Amazing World Of Superman

This one's sort of an oddball item. It features some comics, but it's not strictly a comic book. Published in 1973, it was designed to celebrate the designation of Metropolis, Illinois as the official hometown of the Man of Steel.

A Superman Museum was opened in the town that year, with plans for a major theme park and other tourist attractions down the road, but within a year the gas crisis and other setbacks torpedoed these grand schemes; the museum was shut down and the theme park shelved. It wasn't until 1979 and the success of Superman: The Movie that things got back on track, with the revival of the museum and the launching of an annual Superman Celebration that continues to draw fans from around the world every summer (read more at the town's official website).

This special, tabloid-size publication was created as a "program" of sorts to be sold to visitors to the town, I'm guessing in the museum gift shop and other outlets. As such, it bears the legend "Official Metropolis Edition" in the upper left corner, with the DC logo nowhere in sight. The back is identical to the front, featuring a very nice "Superman as Atlas" image obviously drawn by Curt Swan.

Inside, things kick off with a reprint of "Superman in Superman Land", from Action Comics #210 (1955) by Bill Finger and Wayne Boring, perhaps hinting at what Metropolis once hoped to offer at that aborted theme park (as mentioned in a previous post, Neal Adams' suggestions for a more modern park appeared in Limited Collectors' Edition C-31). There's no color in this book, but the artwork on this story benefits not only from being printed at an enlarged scale, but also from a very nice "wash" effect creating shading and depth through the artful application of gray tones. For my money, Boring's work rarely looked better.

Towards the end of the book is a retelling of Superman's origin as told by E. Nelson Bridwell, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. It was the first appearance of this story, which seems to have been commissioned for the occasion. Just a year later it would be reprinted in LCE #31, possibly because by then Metropolis' museum was already a dead issue and DC figured they might as well make use of an inventoried (but new to most of the world) tale. Simple yet powerful and beautifully drawn, the story would be reprinted in numerous other places, notably the 1976 hardcover Secret Origins of the Super DC Heroes. Swan would later name the story as his favorite Superman work, and it's easy to see why. Again, there's no color in this first-printed version, but the "ink wash" approach offers a feast for the eyes nonetheless.

A host of other goodies are crammed into the book, including a Superman Family portrait, a guide to the Rogues Gallery and a diagram of "How The Super-Family Came to Earth from Krypton." In a four-page spread, Jimmy Olsen is introduced to "The Secrets of Superman's Fortress." Two pages are devoted to photos of Superman on TV and in serials, a couple more to the 1966 Broadway show and still another has selections from the long-running Superman newspaper strip. In other words, it's a fairly comprehensive, if brief, overview of Superman's universe and history circa 1973.

Of particular interest to comic fans is a lengthy article on how comic books are created -- or rather how they were back in 1973. It's a fascinating time capsule with photos showing what the DC offices looked like all those years ago, when guys like Julie Schwartz, Curt Swan, Nick Cardy, Alan Kupperberg and Jack Adler toiled away in their dress shirts and neckties.

As it's still 1973, the books are sent off to the Comics Code Authority for approval once the story and art are completed. After that, if nothing is ruled to be "in bad taste", it's on to the World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois for printing. I have to say it's very cool to see photos taken in this mysterious (and now long gone) facility where so many favorite childhood adventures rolled off the presses. Here's a shot of a worker inspecting a just-printed sheet of (still uncut) comic covers:

Another article deals with Metropolis itself, with a brief history of the town and its campaign to be named Superman's official hometown. Photos show Rev. Charles Chandler of the First Baptist Church of Metropolis dressed as Superman, accepting the Key to the City in a ceremony attended by DC's then-publisher Carmine Infantino. According to the text, Rev. Chandler wore an actual costume from the George Reeves TV show (though the cape is obviously different...said the geek), and the local schoolchildren got the day off in honor of the event. How awesome would that have been, you have to wonder; not only to get the day off from school but to get it because Superman was coming to town.

Here in 2009, it often seems the whole world has gone superhero crazy, what with multimillion dollar blockbusters in the theaters and comic-based video-games selling like mad, but I can still well remember what a fringe, even ghetto hobby comics were in 1973. Whenever I read this book -- essentially a time capsule of that year -- I'm taken back to that era and shake my head in wonder at a town fun enough, brave enough, or more likely desperate enough to declare itself the hometown of a comic book character, give all the kids the day off from school and have a public ceremony attended by congressmen, city officials, visiting dignitaries...and a preacher in a Superman suit. Even now I'm torn between thinking this was the kookiest town of all time, or the coolest.

As a kid, though, I loved it. Along with watching Adam West drive around in the Batmobile trading punches with celebrity guest villains, this was the sort of thing that blurred the line between reality and fantasy, and I ate it up with a spoon. One of these years I'm going to have to get out to Metropolis and experience the fun first hand.