Every once in a while I like to go pick up an archival edition of the early works from DC or Marvel (Chronicles for DC, Masterworks for Marvel) and just randomly read a few stories. Sometimes (OK, most times) I end up reading them all. They’re a shock to my comics reading system, a system that’s accustomed to the way we tell stories now, with all the spectacle and grit and often predictable attempts to make something formulaic feel unpredictable (did that make sense?). I always find the most refreshing books to be the ones from the earliest years of the superhero comic, the boomtime of the Golden Age when everything was new and shiny and full of flash and bang.
I am always struck by the sheer earnestness that went into those early Golden Age superhero stories. The art is almost all action, a mesh of zipping lines, sound effects and big expressions of power and awe. The stories are all about setting up some obstacle for the hero, then watching him (or her) barrel through it. Nuance is for suckers. This is about the man in tights doing something unspeakably cool really fast.
This time, my random readings led me to a story in Superman #8 from way back in the winter of 1941. It’s called “The Giants of Professor Zee,” written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Paul Cassidy (no, Joe Shuster didn’t draw every single Superman story in those days; he had a little help). What happens is simple. Mad scientist invents a way to make life forms bigger and creates a small army of giants. Said giants begin wreaking havoc by doing things like ripping the roof off the U. S. Mint and stealing all the money and kidnapping a governor’s wife. Superman rushes to the rescue.
There’s no big hidden meaning to explore here. I’m not about to drop some profound subtext on you. There is no profound subtext, or if there is it’ll take someone cleverer than me to find it. But do you need it? Do you really care? Superman is fighting giants. This is a comic book stripped free of any cynicism about the art form, because that cynicism we’re so familiar with now just didn’t exist yet.
Sometimes I approach this column with an eye toward revealing something important about this form of expression. Sometimes I want to highlight something essential. Sometimes I want to analyze. Today, with the first one of these in a new year, I just want to be reminded of why comics are cool, and few things are better reminders than Golden Age Superman stories like this one.