Golden Age Superman Foes


Long on my list of micros to do have been some of the Golden Age (or Earth-2, if you prefer) Superman foes.

As with my GA Batman and Captain America micros, I'll present these in order of appearance in the comics, with synopses of the stories.  Unlike those micros, I have no plans to do all the villains, as Superman fought more than his share of ordinary gangsters and corrupt politicians. Still, these micros proved to be surprisingly addictive, and I ended up doing more than I'd first planned, so there are some of that type of villain mixed in.

Some of my criteria for being worthy of mention here:


Action Comics #1 (June 1938): untitled

Bea Carroll

Superman's first foe! Nightclub singer Bea Carroll framed Evelyn Curry for murder. With Evelyn facing the electric chair, Superman has get the Governor to stop the execution.

That's all. A woman with a gun didn't stand much of a chance opposing the Man of Steel. But she was first.

As Superman's first appearance, this story also includes a brief sketch of his extraplanetary origins, his Clark Kent identity, his fellow reporter, rival, and sometime love interest, Lois Lane, and the unnamed editor of the Daily... Star? Yes, Perry White and the Daily Planet were future refinements.

Action Comics #2 (July 1938): untitled

Emil Norvell
Clark Kent traces a crooked lobbyist to the munitions manufacturer Emil Norvell, who is fomenting war in San Monte just to have a market for his weapons. As Superman, he forces Norvell to join the San Monte army, so Norvell can see just what affect his greed is having. Norvell tries various ways to escape Superman, to no avail, and he finally agrees to reform. Superman then brings the warring factions' generals together and gets them to agree to peace.



Action Comics #13 (June 1939): untitled

The Ultra-Humanite
What began as a typical Superman social justice story, about a taxicab protection racket, suddenly veered into more blatant science-fiction with the revelation of the mastermind behind the plot: a mad scientist calling himself "the Ultra-Humanite" because "a scientific experiment resulted in my possessing the most agile and learned brain on Earth!" Ultra, as he is also known, may have an agile brain, but he's also wheelchair-bound, which makes it highly unlikely he escaped the climactic plane-crash at the end of the story.

And yet escape he did, reappearing in Action Comics #14, #17, and #19, where, finally, he's caught in his own ray-gun blast and dies.

Action Comics #20 (January 1940): untitled

Dolores Winters
Actress Dolores Winters decides to retire from the movies. She invites a crowd of wealthy film folk to a party on her yacht, then holds them for ransom. When Superman shows up to rescue them, he is shocked to recognize, in Dolores's blazing eyes, the personality of the Ultra-Humanite!  Ultra has had his brain transplanted into Dolores's "young vital [and, yes, female -- with no narrative sense of awkwardness or salaciousness] body".  The female Ultra appears in Action Comics #20 and #21, then disappears from comics history until the 1980s, when Ultra reappears in first the body of a giant ant, then that of a mutated gorilla.

Different versions of the Ultra-Humanite have appeared in more recent comics.


Action Comics #23 (April 1940): untitled

Luthor
Hot on the heels of the Ultra-Humanite came another mad scientist, this one with more explicitly global ambitions. #22 had Lois and Clark reporting on the war between Toran and Galonia, but in #23, with Superman-enabled peace about to break out, a Galonian general reports to his secret master, the mysterious Luthor.

Luthor is first seen as a face appearing out of solid rock, but Superman quickly traces him to his headquarters and meets the man behind the rock-mask, a red-haired man wearing a vaguely Slavic costume.

"Luthor" is all the name he has, until a 1950s Superboy story introduces him as a high school classmate of young Clark Kent, when we learn he is "Lex Luthor". Retroactively, the 1940s "Earth-2" Luthor became "Alexei Luthor".

Superman #4 (Spring 1940): untitled

Luthor
Luthor next appears in a suit, drawn resembling an evil Thomas Edison (something I tried to capture here). 
Superman #4 (Spring 1940): untitled #2

Luthor
Having raised the sunken island civilization of Pacifo as a base of operations, Luthor next wears a futuristic jump-suit.

Action Comics #25 (June 1940): untitled

Medini
Coincident with a series of robberies in which bank messengers can't remember what happened to them, Lois visits Medini, the world's greatest hypnotist, to learn Superman's secret identity. A worried Clark Kent follows her and learns Medini is behind the amnesia robberies. Medini's mind can overwhelm Superman only temporarily, and Superman eventually catches him.

Action Comics #28 (September 1940): untitled

The Strongarm Bandit
A masked bandit, dressed like a circus strongman, demonstrates great strength. Naturally, the local circus strongman is suspected, but Superman finds that the clown's baggy costume covers a muscular physique.

