Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Who Cares if My Plan is Half-Assed? I'm Superman and You're Just a Football Thug (Superman in Action Comics #4, Cover Date September, 1938)

Characters

Major Hero: Superman
Minor Hero: Tommy Burke, Oliver Stanley

Major Villain: Coach Randall
Minor Villain: Unnamed Thugs

P'Shat

Superman chases a hit-and-run driver to where he is stalled on a train track. He jumps them to safety just in time, but the driver dies of a heart attack. Deciding to sneak onto the train, Superman overhears Coach Randall of Dale hires two thugs to help him win a game against Cordell University by taking out Cordell's three best players.

Clark Kent notes that he looks like Tommy Burke, A Cordell player who is currently being dumped by his girlfriend for only being a backup. Walking home despondently, he meeting Kent (dressed as Burke) who stabs him with a hypodermic needle, knocking him out.

In the locker room, Superman impresses the teammates by taking punches from a better player, and then knocking him out. But the Cordell coach throws him off the team. He regains his position by running onto the field and evading the whole team.

Coach Randall hears about Burke and orders him kidnapped until after the game, but the thugs kidnap the real Burke, not Superman (who has again drugged Burke). At the game, Superman plays and takes out the knife-wielding thugs on the other team, single-handedly winning the game for Dale in the first half. Mary is impressed, and dumps her tennis pro on the spot. Superman and Burke (who has escaped) switch back at halftime. The real Burke is injured on the first play and immediately retires with Mary in his arms, and Coach Randall resigns.

Drash

I've been reading some criticisms of Greg Land's cover art, where most of his female characters look this same. Well, he's got nothing on Action Comics, where Burke's girlfriend Mary is drawn identically to Lois Lane (even wearing the same outfit to the football game that Lane wore to the office in Action #1). Cordell Coach Oliver Stanley (named after both members of Laurel & Hardy?), meanwhile, is the spitting image of Dick Tracy.

Leaving aside the fact that the plot device of Kent and Burke looking alike glosses over the fact that everyone else looks alike too, we get to the actual story, which is utterly ridiculous. It consists mainly of Superman doping up a bad college football player who never did anything wrong to him.

Burke: W-what have you done to me? I can't move!
Superman: You needn't worry. You're just rendered passive by a drug.


Ah, I see. No reason to worry there. And days later, some exposition when Burke is captured:

The two thugs are unaware Burke is under the influence of a sleep-inducing drug or that Superman is observing them from the molding overhead!
Does Superman leap down to Burke's defense? No, he follows and peers through a window.

Superman: Fine! They've taken him off my hands -- and they mean him no physical harm!
Superman leaves Burke tied to a chair.

My first thought on reading Action #4 was to go research when the NCAA started regulating college football, but according to Wikipedia, they were active in 1938. Nonetheless, as best as I could tell here, Dale University and Cordell University played for the championship with teams that consisted almost entirely of non-student ringers. Meanwhile, Burke, who is an actual student, is accused by Mary for his failures:

Mary: I'm ashamed of you, Tommy Burke! You told me you'd be a football hero, but in the six or seven years you've been a substitute, you've never gotten into even one game!
Six or seven years? I hope Tommy Burke is double majoring in chemical engineering and corporate finance! This certainly should be violating some league's team eligibility requirements!

We'll leave aside for the moment the shallow portrayal of Lois, um, I mean Mary, as only being interested in a guy who is a sport's hero, and jumping back and forth based on who scored the most recent point. Action #1-#3 all addressed big issues and its shortcomings were made up for by having an actual point that they carried throughout.

Action #4, on the other hand, was just ridiculous.

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