With Superman mania kicking into renewed high gear around the release of the character’s return to the silver screen in Man of Steel, it’s no great shock to see DC comics dipping back into the reprint inkwell with a look back at the very first Superman stories, yet again.
Of course, DC has had good success with previous reprints of the issues contained within Superman: The Golden Age Omnibus, Vol. 1, including separate hardcover reprints of early Action Comics and Superman issues under the Archives banner, and combined, chronological paperback reprints under the heading of Superman Chronicles.
Superman: The Golden Age Omnibus, Vol. 1 is a 784-page behemoth covering the same issues as the first four volumes of the Superman Chronicles, in a spiffy brick of hardcover with a really nice sewn binding.
If you’re familiar with these stories, feel free to skim ahead a little bit. I’ll touch on the quality of the book itself, as well as its formatting, a little later. For those of you haven’t read these early Superman stories, though – specifically Action Comics 1-31, Superman 1-7, and the two New York World’s Fair comics from 1939 and 1940 – this book might come as a bit of a shocker. A hokey, sometimes crude (though no less charming) shocker, but a shocker nonetheless.
Because not only is this a Superman who couldn’t fly, but who came from a race of Super Krytponians who could leap tall buildings in a single bound even on their doomed home planet. The complete non-entities that are Ma and Pa Kent (who do have a cameo later in the book, but at first are reduced to a mere anonymous passing motorist who drops baby Kal-L off at the local orphanage and never looks back) might also raise eyebrows.
But perhaps the biggest shocker is the characterization of Superman himself. Forget the Big Blue Boy Scout we all know and love. He wouldn’t come along until the US was drawn into World War II and Superman got forced into the role of role model, which you’ll get a glimpse of should Superman: The Golden Age Omnibus, Vol. 2 ever come out. Instead, this Superman – at least at first – is a rough-and-tumble Depression-era quasi-socialist who’s as likely to take down corrupt lobbyists as supervillains (more likely, in fact, since pre-Lex Luthor is also a latecomer to this game, although the Ultra-Humanite does show up about halfway through the book to shake things up). He’s also kind of a grinning asshole, to be blunt about it – one who takes pleasure in knocking baddies through walls, probably killing them in the process.
Again, though, it’s hard to deny the charm of these simple stories, which are light years ahead of most Golden Age comics in terms of quality, if not consistency.
The rest of you can stop skimming now.
As for the book itself, it’s nice to see that DC has gone with an oversized book here, since comic books from this era were noticeably larger than their modern counterparts. You can get a sense of just how much bigger the book is by comparing it to a reprint of Grant Morrison’s first run on the New 52 reboot of Action Comics below. (Incidentally, the Omnibus is nowhere near the massive size of DC’s Absolute Editions, in case you collect those.)
You might look at the book’s massive top and bottom margins and feel a bit ripped off at first – and it’s true, there’s a lot of unused white space – but the pages are still significantly larger than their modern counterparts. My only real gripe in this department is that the covers are reprinted at pretty much the same size as the interior pages themselves. It makes for nice visual consistency, but when you consider that the margins of the original pages are lost in the massive margins of this reprint, the covers themselves could have stood to be significantly bigger. They’re nowhere near the size of their original Golden Age glory. They’re also reprinted on the same matte archival paper as the interior pages, so you don’t that glossy cover gleam, but that’s a minor complaint by comparison.
If you own the Action Comics and Superman Archives, you’ll know some of the material from early issues of Superman was reprinted from earlier issues of Action. The way that was handled in the Archives was a note to that effect, a textual summary of the missing content, and a note pointing to the book in which the comic pages were actually printed in full. Superman: The Golden Age Omnibus, Vol. 1 takes a different approach by simply omitting the later reprinted material. The effect is that you’d think – if you didn’t know any better – that Superman # 1 was only 10 pages long.
If you’re worried about the effect that this has on continuity, you can stop worrying now. There isn’t any continuity. The idea that the events of one issue of a Superman comic could have any bearing on the events of another wasn’t really developed up until Mort Weisinger took over the editorial reins decades later and practically invented the word “continuity.” Each of these stories takes place in its own little isolated reality and, as such, they aren’t intended to be read all in one go. This isn’t a chronological story, but rather a chronological slice of Superman’s history.
And when you consider that this beautifully bound hardcover book, on sale, will run you about the same as the first four Superman Chronicles paperbacks, which cover the same material, Superman: The Golden Age Omnibus, Vol. 1 is actually quite a value.