13 provides the first time a shift occurs from Superman fighting the institutions of humanity to fighting representations of evil. The struggle of Good and Evil through Superheroes and Supervillains represents an abstract struggle between the two forces. The world becomes the stage, humanity the audience, and the super-characters the actors. Instead of providing a commentary on the reality of injustice present in the world, Superman becomes the favorite gladiator in the arena.
The origin of Superman is often taken for granted when thinking about the character. Superman is an alien, who landed here on earth as a child, and resembles human beings enough to be confused as a human. However, one cannot forget that he is not human. Superman’s physical abilities transcend a human’s physical capability. In addition Superman’s sense of justice also transcends ours. Repeatedly, Superman undermines the laws of man and enforces his own ethics. Is Superman adhering to his own sense of justice rather than what may be philosophically ethical? Does Superman’s sense of justice merely coincide with objective ethics? In either case, a super powerful alien is enforcing an ethical code on the human race. Through a critical analysis of superman’s character, one may correlate his actions with a Christ figure. Superman being sent from another world for the salvation of mankind, mirrors Jesus Christ being sent from God to absolve the sins of man. Moreover, one could also correlate Superman to Nietzsche’s übermensch, as an individual who rejects the parameters of society and reshapes the world. Yet, I propose that Superman, is actually a manifestation of Plato’s ideal philosopher king. Not so much as a declared overlord of the humans, but a sort of a de facto leader in all things ethical and also the representation of the ideal philosopher king.
Action Comics #1-#6 portrays Superman as a superhero who uses his powers for the benefit of mankind and exhibits virtue to inspire young people. Superman’s first villain is injustice, as he saves the live of an innocent woman from a death sentence. There is no real physical fight against one specific enemy that superman is fighting. Rather, superman uses his superpowers in order to defy and correct a system from within. Superman could have easily rushed to the site of the execution, crashed through the wall and taken the innocent person away. Instead, he captures the guilty party, and goes to the governor in order to correct the injustice. Superman rewrites the law that man has written by forcing the governor to give a pardon. The larger enemy that Superman is fighting against is the judicial system, which is fallible and a mere shadow of the true form of justice.