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.
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?
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 it a-rocking!
Superman and all related characters and stories are TM & © DC Comics 2006.
Comic Book Tid Bits © Donco Matevski.