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Superman’s 1942 Crossover With ‘Flash Gordon,’ ‘Dick Tracy’ and More

If you’ve been keeping up with Superman lately, then you’ve seen writer Chris Roberson make a few references to the idea that Superman himself is a comic book reader. To be fair, I don’t think we’ve ever seen Clark Kent duck out of the Daily Planet on Wednesday to get the new books, but the idea of Superman as a fan of sequential art isn’t a new one. In fact, it goes all the way back to 1942 and where Jerry Siegel and Ed Dobrotka showed Superman to be way into the wonderful world of newspaper comics.

Of course, a story where Superman and Lois just sit around and read the newspaper would be pretty boring, which is why Superman doesn’t just read the strips he’s a fan of, but actually fights against their villains and teams up with their heroes in the crossover that 1942′s newspaper readers demanded!Originally published in Superman #19 and reprinted 24 years later in Superman #183 — the comic that pretty much ruined everything with a cover where Superman told kids that old comics were worth upwards of thirty dollars! — “The Case of the Funny Paper Crimes” is easily one of the best and most innovative Golden Age Superman stories. Siegel and Dobrotka go all out with the setup, playing with a format that sees them re-create a page of newspaper strips being read by Clark and Lois, featuring their ersatz versions of Prince Valiant, Dick Tracy, The Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon and the very obscure Desperate Desmond:

Rather than just keeping them on the page, though, the story quickly moves into the action with the villains from the strips coming to life — and inexplicably growing to giant size — and menacing the citizens of Metropolis. It’s also worth noting that at first, Lois and Clark think the whole thing is a hoax, because the idea of a comic strip character coming to life is just far too unbelievable for two people used to writing news stories about an indestructible flying alien.

Eventually, the whole thing is revealed to be a plot by one-shot villain Funnyface, who uses a ray that looks suspiciously like a lightbox to bring comic strip characters to life. Superman ends up fighting all the villains at once, and while he’s outnumbered, Lois is able to summon the comic strip heroes to come to his aid…

…marking the first — and greatest — Dick Tracy/Lone Ranger/Flash Gordon/Prince Valiant/Superman crossover ever. Also, it’s worth noting that at one point, Lois gets hit with the ray’s reverse version and turned into a comic strip character herself, which really made me want the twist ending to this story to be that Superman and Lois were comic strip characters all along. Instead, they just punch Funnyface in his giant head and reveal him to be a comic strip creator whose work never caught on who was driven by jealousy of others’ success, which is basically Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel giving big ups to all his haters on the grandest scale possible.

Either way, Funnyface needs to come back. Sure, it’s one thing to team up with Prince Valiant and Dick Tracy, but a story where Lois had to face off with Dilbert comparing her to the mentally handicapped and Superman had to deal with the absolute crushing despair of Funky Winkerbean? That’s a story.

(Special thanks to Jess Nevins for help identifying Desperate Desmond)

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