FW Presents: Find Your Joy: ACTION COMICS #554


On this special episode, Ryan Daly and special guest Bob Fisher (from Superman Forever Radio) find a reason to be thankful in the pages of ACTION COMICS #554, the story "If Superman Didn't Exist" by Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane. Listen to the show and then head on over to the Fire and Water Patreon page for a chance to win a special holiday present from the Fire and Water Network!

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Music this episode: "Superman Theme (from Ruby Spears Superman)"; "Superman:: The Animated Series (Main Title)" by Shirley Walker; "Main Theme from Superman (Concert Version)" by John Williams.

Thanks for listening!

10 responses to “FW Presents: Find Your Joy: ACTION COMICS #554

  1. This story always reminded me of the 1951 Mighty Mouse cartoon “Goons From the Moon”. The hero can’t save the day from the evil aliens until the artists finished drawing him.

  2. I very thoroughly enjoyed the show, and more because of those parts of the discussion that really didn’t have anything to do with the comic book that was the show’s ostensible focus (even though I’ve never read it, I would like to, since the story sounds great and I *love* me some art by Gil Kane).
    What I found really interesting was the discussion of your respective ‘sweet spots’ for Superman, with two very different perspectives based on your age and when you first came to comics and Superman. Personally, I fall somewhere in between – born in the late ’60s, I started reading comics in the mid-’70s. However, I’ve always been very much more a Marvel boy, so I can’t really say I have my own Superman ‘sweet spot.’ I did occasionally pick up various Superman books in the ’70s and ’80s, so I was aware of the then current stuff, and I read a bunch of his stories from the ’50s and ’60s thanks to the ubiquitous DC digests, and back then I thought the post-Crisis revamp, as outlined in the Man of Steel mini-series, was really good (later, though, I came to realize just how much CoIE thoroughly and probably irreparably messed up the DCU).
    Two things I really liked, though, were that Ma & Pa Kent stayed alive, and – and this is the main point of my rambling here – the idea that Clark Kent is the core identity. Yes, I know Superman is a very humanoid alien with god-like powers, but I always liked to think of him as an immigrant. And speaking as someone who was born and raised in the US by immigrant parents, I can tell you that nurture is just as important as nature. Superman was raised by the Kents in a small Midwestern town since he was a baby, so to me it seems natural that he first and foremost think of himself as Clark, John and Martha’s boy, and a ‘native’ of Smallville.
    Again though, I have to say: great discussion, with lots of food for thought.

  3. Impressive podcast, most impressive. Pretty cool pod cast as always. This is a pretty cool comic. I like how they did the homage to the Super Man creators. And I always liked Gil Kanes art. Oh I still have the U-tube page. Sad that I missed this issue. Sounds like it was fun.

  4. Thanks Ryan and Bob for my favourite podcast this month, hearing you both talk about your different story experiences with Superman was great. Time-wise, I’m in between the two of you, having started reading Superman in the Bronze Age, with access to hundreds of Silver Age back issues.

    If I had to choose a favourite period, I’d go for Silver Age too. It always makes me laugh when Marvel Zombies claim DC has no continuity… sure, most stories were single issue affairs, but Mort Weisinger and his team expanded the Man of Steel’s universe hugely and continually brought back elements that proved especially popular – such as the Legion and Bizarros – and reference older tales… a character from Superboy could show up years later in Metropolis, for example.

    My favourite tale from that period was Action Comics #300, Superman Under the Red Sun by Edmond Hamilton and Al Plastino – just epic.

    This issue of Action Comics was a great side story in Marv Wolfman’s underrated run, and while I really like the tight inks of Sid Greene, Murphy Anderson and co, I loved the looser look of Kane at this point.

  5. Great episode guys. I picked this comic up off the stands as a kid, and even then, I knew it was something special. I even knew who Jerry and Joe were, although I was surprised Jack wasn’t with Stan at the time. I didn’t get that until a bit later.

    But the idea of Superman being so powerful that he could spring into being just by the force of imagination and the necessity of his existence is a fascinating one. I’ll be honest, there have been times when I hoped a story like this could actually come true, even when I know it can’t.

    I liked Gil Kane’s work for the most part back then, but I didn’t understand why Kane’s art looked so different in the GL and Atom reprints in the DC digests, or the Spider-Man stories in Marvel Tales. All those extra lines! When you see his pencils, even back in the 50s and 60s, that was all there. It’s just his inkers had to “pick a lane” and erased the rest. Kane himself would leave all of that in.

    Great discussion gentlemen. Bob always brings the Super-love and knowledge.