Action Comics #30 (November 1940): untitled


Zolar
Zolar's Arabs
Mysterious armored Arabs appear in Metropolis, killing with a radioactive orb so powerful, it disintegrates its victims but burns their shadows into the ground. Superman traces the men to the scientist Zolar, who is trying to conquer a lost city in the desert, Ulonda.

The framework (Arabs, radioactive orbs, shadows, even an specific plot twist at the end) came from Murder Mirage, a Doc Savage pulp adventure. This is one of two Superman stories which directly swiped a story from Doc Savage, apart from the more general influence Clark Savage, Jr., the Man of Bronze, had on the creation of Superman. Both characters even had a Fortress of Solitude.

Superman #7 (November-December 1940): untitled #4

The Black Gang
Night club patrons are being robbed on their way home by "The Black Gang". Columnist Peter Peeker, of a rival newspaper, seems to scoop the Planet on these stories regularly. Lois and Clark investigate, portraying out-of-town wealthy socialites, and are captured by The Black Gang, who are working with Peeker.

Superman #8 (January-February 1941): untitled



Prof. Zee
Dr. Cardos
The Giants
This is the other story swiped from Doc Savage, specifically the wonderfully titled He Could Stop the World: Giants are seen in an area. A scientist (here, two scientists) has discovered a way to make giants. Female captives are threatened with giantism unless the hero goes away. While the giants are real, the threat to the captives is done with mirrrors.

Superman #9 (March-April 1941): untitled

The Monster Men
"Monster Men" in metallic suits are using fantastic weapons to commit crimes. They are henchmen of the scientist Krawl.

World's Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941): untitled

The Rainmaker
The Rainmaker's rain-machine can really cause rain to fall whenever and as heavy as he wishes. He tries to use it to extort money from a construction magnate. Superman wrecks the machine, and when the Rainmaker is forced to flee from a flood he created, he hits his head on a rock and dies.

Superman #10 (May-June 1941): untitled

Righab Bey
Seeing a government official visiting the astrologer Righab Bey, Lois investigates and learns Bey heads up a spy ring. Superman must free her and smash the spies.

Superman #11 (July-August 1941): untitled #1

Rolf Zimba
Rolf Zimba's "Gold Badge Organization" flexes its muscles and tries to intimidate various Metropolis businesses into giving them favorable treatment or suffer the wrath of their members. It's unclear if readers at the time were supposed to think this was a Nazi front organization or a warning that what happened in Germany could happen here, too.

Superman #11 (July-August 1941): untitled #3

Quismado
When a mysterious "yellow plague" hits Metropolis, only one man recognizes it: the intern Pedro Carlos. After Pedro contracts the plague, he reveals its source to Superman: a South American people, The Chirrobans, whose high priest, Quismado, uses the plague against his enemies. Unable to save Pedro, Superman travels to Chirroba, finds Quismado working with an American gangster, defeats them all, and puts a young noble on his proper throne.

Action Comics #39 (August 1941): untitled

The Ghost
Brett Bryson seemingly perished in a radium explosion. But shortly after, a ghostly, phosphorescent figure, whose touch burns, is found committing robberies. Only when Superman gets Bryson's former employer to confess that he rigged the explosion to convince Bryson to steal for him is this Ghost returned to the grave.

Superman #12 (September-October 1941): untitled

Luthor

Giant animals have been seen in the vicinity of Baracoda Island. Investigating, Lois and Clark find they are the work of a scientist and a financier who have agreed to work with... Luthor!

Comics history is unclear on the reason why Luthor's appearance changed to the stocky, bald-headed villain best known today. (My preference is that a new artist, having been referred to Superman #4 for Luthor's appearance, mistook a bald henchman for him.) But that's how he appeared from Superman #10 on, whether in street clothes or a lab coat, as here.

Action Comics #42 (November 1941): untitled

Zytal
Prominent men of science are disappearing. Gangsters involved vanish in a puff of smoke. Superman traces the phenomena to a city-like craft in the sky, led the supposedly benevolent alien Zytal, who has convinced the scientists to join him. But Superman unmasks Zytal as... Luthor!

Superman #13 (November-December 1941): "The Light"

The Light
The costumed villain The Light terrorizes Metropolis, hypnotizing those he needs and blinding law enforcement. Superman unmasks him as... Luthor!
Superman #13 (November-December 1941): "The Archer"

The Archer
A mysterious assassin is extorting thousands out of wealthy men; if they don't pay, an arrow slays them, no matter where they might try to hide. Despite the presence of a red-herring Robin Hood, The Archer is revealed to be a big-game hunter who thought hunting men a better sport.
Superman #13 (November-December 1941): untitled

Kyack
An underground civilization is egged on by the warlike Kyack to invade the surface world.

