Today I want to talk about the Golden Age Superman Omnibus, volume 1.
This book came out a couple of years ago, and I love it. However, the actual reason I wanted to write about this tome of a collection is that a comic book podcast I listened to awhile back unjustly trashed and dismissed it. I’d rather not mention the podcast because a friend of mine is associated with it and I used to enjoy the show quite a bit.
This massive, 784 page (!) book collects the first thirty-some adventures of the Man of Tomorrow. Growing up, DC would release their Archive editions of golden age books. I liked the few of those that I had, but the ratio of number of issues to price tag never quite equaled out to me. My allowance never really allowed me to spend $40 on a book.
Now though, DC’s Omnibus line is the alternative that I have been wanting. A chunk of classic, out-of-print stories I can devour Netflix-style, from the beginning. There’s also the idea at the back of my mind that if these reprints go far enough forward, and my back issue buying goes far enough backward, to the point where they meet in the middle like Lady and the Tramp, that I can own ALL the stories of a particular character. Since so many things are available to us in their entirety now, it should be only a matter of time until comics get there too.
So that brings us to the start of Superman. This collection obviously commences with Action Comics #1. Aside from the historical context of this issue, it’s really a great story. Thinking about it, that pretty much sums up this collection. It’s easy to dismiss golden age stories as archaic and childish, but there are some good tales in here that still hold up. Maybe because I found a reprint of it when I started collecting, but I feel that Action #1 is a comic that everyone should read. Like in school, everyone. It surprises people when I tell them that the first crime Superman thwarted was a domestic dispute. I know he saves the inmate from being executed first, but that feels more like an errand for the most sensational strip character of all time.
The newspaper strip mash-up nature of the issue can be criticized for being disjointed, but I think if you’re not aware of the development of it, it’s a fast paced adventure. And I know that it ends on a cliffhanger. So what? It’s a comic book!
Over the course of this book you see the development of the Superman character, and the superhero genre in general. Again, the historical significance of these stories can’t be overstated, but that shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying them. Early on, the love triangle between Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Superman is established. Plus, Lois is throwing major shade at Clark early on in here. That shit is harsh. Like Judd Neslon harsh.
At the start, Superman is battling criminals, corrupt politicians, and businessmen. If you enjoyed Grant Morrison’s New 52 run on Action, guess where he got that from? Right here. All you social justice warriors get in line. Early on, in an unsafe mine, he traps the owners to teach them the importance of safe mining conditions. Something, that unfortunately is still relevant.
Later, Superman starts battling what we come to know as supervillains. First off, the Ultra-Humanite. Yeah, not Lex Luthor. Still waiting for when that info saves me in a trivia contest. These are of course mad scientists that seem to owe a lot to science fiction and movie serials of the time. Bonus, you get to see the original red-headed Lex Luthor and his bald flunkie that an artist later mistook for Luthor himself. That’s why Luthor is traditionally bald, even today. Hear that, Jesse Eisenberg? And Gene Hackman? See, you learn stuff from this collection.
There’s also the time that Clark Kent makes some investments surrounding a crooked oil well deal and ends up with A MILLION DOLLARS. At the end of the issue, I was like “wait, he still has a million bucks!” Naturally, I assumed that since these are golden age stories, that would never be mentioned again. Nuh-uh. Months later, Clark uses that money to help out a boys’ home. How’s that for continuity?
Other adventures depict Superman playing football aided by his super-abilities, juggling a strongman in a circus, and knocking out 7 boxers with one punch! How’s that for a Superman Punch, Roman Reigns? I realize this is not the dark, gloomy Man of Steel we are witnessing on the big screen today, but these outlandish tales add a dose of fun and excitement that is rarely on the page today. It also shows how this new genre was finding it’s footing.
Overall, this book is important as a historical artifact in the development of comic books. However, it’s also more entertaining than a lot of books being made today. Not having an established formula was obviously a blessing for the creators back then. If it’s not apparent by now, I highly recommend this book.
I’m not sure if it’s still in print, but check with your local comic shop. It is available on a large online bookstore that I frequent. Looks like you can get part of it digitally on an online digital comic platform owned by that same bookstore. There is a recent release of this too in trade where it seems they are splitting it up into more volumes. It appears that this is what is available digitally. This may be a good option if you are unsure of shelling out the $75 cover price.
But, c’mon, this is a great book. You’re going to want to read all of this. There’s a story where people in a town are bumping into things and then BLOWING UP! Don’t act like you don’t want to know what’s going on there. There are some real gems here, especially if you are looking for a lighter, classic take on Superman.