Supermen!: The First Wave of Comic-Book Heroes 1939-1941

Overview

Introducing the first Supermen!"A collection like SUPERMEN! works like a reverse-neutron bomb to assumptions about the birth of the superhero image: it tears down the orderly structures of theory and history and leaves the figures standing in full view, staring back at us in all their defiant disorienting particularity, their blazing strangeness."—from the foreword by Jonathan Lethem
The enduring cultural phenomenon of comic book heroes was invented in the late 1930s by a hungry...

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Overview

Introducing the first Supermen!"A collection like SUPERMEN! works like a reverse-neutron bomb to assumptions about the birth of the superhero image: it tears down the orderly structures of theory and history and leaves the figures standing in full view, staring back at us in all their defiant disorienting particularity, their blazing strangeness."—from the foreword by Jonathan Lethem
The enduring cultural phenomenon of comic book heroes was invented in the late 1930s by a hungry and talented group of artists and writers barely out of their teens, flying by the seat of their pants to come up with something new, exciting, and above all profitable. The iconography and mythology they created flourishes to this day in practically all visual media. Supermen! collects the best and the brightest of this first generation, including Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Bill Everett, Lou Fine, Fletcher Hanks, Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Basil Wolverton. Readers expecting to find an All-American group of altruistic do-gooders are in for quite a jolt. As Jonathan Lethem writes in his Foreword, “A collection like Supermen! works like a reverse-neutron bomb to assumptions about the birth of the superhero image: it tears down the orderly structures of theory and history and leaves the figures standing in full view, staring back at us in all their defiant disorienting particularity, their blazing strangeness.” Beautifully designed and produced in full color, Supermen! contains twenty full-length stories, nine full-sized covers, a generous selection of vintage promotional ads, and comprehensive background notes by editor Greg Sadowski.
This anthology is indispensable to anyone interested in the origins of superheroes and the history of the comic book form.

