Zack Snyder recently retold Superman’s origin story, and it was like a liquid-nitrogen-hauling truck driver retelling the story of Terminator 2: missing all the important points and focused mainly on whining. But this should have been obvious from preview posters which warned us that this Superman was going to spend most of his time being moody.
That’s why we’re travelling back in time to set things right. Superman started in the covers of Action Comics, glorious images which told everyone everything they needed to know about Superman, and every single word of it was “YES!”
The only reason that’s not used to sell male enhancement medication is how the image renders the product irrelevant. Behold, his first five cover appearances, the true origin of the legend of Superman!
ACTION COMICS #1: SUPERMAN SMASHES THE $#!+ OUT OF A CHRYSLER
The most famous image in comics history. A copy of Action Comics #1 recently sold for over two million dollars, and that’s not one thousandth of the fortune it created.
It’s such a pure expression of ass-kicking nobody cared that he was a violent lunatic. The comic reveals that the car is driven by Butch and his gang, who had kidnapped Superman’s girlfriend, which is as pure a motive as you can get without being asked to save orphans by President Jesus, but all the cover says is “Come see this guy wreck $#!+!” Cover artists can be very good at motivation.
It’s such perfect ass-kicking, you don’t notice that even the art doesn’t make sense. Did he fold up a sidewalk just to have rocks to smash that car into? Are all the buildings gone because that’s them exploding due to his laser vision? Or did he really pick up a car and fly it into the New Mexico desert, then go back and abduct three innocent passersby to the same spot just so they’d be able to freak out all over again when he started smashing up a perfectly good Plymouth Deluxe?
A picture is worth a thousand words, and this uses its kiloterm to permanently solve philosophy. Nietzche pondered the purpose of a Superman in society. Joe Shuster replied that his role was to smash $#!+ up as awesomely as possible for our entertainment.
Also, those fine folk over at Cracked have come up with a genius response:
ACTION COMICS #7: TORTURING A CIVILIAN
Superman appeared in every issue of Action Comics, but not on every issue’s cover. It was Action Comics #7 before they understood that they’d already written the only awesome excuse to ass-kick they’d ever need.
In this story he’s secretly joined the circus to help them make ends meet. You’d swear the writers had forgotten he was a fully-grown superpowered alien and were writing stories for a regular orphan.
More importantly, that guy is dead. Even assuming that he paints his feet brown every morning to save money, the only possible way he doesn’t fall out of that shoe to his death, he’s flapping back at sixty degrees to the vertical. Which means Supes is whipping him through the sky at a speed increasing by at least 19.6 meters per second squared. That’s more than triple the maximum acceleration of an Aston Martin DBS. If he lands with a single bone still in solid instead of liquid form, it’s only because the artist didn’t want to invent the Blob twenty years early.
Now look at Superman: totally loving this. He is using his full power against a completely defenseless civilian and he could not be happier. This is only Superman’s second cover appearance, and he’s already cemented his reputation for total dickery.
ACTION COMICS #10: UPPERCUTTING AN ENTIRE FIGHTER PLANE
YES. That’s all anyone ever has to say about this image. I’m only writing more because I need to vent some of the pure power it’s injected into my soul so that I don’t run into the street and attack the first heavy goods vehicle I see. This is where Superman cover art hit its stride, and that stride kicked massive vehicles into halves and also orbit with every step. After nine issues he’s returned to his roots of demolishing dangerous vehicles and it’s the happiest homecoming I’ve ever seen.
This is how old superheroes mock modern whippersupers for being pansies. Nowadays heroes try to look badass by jumping onto a fighter jet and punching out the pilot mid-flight. But that’s the weakest point of that plane. That’s practically cheating, taking the video game option of avoiding the dangerous weapons and going for the red (blood-filled) weak point. Superman doesn’t hold with such cowardice: he gets up there and he punches out the entire plane, and he does it from directly in front just so that the fighter’s guns had a chance to shoot first.
ACTION COMICS #13: MORE POWERFUL THAN A LOCOMOTIVE
Superman was stronger than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and created by people who knew exactly what visual representation was for. It was for badass.
Back then a locomotive wasn’t just a big screaming metal thing (which would make up 75% of Superman’s enemies for the next century because he was allowed to tear them in half in front of children), but the glorious embodiment of industrial might of machinery. Joe Shuster had Superman tiger-palm-punch Art Deco in the face, and made both of them look cooler in the process.
It also proves that images are all in the timing, because there’s no space to safely decelerate that train. Even if he manages to stop it, he’ll be left high-fiving a meter thick stack of crushed steel pancakes with pulped passenger filling. More likely it ploughs straight over him with a Superman-sized hole gouged out of the bottom in an inversion of the “moving comic character bursts through stationary wall” trope. But there is a place for such pedantry, and that place is in locomotive brake design meetings, not the Golden Age. If we were interested in what really happens in the world we’d be buying any of the other newspapers on the newsagent shelf, not something called ACTION COMICS!
ACTION COMICS #15: SAVING A SUBMARINE
The submarine! The most feared murder machine in a time when we had so many world wars we had to start numbering them? Get Superman to wrestle it! It’s usually found miles underwater? That’s why we have a Superman instead of regular men!
It’s nice to see criminals considerate enough to wear their “clearly a thug” hat instead of diving helmet even when they’re miles under the sea. And Superman is considerately clutching the sub instead of squashing it into a small criminal ball. Though you get the impression that his “never kill” rule isn’t so much about the sanctity of life as about making sure as many people as possible survive to see him being awesome.
Superman is now an engine for turning human ingenuity into kickass. It’s just up to to human technology to keep inventing awesome things for him to defeat. Lex Luthor would heroically dedicate his life to this noble ideal.
ACTION COMICS #17: TANK
The entire world agreed with what I just said, seventy years ago. Behold.
Look at those soldiers: that guy’s not firing the gun in any hopes of hurting Superman, that’s how the artists represent ejaculation in a comic which won’t allow nudity.
So the next time they reboot Superman, which should be any day now at the rate they’re going, we just need to send them these covers with a note saying “Here are your storyboards. If you want all of our money, get on with it.”
He previously examined the ultimate manliness battle in Who’s The Man? Superman vs He-Man.