Monday, July 27, 2009

Superman staring in “Autograph Please” - A Review

Superman Past and Present

Publisher DC Comics

Format Soft Cover Trade

Price Point $19.99 Retail

On occasion I pick up some of these random trades that DC puts out that has stories from different eras that are thematically connected. The theme that connects them is thin at times, but still when the mood strikes me I will pick up and read the trade and then send it on its way to Gwen or some other person I know who might get a kick out it. What drew me to get this trade is the material I have not even re-read yet which is the Superman of 2965 of which there are four stories. He was a descendant of Superman and the stories were by Edmund Hamilton with art by Curt Swan and George Klein. These guys would have been super stars in comic books today. I can’t wait to re-read those stories.

The idea always occurs to me to do a review of the book, but time gets away and I fail to do so. This book was to be no different, but instead of reviewing the whole trade I decided to review one story that I have read so far, “Autograph Please”. It was from 1947 and was written by Jerry Siegel (yes that Jerry Siegel) and art by John Sikela.

Old stories are very easy to mock and make fun of and it is because so much of it was written for a much younger audience. We have had the panels from the sixties that have been mocked on the internet and are almost legendary. We have to remember that a lot of this was written from such a different perspective then how we view comics today it is almost a foreign language. In fact a lot of what I read from the Golden Age and other earlier times I read as much for amusement value as I do for anything else. I also like to look at the art and the way a story is structured. What the old stories do show is a decent story can be done in a few pages; this story was 12 pages long. A lot of writers could learn a lot from these books and realize that every damn thing does not need to be an epic.

What made me stand back and decide to even write up a review of this story is how the story is not even really about Superman at all. The idea is that the Daily Planet needs to boost circulation, which sounds like all newspapers today, so they decide to run an autograph contest. The person with the most unusual collection will win a prize and as Metropolis has thousands of autograph hounds this will surely boost circulation. When you stand back and look at that premise, you have to laugh a little and remember this is the basis for a Superman story. He has fantastic powers and is more powerful then any other mortal on Earth and he is helping to boost circulation of the Daily Planet by working the autograph collection story as Clark Kent.

The crux of the story is young Johnny, about 12 years old, who has a collection that is very unique, but he thought no one would like it. His doctor called Clark to enter his collection. Johnny is a ward of the state and in a wheelchair. You see Johnny has been cured of being a cripple, a word that has fallen into non-use, but has low self esteem and thinks he will never walk again. If only he could win this contest, then maybe he would gain the confidence he needs to walk again. I’m going to let that soak into your brain for awhile as it had to for my mind. The idea was so out there that it threw me off. The kid is cured and can walk, but won’t walk because he lacks confidence. Dump his a** out of the chair. Sorry, sorry, that was harsh and hard hearted of me.

Next we find out a rich kid of the same age is bored and has decided he wants to win the contest. He uses his money to hire people to go and get thousands of autographs so he can win the contest. He even says it is not fair to Johnny, who has gotten a headline as the front runner in the Daily Planet, but he does it anyway. His bodyguards hatch a plan to use these autographs and then forge these famous people’s name on checks to steal money from the bank. I love the simplicity of the bad guys. They will copy these signatures on checks and take them to banks to cash them. I guess in the forties having actual accounts and checking for someone’s identity was not a thought. It was so much easier to steal money in those days, no need to deal drugs to get money.

Finally Superman enters the fray. He flies around the world collection fabulous autographs of famous people world wide and gives them to Johnny. The rich kid Alexander not to be outdone hires thousands of clerks to get more and more autographs so he can win the contest.

So the contest is now apparently down to Johnny and Alexander. Note that neither of them is actually doing anything themselves anymore. Apparently the contest had no actual rules, so instead of being a contest of what your collection is like, it is now just about the shear number of famous ones you have collected.

Again Superman has to come to the rescue for Johnny. Superman, and this is where the Past and Present theme finally ties in, flies in a “weird mathematical design” pattern trying a brand new stunt and flies back in time. He collects autographs of George Washington after helping him cross the Delaware River, Lincoln, Leonardo Da Vinci and more and more and more. Again he gives all of these to Johnny for his collection. I would think Johnny would be the winner hands down at this point.

As this is happening Alexander discovers his men are robbing money with the autographs and is going to turn them in. Lois who is in the bushes outside his house (don’t ask) overhears what Alexander is going to do, but gets caught by the crooks also. Superman who is going to see Alexander about the forgery of celebrity signatures happens to show up and saves Lois and Alexander. Superman then signs a document saying how Alexander had nothing to do with the theft.

Finally the big contest comes to its resolution and it is a draw. Yes, even with famous people from hundreds of years ago Johnny is tied with Alexander. Fortunately a letter arrives giving Johnny another signature of it is Superman’s autograph. Yes, the document Superman had signed was sent in by Alexander so Johnny would win. He has become a better person due to Superman’s example. Ben Franklin, Lincoln, John Adams, William Shakespeare are all just another entry, but with Superman signature Johnny now wins the contest. Upon hearing the news Johnny jumps up from his wheelchair and can walk again. His doctor yells out “Keep walking Johnny and never be afraid of anything again.” I think under the doctor’s breath she tells him to keep walking and don’t come back, but that is just me.

To put the capper on it Perry White tells Clark that circulation is now up 10% due to his great idea. Clark ends the story with “But best of all, it helped straighten out two completely dissimilar youths!” Completely dissimilar seems a little like overkill, but who can blame him for the hyperbole with such an exciting adventure.

All snarky remarks aside, it told a complete story with a lot going on in twelve pages. The actual page layouts and panel designs were pretty damn innovative with circular panels as part and parcel of a few of the page designs. As a said a lot to be learned by today’s creators in a story like this.

I guess what was so bizarre to me is how underutilized Superman was in this story. Sure he stopped some crooks, was an inspiration and all of those good things, but that was it. He used his powers to break the time barrier to get autographs to give to a kid to help him almost cheat to win a contest so he would gain self confidence and be able to walk. I mean it was such a stretch. You have to wonder if this was not some sort of way to try and do a story about a fad that was big at that time. I have to go outside now and try to run in a mathematical design and try to go back in time and make some investments.

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