Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936–1941
written by Jonathan Lethem
edited by Greg Sadowski
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. Tucked away in the back, they are missed until you reach the end of the book, at which time it's difficult to avoid reading the notes and backtracking to read the stories again, now armed with new information to better your enjoyment of them.
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