MIKE GOLD: Would Superman trust the president?
Would you trust the President of the United States with your most precious secret?
If the polls are even remotely accurate, today a substantial majority of Americans would not. Perhaps any reasonable person would not trust any politically motivated opportunist with such knowledge. But there was an unfortunate time when Superman did.
In Action Comics #309, cover dated February 1964, The Big Red S needed someone to cover him at an event where it was necessary for both Superman and Clark Kent to be in attendance. I won’t trouble you with the details – Batman was similarly engaged – but Supes asked the President to stand in. Evidently having nothing better to do, John Kennedy said “sure, you bet, champ” and did the Iron Mask bit. Superman closed the story with “If I can’t trust the President of the United States, who can I trust?”
Sigh. Young-uns, now you know why we Baby Boomers long for the good old days.
Of course, the good old days weren’t always so good. Sharp-eyed reader that you are, I’m sure you noticed how this particular issue was cover-dated “February 1964.” History-aware that you also are, you knew President Kennedy was murdered in November, 1963. You probably did the math, remembered that cover dates were well in advance of newsstand release dates, and figured they (sorry about this) dodged the bullet.
No such luck. Action Comics #309 appeared in distributors warehouses about two weeks after the assassination. Editor Mort Weisinger, who by that time was well on his way towards finishing Action #313, didn’t remember the JFK story had yet to see print. Few others at the company knew of the issue’s contents. The book was not recalled at the distributors level. Comics got the lowest priority on the shipping chain: imagine Fed-Ex offering “Overnight,” “Two-day,” and “Eventually” and you’ll begin to grasp the problem.
Not that it stayed on the racks very long. Enough people saw it to express outrage, not knowing the molasses-like nature of the newsstand distribution process in those days. So word got out and many (certainly not all) retailers removed the issue. In those days, many distributors split their top-selling comics, distributing a part of the print run once again several weeks later. Those who were paying attention pulled Action #309 from this second round.
But there was Superman, answering the question: Who do you trust?
What would The Man of Steel do today? I wonder.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.com.
Artwork copyright 1963 National Periodical Publications, Inc. Renewed by DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.