  6. This was a great story, cool of you to highlight it like this boys. I had forgotten the “hand off” to Joe and Jack, a nice classy touch considering that was a Marvel property.

    I have pretty much always loved Gil Kane’s work. Like a lot of Silver Age artists, by the time you got to the 1980s some of the work got a little dodgy, and sometimes he got paired up with unsympathetic inkers. But this story is just beautiful.

  7. This was an excellent discussion. Well done, both of you fellows!

    If I were to critique this comic, it would be on the woo-woo magical resolution that I don’t think it earned. But the story did do a good job imbuing this time and place with an undertone very much unlike anything else I’d ever read in comics. This book’s main strength was Kane’s eye for building a world on the page that looks and works in an unsettling way.

    I don’t think you remarked on “Hal” (presumably mentioned since Gil Kane’s best-known work was co-creating Green Lantern). It’s understandable to want to move on quickly past the part with boys in a state of undress, though. But the name-drop was odd in its subtlety, I thought. Another story would have had the other boys call each other “Bruce” and “Ollie” to make sure that bell was rung loud enough.

    Good call with the use of Ruby-Spears’ Superman cartoon theme, Ryan. I’ve been meaning to put on some of those episodes lately, which at times let the Gil Kane design sense for the character shine on the screen quite nicely!

  8. One other remark: if I wanted to introduce Superman comics to someone new to the medium, certainly this wouldn’t be among the first to hand to them. But later on, if they’re ready for something “meta” as it’s known now, I think I might offer them this comic before suggesting the more well-known deconstructionist writers like Moore or the various pastiches of Superman that some of DC’s competitors have enjoyed success with. This comic can serve to lead toward those later works that comment on Superman and the ideas Superman embodies.

  9. A pleasure to hear Bob Fisher’s perspective on Pre-Crisis Superman. I did not enjoy reading contemporary Superman comics growing up, but briefly embraced the character on the page during the Byrne years. I lost interest even before the end of his brief tenure, and my attempts to read Superman comics in the years since is a chronicle of disappointment. In practice, I enjoyed Golden Age Superman stories in my childhood via the Treasury Edition and other brief exposures, but they get a bit repetitive and dull when I’ve tried them in trade. On premise, the Weisinger Superman is my favorite, but some of my least favorite of all comics are from DC’s Silver Age and its creators. As with Wonder Woman, I love the idea of Superman and the narrow selection of comics that speak to me, but overall, I find no joy in slogging through the lion’s share of the character’s library. My specific disdain for the smallness and arrested development of Post-Crisis Superman tends to put me at odds with my contemporaries, but hearing Fisher describe his Superman makes me want to spend more time with that strikingly different interpretation of the character. Great observation of how it was succinctly put in the Adventures of Superman intro, “disguised as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper…” He’s not some cornfed farm boy, but a “strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” It’s really no wonder that the love I had for the Man of Steel as a media and cultural figure in childhood was transferred to the Manhunter from Mars as an adult (which comes with its own set of frustrations.) J’Onn J’Onzz is closer to the Kal-El I want to see than what DC has an interest and ability to convey with the original model.

    I’m going to strongly push back against criticism of Gil Kane. As with most Silver Age artists, I had to learn to appreciate Kane’s stylistic differences from the more photo-realistic fan favorites of the time like Neal Adams. However, I embraced Kane far earlier than his fellow titans, and still relish him unreservedly in a way I’ll never be capable of fully appreciating Kirby, Ditko, and so on. His earlier work, especially on Green Lantern, feels fuzzy and undefined, like The Thing in the earliest Fantastic Four comics. In the ’60s, he needed premiere embellishers like Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene to elevate his fundamentals, while serving as a hybrid of two artists. Kane doesn’t truly begin to manifest until he more fully incorporates Hogarth’s anatomy and Kirby’s cosmic dynamism– all those jagged angles.While Kane had his arguable peak in the ’70s, that was mostly because he had reached the ultimate form of his development in a time when his style was still well suited to the prevailing trends. I would argue that Kane maintained this level of quality for the rest of his life, but his look just wasn’t as fashionable, and was too often marred by inkers trying to “update” him. Kane was easily his own best and truest inker, and while it was still fascinating to see him in a hybrid with the likes of Perez, Nowlan, or Janson, he was in his most perfect state alone. Look at his Bravura series Edge (collected this century as The Last Heroes) and tell me that’s any less timeless and beautiful than his classic work, despite featuring Chromium Age unknowns as the subject. While I tend to prefer the burlier Supermen of McGuinness over Jurgens and Boring over Swan, Kane may well be the perfect medium between those extremes, and nobody worked Superman’s cape better.

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