5 Classic Superman Comics That Prove He Used to Be a Dick
When we see Superman flying across the universe and effortlessly pushing planets back into orbit, it's easy to forget that he was created by two Depression-era kids from Cleveland who lived most of their lives in poverty. It's not so easy, however, when you read the early Superman stories that those two kids actually wrote and drew, in which the Man of Steel was less of a big blue Boy Scout and more of a raging anti-establishment maniac in red underpants who spent more time destroying property than catching criminals. Think we're kidding? Check it out:
Superman Destroys an Entire Poor Neighborhood (Action Comics No. 8, 1939)
Right off the bat, here's Superman threatening to drop some children to their deaths:
"Sir, I've got my hall pass right here!"
And, as you'll find is typical in this article, the context only makes it worse. In that 1939 issue, Superman steals those kids away from the police as they're being arrested for attempted burglary, then tries to scare them straight by threatening to drop them so that they'll be "crushed to a pulp."
But then it occurs to Superman that the slums they grew up in are really to blame for their criminal behavior. But what can he do about that? Suddenly, a newspaper headline gives him a deranged idea.
"Senseless destruction, hundreds dead! Yes!"
He's going to destroy it all.
So, Superman instructs the little thieves to go door to door in their neighborhood telling everyone to leave their houses if they don't want to die, literally putting the lives of hundreds of innocent people in the hands of a bunch of wanted criminals. With that out of the way, and having given the people mere minutes to get their valuables out of their homes, Superman gets to work.
Superman, hoping no one will notice that he put his shirt on backward this morning.
Superman starts destroying all the houses, under the logic that the government will then have to build new ones and that this will somehow end all crime. At no point does Superman consult the people who actually live there, or attempt to hide the fact that he's having way too much fun wrecking their homes.
"A long time" meaning when he destroyed a South American village that morning.
The horrified citizens call the National Guard, but obviously they're no match for Superman's insanity -- the military sends aerial bombers in a desperate effort to stop the destruction, but Superman uses their bombs to help him in his task. Soon the entire neighborhood is in complete ruins and Superman goes off to wreck someone else's day.
The Man of Steel only hated Lex Luthor for being inefficient.
The story ends by saying that "the slums were replaced by splendid housing conditions" ... but where did all those poor people live in the meantime? We didn't see Superman offering to let them stay in his Fortress of Solitude while construction took place, or, like, giving the slightest fuck about what happened to them at all.
Superman Goes All Saddam Hussein on an Oil Well (Action Comics No. 11, 1939)
While investigating a suicide, Superman discovers that the victim was a shareholder who had been sold worthless oil stock, along with several others. Upon learning this, yet another crackpot plan begins forming in Superman's warped little mind, one that will culminate with him borrowing a page from a certain Iraqi dictator. First, Superman goes to the homes of all the other shareholders and buys the remaining stock using the alias Homer Ramsey.
"Say, aren't you that Superman fellow from the papers?"
"No. I have a hat."
Next, he goes to the worthless oil well and drills the ground until he actually strikes oil -- the corrupt owners are thrilled by this development, until they find out that all the stock was recently bought by one Homer "Seriously, Though, I'm Not Superman" Ramsey. Luckily for them, Homer drops out of the sky one day (literally drops out of the sky, in the panel below) and offers to sell them the stock for exactly $1 million.
"Nothing shady about this."
Supes takes the million and distributes it to the original shareholders, especially the suicide victim's family ... haha, just kidding, he does no such thing. Instead, he kidnaps the corrupt owners while they sleep, takes them to the oil well in their pajamas ...
Superman probably thinks that those are regular clothes.
... and makes them watch as he destroys the well.
It had been a few days since Superman had caused any property damage, and his hands were getting itchy.
The oil well's employees come running in an attempt to stop the destruction -- apparently, Depression-era workers were not fond of seeing their livelihood destroyed. Superman does look out for them, though, telling them to run for safety ...
"Actually, don't bother. I'm probably going to set you on fire anyway."
... before lighting the well on fire, Gulf War style.
"And before you even ask, I've already killed Red Adair."
If Superman really wanted to help the scammed shareholders, he would have bought out the corrupt owners instead of everyone else (they thought it was worthless, too), then tapped the well and simply let it flourish -- but nope, creating an ecological disaster and putting Americans out of work clearly made more sense in his head. But hey, at least he got a million bucks and a few laughs out of the whole thing.
Superman Rats Out a Torture Victim, Gets Him Whipped (Action Comics No. 10, 1939)
In this story (also from 1939), Superman (as Clark Kent) gets called to a hotel room where an escaped prisoner tells him about the horrifying living conditions at the local chain gang. Tormented, whipped and starved by his jailers, the prisoner, Walter Crane, confides in Supes on the condition that his identity and whereabouts remain anonymous.
"You can trust me, I'm definitely not a sadistic godlike being from another planet."
Superman says yes, of course ... then turns around and sells out Crane to the authorities at the first chance he gets.
"I just asked you for the time, but OK."
And then, instead of trying to warn Crane that his torturer is coming, Superman literally leads the superintendent to his door and does nothing as Crane gets beaten:
"Listen, it's nothing personal. I just love squealing."
It turns out that this is all part of another one of Superman's deranged plans (although we're pretty sure that he just makes them up as he goes along) -- he intentionally gave up Crane to make the superintendent think that he had gotten away with everything and get him to "go to even further depths of cruelty."
"If we don't see how far he'll take it, how will we know how many times we have to kill him?"
And sure enough, Crane is once again savagely whipped. But this time Superman is there to catch it on camera:
"This is gonna kill on Instagram."
