Monday, July 1, 2013

Superman Daily Comic Strip: "The Comeback of Larry Trent"

Hey guys, I have a bit of an oddball recommendation today.

The book you see above is wonderful collection of the daily Superman comic strips that were syndicated cross country in 1939. At this early point in the history of the comic book, comic strips which were well established throughout the great newspapers were considered far more prestigious than monthly comic books. Adventure strips, now a dying medium, often employed the finest cartoonists in the country and Superman joined the ranks of strips like The Phantom, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon. Superman made his debut in the newspapers in January of 1939, six months after Action Comics 1 hit newsstands, and would run continuously (along with a separate Sunday strip) until 1966. Counting a late 70's revival Superman has appeared in over 12,000 original strips. I find these collections not only a look at Superman in the form his creators intended for him, but also an opportunity to follow an adventure strip, which I've never been able to do in newspapers as they're published in the paper.

I've been working my way through the first year of the black and white daily strips, and my favorite story in the lot is the third one, entitled "The Comeback of Larry Trent." After the first long form version of the origin on Krypton (which is named here for the first time) and a retelling of Superman's first case, Siegel gives us a wonderful oddball story about Superman helping a broken down prizefighter and exposing corruption in boxing. There other stories that contain more iconic Superman imagery, but the plot of this story is just so bizarre that it's stuck in my head ever since I read it weeks ago. It's also so indicative of what's different about the Golden Age version of the character that it really recommends itself to a review on this blog.

When Superman saves former world champ Larry Trent from falling to his death Trent tells Superman that his life has become meaningless since his manager drugged him and cost him the title. Superman agrees to help Trent get into fighting shape while he fights his way back to an title shot in disguise. Superman, disguised as Trent, grabs the attention of Trent's former mob handlers, who try to cheat Superman the way they cheated Trent with predictable results. In the end, Trent wins back his title, Superman ferrets out the corruption, and Clark Kent receives a major promotion for his coverage of both stories.

What makes this unique? First, it's a human-interest, small scale story in which Superman not only saves a man from dying, but mounts a significant operation to restore his life. This story would be almost impossible just a couple years later when Superman's focus had widened to encompass the entire world. Secondly, Superman has no problem using his physical prowess on, presumably innocent, boxers who get in his way. This is still a raw and rough and tumble Man of Steel. Third, it's fun to see Clark get one over on his fellows by using Superman to help his journalistic career.

A fun romp that will be of interest toi any fan of classic comics, or Superman in general.

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