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Superman creator's long-kept secret

April 7, 2009 |  1:55 pm


Joe Shuster drew Superman in the 1930s, which should have made him invincible. But after he and writer Jerry Siegel got into a legal tie-up with DC Comics over rights to the character in the 1940s (DC won), he moved on to other things.

One of those things, which he kept quiet, was a magazine called Nights of Horror. The salacious fictional crime booklet launched in 1954 and ran for 16 issues -- with illustrations by Joe Shuster. These are now collected in the book "Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator Joe Shuster" by Craig Yoe.

Nights of Horror was a plain-wrap kind of a periodical, one destined to run afoul of 1950s censors. Yoe details a Brooklyn crime spree by teens that was allegedly inspired by the magazine and that helped lead to its demise.

But enough copies have survived to put together this marvelous, adults-only coffee-table book. There are buxom ladies -- with whips and in leg irons, holding daggers and cigarettes. Men with chiseled jaws fondle them, embrace them, peep on them, kiss their feet. As Yoe points out, some of these men look a bit like Clark Kent (or Superman, take your pick). Others evoke Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor and Lois Lane.

At a party for the book in New York on Sunday, some of the scenes that Shuster drew were staged (above). But although real people standing in for the tableaux might be cool, it isn't the same thing as his drawings (you can see the book's cover, if you look closely, in the photo).

That's because Shuster drew beautiful women who were impossibly stacked and handsome men with impossibly broad shoulders. Once he drew them as heroes; later, he drew them stripped, vulnerable and twisted off into another world.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: istolethetv via Flickr