Superman comic strip--1/16 to 1/28, 1939

     It's absolutely bonkers when you think about it. Superman had only been out for a few months before a syndicated daily strip was set into motion. About a year later came the radio show, with theatrical cartoons the year after. The insane speed in which he hurtled into becoming a media figure is likely unprecedented and not seen today.

    The Superman daily comic strip debuted on January 16th, 1939 in glorious black and white. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had needed to bring on additional artists, primarily Paul Cassidy with Shuster inking the faces. It's the first strip's first story sequence that reveals more detail about Superman's origin and they took full advantage of the more decompressed strip format.


    Krypton is a planet so advanced its entire civilization evolved into supermen, displayed to the reader by Jor-L as he rushes through futuristic city canyons by himself. He leaps to a balcony a few stories up, landing outside the bedroom where his wife Lora holds their newborn son Kal-L. The reunion is interupted by an earthquake (should be a Kryptonquake!) that causes their home to crash on top of them. Luckily, they're super and without missing a beat, rush off to Jor-L's "other residence;" the inciting incident leads the planet's top scientist to conclude that Krypton is unstable and doomed to explode.

    Inspired to save the planet in a large space ark, Jor-L takes it to the planet's council, where he is laughed out, much like an ecologist at the Republican National Convention. After months of work, Jor-L is able to at least complete a small model rocket, and as he is about to launch it for a test run to the planet Earth, Krypton's destruction begins.


    They run back to his lab. The next panel, the rocket explodes out and away from the toppling cityscape below it. Jor-L and Lora hold one another in a swirl of flying rocks. The side blows out of the planet in the third panel, while the final is of the rocket itself, speed lines in its wake as it jets off.

    The final strip of the origin sequence shows the usual panels: a passing motorist freeing the baby from the rocket, Superbaby holding an armchair over his head in the nursing home, Clark Kent racing an express train, and the reveal of SUPERMAN! Champion of the oppressed!

    Superman #1 would come out in a few months and expand on the passing motorist, instead introducing the elderly Kents. Where that origin has the pair casually noticing a rocket with a child sleeping solemnly inside, the comic strip is far more dramatic, as the unnamed motorist in trench coat and fedora pulls Superbaby out of the burning rocket, exclaiming "Good heavens! It's a child!"--a far cry from Pa Kent's understated "Look, Mary!--It's a child!"




Popular Posts