The Adventures of Superman novel by George Lowther, 1942
George Lowther, one of the writers for The Adventures of Superman radio show, penned the first Superman novel in 1942, which starts with a telling of the origin and then ventures into a generic Superman adventure. What's most notable is the book's exploration of Clark Kent's childhood in the rural landscape of what would have been the 1920s or '30s.
Adventures opens with Jor-el (with a lowercase e) addressing the Council on Krypton except this time, rather than stoic, proud, and commanding, he is an exhausted shell of a man whose sanity is logically put to question. This Jor-el is not mighty like the Jor-L of the strip, or commanding like the radio counterpart, but emaciated and thin, his face "drawn and haggard."
"Krypton is doomed!" he proclaims, creating a wave of protest from his peers, all dressed in togas of "scarlet and blue." After weeks of frantic research and work, he proclaims:
"You, my friends, for months past have seen the sudden showers of stars that have fallen upon our planet. Comets of great magnitude have appeared from nowhere, whirling dangerously close to Krypton." (6)
The Council is not only insensitive to his warnings, but even more repulsed at the notion of relocating to Earth, where the people "are thousands of years behind us in everything, mental and physical...Their minds are so far beneath the capacity of our own that actually, in comparison, they have no intellect at all!" (10) Humanity is not only intellectually inept, but physically weak, as well. This version of Krypton is one of supermen, with a hubris parallel to their great power.
This Jor-el is a desperate man, his pride as diminished as his once-powerful frame, who doesn't stalk out of the hall in a huff, but rather slinks out "a tragic, beaten figure."
Back in his workshop, Jor-el works feverishly on a model rocket as Krypton's fate finally comes in an absurd, cartoonish, fashion:
In seconds, night was turned into flaming day. Across the sky, countless comets whirled screaming through brilliant space. The stars began to fall, showering upon Krypton a rain of liquid fire. Asteroids of every color careened across the heavens....The elements, as Jor-el had predicted, had gone mad! (15-16)
Their infant son, who goes nameless throughout the whole harrowing ordeal, is placed in the rocket per Jor-el's command. It's only when a faulty part almost keeps the rocket from launching that he is named: Kal-el.
The intense drama comes along for the rocket ride to Earth. Where earlier depictions had the baby Kal-el discovered by a ho-hum passing motorist, farmer Eben Kent's discovery of the rocket crashing into his field is far more catastrophic. The rocket's crash brings with it a blazing light and intense pressure, throwing him to the soft earth to faint--but for only a moment; he awakens and rushes into the burning remains of the rocket, determined to save the "child lying helpless," even burning himself terribly in the process.
The narrative discusses Eben and his wife, Sarah, and their long desire to have a child of their own. "They called him Clark, because that was Sarah Kent's family name." (24) When he was thirteen, Clark's x-ray vision manifested itself in the classroom, as he looked through his teacher's desk.
And that's not all: When he gets home, he finds his mother has sewn him a costume for a party:
There was a tight-fitting suit of blue, a wide belt of leather, knee-length boots, and--most thrilling of all--a scarlet cape. (30)
While wearing it, Clark astonishingly flies around his bedroom!
Four years later, the Kents are heavily in debt, and Eben feels forced to enter in the anvil lifting contest at the State Fair. Much like Jor-el jeered by his colleagues, the "old" Eben is mocked by his neighbors at the contest, even as lifting it nearly kills him. Clark, infuriated at Eben's rival "The Bull," knocks the larger man out cold and lifts the anvil himself--and discovers his super strength. Covering the fair from a city newspaper is a reporter who tells Kent to look him up if he needs anything: Perry White of the Daily Planet.
Until now, Clark Kent's reason for being at the Planet specifically (or the Daily Star with George Taylor, per the early issues) was never explained.
Dying from the strain, Eben is whisked away in flight by Clark, where he tells the boy the truth of how he was found, and makes him vow to use his powers for good: "There's great work t'be done in this world, and you can do it...It strikes me now. I called y a--a superman, and that's what ye be. Remember that. You're Superman!"
Years later, having learned his powers and crafted a mild-mannered persona, he heads to the Daily Planet, and the rest is history.
The Adventures of Superman starts out as a better novel than it has any business being, even with the melodramatic scenes on Krypton. The Adventures of Superman is not only the first instance of Clark Kent's life with his foster parents, the first instance of his coming-of-age with his powers, but also the first truly cohesive origin story for how he became Superman.
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