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Editorial Reviews

Tom Hardej - CC2K
“Maybe the business was too young, or maybe these characters were just a warm-up for what was to come so they didn't quite stick, but they are just as cool as any early Superman or Batman comic. The comics are all really neat to read, crude and unfiltered... So if you’re a comics fan, especially of the early stuff, this book is a must-have... [Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941] is gritty and exciting, so definitely go check it out!”
Rob Lott - Bookgasm
“What was once mundane had become utterly fascinating in Fantagraphics’ superb collection Supermen!”
Cory Doctorow - BoingBoing
“Greg Sadowski's anthology Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1939-41 pulls together some of the goofiest, most innocent, most violent superhero comics ever penned, excavating rarities from the dawn of the genre when small studios set out to reinvent pulp literature in four colors.... This is pure and unadulterated Id, the kind of thing that inspired a moral panic about the corruption of the young. It's every bit as potent today.”
Nik Dirga - Blogcritics
“Supermen! is the book I've been waiting for—a crazed whirlwind tour through the raw badlands of early superheroes, the best and the weirdest of the early days...Fantagraphics Books has assembled 20 of these quirky gems into a nicely designed, affordable full-color paperback. It's like a roadmap of alternative history, where you can imagine that a character like Stardust the Super Wizard became a star...It's one of the best comic collections of the year. Bring on a sequel!”
Michael Leader - Den of Geek
“A beautifully designed volume of early American comics... The edition is both aesthetically pleasing and sturdy, featuring clarified reprinting of the colour strips, covers, and scattered elements of advertisements and back matter.”
Paul Constant - The Stranger
“Supermen! is an interesting book. All these knockoffs of Superman have a certain creepy charm—like an off-brand children's entertainer—and there is some art, especially by Basil Wolverton and Jack Cole, that is literally decades ahead of its time.”
Joe McCulloch - Jog: The Blog
“Supermen! excited me... for suggesting a burning, manic soul of superhero comics... It felt like the start of a future, and the comedown only hit when I realized I enjoyed it more than any new superhero comic of 2009.”
Tangognat.com
“A fun anthology that perfectly captures the experience of stumbling across a random stack of old comics in someone’s attic.”
Sean T. Collins - AllTooFlat.com
“This Greg Sadowski-edited and designed anthology of early superhero comics is, like Paul Karasik's Fletcher Hanks collection and DC's Jack Kirby omnibuses before it, a real "here's how it's done" moment.... In a time when the major superhero companies seem dead-set on creating the most uniform tone possible across their lines...evidence that superheroes can behave in any number of ways against any number of threats is indeed liberating, perhaps even necessary.”
Dave Lartigue - Dave Ex Machina
“It’s great to read comics that are fun, inventive, and delighting in the medium instead of dour, 'relevant,' and procedural. Supermen! is a teasing look at a truly Golden Age.”
M. Ace - Irregular Orbit
“I’ve always gotten a kick out of early comics. They’re anti-art in action. Irrational, crude and daffily violent. Kinda like early punk rock.”
Kevin Mathews - The Power of Pop
“Supermen! provides a concise glimpse into what the early comic books were like back when the medium was really fresh... Today’s readers will be surprised at how some of the material from a supposed more naive times really comes across rather grim and gritty... The 20 stories on view here provide an intriguing insight of where many of our modern day comic book heroes may have originated from, even if indirectly.”
Kevin Church - BeaucoupKevin.com
“Pure pop culture heaven.”
Marc Sobel
“Featuring an eclectic assortment of rare, long-out-of-print American superhero short stories... an all-star cast of early work from luminaries including Siegel and Shuster, Simon & Kirby, Fine & Eisner, Wolverton, Cole, Hanks, etc. The reproduction of each story is top notch, with bright, vivid colors, slightly oversized pages and thick paperstock.”
Jeff Kapalka - The Post-Standard
“[G]oofy fun... worth it for Fletcher Hanks’ 'Fantomah' and 'Stardust' strips and Basil Wolverton’s 'Spacehawk.' The fact that you also get stuff like 'Yarko the Great' and 'Rex Dexter of Mars' can only be counted as a bonus.”
The Village Voice
“Excitingly surreal…our appreciation for the bizarre otherness of these characters in retrospect suggests that our contemporary icons might well appear no less ‘totally opaque and infinitely awkward’ to future readers.”
Rich Kreiner - The Comics Journal
“I can’t think of a better single volume of what the period style of fast looked like in practice than last year’s Supermen! anthology. Yes, there’s an added winnowing by genre but that just sharpens the sense of the reductive visual and narrative requirements that were standard for the hot new gravy train that hit the business.”
Carol Borden - The Cultural Gutter
“[A]n amazing collection of Golden Age comics and heroes, beautifully restored.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Supermen!, this anthology lovingly assembled by Greg Sadowski, makes the case that these earliest endeavors by the future creators of masterworks like The Spirit, Captain America, and Plastic Man were more than crude throat-clearings—they were unfiltered manifestations ?of psyche, lousy with erotic charge and questionable politics. [Grade:] A–.”
John Hogan - Graphic Novel Reporter
“The biggest surprise might be how good these stories are, even if they failed to take off in the way that, say, Superman did... [T]he Notes section at the end, written by editor Greg Sadowski, ...is truly fantastic... His studious efforts are worth the price of the book alone... These stories deserved another look and more attention. Sadowski has done an admirable job of making Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936–1941 not only reverent, but exciting and fun as well.”
Douglas Wolk - The New York Times Book Review
“Supermen! is a rambunctious anthology of the earliest superhero stories—gaudy, crude, infernally potent things, cranked out by young cartoonists.”
David Campbell - The Society for the Advancement of Dave
“The comics are glorious, primitive works of pulp science fiction, crude ancestors of the modern superhero. Yet there's something vital and imaginative about these unsophisticated comics which clumsily explore superhero stories and ideas long before they calcified into cliche.”
Jean-Pierre Dionnet
“A marvel... a non-stop visual delight as much for the art as for the colors as for the audacious (sometimes by default) layouts… [T]he early days of comic books were like the underground: Everything was possible, especially the impossible. You absolutely must buy this book.”
Douglas Wolk
…a rambunctious anthology of the earliest superhero stories—gaudy, crude, infernally potent things, cranked out by scrappy young cartoonists
—The New York Times
The Barnes & Noble Review
Studying the cave paintings at Lascaux, one might very well detect the incipient concepts and traditions that millennia later would result in a Picasso. Just so do the primitive funnybooks rescued from obscurity by Greg Sadowski in Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 contain within their awesomely naïve and rudimentarily brilliant pages all the seeds of the postmodern graphic novel. These inchoate rumblings would eventually birth works like the celebrated Watchmen. But to impose a teleological template upon these comics would be a shortsighted as viewing Neolithic drawings only as precursors to modernity. Compounded equally from pulp fiction, movies, newspaper strips, and sheer desperate commercial-deadline-brainstorm lunacy, these early superhero tales created their own fresh synthetic mythology and compositional tools on the fly. Whether the artist was a Dargeresque figure like Basil Wolverton, or a consummate pro like Jack Kirby, the reader gets the sense that the next panel might unveil an artistic breakthrough -- or fall flat on its face. Most of these vignettes are stoked with violence: Suborned by bad guys, the Comet kills a dozen or so policemen, while Skyman drops a gunman out a window to his death. And these were the heroes! Sex was less textually explicit, though the artwork more than made up for that, with scores of beautiful women in skimpy or skintight outfits, breasts thrust out either in welcome or defiance. These comics may have masqueraded as juvenile power fantasies. But just as the avenging monster, the Face, was in reality suave radio personality Tony Trent, so too, beneath their outré surfaces, were these four-color tales a coded commentary on the turbulent, scary, yet strangely hopeful Depression-era world at large. --Paul DiFilippo
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560979715
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
  • Publication date: 4/20/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 874,400
  • Product dimensions: 10.44 (w) x 7.68 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Greg Sadowski is a writer, editor and designer (B. Krigstein, Supermen!, Four Color Fear, Setting the Standard: Alex Toth; Action! Mystery! Thrills!) living in Washington State.

Jonathan Lethem is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in Brooklyn and Maine.

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