The Model Superman

Back in the days before "action figures" (unless you count the 12-inch GI Joes) and videogames, the passtime of choice for many of us red-blooded American boys was model building. Who doesn't remember the maddening frustration of gluing together a miniature fighter plane, the impossible control it took to paint a pinstripe on a race car or the daunting task of transferring a set of waterslide decals onto the hull of the starship Enterprise? I had one friend who was an early pioneer of "battle damaged" models, shooting his Colonial Viper model with a bb gun and burning scorch marks around the impact points to simulate damage from Cylon laser fire. I always wondered if he was being artistic or had just grown to hate the model after a weekend or two of setbacks.

As you might expect, one of my first modeling efforts was Aurora's famous Superman kit. It dated back to the 1960s, when it debuted alongside a host of heroic kits devoted to Batman, Spider-Man, Superboy, Captain America, Dick Tracy and James Bond, among others. Aurora chose to present Superman bursting through a brick wall in a scene that took full advantage of the medium's ability to capture action in three-dimensions. Given the iconic power of the pose, recreating one of the most famous recurring stunts on the George Reeves TV show, it's hard to imagine a more appropriate design, but as the site reveals, Aurora had at least three others in contention, including scenes of Superman saving Lois Lane from an oncoming train, battling a space villain and foiling a bank robbery.

The original box art for the kit featured arguably one of the greatest painted Superman images of all time.

At least one variation on the box art dates back to 1964, and features what is for my money a decidedly less-inspired "comic book" take on the character. I have no idea what the history is on this art, since the ad that ran on the back of DC Comics of the era (see above) shows a kid holding a box with the painted art. Maybe the '64 "comic" image predates the painted version, or maybe it's a foreign release. If anyone knows, I'd love to hear.

The DC offices teamed with Aurora Plastics to produce a fun, comic-style ad for the kit which ran in many of their books in the mid-60s. Featuring art by the great Curt Swan, it masterfully appealed to the timeless interests of all young boys: superheroes, construction, fitting in with your friends and making your little sister feel like a second-class citizen:

The kit remained in production for a very long time, and by the 70s (when I finally got one), Aurora was trying to rekindle interest by adding a short comic book to the package, necessitating a redesign of the box art due to the larger dimensions. The other 60s superhero kits were likewise retooled and re-released with comics.

The idea was to read the comic until you got to the scene depicted by the model. Then there was a full page you could prop up behind the model to form a backdrop. In Superman's case, the backdrop was a trashed prison power facility and a defeated foe, as seen above. Just for fun, here's the original art (by Swan with veteran inker Joe Giella) for the last three pages of the comic (which also included instructions for building the model), featuring Superman's showdown with the one-shot supervillain, "Neutron."

The model itself seems to have remained unchanged from its 60s incarnation. Here from the website is a terrific build-up of the kit:

Sadly, Aurora disappeared in the late 70s when, apparently, it was sold to rival Monogram, which seems to have continued production on the Superman kit into the 80s with still different box art, this time featuring a photo of a professionally built and painted kit. Next came MPC with the kit once again repackaged to fit in with the "Super Powers" line of mid-80s merchandise. As far as I know, the kit itself remained unchanged throughout. After the "Super Powers" incarnation, the various superhero kits disappeared for a while until in the late 90s when a few of them, including Superman and Batman, were re-released by Revell, with still newer box art and this time with re-tooled parts to more accurately reflect the then- "current' look of the heroes (blecch!).

The various incarnations of this kit still show up on eBay. If you've got patience and a bit of skill, it's still a fun way to spend an afternoon or two. And if not, there's always the bb gun and blow torch.