Thursday, August 01, 2013

Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Creator Joe Shuster edited by Craig Yoe

Joe Shuster got half of the rawest deal of the 20th century -- a few bucks in return for Superman, a character that made hundreds of millions of dollars for other men (mostly not creators, mostly not scrupulous, mostly already rich). His story is perfectly crafted as an object lesson -- the artist who went blind, the creator thrown away from his own creation, the man who died just a step above poverty as his images were loved by millions worldwide -- and yet it's completely true.

Secret Identity wouldn't exist in a juster world: it collects the art that Shuster created in the early '50s for a trashy, badly-produced and frankly exploitative magazine called Nights of Horror, printed to be sold under the counter at a number of newsstands in New York. It has a lot of characters that look like Kent and Lane and Luthor and Olsen, because that's how Shuster drew, but these folks are whipping each other and engaged in other kinds of sadistic and sexual torments. This book exists because of prurient interest -- the art in the first place, and its republication in this form after it was rediscovered by Craig Yoe -- and I read it because of prurient interest, and, if you're at all intrigued by it, that'll be because of prurient interest as well. That's a kind of purity, I guess.

Secret Identity has interest primarily in the fact that it exists at all; there may be a few really devoted students of Shuster's line, but there are vastly more who will pretend to be while reading this book. It's a sad and tawdry symbol of the Original Sin of Comics, set to remind us that the house always wins and the little guy always gets screwed.

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