Bam! You’ve Been Had, Dad!

I’m hyper-fixating on a detail from an old Superman comic I was re-reading recently, mostly because of the sheer fucking delight that it gave me; it’s a comic from the mid-1950s, when such material was firmly aimed at kids, and as such freed from the need to offer more than hand waving at any plot contrivance or speed bump on the road to where it needs to be, and as such is as bold and blunt as necessary to achieve its desired result.

The gimmick of the story is laid out in its first page: this time around, Superman isn’t just dealing with one villain, but three — and they’re all working together! Calamity! What made me laugh out loud with joy wasn’t that simple idea, though, but the way the villains met in the story. If that story was being told today, they’d meet in jail or through some appropriately grim, Machiavellian method, but in 1950-something, it was deemed entirely fine not only for all three to be escaping their glumness at the same local carnival, but for all three to literally bump into each other on the same carnival slide, each complaining that they were being jostled by the others.

It’s such a silly idea that it’s stuck with me ever since. I read a lot of superhero comics — it’s part of my job, sure, but they’re also just something that I deeply love personally — and seeing three bad guys on a slide together was a necessary reminder of how unserious and whimsical the genre is at its roots, and how playful this material used to be when it began. I’m not saying that I want more villains taking breaks at amusement parks at every given opportunity, but when repeatedly faced with the prospect of the world ending and an apocalypse on a monthly basis, maybe it’d be nice to remember that not everything has to be solved with a grimace and a seriousness that belies whimsy.

Even as I write that, I remember Marvel’s upcoming gimmick of releasing polybagged alternate versions of their superhero comics with more violence for “mature readers”…

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