Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Superman in Action Comics #2 (Cover dated July, 1938)

Continuing thoughts on early Superman comics, that I started here.

Characters


Main Heroes: Superman
Minor Heroes: Lois Lane

Main Villians: Emil Norvell
Minor Villains: Alex Greer, Lola Cortez

P'Shat

Concluding the Cliffhanger from Action #1, Superman coaxes Alex Greer into admitting that munitions magnate Emil Norvell is behind the threatened war. Greer warns Norvell, who greets Superman with armed guards, who fire at him with machine guns. Superman throws the guards out the window, and tells Norvell that he will kill him if he is not on the next day's boat to San Monte. Also on the boat are Clark, Lois Lane, and Lola Cortez. Norvell's thugs knock Superman from the ship, but Norvell refused to compensate them. The next day, Superman saves Norvell from his thugs, but informs him that he must join the San Monte army. Superman also joins the army, and together Norvell learns the horrors of war, while Superman uses his super powers to take photographs of the enemy for Clark's Evening News article.

Meanwhile, Lola Cortez hides stolen documents in Lois's room, where they are found by the police. Lois is convicted of espionage and sentenced to the firing squad at dawn. Superman hears just in time, and saves Lois by shielding her body from the firing squad's bullets, and incidentally saves captives from a torturer.

Returning to his unit, Superman stops an attacking airplane by jumping into its propeller. Superman allows Norvell to return to the United States, as he agrees to stop manufacturing munitions. Superman then ends the war, by getting the two army heads together, where they realize they don't know why they are fighting in the first place.

Drash

Unlike #1, which dealt primarily with small-time individual power imbalances (wife beating, innocent prisoner, etc.) If you read Action #2 and Action #3 together, you realize that they are both telling the same story, regarding broader class conflict issues. The upper class here in Emil Norvell, the munitions manufacturer who profits off weapon sales, while the lower classes are the fighters and mercenaries in the San Monte army who use the munitions, and are killed by them.

The solution given (which is either overly naive or brilliantly simple) is if you can put the rich guy in the poor guy's shoes for a dozen pages, he'll see the error of his ways and reform. The rich guy isn't evil, he's just ignorant. It never occurred to him how horrible it is to get maimed by munitions. Given the proper education, Norvell is shown to be completely reformed. There is thus no INHERENT class struggle, only a contingent one that can be easily remedied through communication and experience.

A few words on individual lines of dialogue:

p. 1 As they topple like a plummet to the street below . . .


I have never seen "plummet" used as a noun, but sure enough. "Also called plumb bob. a piece of lead or some other weight attached to a line, used for determining perpendicularity, for sounding, etc.; the bob of a plumb line."

p. 3 Clark: Lois! What are you doing here?
Lois: Our editor decided to have me accompany you to the war-zone and send back dispatches colored with my distinctive feminine touch!
While I can usually put aside 1938 sexism as a product of the era, I have no idea what this even means. What are war "dispatches colored with" a "feminine touch"? Puff pieces on the cuisine in the mess hall? Interviewing the wives of dead soldiers? Critiquing the color scheme of the San Monte uniforms? Practical tips for maintaining your feminine mystique in a war zone? I am at a loss.

p.13 Superman: Then why are your armies battling?
Army head: I don't know! Can you tell me?
Other army head: No, can you?
Superman: Gentlemen, it's obvious you've been fighting only to promote the sale of munitions -- why not shake hand and make up?


Much like Emil Norvell learns the error of his ways by simply becoming a soldier for a day, the fighting sides are able to agree to peace merely by being put in the same room and asked what they were fighting about. The "peace through communication and interpersonal understanding" could have worked as well for the actual warfare as for the class warfare if, say, the whole war had been a big misunderstanding over a mis-overheard insult, but you've got to imagine that the army chiefs at last THOUGHT they were fighting over something. This isn't like Ares's mind control in Wonder Woman. Emil Norvell paid lobbyist, he didn't have a mind-control ray.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Lois: Our editor decided to have me accompany you to the war-zone and send back dispatches colored with my distinctive feminine touch!"


This sounds to me like a sarcastic comment, the kind Barbara Stanwyck would make to a male colleague in a screwball comedy. She's zinging Kent good here.

11:41 AM  

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