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Secret Identity:

The Fetish Art Of Joe Shuster

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman, but as you’ve never seen him before - prostrate, manacled, topless, helpless, as he’s lashed by love-interest Lois Lane in her stiletto heels and frilly underwear. Or so it would seem, except that in his regular comic books nothing quite this kinky was permissible between the Man of Steel and the feisty girl-reporter (though we never saw what they got up to between the panels). In fact, this lurid illustration and many more adorned a series of recently-unearthed S&M booklets from 1953-54 entitled Nights Of Horror. So why do several of the participants bear an uncanny resemblance to Superman, his alter ego Clark Kent, and co-stars Lois, bald baddie Lex Luthor and sidekick Jimmy Olsen?

America’s most passionate pop-culture vulture Craig Yoe, editor of the eccentric, eclectic and essential ARF anthologies from Fantagraphics, knew the answer as soon as he stumbled across them: "Oh, my God, Joe Shuster!" Yoe spotted that the anonymous artist behind these racy pix was none other than the original artist and co-creator of Superman himself


Superman artist Joe Shuster at the drawing table.

Joe Shuster and his high-school pal and writer Jerry Siegel came up with the idea of Superman while they were teenagers. For his debut in the first issue of Action Comics cover-dated June 1938, they sold the rights to their co-creation to National (later DC Comics) for a mere $10 per page or $130. Ten years later, now that their archetypal superhero had become a huge money-spinning success, the pair brought a lawsuit against DC in 1948 to reclaim their rights - and lost. As a result, they were both out of a job, they didn’t get any more assignments and shortly after Joe disappeared. But these unmistakeable drawings now reveal Shuster’s subsequent secret identity as a fetish artist. Did he include lookalikes of Superman and pals simply because he’d always drawn characters this way, or did he subject them to bondage and torture scenes to vent his fury and frustration?

As Craig Yoe dug deeper, he discovered a chilling twist to these horror comic-style porno pamphlets. One of their avid readers was deranged delinquent Jack Koslow. He was so inspired by them that he and his gang horse-whipped girls in the park and set vagrants on fire. Also a Superman fan, Koslow even grew a Hitler mustache and dressed up as a superhero to commit his crimes. When the gang was caught, the court called in psychiatrist and anti-comics campaigner Dr. Fredric Wertham to determine whether Koslow was insane or could stand trial. Wertham confirmed the pernicious influence on him of Nights Of Horror and the police promptly seized all copies from bookshops in Times Square. Their publisher, Manhattan mobster-turned-smut-pedlar Eddie Mishkin, fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court but lost.

Only now, over fifty years later, in this deluxe hardback artbook Secret Identity, has Yoe finally exposed the great irony of this scandal - that these perverse pictures poured from the same pen that had conceived and chronicled the world’s first superhero, Superman.

Posted: March 8, 2009

This article first appeared in the March 2009 Comics Special of Bizarre magazine.

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