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Supermen! The First Wave

Page history last edited by Daniel M 12 years, 1 month ago

Creators: Various--edited by Greg Sadowski

Original Date(s) of Publication: Comics first published May 1936-March 1941. Collection published 2009.

Publisher: Fantagraphics


Supermen!: The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 is a collection of early comic book stories by establishing creators in the medium. As the comics were some of the earliest created in comic book format, they were published before the 1954 establishment of the Comics Code Authority that regulated comic book content; therefore, they contain comparatively high levels of violence and some sexual innuendo. They also establish many stylistic conventions of comics that would be built upon as comics continued to evolve--notably the exciting tenor of the word balloons, which were emphasized with multiple exclamation points, dashes, and the use of bold lettering to draw attention to certain words.



List of Comic Stories


Below is the list of comic stories presented in the collection:

  • "Dr. Mystic, the Occult Detective" by Jerry Siegel (story) and Joe Shuster (art) - Written two years before the creation of Superman
  • "Murder by Proxy" by George E. Brenner (story and art)
  • "Dan Hastings" by Ken Fitch (story) and Fred Guardineer (art)
  • "Dirk the Demon" by Bill Everett (story and art)
  • "The Flame" by Will Eisner (story) and Lou Fine (art) (under pseudonym "Basil Berold")
  • "Yarko the Great, Master of Magic" by Will Eisner (story and art)
  • "Rex Dexter of Mars, Interplanetary Adventurer" by Dick Briefer (story and art)
  • "Cosmic Carson" by Jack Kirby (story and art) (under pseudonym "Michael Griffith")
  • "Stardust the Super Wizard" by Fletcher Hanks (story and art)
  • "The Comet" by Jack Cole (story and art)
  • "Fero, Planet Detective" by Al Bryant (story and art) (under "Allison Bryant")
  • "Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle" by Fletcher Hanks (story and art) (under pseudonym "Barclay Flagg")
  • "Marvelo, Monarch of Magicians" by Gardner Fox (story) and Fred Guardineer (art)
  • "The Face" by Gardner Fox (story) and Mart Bailey (art) (under pseudonym "Michael Blake")
  • "The Skyman" by Gardner Fox (story) and Ogden Whitney (art) (under pseudonym "Paul Dean")
  • "Silver Streak" by Jack Cole (story and art) (under pseudonym "Ralph Johns")
  • "The Claw Battles the Daredevil" by Jack Cole (story and art)
  • "Spacehawk, Superhuman Enemy of Crime" by Basil Wolverton (story and art)
  • "Sub Zero" by Bill Everett (story and art)
  • "Blue Bolt" by Joe Simon (story and art) and Jack Kirby (art) 


Significant Features


The volume demonstrates early forms of several hallmarks of comic books, including dynamic lettering with bolded words, multiple exclamation points, and creative use of dashes; experimentation in the order of panels and the transition of events; panels that emphasize the characters and their reactions, which are blacked out save for the character(s) and a burst of yellow or other color in the immediate background; jagged-edge bursts to indicate impact points for punches or laser bolts, and lines and hash marks to indicate movement; and simplified, abstracted portrayals of muscles and bodily form with exaggerated shading. Villains and heroes alike are aggressively one-dimensional, with the most common motivation of the villain being to conquer the world or otherwise be the leader of crime in his or her world or city of residence. Heroes are shown to not be averse to killing in the name of justice, and death is handed out easily and regularly. Women are only in distress to be saved by male heroes, typically after their father or parents have been killed.


Publication History / Historical Context


As a factor of its age, there are numerous racial stereotypes that are now seen as offensive. Asian people are unanimously colored yellow, and an African American character appears in exaggerated blackface style and talks in simplistic regional utterances. A large number of stories revolve around outer space and other planets, and showcase a lack of knowledge and adventurous romanticism of the act of space travel far removed from the actual capabilities later developed. There are also cultural references that were strong at the time but have not lasted to modern days, such as the moon being made of green cheese, and of patriotic fervor of fighting for peace and fear of being invaded by foreign influence--indicators of the burgeoning threat of America being roped into World War II.


Impact / Influence 


The creators contained in this volume were part of the Golden Age of Comics and helped establish many of the tropes at work even in today's comics. Specific creators would go on to have extraordinary influence in the field; Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman would become the most iconic comic book character of all time, Jack Kirby would have a hand in creating many of the characters in both the DC universe (e.g., Darkseid) and the Marvel universe (e.g., Captain America, created with Joe Simon, and the Fantastic Four), and Will Eisner would enable comics to be considered for serious academic study with works like A Contract with God and studies like Comics and Sequential Art.


Critical Reception 


Praise for the collection has generally been favorable. In a brief review for the New York Times, Douglas Wolk calls it a "rambunctious" collection and notes that with the inclusion of Eisner, Kirby, and Cole, who would later become known for their striking individual styles, "it's surprising how similar their work was in the days when they were inventing the superhero concept."2 Likewise, Sean Howe in Entertainment Weekly says that the characters and stories presented are "more than crude throat-clearings--they were unfiltered manifestations of psyche, lousy with erotic charge and questionable politics."3




  1. Sadowski, Greg, ed. Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941. 2nd. ed. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2009.
  2. Woulk, Douglas. "The First Action Heroes." New York Times Book Review. March 1, 2009. 5. 
  3. Howe, Sean. Quick Takes. Entertainment Weekly 1041. April 3, 2009. 69. 


Further Reading



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