Superman Without the “S” on His Chest? (Or, The “Flaws” That Make Us Special)

By the turn of the year, 1940, Superman was already a sensation.  The Man of Steel had been around for just under two years, and, as the first comic book superhero, the titles he starred in (Action Comics and Superman) always were at the top of the marquee.  Imagine the surprise, then, with the publication of Action Comics number 20 (January 1940)  when the world’s greatest adventure hero appeared on the cover with a major omission on his costume.


It’s not hard to visualize the youth of America that holiday season of 1939-1940 (historically, comics always appear on the newsstands a month or so earlier than the date listed on their cover) as they spun the squeaky comic book rack at the corner store.  Browsing the covers of the new issues, trying to decide which one to plunk down their hard-won dime on, surely they would have paused when confronted with the cover of Action Comics number 20.  What sacrilege was this?  How could they make such a mistake?  And yet . . . there it was, for all to see.

The yellow triangle with the signature red “S” at the center that was supposed to grace the Man of Steel’s barrel chest was . . . missing!  In its place was . . . nothing—a blank, an empty spot orphaned of its famous emblem.  Was DC Comics changing Superman’s costume?  Had they decided it was too flashy, too loud?  But no.  Of course not.  When the following month’s issues arrived, the “S” had returned on Superman’s costume, confirming that the cover of Action Comics number 20 had been . . . an oversight.  A mistake.  A gaffe.


The result?  Not much.  It’s not as if the youth of the day rebelled and planned a “Superman strike,” protesting the publication’s carelessness.  They continued to support the Man of Steel, and Superman has not suffered.  He has been around for eighty years, after all, gracing thousands of comic books, not to mention a wide array of TV series and movies.  The Man of Tomorrow is enduring.


But so is the cover of Action Comics number 20.  Maybe the buying public of 1940 didn’t create a stir (though surely there were letters streaming in to the publisher’s offices that winter), but, as the decades ticked on and as comic book collecting became a major hobby worldwide, vintage comics enthusiasts began to take notice.  In fact, they especially sought out the issue.  Action Comics number 20 is now a prized item, often priced higher than the issues that immediately preceded it (a rarity in comic book collecting, unless a particular issue introduces a key character or for some reason had a smaller print run).  Look it up in the comic book price guide and the note will be provided:  “Superman appears without ‘S’ on his chest.”  Rather than creating a black eye for the issue, the costume oversight has made it something special, something unique, a one-of-a-kind presentation.



In The Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel, the protagonists also must deal with what they perceive as slights, flaws, blemishes that make them feel less-than or even freakish.  Mitchell Brant has a speech impediment.  Joe Marma is the shortest boy in his class.  Ryan Swinton is the tallest, and has a nasty case of acne.  Marc Kuslanski, as a junior-high student, is the class nerd; as he matures, he feels the need to shed his thick glasses and rid himself of the label.  And Monica Tisdale, “the ghost girl,” feels like an outcast, wielding a rare and devastating power that makes others—and sometimes even she, herself–fear her. Each of them must learn to accept, even appreciate, the very things they are ashamed of, the things others make fun of, belittle, name-call.


They are not alone, of course.  We all carry insecurities inside of us.  Some of them are nagging things, relegated to the back burner, a little voice that whispers in our ear at certain moments.  Others are monsters, albatrosses, wound tight around our neck like a gallows waiting to snuff the life from us.  No one is immune.


There is no magic spell, of course, no secret code or talisman to erase the things that dog us and threaten to drag us down.  Whether it’s some aspect about our appearance, or the way we talk, or the way we walk, or our professional acumen, or the way we furnish our home or the car we drive, or any and every other permutation imaginable, we are all imperfect, and we all feel the weight of it.


But, in this season of Thanksgiving, perhaps we can at least try to perceive our “faults” a little differently.  Maybe, just maybe, that “S” that’s missing from our chest makes us stronger, more genuine, more compassionate.  Maybe it’s the flaws that radiate the beauty and the potential within.


Just ask the Man of Steel.  If any character is said to be “perfect,” surely Superman—with his super-strength and super-memory and super-intelligence and super-morals and super-everything—tops the list.  And yet, for all that, it’s his decidedly imperfect cover from eight decades ago that is still, all these years later, remembered and treasured by the collectors and pop-historians who know him best.


Thanks so much for reading!


42 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. joannerambling
    Nov 21, 2018 @ 21:20:52

    There was a time even I liked Superman but I have never read a comic in my life


  2. A. Guanlao
    Nov 22, 2018 @ 09:01:56

    I enjoyed reading your post. I read a few comics when I was a kid, but I appreciate them more as an adult mainly because of the artwork. It is a challenge to draw well and draw quickly the way some of those comic book artists do. On a related note, I was sad to hear that Stan Lee died recently. The news stories I read said he created more realistic characters who had problems just like everyone else.

    While I think it is good to be aware of your shortcomings and learn from your mistakes, you can make yourself quite miserable focusing too much on what’s wrong with you instead of what’s right. I usually try to spend my Thanksgiving counting my blessings, not my flaws. 🙂

    I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, Mike. 🙂


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Nov 22, 2018 @ 13:42:13

      Happy Thanksgiving, Arlene! And yes, Stan Lee was a true groundbreaker. He really did revolutionize the superhero. Perhaps I will post on him sometime.:)


      • A. Guanlao
        Nov 24, 2018 @ 20:31:16

        Thanks, Mike. 🙂 I enjoyed Thanksgiving, and I hope you did too. I like Spider-Man, and I did not know Stan Lee created that character until he died. I wonder who will fill the creative void caused by his passing.