Action Comics #44 (January 1942): untitled

The Dawn Man
Professor Steffens is exhibiting the frozen remains of a prehistoric human when a surge of electricity seemingly resurrects it, and it goes on a rampage.  But this Dawn Man is actually a criminal impostor, so that the underappreciated Professor can take what he thinks is his due.

Superman #14 (January-February 1942): "The Lightning Master"

The Lightning Master
Lightning out of a clear sky slays men and terrorizes Metropolis. The masked Lightning Master captures Lois, who unmasks him as... an unnamed, but suspiciously bald, scientist. But when he tries to electrocute Superman, he finds himself the victim of his own power.

Given previous stories, it's possible that this was intended to be Luthor, but editorial fiat changed the story because it was too similar to the "Light" story. The villain does look vaguely like Luthor, but so do half a dozen other villains in these stories. (Maybe they all were originally intended to be Luthor? Who can tell at this late date?)

Superman
#14 (January-February 1942): untitled

Rudolph Krazinski
Concert pianist Rudolph Krazinski regularly puts his audiences to sleep.  But that's OK, as his pickpocket henchmen can then rob them blind.
Superman #14 (January-February 1942): "The Undersea City"


Akthar
Kuella
The mermaid Kuella risks death to warn the surface world of the invasion planned by the merman Akthar.

Action Comics #45 (February 1942): untitled

Count Von Henzel
The Metropolis Zoo is going to close, and the kindly zookeeper be fired, because no one is interested in the poor selection of animals it has. Superman volunteers to fill an ark with more exotic species to save the zoo.  In the jungle, he encounters Count Von Henzel, a mad hunter who also likes to hunt humans.

Action Comics
#46 (March 1942): untitled

The Domino
The Domino terrorizes a carnival, in hopes of being able to buy it on the cheap and resell it at a profit. Not much more to the story than that.

Superman #15 (March-April 1942): "The Evolution King"

The Evolution King
The so-called "Evolution King" is really the master of the ability to age and rejuvenate humans. Infants found on doorsteps have the fingerprints of missing adults. A turncoat henchman dies of old age, but not before he alerts Superman to the scientist's plans. Superman causes the Evolution King to age himself to death.

World's Finest Comics #5 (Spring 1942): "The Case of the Flying Castle"

The Indian
Superman moves an old stone tower, originally built by Native Americans, to a private estate. Shortly afterwards, people are killed by "The Indian". Superman finds it's a plot by a white man to steal a treasure in the tower. (Its transportation by Superman makes it the "Flying Castle" of the title.)

Action Comics #47 (April 1942): "Powerstone"

Powerstone Luthor
Luthor finds a way for electricity to give him powers akin to Superman's. Unsatisfied with being as powerful as Superman, he then goes after the mystic Powerstone, which temporarily gives him greater powers than Superman's.

Superman had had a couple of two-part or continued stories in the past, but this episode is the first where a plot thread from a story in Action is picked up a few months later in a story in Superman.

Superman #16 (May-June 1942): "The World's Meanest Man!"

The World's Meanest Man
Gangster Charlie Grayson announces a large donation to a fresh-air fund for Metropolis orphans. Shortly afterwards, a masked man tries to steal that money. Who'd be mean enough to steal from orphans? What's this story called again?

Yes, The Meanest Man is The Domino with a different color scheme. That's what he looked like in the comics, but they are different characters.
Superman #16 (May-June 1942): untitled

Abou Sabut
Astrologer Abou Sabut is famous because of the success of his horoscopes. But he's really taking credit for an underling's work. When that underling tries to frame him as a major criminal, Sabut must face Superman.

Superman #16 (May-June 1942): "Case of the Runaway Skyscrapers"

Mister Sinister
While Mister Sinister seems like a silly name, and his threats in doggerel rhyme are equally silly, he has the very real power to transcend dimensions, transporting entire buildings into the dimensional world he is using as a hideout.

Action Comics #49 (June 1942): "The Puzzler"

The Puzzler
The man called The Puzzler uses parlor games and puzzles as a means of engaging in intellectual combat with, and outwitting, the police. Superman may have great physical power, but is he up to The Puzzler's mental challenges?  (Yes.)

In a second story (Superman #20), he fails to beat six card-game masters at their own games. Infuriated, he decides to murder them all in thematically appropriate ways: beating the poker champion with a poker, etc.

