With a June 1938 cover date, Action Comics #1 introduced the
world to the new, smash character SUPERMAN, and comics would never be the same. Ask any comic book fan, and they will tell
you this is true. But in those earliest
of stories, Superman was still finding his legs, and like any creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster would bring in
personal touches to their creation. Joe
Shuster originally hailed from Toronto, Canada, and later moved to Cleveland,
Ohio, joining his cousin Jerry Siegel.
It’s been noted that Clark Kent, Superman’s famous
alter-ego, worked for the Daily Star before getting a steady gig with the Daily
Planet, and elements of both cities would creep into Joe’s drawings, evolving
to the Metropolis we are all familiar with.
Few websites seem to note, however, that before this Clark Kent worked
for the Cleveland Evening News! Recently reading the Superman Archives (a
great way to get to read classic materials without shelling out a lot of $$$),
this little blurb just dumbfounded me.
And sure enough, this comes up again in Action #11, a story in which the
Man of Steel metes out justice to 2 crooked stock brokers; in one segment of
the story Superman finds oil on supposedly dry land, prompting a shocked worker
to ask to speak to his bosses in Cleveland.
Action Comics #11 gives Cleveland another mention!
Understanding this, one can make another connection with
Action #8, cover dated January 1939. In
this Superman story, Superman comes across several young boys being led into a
life of crime by a crook named Gimpy.
Superman naturally straightens the boys out, but notes “It’s not
entirely your fault you’re delinquent—it’s these slums—your poor living
conditions—if there was only some way I could remedy it—”
This being Superman, of course he found a way. Seeing that the government rebuilds areas
devastated by disaster, he decides TO TEAR THE SLUMS DOWN HIMSELF! Uhm…okay…somewhat radical, but who am I to
argue with a man who could crush my skull like a grape?
Select panels from Action Comics #8 show just how devastating
Superman’s powers could be! Under bombardment by the US Air Force, he makes
sure their bombs help in the wrecking job! And the US Government picks up the
Sadly, the “S” on Superman’s chest did not survive.
So… what does this have to do with Cleveland? Well back in the late 1930s, Cleveland was
being victimized by a serial killer.
Dubbed the Torso Killer, or Mad Butcher, as his victim’s bodies were
rarely found in one piece, the killer frequently left the bodies of his victims
in the poor Kingsbury Run area of town (essentially the city’s
shantytowns/slums that built up during the Depression). Then Police Chief, Eliot Ness (the same Ness
who led the Untouchables against Al Capone during prohibition in Chicago),
feeling pressure from officials above him, acted in what most say was a very
bold and controversial manner. On August
18, 1938, the police, led by Ness, rounded up every resident of the slum and
BURNED DOWN EVERY BUILDING! Brian Bendis
produced an excellent graphic novel, called Torso, detailing this case (with
some liberties), and it is an excellent read.
There’s also a great website giving a more detailed account of the
entire case, which still remains unsolved.
Here’s the link: http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/unsolved/kingsbury/index_1.html
Siegel and Shuster, both Cleveland boys, would likely have
kept tabs on local events and therefore would have known of this case. Such a dramatic event must certainly have
impacted them, and Action #8 seems to prove it.
In Action #8, they seem almost sympathetic to Mr. Ness’ course of action,
agreeing with the notion that environment breeds crime and criminals. Indeed, the last panel of the story shows
Clark Kent shaking hands with the embattled police chief while wishing he could
thank Superman for a job well done! Yes,
Cleveland rocks…and in that January 1939 issue of Action Comics, Superman set
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characters and stories are TM & © DC Comics.