Over at Jalopnik, Jason Torchinsky tackles a question I’m sure a few of us have wondered about over the years: What’s that car Superman is hoisting on the cover of Action Comics #1?
Torchinsky makes a pretty good case that it’s a 1937 DeSoto. And it does look like a very close match.
In fact, add in the whitewalls like the ones seen on this 1937 DeSoto on flickr, and it’s a near-perfect match.
But there’s a little bit more to this story, I think. We know from the lengthy legal battles between DC Comics and the heirs of Jerry Siegel, that DC has maintained that an unknown staff artist drew the cover of Action Comics #1 based on an interior panel from that first story. A relevant bit from DC’s lawyers:
DC’s artists also created the cover of Action Comics #1, which introduces the Superman story that immediately follows. A February 22, 1938 letter from DC editor Vin Sullivan to Siegel provided: “I’m enclosing a silverprint of the cover of Action Comics. You’ll note that we already used one of those panel drawings of SUPERMAN, as you suggested in your recent letter.” In other words, per Siegel’s suggestion, DC used one of the panel drawings from the Superman story as a template to create the cover art.
Indeed, they go on to note that the car on the cover does appear to be different than the car in the interior story:
The car featured on the cover is fully visible and contains different rear wheel wells, headlights, and other details than the car in the panel. On the cover, the tire that flew off the car is angled differently than the panel, emphasizing the force with which Superman smashed the car into the rocks.
Here’s a comparison of the two:
As an aside, I’d further note that the infamous Superman check with its $130 line item based on a documented page rate of $10 would tend to support the idea that Siegel & Shuster were paid for the 13-page interior Superman story, but they were not paid for the cover — lending some credence to the idea that someone else did the final cover version. [Though whozwhos in the forum has some excellent observations on this whole matter — 2018 edit to remove now-broken forum link. Essentially, the argument put forth there asserts that the cover must be by Joe Shuster because of the Hercules straps on Superman’s boots which were part of the original character design, and while I’m not unsympathetic towards that position, it’s possible that the earlier design and pitch materials were shown to other artists by DC.]
So, it’s possible that someone other than Joe Shuster drew the final version of the Action Comics #1 cover based on Shuster’s interior panel. And perhaps that unknown artist used a different reference for the car on the cover.
But what was Shuster’s original intent? I think a commenter to the Jalopnik article is even more correct than he knows. Looks like Shuster may have had the 1937 Plymouth Deluxe in mind. What do you think?
Edited to add — Siegel & Shuster expert and author of the upcoming book Super Boys, Brad Ricca thinks it’s a 1937 Hudson. [2018 edit — sadly, it appears that Ricca has removed all of his Superman content from his blog, link edited to show a photo of the car he mentioned. It’s another possibility, certainly]