Comic Review – “The Superman Archives, Vol. 1”

You will believe a man can jump really, really far.

General Information

Title: Superman Archives Vol. 1

Credited to: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Original Publication Date: The contents of this
archive were first
published in 1939 and 1940. The first edition of
this archive was
published in 1989. This edition of the archive is a
cheaper reprint ($19.95US instead of $49.95US) first
published in
January of 2005.

ISBN: 1-4012-0630-1

Cover Price: $19.95 US, $30.95 Can

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Past comic reviews can be found here.


This collection, reprinting Superman 1-4,
shows Superman in
his very early days, when he was willing to kill
and/or maim to meet
his goals. This is a very different Superman from
the one we see
today. He still fights for the underdog, but he
couldn’t fly, he had
no X-ray or heat vision, no super breath, and so
forth. In the early
stories, it says his skin was impenetrable by
anything less than an
exploding shell, but by the end of the collection,
he’s been upgraded
to having impenetrable skin. The distance he can
leap is upgraded
from an eighth of a mile to the edge of the
stratosphere. It’s quite
interesting to go back and see where the character
was before the
second world war inspired some extra powerful heroes,
and before the
Comics Code Authority started to put limitations on
his tactics.

High Point

The football scam. It’s a decent story that really
shows a
willingness to commit lesser evil to fight a greater

Low Point

Like the use of Joker in the low-cost Batman
Archives Vol. 1
Lex Luthor appears, but not as a first appearance.
DC’s lead
characters had two titles going each with shared
continuity, so
publishing by title means you get some gaps that are
irritating to
read. (Incidentally, this Lex is a mad scientist
with a considerable
amount of red hair.) The forthcoming Chronicles
format, which will be
introduced as the Batman

this March, will be easier to read; it will reprint
all appearances of
a character from all titles, in chronological order,
which will result
in a mixing of titles to get a coherent, sequential
story in a low
cost paperback. They sound like DC’s answer to the
Essential line
from Marvel, and they’ve got my attention.

The Scores

This is somewhat original simply by virtue
of publication
date. Superman was the first significant
superpowered hero, and he
was appearing in a relatively new medium. There’s a
lot of
experimentation here in terms of story structure and
actions. This includes many of the character’s first
including a reprint of his first appearance from
Action Comics. This
wasn’t the birth of an icon, but it was certainly
part of the
infancy. I give it 5 out of 6.

The artwork seems to be the standard style
of the 1930s.
It’s not quite as goofy as, say, the
old Dick Tracy
, but we’ve got the same rustic masculine
facial features
and petite female features present on virtually all
characters. (The
tough guys are the ones with visible cheekbones.)
The characters
aren’t always consistently drawn, and there’s some
loss of detail in
the smaller figures, but I’m not sure how much of
that was limited by
the day’s printing technology. I give it 4 out of 6.

The stories told are a product of the time.
The supporting
cast had barely developed, with Lois Lane being the
only character who
was defined by more than her job. Superman did a
suprising amount of
uncover work, helped in part by the fact that many
characters in these
stories felt Superman was a myth. They are usually
somewhat well
planned, though they do have a few plot holes that
need to be properly
filled. I give it 4 out of 6.

The characterization of Superman / Clark
Kent is consistent,
and has some depth as a result of the dual identity.
Lois Lane is
actually quite well done. Everyone else is defined
by their job, or
in Luthor’s case (he isn’t called Lex yet), by his
goals. I give it 4
out of 6.

The emotional response is stronger today
than I think it
would have been for me when these issues were first
published (had I
been alive then.) Much of the interest in these
stories is derived
from noting the differences between the character
then and now. There
is some interest in the stories, but nothing that has
the impact of
seeing Superman threaten to break a woman’s arm if
she doesn’t write a
signed confession. I give it 6 out of 6.

The flow within the stories is usually good.
There are some
sloggy moments that seem to have been converted from
the newspaper
strip format, resulting in captions that recap events
which occurred
on the top half of the same page, but most of the
content is kept at a
very rapid pace within a story. I give it 4 out of

Overall, it’s a worthwhile collection
(especially at this
price) for anyone who has an interest in where
Superman came from. If
you enjoy Superman today, this will probably spark an
interest in how
he developed into the character we know him as. I
can’t afford the
Archives at the regular price, but a Superman
would be very welcome. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, The Superman Archives, Vol. 1
receives 32 out of 42.

Additional Notes and Comments

There was also a recent reprint of Batman:
The Dark
Knight Archives Vol. 1
that I picked up, but I
don’t plan to read
and review it until after I’ve reviewed the first
volume of The
Batman Chronicles
. (If I didn’t wait, the I’d
have read every
story in the Chronicles volume, which makes
it difficult to
review properly sometimes.)

One reply

  1. powers
    Did they mention that his powers come from Krypton being a heavier planet than Earth and therefore he’s got a physiology adapted to more Gs, meaning he’s stronger and tougher than earth critters?

    I know I enjoyed the gradual and unexplained devellopment of his powers in the 40’s cartoons, and I remember that the solar radiation explanation came after WW2…
    I also liked what he fought for before 1942 more than the ones with the superfluous third reason to fight that got tacked on after Pearl Harbour.

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