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SUPERMAN IN ITALY ON THE EVE OF WWII Contributed by Federico Falcolini (translated from Italian to English)
After the success of Action Comics and the creation of Superman, Siegel and Shuster went to press with Superman daily strips as well. Only six months after the strips first appeared in U.S. newspapers (January 1939), the complete run of strips #1 - #59 were presented on Italian newsstands by comic journal AUDACE, with two issues of the comic book under the title “Ciclone : l’Uomo d’acciaio” (Hurricane : the man of steel).
The only difference between this reprint edition of the dailies and the original ones, as well as their recollection in a single story, is the number of panels for each strip (three instead of four) enlarged to fill the Italian landscape format.
Italian boys never got to experience Superman's adventures in the late 1940s because they were never published in Italy, but the series picked up again in the 1950s just as Wayne Boring's artwork began to grace the pages.
During the WWII era, fascism in Italy was growing up stronger and occupied all cultural fields with rhetorical messages about Roman strength and greatness, imperialistic expansionism & race purity.This innuendo was used to isolate the Italian people from foreign influence, and the building fascism was used to create an environment of sociological compliance for the coming war that would not officially be declared until June of 1940.
In sharp contrast to what was happening in Italy, comic book stories originating from the US espoused American characters and ideals.Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Al Foster's Tarzan and Prince Valliant, all of Walt Disney’s creations, the never-forgiving Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician were all enjoyed in Italy.In order to have these characters published and escape Italian government censorship, the names of the characters were changed to reflect Italian descent, the dialogues were disguised, and from time-to-time, even the artists' surnames were changed to be Italian!
While all of this was happening, the guys from Cleveland (Seigel and Shuster) were not yet even aware that two Italians, Vincenzo and Zenobio (Bizen) Bagglioli, a writer and penciler respectively, had lent their own names as the creator of Ciclone, the "Man of Steel", making possible the characters landing from the planet Krypton without ever passing through the US.Not only did they copy Superman, in September 1939, they also used the character as inspiration for their own original stories not based on Siegel and Shuster's work.
The Ciclone character acts in the same way as his American cousin, and some panels are strongly reminiscent of Shuster’s style drawing Superman's movements, such as punching villains and flying (or shall we say "leaping buildings" in single bounds?)Ciclone bore the same "spit curl" on his forehead, but unlike Superman, wore a yellow shirt, black shorts, but otherwise, nothing better was founded to put on his shoulders than the well known red cape. There was no “S” on his chest, replaced by an anonymous heraldic shield.
The Bagglioli brothers plotted two more episodes on “albi dell’Audace” :il gigante di pietra (the giant of stone) and “la torpedine umana” (the torpedo-man) in their own graphic style inspired by the futuristic look they already used in other characters they had written and illustrated.
The Baggioli brothers liked Superman and loved his background. They faced the censors pretending to be the authors, opening the way to the one-year-later appearance of a longer run (1-111 of daily strips) on the pages of the most popular children's journal at that time. So that kids could appreciate this American legend, from its inception the Baggioli brothers aimed to establish him as the most important character in comic book history.
And so it was on January 18, 1940, begun on the pages of “l’Audace”, the first true adventures of Superman-Ciclone were reprinted with the initial five strips exactly as they had appeared on January 1939 in the USA.
But what else was there in that Italian fascist weekly comic tabloid?
8 pages, 4 of which were printed in the four-color process, contained western, detective and jungle stories quite similar to the American models, but also included adventures of Italian flying aces and young paramilitary fascists. There was also a column devoted to autarchy, teaching youngsters how to maintain economic self-sufficiency in their daily lives to help their nation along in the war effort.
The story went on until strip # 111 (Audace #324 on March 24). At that point of the storyline, Ciclone lands in a "war-mongering" country on the trail of a secret stolen weapon. On the same issue of Audace you can find an advisement that the tabloid was to be stopped due to a technical problem, which in reality was a pretend problem, and that the story about Ciclone would be continued in the already existing magazine called Albi Juventus.
Albi Juventus was a weekly comic book series started in 1938 with a 20 X 27 centimeter format. Between its pages, readers found exotic adventures all over the world and in every century, featuring pirates, westerns, cloak-and-dagger thrills, mystery and more!
The magazine actually published the 13th and 14th episodes of Ciclone to complete the run, but never showed the dailies from # 112, 113, 114, thereby avoiding reference to Italy's fellow Axis "Japanazis", which were easily recognizable through the panels, in which Ciclone/Superman crashes a Zeppelin and fights Japanese soldiers clearly portrayed as the bad guys.
Audace and the Baggioli brothers pushed the American-inspired character to the limit, taking Ciclone/Superman as far as they could against the face of Italian censorship and the political climate of the era.But eventually, the brothers were forced to choose.They could give up the character, or they could try to disguise Superman as an Italian champion of nationalistic principles.However, they had already drawn several stories in which Ciclone acted the part of a hero in a different context than the original Superman.In the days before Audace gave up on Ciclone, there printed on the pages of Albi Juventus (March 28th), was printed the story : l’aviatore solitario ( the lone airman). In the story, Ciclone fights next to an Italian trans-Atlantic pilot flying from Italy to the US, emulating the American aviator, Charles Lindbergh.
Their enemies are plutocratic American villains who, without any scruples, try to shoot down the airplane. Ciclone rescues the flyer in a bold display of Nationalistic Italian pride.