One of the hugest steps forward for the growing popularity of the Man of Steel in his earliest years and the event that represents the apex of the Superman fad which opened the floodgates to dozens of similar costumed champions in the pages of dozens of comic books was the arrival of Superman on the silver screen. After an abortive attempt to star the character in a Republic movie serial, which fell apart over concerns that DC/National wouldn’t have enough oversight over the final product, a deal was made with the Fleisher Brothers Studio to bring the firm’s star character to life in a series of full-color animated cartoons. The first of these was the most expensive cartoon short produced up to that time, and proved to be so popular that it was often given theater bannering alongside or even above the main features that it was accompanying. It was also nominated for an Academy Award, but lost out to the Disney Mickey Mouse cartoon “Lend A Paw.”
That first Superman cartoon (named simply SUPERMAN but often colloquially referred to by historians as “The Mad Scientist”) was released to theaters nationwide on September 26, 1941. In an effort to promote the film, Superman’s creator Jerry Siegel was tapped to write a story that would function as a sequel to that adventure. It appeared in SUPERMAN #19, which went on sale on August 30, 1942, almost a year later. Consequently–whether it was Siegel’s idea or something discussed between him and editor Whit Ellsworth–Siegel took an interesting and meta approach to teh material. In the story, Lois Lane convinces Clark Kent to accompany her to the movies, where a Superman cartoon is playing. But because the cartoon will spoil the secret of his true identity, Clark must divert Lois’ attention at a few key moments in order to protect his closely-guarded secret. Now, Clark wasn’t worried about anybody else in the theater learning his true identity, any more than he was about the actual audiences reading the comic book. It was just a fun bit of narrative business that was used to frame the story and promote the cartoon features. The story was illustrated by Shuster Studios ghost artist Ed Dobrotka. There’s some dispute about whether or not Joe Shuster may have laid this story out, but Dobrotka certainly produced the finished artwork.
The story was a memorable one, enough so that it was reprinted twice early on. Once came in SUPERMAN #183 in 1965. Reacting to the sudden swath of news stories about old comic books going for premium prices, editor Mort Weisinger decided to devote this 80 Page Giant to Superman stories from the Golden Age of Comics–the first full Golden Age stories to be reprinted (at least in comic book format–Jules Feiffer’s GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES had gotten there first.)
ADDITION: In the comments, Mark Clegg correctly points out that the publication of SUPERMAN #183 predates the release of Feiffer’s THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES.
But the reprint needed to go under the scrutiny of the Comics Code, as well as to hew to DC/National’s party line. At the time, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were once again attempting to recapture the rights to their famous creation, and so their involvement in Superman’s exploits had been erased from the corporate history. Accordingly, a few changes were made to this printing of the story. A few years later, in 1972, editor E. Nelson Bridwell also selected it for inclusion in the hardcover book SUPERMAN FROM THE ’30s TO THE ’70s. Nelson reprinted it from the pages from SUPERMAN #183, but made a small tweak or two himself along the way.
In SUPERMAN #183, editor Weisinger had the byline for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster removed from the splash page. In order to cover its deletion, he added a blurb declaring it to be “Our Very First Imaginary Story!” Imaginary Stories had become one of the recurring motifs in Mort’s Superman line of titles, tales in which things were permitted to happen that would have altered the character permanently if they hadn’t been expressly declared non-canonical. Mort (or possibly Bridwell, who was working as Weisinger’s Assistant Editor at the time) wrote up a new opening caption to explain the story to audiences of 1965. He also changed the title from “Superman, Matinee Idol” to “Superman, Cartoon Hero” since the term Matinee Idol had fallen into disuse. Bridwell restored the original caption and title for SUPERMAN FROM THE ’30s TO THE ’70s, but he maintained the blurb about it being an Imaginary Story, and Siegel & Shuster’s byline remained removed.
The second page featured some alterations as well. In specific, in the fifth panel, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s byline is removed from the film as well, and Lois’ comment wondering who they are is instead replaced by one indicating that she’s never heard of ACTION COMICS or SUPERMAN magazine.
On PAGE 5, Weisinger has an “Arrow of Shame” added between panels 1 and 2, concerned that the panel flow for the page will be confusing and readers will follow the action the wrong way. The later reprinting maintains this arrow. Also, the page numbers in the corner have been filled in, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
Unfortunately, SUPERMAN FROM THE ’30s TO THE 70s makes a mistake at this point. It misprints the order of the following pages, so this sixth story page is printed seventh in the hardcover, making the reading experience there all the more confusing.
And, of course, in SUPERMAN FROM THE ’30s TO THE ’70s, PAGE 7 is printed before PAGE 6 of the story.
On PAGE 9, a bunch of the background hatching has been eliminated from the SUPERMAN #183 printing, and also the Hardcover book printing. This is almost certainly due to the fact that, in order to print these early Superman stories in the 1960s, the artwork had to be recreated from printed copies of the original comic. Such “hay” wasn’t really part of the DC house style of the era, and so either deliberately or incidentally, it was left out.
And here on PAGE 11, the printing in SUPERMAN #183 makes a substantial cut, no doubt to fit teh story into the available page length. A bit of business where Clark hears a ruckus outside, changes into Superman, stops a getaway car and then gets back to his seat without Lois noticing his absence because she’s so enthralled by teh cartoon is eliminated from both future printings.
And then, on the last page, not only is a significant amount of background detail eliminated throughout the page, but Weisinger feels the need to give Clark a thought balloon in the original silent panel where he shares a wink with his animated incarnation. This too is carried over into the Hardcover printing.