Monday, June 24, 2013

On my planet, it stands for Safety. Road safety.

Dagnabit, you kids today with your Hot Wheels and your Snoopy Snow-Cone machines and your Mans of Steel moving picture don't know what it was like when we wuz growing up! Oh, wait, sorry; I was channeling Grampy Bull there for a moment. His point (and he did have one before he went to the rest home) is that Superman, America's Most Popular Action Character™, has been around for more years than you can swing a cat to the side of the barn and back with a plug o' tabaccy and a buffalo nickel left over to buy a fresh new Oldsmobile. I have no idea what that means.

What I wanted to talk to you about is this nifty-keeno Superman story from Action #12, and that's not the one written by Grant Morrison. Unless, of course, Grant Morrison utilized a tesseract-slicing time-travel method to hack into Joe Siegel's nineteenth-century-standard wetware and transplant a meme of five-dimensional ideas of semiotically pleasurable conditions biogenetically originating a human virus in the form of a character in a brightly-colored strongman's costume. Heck, he's always doin' that.

Nope, this tale is from the original Action #12, and it's about the time that Superman fought for truth, justice, and traffic safety. Yep, the villain in here is not Luthor or Mxyztplk Mxyzptlk Klptzyxm or even Lois Lane's evil twin Penny. The entire story is built around Superman's crusade to improve automobile and road safety in Metropolis. Keen!

Panels from the Superman story in Action Comics (1938 series) #12 (May 1939), script by Jerry Siegel, pencils and by Joe Shuster, additional pencils by Paul Cassidy (?)

The story opens when Dick Tracy arrives on the scene...wait, no, that's Clark Kent...of a hit and run accident in which one of his co-workers is killed. No, sorry folks: it's not Jimmy. ("Clark Kent's co-worker: first appearance and final appearance, Action Comics #12.") When Clark implores the mayor of Metropolis "won't somebody think of the children?" the mayor shows all the backbone and political power of a limp piece of linguini at the Olive Garden. (This paragraph has been sponsored by The Olive Garden, where you're our big Italian family! And we sit you on chairs with wheels.)

Superman decides to take to the air...waves to begin his battle against deadly drivers. Yes, he enters local Metropolis radio station WVUX ("All the hits and no Luthor!") by destroying a window, which is only the first of several "Superman: Threat or Menace?" moments in this story. Seriously, Kal? Couldn't find the door?

Superman politely interrupts Orson Welles' Mercury Theater of the Air with the phrase "I'll make a bee-line for his gizzard." This is the slang all the kids were rappin' in the Three-Ohs, homey!

Superman declares war on people who text while driving, and on Jeremy Clarkson! Then, he swiftly leaves through the door and...OH FOR PETE'S SAKE SUPERMAN

He then zips over to the Metropolis Car Impound Lot and destroys all the cars. So, it's too bad for you if your car was stolen and then recovered and taken there, I imagine. Still, he's having fun, and you've got to admit, Henry Cavill would have looked great doing this.

Then, he visits the local car salesman, and walks away with a brand new Volkswagen just by signing for it! Then he throws it into the sun and wrecks the rest of the entire poor guy's inventory. And this is the story of how this car salesman starved during the long winter of '40, and his wife and children passed away within weeks of him losing his job. ("Used car salesman: first appearance and final appearance, Action Comics #12.")

Continuing his balanced, passive-aggressive, well-reasoned war on traffic accidents, Superman then declares war on every car in Metropolis. Especially the 1939 LexMobile: "All the fine handling of a lush sedan and the Superman-killing power of a Kryptonite battletank."

When I first looked at that last panel there, I thought it actually said this:


Okay, so here's the first sign that maybe Superman might be right in his wild and crazy crusade: wacky comedy drunk! How he got his hands on the Golden Age Batmobile, we'll never know.

Superman is famous for many timeless catchphrases: "Up, up, and away!" "This is a job for...Superman!" And "Leapfrog is a lotta fun! No foolin'!" Geez, if only he had said "Comics oughta be fun! No foolin'!"...well, you'd see that panel in my blog header every day of the year.

Later, after Superman tosses the drunk guy and his car into a black hole and sends him across the universe (ironically founding the Drunk Lantern Corps), the Man of Steel, the Hero of Tomorrow, the Metropolis Ace gets clipped by a hit 'n' run driver. Oh man if you think he was mad at the radio station...

Superman chooses to use psychological warfare, thus proving he has read The Art of War, or maybe he's read Michael Fleischer's Spectre comics, by frightening the bejeezus out of the hit and run driver. In this blog I frequently ask "Where do you buy a green suit?", but of more concern to this guy is "Where do I buy clean underwear?"

At last it can be told: the true reason Detroit's auto industry failed: Superman killed it. Me, I'd like to think he spared the Mustang, but hey, who needs the competition in the category of "muscle"?

Not content on wrecking the unsafe cars, Superman destroys the entire car factory. Because, you know, if there's one thing that Superman hates in his seventy-five year history, it's restraint. (Also: imps.)

And now, a comedy callback to the radio station!:

The man of action (pun intended) that he is, Mayor McTropolis calls it a day and decides to head out to his summer home on Long Island Shuster Island. Say, where do you buy a green car? ...oh wait, that doesn't actually work.

Suddenly: SUPERMAN FIRE DRILL! because, you know, no matter how much he tears up Metropolis, Superman vehemently opposes usage of the racial epithet "Chinese fire drill." And HE WILL KILL YOU IF YOU SAY THAT.

Man, this is the weirdest version of A Christmas Carol I've ever seen.

NOW GAZE UPON THE DISMEMBERED BODIES OF ACCIDENT VICTIMS! Wow, Superman is slight less subtle in his early appearances. With this demeanor, I find it hard to believe he didn't fly to Berlin, grab Hitler, tar and feather him, and then drop him from fifteen thousand feet into Krakatoa, East of Java. It's Hitler, Superman!

Now, if'n I was writing this story, it would be a fifteen-part crossover with Superman comics and World's Finest and maybe even pop up over in Marvel Mystery, but Supes wraps it up with a moral taught to the mayor. Another subtle victory of sly finesse by Superman! And almost no one was accidentally killed!

The Mayor was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Jim Olsen, who did not die from being run over by a Dusenberg, he was a second father. He became as good a driver, as good a parker, and as good a directional signaller, as the good old city of Metropolis knew, or any other good old city , town, or borough, in the good old Earth-2.


So: Golden Age Superman. His last name was -L, he worked for George Taylor, and he grew up in an orphanage. And whatever else you say about him, he made the cars run on time.


Dave said...

Bravo, Bully! One of your best.

BillyWitchDoctor said...

Drift down through some of the more sobering images in this article at SUPER I.T.C.H. and one might understand why Supes overreached his hand here.

SallyP said...

I've heard of Road Rage, but this is ridiculous!

Gou Tongzhi said...

Great post!

Yes, to those of us in the know, it's always great fun to introduce a new generation of wide-eyed young'uns to the bat-shit crazy murderin' communist anti-business Nader crusader that 1940s Superman was.

Phillip said...

Of course he hates cars! That was established on the cover of Action #1!

Blam said...


No kidding. This is like a dry run for the property damage in Man of Steel, except purposeful-like.

I did that same double-take on the panel you repurposed, too. Once I realized what it actually said, I thought "Galactus must be in town. He's probably always throwing cars up on people's garages."

Another great post, Bully.