Superman first appeared in Action comics #1 in June of 1938. He did a lot of Superman-y things, such as using his alter ego to track down criminals, bring criminals to justice, chase down gangsters, and investigate corrupt politicians. All of that in the first issue. Everyone who interacted with him in that short 12 page story had a different opinion of him. Gangsters thought he was the devil, the governor relieved that he was on the side of law and order, and some, well some didn’t know what to think. Not only did Action Comics feature the debut of Superman, it also introduced Lois Lane to the world. Superman rescues her from a gang of bad guys in the remarkable fashion of stopping the car she was in, picking it up, shaking out the occupants and saving the day. Lois, understandably, is a little apprehensive, to say the least. If Superman is capable of this, what he would he do to her? Well, he tells her:
Superman went on to make history and sold over 3 million copies of Action Comics each month in the 40’s. THREE MILLION. Just to put that into some context, last month’s top seller was the first issue of the relaunched Amazing Spider-Man which sold 532,586 copies. Half a million copies is nothing to sneeze at, but these days that is a HUGE number. Superman would also go onto inspiring copycats, everyone from Batman to
Captain Marvel Shazam. Before Bill Finger stepped in, Bob Kane planned on making Batman just as colorful and heroic as Superman. Yet another reason we all need to be thankful for Bill Finger.
Many readers today feel that Superman is a little out of date, that his Boy Scout manner is a little corny, naive and irrelevant in today’s Grand Theft Auto world. But the best writers use Superman in a way many don’t. Many people focus on his powers and abilities. But the best will craft stories around his character, his personality. Yes, Superman is strong, but he’s also strong enough to be gentle, as depicted in this scene from All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly. Superman can be a hero, but he can also be an inspiration. Many characters in the DC universe are inspired by him. They look up to him. As they should.
So, what’s the point of all this? I’ll get to that. Eventually. As I get older, I think about the roots of popular culture. My son Ryan just turned 15 a few months ago, and like many teenagers, he loves video games. He doesn’t know how different his world is from the world he grew up with in that regard. Not long ago we went to a used video game store and found some old Atari games still in the package. Here’s the front of the box that Atari games came in:
And the back:
The stupid box didn’t even have any pictures of the game. You had NO idea what you were kidding. These days you can download demos, watch trailers online and see pictures in magazines. But back then you had no idea if you were getting the next Pitfall or the next E.T. Those were dark days. Thankfully Ryan has played the games I played growing up. He’s played and beaten the original Super Mario Bros and many other games from the first Nintendo. Of course these days it’s all about Titanfall on his X-Box 1 where I will sit and mourn the glory days of the GameCube.
It’s amazing to me that so many of his friends and kids his age have very little experience with early video games. Video games these days are amazing. I am continually amazed by them, but even more so when I think about how simple they used to be. I love watching kids Ryan’s age try to struggle through Death Mountain from The Legend of Zelda. It’s the modern day equivalent to walking to school uphill in the snow. Both ways.
Video game players and comic book readers tend to overlap. I think more comic book readers play video games than the other way around, though. I’ve been thinking a lot about Superman and the early days of comics lately. As I get older I am more interested in golden age DC and silver age Marvel, but I am also working on a comics project that is a homage to those early days of comics. I know I sound like an old man, but just like I think Ryan and his friends need to play video games from the 80’s, even if it’s just for a historical perspective, I think comic fans need to go back and read those first issues of Action Comics and everything else. I think it’s important to remember where our favorite hobbies originated from and the basis from which they were formed. Of course, it’s easy to draw an opinion about those stories by just looking at them. Simple art, hand lettering, offset coloring…but there’s something more. Spider-Man is the same character that he was in 1963. Superman is the same character as he was in 1938. Superman should still inspire the best out of us. And yes, there are those that will say that he is out of date, but you need to understand this:
If you are not inspired by this, I don’t know what to tell you. If you read comics, you need to know this. Superman inspired a whole industry. If it weren’t for him, there likely would not be Iron Man movies, or Avengers party favors or Batman video games. This comic is where all this comic book culture…and fandom started, people.
I am bringing this up because there is a huge problem with comic book readers. And I will get this out of the way now: I know not EVERY comic book reader, but let’s face it, this is a problem we all have to fix.
If you’re online, whether it’s Facebook, Tumblr or any other social media site, or if you’re keeping up to date with comic news via comicbookresources.com or bleedingcool.com you likely have seen too many stories about women being threatened and harassed by male comic book readers. There’s also too many stories about male comic book “professionals” saying horrible things about female characters. It’s becoming more common these days, or perhaps it’s always been this way but we’re just hearing about it more. As a father, as a cartoonist, as a comic book reader this is really depressing and frustrating and really makes me angry.
We…readers, retailers, writers, artists, all need to be like Superman. Superman doesn’t hurt women and neither should we. Superman defends women, and so should we.
All of this baffles me, to be honest. I don’t know why people don’t treat others nicer. There seems to be a feeling of “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” in comics these days. Online, in comic book stores, at conventions…when I was in high school feeling geeky and lonely, I would have loved to meet a girl who was also into comics. The idea that some guys want to exclude females from this world is the exact opposite of what I hoped for all those years ago. Anyway, I wrote a comic about it.