Sex

Briefly Noted: Super Porn

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Do-gooder psychiatrist Fredric Wertham famously declared that the comics of the 1940s and '50s were rife with sadistic and perverted sexual themes. Craig Yoe's book Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator Joe Shuster (Abrams) shines a strange new light on that theme.

In 1954 Shuster, down on his luck after making a bad deal selling ownership of Superman to DC Comics, illustrated a series of cheap and lurid sex and bondage pamphlets called Nights of Horror. Those pamphlets were later implicated in a series of notorious youth-gang murders and then banned and destroyed by New York authorities—an act upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1957.

This book reproduces the drawings and contextualizes them. Some of the characters are dead ringers for Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor. But as Stan Lee writes in his introduction, while Superman was "positive and morally uplifting," these stories "cater to the basest of man's character." They are a fascinating display of comics history nonetheless.