Metropolis in the Old Days

Posted by on December 1st, 2009 at 9:47 AM

superman-elephant

Don’t let anybody kid you: there was no living in this town before Superman showed up. You weren’t here: you don’t remember what it was like. Every time you turned around, if Lex Luthor didn’t have the nuns selling drugs to kids, it was Braniac shrinking the Federal Reserve Bank or the Toymaker sending an army of eight-foot wind-up rabbits through the middle of the Easter Parade. (They Toymaker we didn’t even want to arrest. We just wanted to take him aside and say “Why are you doing this?”) We didn’t call them super-villains back then, we called them assholes. As in, “Did you see what that asshole Brainiac did to the Corn Exchange?” And the cops wouldn’t do a thing. I remember one day I’m going to City Hall to pick up my relief check, and they were having a press conference on the steps. A reporter asks the Chief of Police, “What is the city going to do about the huge talking gorillas rampaging through the Garment District?”, and the Chief looks at him like he’s never seen such an idiot. “How the hell should I know?” he says. “Line the streets with bananas! I’m not a zookeeper. I arrest jaywalkers. You got any bright ideas, you tell me!”

And Mr. Mxtyplk, there was an asshole for you. It wasn’t that what he did was so much worse than any other asshole did: it was that he expected every dumb-ass stunt to get a big laugh. When it didn’t, he’d grab you by the collar and say “Hey, did you see that? I made the fire hydrants shoot molten lead! Great gag, huh? Wasn’t that a scream? Huh? Huh?” And of course he never gets a laugh, so he keeps on pulling dumb-ass stunt after dumb-ass stunt, until the kids would start crying. I mean, making him say his name backwards, who the hell else would have thought of that? After dogs and machine guns we couldn’t imagine what to do.

And the dam would burst at least once a month, as if it was the municipal toilet flushing, whoosh, a tidal wave down Main Street, carrying half of Wop Town with it. Airplanes, they used to announce over the loudspeaker, “This is your captain speaking, we are now flying over Metropolis: we will soon drop like a stone.” Bridges, my God, it was worth your life trying to cross a bridge. Ferries, sploosh!, capsized. You watched the shadows of buildings, and if they suddenly started growing you ran like hell.

And Lois Lane, every time you looked around, Lois Lane would get kidnapped. The first time her mother mortgaged the house to pay the ransom. The next time her ma says, “Sorry, I only have one house.” So the Daily Planet sponsors this fund drive, gets the school kids to pitch in their milk money. The time after that the Planet tries it again, but by then the kids are weak from skipping their milk, so they only collect about 80 bucks. The Planet kicks in another couple of hundred and says, “Take it or leave it.” After that they let the kidnappers keep her until they got tired of feeding her. They’d dangle her from the side of buildings, shouting down to the crowd, “Pay up now! We’re really going to do it this time!” She’d hang there and scream until somebody sent a hook and ladder. If the building didn’t fall down, that is.

I remember the first time I saw Superman. I’m standing at the bus stop, reading my horoscope, hoping it’s not going to say Libras should expect to be meeting huge talking gorillas today, when somebody says, “Look, up in the sky!” I look up, see something blue.

“It’s a bird,” I say, and go back to my paper.

“But it’s faster than a speeding bullet!”

“Then it’s a plane,” I say, not looking up.

“Nah, it’s not falling” the guy says.

“It’s Superman,” the newsie says. I look up again and it’s just a speck, so I take his word for it. I don’t have X-ray vision.

I remember the first time I saw the headline “Superman Rescues Orphans.” It was like reading “Leaves Fall Up This Year.” Up until that time I’d never thought of orphans as something that could be rescued. Back in the old days you’d see the headline “40 Orphans Perish in Flames” and think, “Poor little bastards. I guess they didn’t have much to live for, anyway.” Before you knew it Luthor was getting his ass kicked up and down Broadway, you kept your money in banks and you had picnics under the dam. Nowadays when a giant robot starts plucking cables off the suspension bridge people start looking at their watches, you know, “Where the hell is he?” “Is that asshole in Gotham dicking around with Batman again?”

superman-feature

I’m reading Clark Kent in the Planet the other day, he writes, “If we only looked we’d find a Superman inside all of us.” Only somebody who came to town after Superman showed up could write something that stupid. If we all had a Superman inside us we would have saved a lot of money on bananas, I’ll tell you. Believe me: You never had it so good.

Superman and Elephant: From “…The Amazing Braniac” in Adventures of Superman #438 (March 1988), written by John Byrne and drawn by Jerry Ordway and John Beatty [©1988 DC Comics]

Ape and Lois Lane: From “Titano the Super-Ape” in Superman #127 (February 1959), written by Otto Binder, penciled by Wayne Boring, and  inked by Stan Kaye

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2 Responses to “Metropolis in the Old Days”

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  2. […] was Metropolis like before Superman? A first hand account, here. We didn’t call them super-villains back then, we called them assholes. As in, “Did you see […]