My week has been vastly improved by reading Superman In The Fifties and Batman In the Fifties for the first time. Though I haven’t read much Superman before (just some of the new 52 Action Comics), my past experience with Batman is that it’s not always a happy ride. Okay, that it’s rarely a happy ride. That’s okay. Conflict drives character development and the more serious stories often shine through as the best. I get it. But darnit. I like to smile and these comics fit the bill.
Very little of my laughing while reading these books was because of ridiculousness, it was usually sheer enjoyment. Usually. Sometimes I had to poke fun. I loved being reminded constantly that Superman was the only survivor from Krypton only to have a new visitor show up from Krypton every few dozen pages. Krytpo, Supergirl, the Three Supermen. Lois Lane’s silly, lovesick comments about Superman cracked me up because they were in such stark contrast to her cleverness.
Batman doesn’t get off the hook either. Even in this era, Batman and his stories seem a touch more serious than Superman’s world. Except for the time he managed to lose his utility belt. His detective skills lead him back to it, but you’d think given his skills and intellect he’d have had some sort of failsafe in place. It was Batman, and even if no one else in the world had tracking devices, it seems like he would have. Still. It gave us the opportunity to see the utility belt used to hold a kid’s marbles.
Besides the lighthearted tales, it was a time of telling instead of showing. The number of letters per panel is impressive; the word balloons often take up more than half the panels of an entire page! This might have been harder for me to process if I hadn’t just come off the text heavy EC Comics. The difference is apparent though when you switch between the fifties titles and modern-day issues. I don’t think there are many – if any – splash pages in the Batman and Superman fifties books. Hell, there aren’t even any panels without words. It’s fascinating to see how storytelling has changed since then and to think about how we as readers have influenced that change.
Flashbacks played a part, too. For a reader like me who doesn’t know about either hero’s previous exploits, they were handy (even if it meant more words on the page). In particular, going back to visit Smallville got me. Superman relives his last day in the town in issue 97, and it almost made me teary.
It’s possible to pack emotion in the lighter stuff, and both Batman and Superman nailed the combo in this era.
The moral of this story: don’t be ashamed to like something just because it’s fun. As I just discussed with a friend this week, not every book, TV show, and movie has to withstand critical examination. Everything you consume does not have to be the best story ever. Fun for the sake of fun should be embraced. It’s okay to just want to be entertained. And oh, are these ever entertaining.
Well, this era was still dominated by writers and editors who were writers or who came from the writing world. The few artists who really had a say in their work were those who also wrote and most of them worked in newspaper strips, like Foster and Caniff, and Will Eisner (of a sort). Even Simon & Kirby weren’t really departing that drastically from the formula. Once you have Stan lee trying to put out 8 books a month and giving/collaborating with artists on loose plots, the artists start having more say in the direction of the story.
Still, you can have the best subplots, and epic saga and the flashiest art, but it’s hard to beet a really good done-in-one story, if it’s doen well.