IDW’s most recent Man of Steel campaign had the publisher compiling Superman’s full-color Sunday newspaper comics from 1943 to 1956. The final installments in that series zinged with campy adventures that found Supes hopping through time and getting amnesia more often than he changes his red underwear. Well, kids, it’s time to grow the hell up, because IDW is now backtracking to Superman’s daily strips from 1942 to 1944. These strips in sober B&W, and if you check those years, you’ll understand why the subject matter is somber. The very first panel of Superman: The Golden Age Dailies 1942 to 1944 slaps us in the face with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Under these circumstances, Superman doesn’t have time to wrangle flying horses or renovate garbage dumps as he did when we left him last year in The Atomic Age Sundays 1953 to 1956. In his Clark Kent guise, he rushes off to sign up to do his part. Unfortunately, he fails his eye test when he accidentally uses his X-ray vision to read the eye chart in the adjoining medical office.
So, you see, that although the world is at war and there are Nazis and—forgive our hero—“Japs” to contend with, there is still some of that good-old Superman goofiness going on here. When he isn’t dispensing with the buck-toothed, goggle-spectacled, offensive Asian stereotype The Leer or super-Nazi The Monocle, Superman gets to rescue a millionaire nerd, trade snipes with Lois Lane, match wits with her niece in an atypically whimsical arc, and deal with the always-delightful Mr. Mxyztplk in the imp’s debut tale. Nevertheless, the specter of a horrific war looms over this entire collection and occasionally breaks through to shade the relentless action and highjack the fun. One particularly ugly arc involves more of those offensive stereotypes gathered in an American internment camp for Japanese-Americans. More bizarrely, a short holiday arc features Hitler, Goebbels, and Santa Claus, who has been kidnapped and imprisoned in a concentration camp. I am not making this up. At times the darkness even rubs off on the Man of Steel, himself, such as when Superman gives an enemy a face full of poison, kills a nemesis in cold blood by dropping a ceiling on the creep, and terrorizes an old man to find out whether or not the guy is disabled. So be prepared for a grimmer Superman this go round… assuming you haven’t already been tipped off by those swastika-emblazoned bombs on the cover of The Golden Age Dailies 1942 to 1944.