SUPERMAN, WONDER WOMAN, BATMAN WEATHERED THE STORM, AND HELPED USHER IN COMICS’ SILVER AGE
By David Tosh
In true superhero fashion, the Man of Steel withstood the great Superhero Exodus at DC with little trouble.
Superman had been appearing in all sorts of places – newspaper comic strips, radio, movie serials, and lots of toy products for years, and had become as recognizable a cultural icon as Mickey Mouse. His comic-book exploits continued uninterrupted in monthly issues of Action Comics and the eight-times-a-year Superman solo book. The Adventures of Superman syndicated television series starring George Reeves, which began airing in 1952 and remained popular in 1956, would continue airing in reruns for years to come.
Superman’s clean-cut, good-versus-evil comic-book storylines felt little effect from the new Comics Code Authority rules and regulations that put more than a few titles out of business.
If anything, the Superman brand was stronger than ever, even branching out with two new titles. Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, with stories revolving around the Daily Planet cub reporter, which began in 1954, was the first. Superman appeared on every cover, and was featured to some extent in every story, with attractive artwork by Curt Swan on most of Jimmy’s adventures. After a two-issue tryout in Showcase, the suggestively titled Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane began in 1958, starring Clark Kent’s fellow Planet reporter Lois. Miss Lane would often rival Clark for the big stories, while unashamedly chasing Superman with romance and marriage as her objectives. Both of these spin-off titles would run for the next 20 or so years.
Superman also teamed with fellow crime buster Batman for a series of stories running in World’s Finest Comics. This title began in the early 1940s as a 96-page anthology comic with separate stories for each hero, but by issue #71, cover-dated July 1954, the two characters (plus Batman’s sidekick Robin) were featured working together.
The mid-1950s saw a big rise in popularity for science-fiction films. Naturally, Superman, referred to in the TV series opening as a “strange visitor from another planet,” fit right in. Other strange visitors, including a good number of weird monster-like creatures from outer space, started to appear, especially in the World’s Finest stories drawn by Dick Sprang. While these far-out themes worked with the Man of Steel, the Gotham Guardian’s encounters with outer space elements were a bit of a stretch.
Batman had no super powers, but was no less a popular hero throughout the Golden Age 1940s in the pages of Detective Comics and Batman. As the craze for true-crime comics begin to die down, so did the Caped Crusader’s exploits with ordinary criminals. Fantastic characters like the Joker still appeared on a fairly regular basis, but more often, Batman found himself facing interplanetary menaces. I personally liked those fantastic stories, but for some fans, it must have been a turn-off. Batman was hanging on, but his popularity was definitely beginning to slip.
While Batman strayed a bit from his original premise, Wonder Woman stuck quite determinedly to hers. By 1956, she appeared only in her namesake title, having lost her spot in Sensation Comics after issue #106, when that anthology title switched gears and became more of a horror-suspense book. The stories appearing in Wonder Woman retained the unique look and feel of her Golden Age adventures, which seemed a bit old-fashioned even back then. Original artist Harry G. Peter continued handling art chores on Wonder Woman until 1958, when she finally got a much-needed makeover by way of new artistic team Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. The new team began with issue #98. Editor Bob Kanigher revamped the book with new characters, updating some of Wonder Woman’s back story elements.
These “Big Three” DC characters would continue to survive and prosper as the new Silver Age era moved into the 1960s. Big things were in store for all of them. But they weren’t the only holdovers from the Golden Age. Green Arrow and Aquaman continued appearing in short backup stories featured in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics.
Over at Marvel Comics, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were about to join the fun with an upstart comic called The Fantastic Four.
DAVID TOSH has been an avid fan of comic strips, animated cartoons and comic books for most of his life. He is a cataloger at Heritage Auctions and author of Rise of the Superheroes: Greatest Silver Age Comic Books and Characters. This story appears in the Fall 2018 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.