Tuesday, November 15, 2011

February 1940: Action Comics #23

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This is the real first appearance of Luthor, at least in story terms. There's a house ad for Superman #4 after this story, meaning the on-sale dates are pretty close, so there's no telling which of them came first.  In this story Luthor is fomenting war between two European nations so that he can step in and take over once they are weakened. He's not particularly more interesting than any of the other criminal geniuses that have appeared so far. Superman stops his plan in a story that feels very much by the numbers. I'd love to write more about this, because it's significant historically, but there's not much to say. Luthor does get to maintain a bit of mystery, as he communicates to his lackeys through a great stone face. And it was a change of pace seeing Clark and Lois as war correspondents. But it doesn't feel much different from a bunch of other Superman stories that had a bit more zip to them.

 Lex Luthor, red hair and all.


'Pep Morgan' (by Fred Guardineer): Pep takes on a group of mine workers who are really saboteurs encouraging the workers to strike. Now, as presented the guys who are forcing the other workers to strike against their will are bad guys, and get what they deserve. But I get a definite anti-Union, anti-strike vibe from this story that goes beyond that. It's weird from a modern perspective to see it presented that way.

'The Black Pirate' (by Sheldon Moldoff): In this new strip, Jon Valor is the Black Pirate, on the trail of the evil Captain Ruff. This is terribly old fashioned even for 1940, with the whole thing being told in narrative captions. It robs the story of its immediacy, and it's not a style that I've ever been fond of.

'Three Aces' (by Gardner Fox and Chad Grothkopf): Gunner, Fog and Whistler go in search of a lost city, and find a crazy Aztec priest who is using zombies to pilot planes. Quite why he's doing this is never explained, and the protagonists just bugger off, leaving a whole bunch of guys to their zombified fate.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex and his crew crash land near a spooky castle, the inhabitant of which is a mad scientist whose flesh and bones are made of synthetic rubber. It's a novel enough premise, though I think the villain's ability to mould his face to look like anyone could have been put to better use.

'Spy's Return' (by Jack Anthony): A man escapes from the dreaded "Green Shirts" and is then revealed to be a prince. It's probably no coincidence that I started to nod off at around this point.

'Clip Carson' (by Sheldon Moldoff): Clip takes on some South American revolutionaries. This strip has become incredibly banal.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Treasure Tower' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Zatara goes in search of a treasure hidden by a builder named Kartzoff. During the course of his search he is opposed by the Tigress, and must navigate a house full of deathtraps administered by Kartzoff himself. This one wasn't terribly exciting, but once again Zatara and the Tigress team up, and my hunch about them having an affair is hinted at once again.


  1. Luthor's stone face was surely inspired by A. Merritt's The Face in the Abyss. I felt that making Kent and Lois foreign war correspondents was a potentially huge change of direction for the series, provided they had stuck with it longer.

  2. I haven't read any Merritt, though I plan to.

    I was also struck by just what a huge potential change the war correspondent thing could have been. Hindsight tells me it's short-lived, though. And I'm glad, because I'm hoping Superman can avoid a lot of the less savoury elements of war-time comics.