Thursday, August 19, 2010

Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman

When last we saw our heroes, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster of Cleveland, Ohio, were still fuming as they came to realize how much they’d lost by signing away the rights, for a relative pittance, to their creation who could leap tall buildings with a single bound.

Hoping to catch lightning in a bottle a second time — and on this occasion hold onto it — illustrator Shuster, a fan of Danny Kaye, came up with the idea of Funnyman, a character who looked very much like the movie comedian and was, well, funny. Siegel, returning from service in World War II, recast Funnyman as a crime fighter. And the two were off again in hopes of fame and comics glory.

Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon tell the tale of Funnyman’s short life, and include samples of the comic book and the newspaper strips that appeared from 1948 to 1949, in Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero, From the Creators of Superman. The book, published in paperback just this past month, also dwells on the character’s origins — as well as that of Krypton’s most famous son — in Jewish culture and humor, as the book’s subtitle suggests.

As for the character himself and the comics world he inhabited, the humor is dated — oversized clown shoes with springs, baggy polka-dot pants, goofy gadgets, ludicrous villains and countless prat falls.

That said, based on the evidence of this book there’s no denying Funnyman, for all its shtick, was silly and entertaining. “Aw,” its hero would reply if he were still around, “it was nuttin’.”

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