In the late 1940s, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sued DC Comics for the rights to their character … and lost. Their names wouldn’t be restored to DC Comics for another three decades.
Those were dark times for artist Shuster, and in 1954 he turned to work that he was quite happy to do anonymously: illustrating amateurish, small-press BDSM magazine Nights of Horror.
- Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster
- Craig Yoe
- Abrams ComicArts, $25.
- Amazon: Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster
Editor Craig Yoe’s new book on Shuster’s work from that period—ironically, some of his best in terms of craft—begins with a 35-page must-be-read-to-be-believed essay chronicling Shuster’s career and Nights of Horror’s role in the 1954 Brooklyn thrill killings (the teen murderers were fans).
That Shuster’s involvement was unknown at the time was definitely a good thing for his reputation and that of comics, which were under fire for allegedly leading America’s youth astray. Of course, if it were known just how fall Shuster had fallen, perhaps his old bosses could have been shamed into doing right by him sooner.
The bulk of Secret Identity is devoted to reproductions of Shuster’s illustrations, which are all contextually fetishistic, but light on nudity and devoid of intercourse. (The real pornography was the writing that accompanied them, which Yoe doesn’t reproduce.) That so many of the ladies bear such a strong resemblance to Lois Lane and some of the men to Superman himself is just one of the uncomfortable aspects raised by Yoe’s book.