My first exposure to a seminal Superman story came in cartoonist and author Jules Feiffer’s wonderful 1965 book, The Great Comic Book Heroes. Feiffer was apparently the first to realize that superheroes were an American cultural phenomenon significant enough to belong between hard covers.
Interestingly, the story Feiffer chose to reprint as representative of the early Superman has no villain. The emphasis is on Superman as rescuer, always his central role and the essence of the character (a fact that has somehow escaped Zack Snyder’s attention).
From Action Comics 5 (Oct. 1938), the tale features the Man of Tomorrow’s desperate race to save a town and Lois Lane from the deluge caused by the collapsed Valley-Ho Dam. Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman film nods directly at this story. In both cases, Superman hurls mountaintops into the path of the flood, changing the course of a mighty river.
Written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Joe Shuster, the story features art that’s crude but elemental and dynamic. Some of the excitement of the feature would be polished away by better art in later years. Here, what it most evident is the sheer joy of Superman’s bounding into the sky, outracing trains and hurtling past the moon with Lois safe in his arms.
That romance with Lois was steamier in those halcyon days, too — contrasted, of course, with her contempt for the cowardly Clark Kent. The secret smirk inherent in that setup was the revenge of every nerd.