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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heros 1936 - 1941. Greg Sadowski (Editor) Fantagraphics Books (2009)

A collection of comics from the very early days of the industry, they come from the period when original content was becoming more common and the industry was beginning to gain traction as a commercial enterprise. There was a sense of unexplored territory in the industry, this was a new venture and in the efforts to establish what would sell there was a wide and wild creativity. The collection gathers together a variety of stories from that era before superheros dominated the industry and before the rules governing what superheros could do became so entrenched. The most noticeable aspect to the stories is the colouring, it is very vivid. I am going to assume that it was a function of the technology available at the time, more subtle colours would have been too expensive for such a throwaway medium. It gives the comics considerable visual force that match the melodrama taking place on the pages.
It is fascinating to see the mash up between science fiction and crime that has become the core of superhero stories being worked out in public. Taking two really popular genres and tying them together gave a nice mix, you had the universe to play with, still there was the need to have plot and what better than a crime story. It is clear just how porous the stories were to the radio and film serials that were common at the time. The science fiction films of Flash Gordon and the gangster films have clear echos in the stories. It is a little bit of a shock to see how ingrown a lot of superhero comics are today, they draw so much from their own past without being excited or updated by external ideas.
The Jack Cole story "The Claw Battles the Daredevil" is a joy, the art is fluid and full of movement, the dialogue is full of smart alec life, just as it should be and it is bursting with a absurd inventiveness that still shines. In terms of art the standout is "Spacehawk" by Basil Wolverton, the story is inventive, the art is superb. There is a picture of a space pirate captain that is joy. All the stories in the book are worth reading for the sheer energy that have and firework's display of creativity they contain.

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