ZAP! POW! BAM! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950, an exhibition of rare artifacts and memorabilia on view through August 9 at the Skirball Cultural Center in LA, sounds pretty remarkable. (I first learned about it through the Bat-Blog, which also directed me to this slideshow of 20 images from the show on the LA Weekly site.) The show contains such treasures as the very first sketches of the Joker and Superman, as well as the writing desk where the latter character was born and a photo of the real-life model for Lois Lane. But here's the passage from LA Weekly's blog that made me envision Joker himself, Catwoman, or any of a legion of other villains from the '66 TV show scheming to break in:
The copy of Action Comics #1, the holy grail of comics, which contains the first appearance of Superman [, is one of] less than a hundred copies ... known to exist. The copy at the Skirball is on loan from an anonymous collector and is being shown under a plexiglass cover in the "Lights! Camera! Action!" sub-exhibit one room over from the main gallery.
Heavens to murgatroyd! Have the press and museum curators of the world learned nothing since that rash of burglaries at the Gotham Museum back in the day?! Why, they're exhibiting a chunk of kryptonite, all but asking for a skirmish between Superman and some archfiend!
The Skirball also promises "stations that allow children to dress up as Superheroes or transform themselves via a quick costume change in a telephone booth"--and I ask, yet again, why is it that kids get to have all the fun in this world? But there is a serious intent behind all the interactive bells and whistles, as discussed in the blog post quoted above:
We're kind of in need of superheroes lately. That need is one of the major overlaps between the "golden age" of comic books and the present time. Hence, the Skirball's argument goes, the current resurgence of comics. And because it's the Skirball, the other major point is the Jewish connection. Without having to Wikipedia it, did you know that Stan Lee (the genius behind Spider-Man and Marvel comics) was actually Stan Lieber? And that Superman was created by two 17-year-old Jewish boys? In fact, the entire superhero genre was created by young Jewish artists in the midst of the economic turmoil of the 1930s and 40s.
If you're unlikely to make it to the show in person, you might want to consider ordering the exhibition catalogue (pictured above) from the show's home base, the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum in Atlanta. In addition to photos, it includes essays from Jerry Robinson, Jules Feiffer, and Michael Chabon. I'm not sure of the page count, but at $18.50, it might just be a steal.