      • The Eye-Dancers
        Nov 25, 2018 @ 02:53:12

        Spider-Man is one of a kind, no doubt; and Stan Lee also created my (and Mitchell Brant’s:) favorite superheroes, The Fantastic Four! Not to mention The Avengers, Daredevil, The X-Men, Thor, The Hulk and so many others. So much creativity flourished at Marvel Comics in the 1960s, when all these characters were born. Glad to hear you had a good holiday!:)

      • A. Guanlao
        Nov 27, 2018 @ 06:56:41

        Thanks, Mike. I agree that the 1960s was a creative time. It’s strange to think that 1960 was 58 years ago! The years are passing by so quickly. Happy Holidays! 🙂

  3. ritaroberts
    Nov 22, 2018 @ 10:29:28

    I never read the comics but loved the T.V. series Superman, so I guess they were taken from the comics anyway. These comics are now a collectors item for those interested and there are many.


  4. ellie894
    Nov 23, 2018 @ 13:20:34

    My dad was young when Superman was just starting. He didn’t have money for comics but would often find them discarded when others were through reading them. I wish that I could ask him if he remembered this one. Talking about trains and comic books were always certain to bring him a smile.

    This is beautifully written Mike, just as The Singularity Wheel is. It’s the imperfect traits that draw me to your characters and make them so relatable, so real. Take care, suzanne


  5. Karina Pinella
    Nov 29, 2018 @ 06:03:41

    I’ve always liked Superman (and other superheroes) and used to read quite a number of comic books.


  6. natuurfreak2
    Nov 30, 2018 @ 17:54:57

    Heel leuke post.Mijn oude blog is vol.Je vindt me nu op


  7. K E Garland
    Nov 30, 2018 @ 23:15:09

    I like how you brought that full circle. It also shows the culture has changed because nowadays that kind of flaw would’ve earned a bit of fake outrage, a nasty hashtag, and a boycott lol


  8. Anna Waldherr
    Dec 01, 2018 @ 03:18:17

    I so much enjoy your insights.


  9. jjspina
    Dec 03, 2018 @ 14:05:27

    Excellent post, Mike! I never knew about that comic book without the S. Superman is one of my favorite super heroes. No one comes close to him in my eyes. Spider-Man is my next favorite. I used to read Archie comics but never read Superman back then. Thanks for the fascinating post.
    Merry Christmas! 🤗🎁🎄


  10. magarisa
    Dec 03, 2018 @ 20:18:50

    An entertaining and insightful post. This part is so memorable and moving: “Maybe, just maybe, that “S” that’s missing from our chest makes us stronger, more genuine, more compassionate.”


  11. Alexis Rose
    Dec 04, 2018 @ 21:24:25

    Wow, that was so interesting to read. I love the insight, and how you reminded us of your characters too. Great post!


  12. kutukamus
    Dec 07, 2018 @ 00:30:54

    A deep yet quite accessible reflection for everybody. And somehow this reminds me of those [serendipitous] discoveries made By Mistake (analogical, as well as literal, pun intended) 🙂


  13. sherazade
    Dec 07, 2018 @ 21:40:49

    ‘difetto’ in italiano ha il senso di qualcosa di sbagliato, da correggere;
    ‘mancanza’ è qualcosa che aggiungi per completare. In sintesi avere dei difetti, in senso figurato, non è positivo se non diventano ‘tools’ x il cambiamento.

    shera 😉


  14. ortensia
    Dec 09, 2018 @ 08:25:14

    Never been a big comics reader but I grew up with Superman……and Wonder Woman 😀


  15. Sherri Matthews
    Dec 11, 2018 @ 17:21:51

    Ha…isn’t that always the way, what started out as an error turned into a valuable collector’s item? Crazy world isn’t it? Superman, with or without his ‘S’ 🙂 Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving, Mike. I’m still clinging to blogging by a thread – but I finished my memoir! Hoping to get a short update post out before Christmas while I await my edits back from the editor. I’ll get to your book as soon as I can, I promise!


  16. The Eye-Dancers
    Dec 11, 2018 @ 17:24:10

    Hi Sherri! That is big news! I will be the first in line to buy your memoir when it’s published.:)


  17. Anna Waldherr
    Dec 16, 2018 @ 21:28:14

    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, Michael!


  18. reocochran
    Dec 19, 2018 @ 02:22:41

    I used to read comic books but rarely ones with super heroes. I liked Archie and his friends. I liked comic strips of all kinds and remember my Dad reading Dick Tracy. When Warren Beatty played him, Madonna and other great cast members, our whole family went to see it. Robin Williams as Popeye, Shelly Duvall and more made the comic strip come off the Sunday color comic strip and verified our imagination. Mike, hope you have a fantastic holiday season and the very best in 2019! 🌲🕊️🌟


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Dec 19, 2018 @ 13:18:38

      Thanks so much, Robin! I have always been a Popeye fan myself.:) I never saw the Robin Williams movie, though–now I need to watch it!:) I hope your holiday season is going great!


      • reocochran
        Jan 06, 2019 @ 19:46:41

        I do think the characters made sense once I saw the live action film, Mike. It will make Popeye the Sailor Man appear in a different perspective, for sure!
        The film was my oldest daughter’s first movie during her second year of life. She squealed and stayed awake throughout it. Now that Robin Williams has been gone, I tend to rewatch his films more.
        My holiday season was full of fun, joy and busy! Hoping yours was wonderful from start to finish, Mike. xo 🎁

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