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Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 Paperback – April 20, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-1560979715 ISBN-10: 1560979712 Edition: Original

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics; Original edition (April 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560979712
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560979715
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #845,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Superheroes have been the dominant comic-book genre ever since Superman transformed the industry in 1938. Other than a handful of hardy survivors, the hundreds of costumed crime fighters that sprang up in comics’ early era are long forgotten. Supermen! consists of vintage stories featuring a representative handful of those heroes. The earliest, some actually precursors of the Man of Steel, are Mandrake-inspired magicians (Yarko the Great), masked detectives (the Clock), space explorers (Cosmic Carson), and, occasionally, hybrids (Fero, Planet Detective). Later come cape-and-tights-clad stalwarts Skyman, Silver Streak, Daredevil, and Blue Bolt. Their primordial exploits may be crude, primitive even, but also quaintly entertaining and possessed of a brash, undeniable vitality. Often their naïveté is unintentionally hilarious, as in two stories by Fletcher Hanks, the Ed Wood of comics. But there’s also incipient artistry in the early work of Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Basil Wolverton, and Jack Cole, who developed into leading talents. These early examples of a genre still finding its way display conventions recognizable in their superpowered successors. --Gordon Flagg

Review

“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!” (Tom Hardej - CC2K)

“What was once mundane had become utterly fascinating in Fantagraphics’ superb collection Supermen!” (Rob Lott - Bookgasm)

“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.” (Cory Doctorow - BoingBoing)

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!” (Nik Dirga - Blogcritics)

“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.” (Michael Leader - Den of Geek)

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.” (Paul Constant - The Stranger)

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.” (Joe McCulloch - Jog: The Blog)

“A fun anthology that perfectly captures the experience of stumbling across a random stack of old comics in someone’s attic.” (Tangognat.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.” (Sean T. Collins - AllTooFlat.com)

“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.” (Dave Lartigue - Dave Ex Machina)

“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.” (M. Ace - Irregular Orbit)

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 Mathews - The Power of Pop)

“Pure pop culture heaven.” (Kevin Church - BeaucoupKevin.com)

“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.” (Marc Sobel, - Comic Book Galaxy)

“[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.” (Jeff Kapalka - The Post-Standard)

“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.” (The Village Voice)

“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.” (Rich Kreiner - The Comics Journal)

“[A]n amazing collection of Golden Age comics and heroes, beautifully restored.” (Carol Borden - The Cultural Gutter)

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–.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“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.” (John Hogan - Graphic Novel Reporter)

Supermen! is a rambunctious anthology of the earliest superhero stories—gaudy, crude, infernally potent things, cranked out by young cartoonists.” (Douglas Wolk - The New York Times Book Review)

“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.” (David Campbell - The Society for the Advancement of Dave)

“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.” (Jean-Pierre Dionnet, co-founder, Les Humanoïdes Associes)

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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I read it through cover-to-cover twice during the first week I owned it.
L. Johnson
The First Wave of Comic Book Superheroes 1936-1941, which compiles some of the lesser-known lights of the time.
GraphicNovelReporter.com
Commentary by Sadowski puts each story in context and explains the significance.
Kid Kyoto

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Babytoxie on April 9, 2009
I have looked forward to the release of SUPERMEN! THE FIRST WAVE OF COMIC BOOK HEROES 1936 - 1941 solely due to the horrible experience I had reading Jim Krueger and Alex Ross' PROJECT SUPERPOWERS. The promo material for PS looked great and really got me interested in its modern take on a selection of public-domain Golden Age heroes, but the result was a catastrophe. When I learned that SUPERMEN! contained classic appearances from some of those very same characters, I decided that it was time to wash out my mouth with a sample of their original adventures.

