Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Superman in Action Comics #3 (Cover Date August, 1938)

Continuing the Long March, started here and here . . .


Major Heroes: Superman
Minor Heroes: Stanislaw Kober

Major Villains: Thornton Blakely


Clark Kent hears of a mine collapse and rushes to the scene. Disguised as a miner, Superman pretends to fall down the shaft. He saves the rescue party, which has been overcome by poison gas, and then rescues the original trapped miner Stanislaw Kober. When the signal cord didn't work, Superman climbs up the rope.

Interviewing Kober, who is now crippled for life, Clark Kent learns that the tragedy could have been prevented, but the boss refused to take safety precautions. Interviewing the mine owner, Thornton Blakely, Clark learns that there is no plans to give Kober a pension, as the mine owner blames Kober's carelessness. Instead, the mine will only pay for a portion of his medical bills, and a $50 retirement bonus.

That night, Superman again pretends to be a miner and is caught sneaking into Blakely's party. Blakely livens the party up by inviting the "miner" to stay, and then decides to continue to party down in the mine. Superman engineers another cave-in, and while the rich folks panic, Blakely realizes that his safety devices don't work. The wealthy are forced to dig to try to escape. After they collapse in exhaustion, Superman digs through the rubble, allowing rescue crews to save them.

In the last panel, Blakely tells Kent that his mines will henceforth be the safest in the country.


This self-contained story is actually based on the identical premise as the main plot in Action #2 -- that the big, rich boss-man will see the error of his ways if only he could see the world through the eyes of the poor guys who actually do the dirty work for them. But here, instead of the munitions dealer forced to be a soldier, there is the coal mine owner forced to work in his own coal mine.

This story takes place only 5 years after the United Mines Workers were granted the right to collective bargaining for their union members (1933), and over 30 years before mandated safety guidelines for mine workers, so was a somewhat timely topic. In a time soon after mine owners would frequently open fire on striking mine workers, this issue is probably even more "liberal" than Number One's stance against domestic violence, or Number Two's anti-war sentiment. And the naivete is at least as strong here, with Blakely changing his tune literally "overnight", as if it had never occurred to him before that mining was not a safe job.

Perhaps equally interesting is that Superman is only "in costume" for a single panel in this issue, as he speeds from his office (disguised as Clark Kent) to the mine (where he immediately disguises himself as a mine worker). The focus is clearly on Superman "the man", not "the icon" which he was quickly becoming.

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