Monday, March 12, 2007

The Trinity at the Big Top (Action Comics #7, Cover Date December 1938)


Characters

Major Hero:
Superman
Minor Heroes:
Lois Lane, Mr. Jordan

Major Villain:
Derek Niles
Minor Villains:
Trigger, Curly

P'Shat

After co-worker Curly relentlessly teases Clark by pulling his tie out of his jacket, Clark is assigned to interview the owner of the Jordan circus. He overhears Derek Niles fighting with Mr. Jordan, and threatening that he will take the circus away if he is not made a partner. Clark prepares a puff piece on the circus, complete with Mr. Jordan's exaggerations in hopes of a large crowd, but ticket sales remain terrible.

To save the circus, Superman joins the team as the new strong man. With Superman in the ads, tickets sell more briskly, drawing an angry Derek Niles and eager Lois. With the surprise turn of fortune, Niles and his assistant Trigger sabotage the circus by setting free the lion, cutting the trapeze bar, and weakening a support pole, kidnapping a snooping Lois along the way. Superman saves the crowd and all relevant carneys from disaster, and then rescues Lois from Derek Niles.

In a final joke, Clark rips all of the clothes off of Curly.

Drash


Shazam, Monster Society of Evil #2 reminded me of my intermittent Golden Age musings, and how there was a time when a character couldn't get his own title for a year before he was sent off to do as issue in the circus. You never saw Green Lantern at the flower show, or the Flash at the rodeo, but you couldn't put together enough floppies for a trade before your favorite superhero ended up in the Greatest Show on Earth. Witness:

1938: Clark Kent is sent by his editor to cover the breaking news that the circus is in town. (Action #7)

1940: Socialite Bruce Wayne is attending the circus when the Flying Graysons are tragically killed. (Detective #38)

1942: Diana Prince learns that the circus is in town to perform a fundraiser to support the war effort. (Wonder Woman #1)

In all three, there is an attempt to sabotage the circus. Superman and Batman must fight thugs who want to sabotage the circus for financial gain. By 1942, the Japanese are sabotaging the circus fundraiser in one of a number of increasingly far-fetched and non-cost-effective schemes to damage the Allied war effort. (The circus scheme is actually only second-most-ridiculous, ranking after Sensation #7's scheme wherein Germany would win the war by cornering the market on milk, raising prices, and thereby weakening America's youth through milk deprivation.)

But enough about that. Wonder Woman was at least tangentially supporting the war effort, and Batman did get a partner out of the deal, but what the heck was Superman doing in the circus? I mean, this is the guy who was stopping wars in Action #2, and fighting for the prolateriat in Action #3. And even just last month he was fighting the evil forces of commercialism in Action #6 by keeping his name from being associated with every fly-by-night business that blows through town like . . . well, like the circus.

Why is the guy who was disgusted by the thought of Superman gasoline and Superman radio shows suddenly willing to attach his good name to a random traveling circus? Um . . .

Clark Kent: This show is good -- but it lacks "Flash." -- And that's where Superman takes a hand!


That's it. The guy who didn't want him name attached to an automobile is now happy to trick people into spending money in the middle of the depression to watch clowns run around in bright clothes.

And furthermore, had Superman not acted, the Jordan Circus would have gone out of business as a boring circus, and the assets turned over to Derek Niles. Instead, Superman "saves" the circus, instigates Niles, saves the circus from Niles, and then assumedly ditches them when they leave town, where they will proceed -- unflashily -- to the next town.

I think there must have been a change of meme sometime between 1942 and now. When I think "Circus", I think P.T. Barnum and "There's a sucker born every minute." Back then, the immediate impression must have been something much more pure and innocent. Otherwise, we might expect Clark to next put his name to "Superman Subprime Mortgage Lending" or "Superman Payday Loans."

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