Vintage​ ​Covers:
The​ ​World​ ​of​
Superman

Aug. 19 –
Jan. 7,
2018

Superboy​,​ ​no.​ ​59,​ ​September​ ​1957.​ ​Cover​ ​art by​ ​Al​ ​Plastino.​ ​Published​ ​by​ ​DC​ ​Comics.

Superman​ ​comic​ ​books​ ​began​ ​officially​ ​in​ ​June​ ​1938​ ​with​ ​the​ ​publication​ ​of​ ​Action​ ​Comics,​ ​no. 1.​ ​They​ ​were​ ​instantly​ ​popular​ ​and​ ​launched​ ​the​ ​superhero​ ​phenomenon,​ ​where​ ​people​ ​dress​ ​in unique,​ ​often​ ​flamboyant​ ​costumes​ ​and​ ​perform​ ​impossible​ ​feats​ ​of​ ​heroism.​ ​Superhero​ ​comics peaked​ ​at​ ​the​ ​end​ ​of​ ​World​ ​War​ ​II,​ ​then​ ​for​ ​some​ ​reason​ ​dwindled​ ​from​ ​hundreds​ ​of​ ​titles​ ​to​ ​just Superman​,​ ​​Batman​,​ ​and​ ​​Wonder​ ​Woman​,​ ​then​ ​resurged​ ​in​ ​the​ ​1960s.

What​ ​happened​ ​to​ ​comic​ ​books​ ​in​ ​the​ ​1950s,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​did​ ​Superman,​ ​in​ ​particular,​ ​make​ ​it through​ ​the​ ​decade?​ ​The​ ​American​ ​comic​ ​book​ ​industry​ ​as​ ​a​ ​whole​ ​diversified​ ​in​ ​the​ ​1950s. Funny​ ​animal,​ ​horror,​ ​jungle​ ​adventure,​ ​romance,​ ​science​ ​fiction,​ ​and​ ​teen​ ​humor​ ​comic​ ​books flourished.​ ​One​ ​could​ ​argue​ ​that​ ​Superman​ ​survived​ ​by​ ​following​ ​that​ ​trend​ ​while​ ​still​ ​retaining his​ ​essential​ ​cape,​ ​do-gooder​ ​personality,​ ​and​ ​secret​ ​identity.​ ​Romantic​ ​interest​ ​Lois​ ​Lane​ ​got her​ ​own​ ​book​ ​in​ ​1957.​ ​Teenagers​ ​Superboy​ ​and​ ​Jimmy​ ​Olsen​ ​got​ ​their​ ​own​ ​books​ ​in​ ​1949​ ​and 1954,​ ​respectively.​ ​Krypto,​ ​the​ ​superdog,​ ​brought​ ​a​ ​funny​ ​animal​ ​dimension​ ​with​ ​his​ ​first appearance​ ​in​ ​1955.​ ​Superman’s​ ​imaginary​ ​trips​ ​to​ ​his​ ​planet​ ​of​ ​origin,​ ​Krypton,​ ​appealed​ ​to science​ ​fiction​ ​fans,​ ​as​ ​did​ ​the​ ​discovery​ ​of​ ​Kandor,​ ​the​ ​Kryptonian​ ​city​ ​in​ ​a​ ​jar,​ ​in​ ​1958.

The​ ​clincher​ ​was​ ​radiation.​ ​In​ ​this​ ​sample​ ​of​ ​fourteen​ ​books,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​two​ ​nuclear​ ​bomb​ ​tests, a​ ​stolen​ ​batch​ ​of​ ​radium,​ ​the​ ​threat​ ​of​ ​exposure​ ​to​ ​kryptonite​ ​rays,​ ​and​ ​a​ ​mysterious​ ​glowing secret​ ​weapon.​ ​These​ ​are​ ​Cold​ ​War​ ​stories​ ​and,​ ​consciously​ ​or​ ​not,​ ​their​ ​scariness​ ​perfectly balanced​ ​their​ ​silliness​ ​like​ ​no​ ​other​ ​genre​ ​of​ ​the​ ​1950s.

Vintage Covers: The World of Superman ​is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and curated by Randall Scott, Comic Book Bibliographer, Special Collections, Michigan State University Libraries. Support for this exhibition is provided by the Alan and Rebecca Ross endowed exhibition fund. All works courtesy of Special Collections, Michigan State University Libraries.