Action 13 – Superman’s first villain, Scoop Scanlon ends, Pep sails for home, and Marco Polo goes on sale
Superman gets the cover of Action 13 (June 1939), and the story itself, while not having a train rushing into a river, does have the first genuine villain, as opposed to ordinary criminal, that Superman would face.
Siegel and Shuster begin the story much like the earlier ones. A protection scam is being pulled on cab drivers, and Superman sets out to defend the little guy.
It’s clear the character is not yet able to fly. While pulling his standard scare-the-bad-guys jump around, the hood tries to break free, making Superman miss the edge of the building, and both plummet towards the ground. Superman manages to stop his fall by grabbing the side of the building.
But aside from that, it all feels pretty standard. The scam is broken up, the bad guys arrested, and Clark writes a story for the Daily Star all about it. The story could easily end here – but it doesn’t.
The final few pages see the men freed before they can reach prison. Tracking them down, Superman meets their leader, a balding genius, whose frail body keeps him confined to a chair. He calls himself the Ultra-Humanite, and plans “domination of the world!!” in bold.
The Ultra-Humanite clearly has no idea what he is dealing with in Superman, and tries to kill him with a buzz saw. The saw blades shatter when they touch him, sending broken bits around the room. In that scene, one can see a red-haired assistant to the Ultra-Humanite. In the Generations miniserieses (a terrible word, but what else is the plural of miniseries?), John Byrne makes this man Lex Luthor. Indeed, I see no reason it should not be, it helps give backstory to the character, something sorely lacking when he finally shows up.
The Ultra-Humanite tries to escape by plane, but Superman just smashes it to bits. He finds no trace of the villain, and wonders if the Ultra-Humanite really is dead. He isn’t. He’ll be back.
Scoop Scanlon has his final story in this issue. But rather than write it up the usual way, I feel somewhat inspired to share what I feel was the conversation he had with his editor, right after the events in this story.
Scoop: Wow, boss, that was quite a case!
Editor: Scoop, sit down. We need to have a talk. I sent you to cover a wedding! A wedding! And what happens? You don’t show up, you don’t call in. You get all mixed up in some stupid story about cursed jewels from India, which is all a cover for a bunch of murders, and do you call the police? Do you let them know about the murders? No! You steal a dead body! You took a dead man and moved him somewhere and hid behind him to fake his voice and scared the crap out of the killer. Call the cops in, Scoop! This is not your job! I don’t know what to do with you, I really don’t. You were just shot, Scoop, you spent a month in the hospital getting over it. You still shouldn’t be back at work. I put you on the wedding story to keep you out of trouble, but I just can’t manage to do that. I don’t want your blood on my hands. You’re fired, Scoop. Pack your bags.
At which point Scoop pulls out his gun and shoots the editor, and then goes on a mad crazed shooting spree until he is gunned down by the police.
Which is why we never see Scoop Scanlon again.
One issue after accepting the job of bodyguard to a dictator (which this issue openly calls the man), Pep Morgan packs up and heads back to the US in this Fred Guardineer story. One can only assume the rebels have regrouped, and begun a deadly assault on the capitol, forcing him to flee.
Pep is the only paying passenger on the voyage, but there is another. A pirate captain, being brought back in the brig. He gets free, and starts a mutiny on the ship.
It’s kind of refreshing that Pep does not single handedly take down the mutineers. Rather, he contacts the US navy, who intercept the ship with a destroyer. But is it not unusual that Pep is so easily able to contact them? Is this the first contact he had with the navy, or did his days in Latona (they only name the country once he is leaving it) give him connections in Naval Intelligence?
As the Marco Polo story continues to deviate from the source book, it becomes a lot more action oriented. And that’s the prime reason it deviates, really.
The story still seems to be taking place in Persia, though they have continued east, and now seem to be around people who might look like Asian caricatures. Very hard to nail down races in that sort of art style. The Polos are captured and split up, sold in a slave market.
This issue also features and ad for Superman 1. This is just barely a year after the character debuted, and shows how wildly popular Superman was. Up to this point, there had never been a comic book devoted entirely to one character.