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​ ​and​ ​the​ ​MSU​ ​Broad’s​ ​general​ ​exhibitions fund.​ ​All​ ​works​ ​courtesy​ ​of​ ​Special​ ​Collections,​ ​Michigan​ ​State​ ​University​ ​Libraries.