SUPERMEN! is a selection of covers, ads, and stories featuring forgotten characters such as Dr. Mystic, the Clock, the Face, the Flame, Skyman, Blue Bolt, the Comet, and many more. Creators include a who's who of comic history: Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Bill Everett, Gardner Fox, Jack Kirby, Ogden Whitney, & Basil Wolverton, just to name a few. These stories are from the earliest days of the comic industry, and many of them, even though written by acknowledged founding fathers, are pretty laughable in terms of plot; however, the art, whether realistic or cartoonish, shows an inspired creativity that would shape the medium for decades. In any case, this book achieves exactly what it sets out to do: to give forgotten work from the Golden Age of comics its due. Jonathan Lethem provides an excellent introduction that really hits home, making me feel like we are long-lost brothers. In fact, it's one of the few truly worthwhile intros I've ever read in a comic collection. The end notes by editor Greg Sadowski wrap the book up nicely, providing interesting tidbits on the creators, stories, and characters.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By L. Johnson on August 17, 2009
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I love this book! I read it through cover-to-cover twice during the first week I owned it. "Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Hereos 1836-1941" is a great collection, and in a way is kind of nostalgic for me.
That may sound kind of funny considering I am from the baby boomer generation (I'm 55). That means I was a kid during the Marvel Age of Comics. In the late 60s their title Fantasy Masterpieces ran Golden Age stories of Captain America, Human Torch, Submariner and others. These tales, 25 years old at the time, were so foreign from the 60s comics that I was immediately taken with them. The art on Captain America just flowed, liquid-like from panel to panel - sheer action. It was fascinating to see where Jack Kirby came from in his early days, and Bill Everett's Submariner had such an elegant style to it. And being an aspiring comic book artist myself I remember looking at Carl Burgos' primitive efforts on The Human Torch and thinking, "I could do better than that!"
At around that time I got introduced to comics fandom, subscribing to "fanzines" with articles about the Golden Age of Comics written by readers who happened to be kids at the time. And even the self-published comics of the day had a "gutsy" quality to them, akin to the Golden Age. Anyone remember Biljo White's "The Eye"?
It was just a few years later when DC experimented with a 48-page format filling the extra pages with more Golden Age material, and then their 100 page spectaculars. These efforts were quite exciting to behold, but the Comics Code Authority at the time wouldn't allow the more gruesome and off-the-wall type of comics popular in those early days.
Not so in "Supermen!" This is a fine sampling of the early medium, touching on the evolution from newspaper comics to the comic book format.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kid Kyoto VINE VOICE on July 5, 2009
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Greg Sadowski deserves high honors for putting this book together. While most comic fans know that Superman, Batman and Captain America date to late 30s and early 40s few have seen the environment where these enduring icons emerged.

Sadowski starts with a 1936 strip by Superman creators Siegel and Shuster featuring a character in a precussor to Superman's costume.

He continues with over 20 Golden Age stories including space heroes, masked crime-fighters, and the surreal works of Fletcher Hanks. Commentary by Sadowski puts each story in context and explains the significance.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Johnny Heering on August 19, 2009
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This book reprints rare comic book stories from 1936 to 1941. The stories feature heroes, but they are not all superheroes; there are also detectives, space heroes and jungle heroes. Most of these stories were created by the top comic book creators of the period. They are all well drawn, but some of the plots are rather ridiculous. Despite the silliness, these comics are a lot of fun, not to mention historically important.
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Considering how much tribute the current comics industry pays to the Golden Age of its past, it's amazing how much is overlooked and how often we forget the real glut of comics being produced at the time. Redressing the issue somewhat is Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Superheroes 1936-1941, which compiles some of the lesser-known lights of the time. The biggest surprise might be how good these stories are, even if they failed to take off in the way that, say, Superman did.

Speaking of Superman, his creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, kick off this collection with a story about their mysterious "occult detective" Dr. Mystic. The rest of the stories run the gamut from fun to frivolous and include some of the biggest luminaries comics has to offer: Will Eisner, Gardner Fox, Jack Kirby, Jack Cole, Basil Wolverton, and a host of others, some of whom never attained the recognition they deserved. The styles incorporate the building blocks of comic art today, and the stories represent the superheroes, aliens and monsters, and mystic forces that drove the marketplace.

Bestselling author Jonathan Lethem provides a foreword to the book, properly cataloguing the scope and impact these stories had. Putting the works into context is helpful, but it's the Notes section at the end, written by editor Greg Sadowski, that is truly fantastic. He documents each story included in this collection and provides the history, background, and explanations needed to understand the stories in the proper context. His studious efforts are worth the price of the book alone.
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