Note that Crane was in no way in on this, and never agreed to get his back torn open by a bullwhip to help Clark get his story. And also note that Superman could have accomplished the same thing by, say, getting himself arrested and having somebody else take the pictures. Since, you know, the whipping wouldn't hurt him.
The photographic evidence turns out to be completely worthless, by the way, because Superman finally gets tired of fucking around and gets a confession out of the superintendent using a much more efficient method -- the threat of suffocation.
"I told you, I'm just the janitor!"
Superman Drugs an Innocent Man and Takes Over His Life (Action Comics No. 4, 1938)
Superman has a lot of moves in his arsenal, from lifting heavy things to standing placidly while bad guys' bullets bounce off his chest (OK, it's just those two). But there are certain things that it's impossible to imagine Supes ever doing, like, say, shooting somebody with a flamethrower or stabbing someone with a switchblade. Or dressing up in a checkered sport coat, sneaking up on a guy and sticking him with a hypodermic needle:
It's a little-known fact that Dexter was based on old Superman comics.
The background to that situation only makes it stranger. In this 1938 issue, Superman overhears a coach and some thugs talking about rigging a football game, and decides that the easiest way to thwart this plan is to impersonate a player on the other team, Tommy Burke. The Man of Steel stalks Burke as he's leaving his girlfriend's house one night and injects the man with some unknown sedative/paralytic to kidnap him. Superman then whisks his incapacitated victim away to the man's apartment, where he nonchalantly informs him of his intentions.
"I also took the liberty of dyeing your hair blond while you were out, for no particular reason."
Yep, "I'm going to take your place in life for a few days" is the entire explanation Superman gives to the guy before going away, leaving him a prisoner of his own body. At this point Burke has no idea if his insane doppelganger will go on to stop a rigged game, or murder everyone in his family, or merely bang his girlfriend.
Anyway, Superman attends the football practice as Burke, but a locker room misunderstanding leads to him being pummeled by another guy.
Every other panel of this scene was NC-17.
Superman ends up brushing off his attacker, knocking him out and probably breaking every bone in his body. The coach then kicks "Burke" off of the team for being a dangerous maniac. So far, all Superman has accomplished with his brilliant plan is scaring the crap out of an innocent man and getting him fired from his job.
"If we lose another match, I'll have to go back to my old job as a Dick Tracy impersonator."
However, Superman goes into the practice anyway and proceeds to mop the floor with everyone else with his superior strength and complete disregard for human life. Coach Dick Tracy is impressed and puts him back on the team. Soon, the thugs working for the other coach hear about this "Burke" and decide to pay him a visit at his apartment -- where the real Burke is still knocked unconscious by Superman's date-rape drug.
"Hey! I was watching him sleep!"
Superman watches as the thugs kidnap the helpless man and doesn't lift a finger. After following them to their hideout, Superman decides that he kind of hates Burke anyway and just fucking leaves him there with the murderous thugs, since they obviously "mean him no physical harm."
"Whereas I mean him both physical and mental harm."
Superman goes on to play the big game as Burke, managing to put the two thugs in the hospital and scaring the crooked coach into resigning. In the end, Supes saved the day and returned the man to his rightful life ... and he only had to commit a handful of felonies in the process.
Superman Goes on a Car-Wrecking Rampage (Action Comics No. 12, 1939)
This unbelievably insane adventure starts with an image of Superman destroying a bridge for reasons that are never explained or even referenced in the story.
"How many times do I have to say it?! Cantilever bridges only!"
In the story, Clark Kent learns that a guy he knew died in a car accident. Pissed off, he changes into Superman, breaks into a radio station and formally declares war on all cars.
"And people who don't use their turn signals? You're next."
Now, "fuck reckless drivers" is a noble sentiment and one we can agree with, but soon it becomes obvious that Superman's personal vendetta isn't with the people who drive but with the actual vehicles. Superman starts his bizarre one-man crusade by going to an impound lot and flinging cars around like discuses -- he never even bothers to check why the cars were there in the first place or if they belonged to the people who had committed the violations, and probably doesn't care.
"They can just fly to work or whatever."
His bloodlust is still far from satiated, so Superman goes to a used car lot and starts tearing shit up in front of the puzzled owner.
"You can mail the bill to 135 Fuck You Avenue."
But Superman knows that he's only been addressing the symptoms, not the cause, so he goes to the source of all this evil: a car factory.
Superman single-handedly kept the Depression going well into the '40s.
Not content with just tearing up the cars, Superman brings down the whole fucking building, and this time he doesn't even warn the workers to evacuate the place -- by now they should know to do that as soon as they see Superman coming anyway.
"I forgot why I was doing this after, like, a minute. But by then I was in the zone."
After destroying enough personal property and putting enough people out of work, Superman decides that the next logical step is to kidnap the mayor, because fuck it, he's Superman, he can do whatever he wants. Superman hauls the mayor to the morgue and forces him to look at all the victims of reckless driving, blaming his policies for all those deaths.
"You had police tracking down rapists and kidnappers when they should have been checking expired registrations!"
The terrified mayor agrees to crack down on traffic laws, and the story ends with Superman feeling that he has done a good job when Clark Kent gets a parking ticket.
"I'm still going to have to fry you with my laser vision."
Comic book characters tend to get blander and more family friendly when they hit it big -- in Superman's case, we believe that this was actually a good thing.
For more superhero insanity, check out 5 Superheroes Rendered Ridiculous by Gritty Reboots and 5 Absurd Ways Comic Books Have Resurrected Dead Superheroes.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Climbers Who Gave Altitude the Middle Finger.