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The Adventures of Superman by George F.…

The Adventures of Superman (1942)

by George F. Lowther

Other authors: Josette Frank (Foreword), Joe Shuster (Illustrator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Superman, Superman novels (1)

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This is quite probably the first novel based on a comic book.  Released in 1942, a scant four years after Superman debuted in Action Comics, I think this is the first extended take on Superman's origin story.  The novel opens, like so many subsequent takes would, with a guy named "Jor-el" on Krypton fretting about the end of the world. (This was the first time Kal-el and his father had an "e" in the second syllable of their names, fact fans.)  We then get several chapters of young Clark growing up on the Kent farm in Smallville, as his powers manifest gradually-- this was before "Superboy" became part of the character's history.  There's not much of a role for Ma Kent (here named "Sarah"), but there's a nice relationship between Clark and his adoptive father (named "Eben"!), and the scene where Pa dies is probably the best one in the book.  It reads a lot like the similar scene in Superman: The Movie, actually.

So, Clark heads to off to the city to get a job at the Daily Planet.  In the book's second-best scene, he manages to save editor Perry White's life by pretending to bumble in, so no one knows he has superpowers.  Clark asks for a job as a reporter, but has no background; Perry wants to do him a favor but can't justify hiring him, so he assigns Clark to investigate a ghost ship sighted in Maine, as he can't waste a "real" reporter on the case.  Oddly, why Clark wants to be a reporter isn't really explained, other than that he got his best grades as a kid in English and always wanted to be some kind of writer.

Despite this, there's a heavy emphasis on Clark's investigative skills in the rest of the story.  Clark's investigations drive the mystery plot, with him transforming into Superman just for the action scenes (fighting u-boats, punching out Nazis, that sort of thing).  Yes, Nazis-- of course they turn out to be involved with the skeleton crew of a ghost ship.  The plot actually gets pretty convoluted at some points, though it all comes out in the end.  There's some Lois Lane, but perhaps not as much as one might like.  The novel's end, Clark is only beginning to be attracted to her, and though she gets in there with the verbal jabs, she doesn't do anything plotwise expect need to be rescued.  Superman won't wow you with its insight into Superman or Clark, but it passes the time.  (And fairly quickly, at that; the 200 pages just fly by.)

Though I found it an interesting choice that Superman's first mission was a somewhat subdued mystery rather than a plot to take over/destroy the world, I was somewhat disappointed that the social mission of the early Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster version of the character has already vanished, only four years in.  This Superman doesn't have the desire of the original to right wrongs in society like corrupt arms lobbyists and juvenile delinquency; he just wants to solve a haunting and defend America against nasty foreigners.  This isn't a problem with the novel per se, but more an observation on how quickly that social crusader version of Superman vanished.

What is here of the original Superman are some magnificent illustrations from co-creator Joe Shuster.  There are ten full-page illustrations, four of them in color, and they just pop off the page.  Shuster shows that over seventy years later, he's still one of the best illustrators Superman has ever had; these are powerful, iconic images that really add to the story being told, and often surpass it.
  Stevil2001 | Mar 26, 2012 |
Originally published in 1942 (first reprinted in an unauthorized paperback edition in 1979 and again--this time, authorized--in a 1995 hardcover facsimile edition. As detailed in the new introduction written by Roger Stern (who had just recently written the novelization of the Death of Superman storyline), by 1942 Superman had already moved the comic books (introduced in Action Comics #1, June 1938 cover date) to the newspaper comic strips (daily strip starting on January 16, 1939), a radio program (premiering February 12, 1940), and animated theatrical cartoons (September 1941). So when this novel clearly aimed at younger readers (although a special "Armed Services Edition" was also sent overseas to military personnel), Superman was clearly still riding a rather large wave of popularity. This novel is well known to die-hard Superman afficionados/historians as being the source of several key elements of what eventually became the standard Superman mythos, amongst them being Superman's Kryptonian parents' names being given as "Jor-el" and "Lara" for the first time--building upon the earlier names of "Kal-L" and "Lora" given in the Superman newspaper strips; "Jor-el" would eventually come to be written as "Jor-El". (He also gave us the names "Sarah" and "Eben Kent" for Clark's adoptive parents. As Stern describes, the names for these characters changed several times over the years before settling upon "Jonathan" and "Martha Kent".)

The novel itself follows the a pretty standard pattern. It begins with Jor-el warning his fellow members of the "Council of One Hundred" at "Krypton's magnificent Temple of Wisdom" of the planet's impending destruction. They, of course, do not believe him. Jor-el and Lara barely are able to get their infant son, Kal-el, into the model rocket ship Jor-el had been building (prior to building a much larger one) and send him on to the planet Earth. There, he is found by a poor farmer and his wife. (The material up to this point is probably the least interesting as it's been done over and over again; the 1948 Superman movie serial and first episode of the George Reeves The Adventures of Superman television series both use many of the same names as Lowther does, here.) We then skip ahead a bit to Clark's thirteenth year, when he begins to discover his unique abilities (first spotting an award ribbon stuck at the back of the teacher's desk drawer with his x-ray vision; his teacher's name is "Miss Lang"(!), no relation to Lana Lang, I presume). We then get a rather detailed scene in which Eben enters an anvil lifting contest at the state fair (the family is greatly in debt and the award for the winner is $500). Long story short, Eben puts up a good effort but can't beat the much younger man known as "The Bull". Clark gets upset when his father is laughed at and walks right up and easily lifts the anvil high over his head. Later, however, it turns out that Eben had strained his heart past the point of recovery and later dies.

Soon after this (skipping ahead a bit), Clark leaves and attempts to get a job as a newspaper reporter at The Daily Planet in Metropolis. He had briefly met Perry White at the state fair (White was a reporter looking for a story). By this point, White is the editor of the Planet. He can't guarantee Clark a job as Clark has no newspaper experience, but he sends Clark up to Maine to look into reported sightings of a phantom clipper ship with a skeleton crew. From this point forward, the novel very much takes on the feeling of the classic Superman radio shows, which is natural as George Lowther wrote many of those. The writing style is simple yet engaging. Joe Shuster, the original Superman comic book and comic strip artist and co-creator of the character (along with writer Jerry Siegel), along with the artists in his studio, provides ten full page illustrations (four in color), plus many more sketches of Superman as heading off each chapter. While hardly "great writing", this first ever novel based on a comic book superhero is still an enjoyable read (and a "must read" for diehard Superman afficionados interested in the early development of the character). (Finished reading 8/18/09) ( )
1 vote YoungTrek | Aug 21, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
George F. Lowtherprimary authorall editionscalculated
Frank, JosetteForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shuster, JoeIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stern, RogerIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Once he becomes aware of his super powers, Clark Kent uses them to fight the forces of evil.

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