Review: Adventures of Superboy Vol. 1 hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

[This guest review comes from Todd Wagener of Brown Bag Comics]

The Adventures of Superboy hardcover collection from DC came out recently and I was thrilled! I had only read a few of these stories due to the fact that DC has not reprinted them before now, and was really feeling quite antsy to get them. Superboy was a mainstay favorite of mine, due in no small part to the fact his adventures were more fun and bound by the mind of a child, and not by the grown-up standards placed on him as an adult in Superman. Also, Superboy helped found my favorite team ever, the Legion of Super-Heroes!

That said, this book should have been one of my most valued collections, but it fell short. DC has decided that the hardcovers of classic Golden Age and Silver Age material should be printed on newsprint instead of a nicer, glossier or slicker paper. I know that these are not DC Archives, which are quite wonderful on their own, but when you reprint material that is available only in books from the 1940s and has not been seen in a modern reprint collection, you have a duty to make the presentation as nice as possible.

After all, DC is charging $39.99 for this book, and for only $10 more, it could have been an Archive instead. I, for one, would have been happy to purchase it as a DC Archive for $50, but that wasn't to be. Heck, if you were going to put it on low quality paper, why didn't DC print it as a DC Showcase like it was initially going to be? You must give the consumer quality if you are going to charge a quality price.

Now for the other drawback to this book: the binding is so tight that actual panels are obfuscated beyond readability! Knowing that Golden Age pages were larger than Silver Age or certainly Modern Age pages, DC should have decided to shrink the images slightly to avoid putting panels within .75 of an inch of the binding. As it is, most of the time you read Adventures of Superboy, you have to break the spine to read the words of important dialogue. In fact, it seems the writers of Superboy at the time had an edict that the third panel on a page was the primary dialogue/exposition panel and thus, all important data is in that panel.

I normally read my books and enjoy them, but I treat them like the library books I borrowed from the library when I was a kid and was told to treat them gently since they were not mine! So now as I have been purchasing these hardcovers, it really hurts me to break the binding or even push it to the limit just to read the story. I value my hardcovers just like I value my individual comics as more than just reading material, but rather as collectibles that others will want to buy or trade for. And who wants to buy books that aren't neat and have the spine looking like someone who got forty lashes!

The stories are dated but fun, and I liked the fact that they are presented in order from the first appearance in More Fun Comics #101 up until the change in title to Adventure Comics - all from the Golden Age. These are not the more science-fiction-y, young Superman versus young Lex Luthor-type Superboy stories that most readers are familiar with from the Silver Age. In these, the writers make a specific point of how a young Clark Kent showed morals and good upbringing to a generation of readers long before Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent! The style of these stories was always to entertain first, and provide moral/ethical leadership second. Personally, I enjoyed seeing Superboy play along to help a man pose as Santa Claus to give unfortunate children gifts -- it's a classic, timeless concept that many artists and writers have re-used over the past sixty-plus years.

In 2010, these kinds of stories might even seem naive, but in 1945 the goal was to teach children to be civil and not to judge people based on race, creed, or financial circumstances. In the story "Happy Birthday," for instance, Clark is going to a schoolmate's birthday party that has apparently been ruined because her father has been questioned for a crime and exonerated -- but this causes none of her schoolmates to come to the party except for Clark. Superboy decides to make this right by seeking out the inspector in charge of the case and taking him back to the classmate's houses to tell them that the girl's father was questioned by mistake and the real robber was already apprehended. All of the mothers call one another to make sure that the classmates go to the party. To top it off, the day is also Clark's unofficial birthday. Sweetly amusing, that is why this book is such a gem: it shows the distinct difference in society's innocence between 1945 to today.

Also, you won't find any villains or even characters that populated the Silver Age Superboy, with the notable exception of a very young Perry White. Perry makes an appearance in "Perry White, Cub Reporter" (originally from Adventure Comics #120). You see the future-editor of the Daily Planet get his job at the Daily Planet and how a young Clark Kent helped him do so, even though the story never actually became part of DC continuity (though it is echoed in the current Smallville mythos -- ed). Even more notable is that, though Perry is recognizable, this early Superboy's parents in this series aren't the Ma and Pa Kent we're so used to.

I can't really say I had favorite stories here, but it is a favorite era of mine. The 1930s and 1940s were a better time to be an American and to be a kid. This is a time when kids played on the river on homemade rafts and people having to go to the sheriff instead of phoning him. It's the time when doctors made housecalls and might even have performed surgery on the kitchen table, as shown in "Weather, Hurricane!" from Adventure Comics #106. There's stories here of kids making toys to sell for money for an operation in "Toytown, U.S.A." from Adventure Comics #104 and a story about careless driving in "Super Safety First" from Adventure Comics #112. That story uses the headline "Careless Driving Kills And Maims More Than War," which is interesting since it was published in 1947!

As for the issues included in this volume, they include all of the Superboy stories from More Fun Comics #101-107 and Adventure Comics #103-121. This covers almost three years of stories from DC's archives. And the work of such writers as Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger and Don Cameron along with the art of Joe Shuster, John Sikela, George Roussos and J. Winslow Mortimer bring to life this wonderful time. But the cover by Michael Cho, while evoking the time, does not really help "sell" the collection to newer readers. At a time when groundbreaking covers by Alex Ross are being done for other collections, DC used a light-hued cover of Superboy carrying a wagon with a boy, a girl and a dog in it. The color palette is a little weak, and will look washed out on the book shelf alongside your copies of the current Blackest Night collection or Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths volume.

Nonetheless, this is a book made for fans to love and admire the early work of the World's Greatest Hero. Event comics, in my opinion, are short-term excitement, but good writing is a long-term prize. The Adventures Of Superboy is that long-term prize to be read, enjoyed and re-read again for years to come.
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2 comments:

  1. Nice review, Todd! I'm about to go share it on twitter in a second.

    I did wan to make a little mention about the paper stock, though. Picking up my copy again, I have to say that I'm very pleased with their choice concerning paper. Calling it newsprint is perhaps a little strong - as while it is matte and fairly thin, it's actually a really nice stock with clear whites and deep blacks for a matte paper.

    Personally, I think it fits the work very well, the perfect paper choice for these kind of comics. A glossy paper would make the kind of cheesy work seem even more schmaltzy - as it is, it feels more classic.

    Anyway, it's a minor quibble. Either way I'm very happy to have this book.

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  2. I agree with Ian. Compare DC's Fourth World Omnibuses to Marvel's The Eternals Omnibus. One feels authentic to the era, while the other shouts in your eye with super-saturated colors and super-bright whites, "look how bad this coloring was!" when no, really, it wasn't! A trade like Daredevil: Born Again or DC's Archive line loses some of its original mood in the transfer to shiny gloss.

    This is a big part of why I love DC's classic library. They're readable! Not oversized, not recolored, just authentic hardbound reprints you can hold in one hand. The Batman Annuals and Atomic Knights collections are some of my favorite stuff DC's released in year.

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