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‘Superman’ artist’s bizarro world exposed in lurid comics

The characters in Joe Shuster's comics from the '50s look like Superman and Lois Lane.

The characters in Joe Shuster's comics from the '50s look like Superman and Lois Lane.

Jeepers, Mr. Kent!

That’s what a shocked Jimmy Olsen might say after seeing the hundreds of racy, violent and sado-masochistic cartoons by Joe Shuster, one of the creators of Superman, that have been unearthed by comic book historian Craig Yoe.

Researching the secret origins behind America’s favorite superheroes has revealed much in recent years, but never anything like this.

In the new book “Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster” (Abrams ComicArts, $24.95), page after page of lascivious panels are reproduced from underground comics that Shuster drew in the early 1950s when the artist was down on his luck. Titled “Nights of Horror,” the crude, stapled pamphlets of erotic horror were sold under the counter at drugstores for $3.

Within are naked women with whips, brutish men brandishing red-hot pokers, exotic torture and politically incorrect spankings. What makes the illustrations more than simply a curiosity of the times is the disturbing fact that many of the characters look exactly like Shuster’s Superman and Lois Lane.

“Yes, they look like Lois and Clark,” Yoe says. “Joe obviously had some very dark fantasies. There’s a panel in an early “Superman” comic book where he has Lois over his knee and is spanking her. But certainly nothing of this depth or extremeness.”

Artist Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel created Superman in 1938, but didn’t benefit when the character exploded in popularity in the 1940s. By the 1950s, Shuster was barely working. He died in 1992.

It is not unusual for comic-book artists to handle sexier fare; Mad Magazine’s Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder produced Little Annie Fanny in Playboy for 26 years.

But Stan Lee of Marvel Comics writes in an introduction that the Shuster work is “startling” in that it caters to “the basest of man’s character. … It clearly indicates how desperate Joe must have been.”

“There are some who say I should have left this stuff buried and not ruin Joe’s reputation,” says Yoe, who found the complete 16-issue run of the crude publication at a used-book store. “But this is a major body of work by the creator of the superhero. Some of the drawings are beautiful, showing the great craftsman that he was. There’s even an innocence.

“I can’t say I’d frame it and put it above my mantle, but it’s a very important find for comic-book history and cultural history.”

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