The Puzzler uses a bent nail, from the old interlocking nail puzzle, as a personal symbol. The comics show this as a simple nail bent 45 degrees, rather than the bent-into-a-loop version from the actual puzzle.  In a nod to this symbol, I've given him the real thing as a sort of sword.



World's Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942): "The Case of the Metal Man"

Metalo
A caped, bulletproof figure robs a train by lifting a railroad car and flying away with it. Has Superman turned bad? No, it's actually Metalo, an otherwise unnamed scientist who has found artificial means of duplicating Superman's powers. The story ends with the defeated Metalo in a volcano, swearing to return, but aside from a cameo in a roundup of Superman villains, he never did.

At least, not in the Golden Age. He finally reappeared in a nostalgic 1980's story.

Superman #17 (July-August 1942): "Man or Superman?"

The Talon
In a story which is really about Lois wondering if Clark could possibly be Superman, The Talon is thrown in to provide some color and action. He's another of those "white men disguised as Orientals" which have also appeared in Batman and Captain America stories (and probably others) of the time, inspired by The Shadow pulps.

Action Comics #51 (August 1942): "The Case of the Crimeless Crimes"

The Prankster
A goofy-looking man murders his way into the leadership of a mob, then uses its loot to donate money to banks. Is this some kind of joke? Why, yes, it is; The Prankster, as he calls himself, is setting up expectations so that, when he's admitted to the largest bank in Metropolis, he makes an unexpected withdrawal instead of a donation. Ha ha!

The Prankster was the second most-popular Superman foe (after Luthor) of the '40s and '50s. (See my Top Ten table below.)

Action Comics #52 (September 1942): "The Emperor of America"

The Emperor of America

Three helmeted men walk into the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and declare that the U.S. is now ruled by the Emperor of America.  And everyone agrees. While the Emperor and his men are looting the Treasury, Superman finds that the Daily Planet staff are oddly suggestable. Eventually, he realizes that the Emperor has a sort of mind-control ray, from which the helmets are a protection, and quickly brings the Emperor's reign to an end.

Superman #18 (September-October 1942): "The Man with the Cane"

The Man with the Cane
The Man with the Cane is the leader of a spy ring. His cane fires poison darts, and a plastic mask hides his true identity. There are a number of other cane-using red herrings in this story, but the real villain is, of course, someone without a cane at all.

Superman #18 (September-October 1942): "The Snake"

The Snake
Miners are dying of snakebite. A man in a large snake costume is seen. It's all a plot to gain control of the mine. Not much to speak of.

Action Comics #53 (October 1942): "The Man Who Put Out the Sun!"

The Night-Owl
The Night-Owl can cause complete blackouts in selected parts of the city -- not just power failures, but a complete absence of light, even in daylight. Using special goggles, his henchmen rob the area businesses. His poison-clawed pet owl acts as his enforcer. Lois traces the gang to a cave outside Metropolis, from which Superman must rescue her.

Action Comics #54 (November 1942): "The Pirate of Pleasure Island"

Captain Ironfist
Stanley Finchcomb learned his family's guilty secret: they're descended from a line of pirates. But this turns into a fascination, rather than a source of shame, until one day he hears the dreaded Captain Ironfist talking to him from a painting, encouraging him to turn to piracy, as well.

This is an interesting story, as Captain Ironfist is shown as some sort of ghost, but the telling makes it pretty clear this is all Finchcomb's imagination. It's a more nuanced psychological approach than one normally sees in 1940s comics, let alone one as focused on physical power as Superman.

Superman #19 (November-December 1942): "The Case of the Funny Paper Crimes"
Funnyface

Funnyface, a frustrated cartoonist, has learned to enlarge and bring to life characters from the comic strips. These characters (giants, Martian warlords, shape-changing thieves) rob Metropolis in a series of impossible crimes until Superman (with Lois's help) tracks down their controller.

Superman #20 (January-February 1943): "Destroyers from the Depths"

Herr Fange
When his U-boat is attacked by a deep-sea monster, Herr Fange accidentally discovers a way to control the monster and sends it, and others, to terrorize Allied ships on behalf of the Third Reich.
Superman #20 (January-February 1943): "Lair of the Leopard!"


Herman the Heroic
The Leopard
A small-town Superman fan, calling himself Herman the Heroic, wants to be a hero as well. While Superman is dealing with his well-meaning but misguided antics, he must also deal with a series of wild-animal crimes led by a rogue trainer called The Leopard.

Action Comics #58 (March 1943): "The Face of Adonis!"


Adonis
Doctor Menace
Trying to reverse the affects of aging and become a matinee idol again, James Trevor agrees to plastic surgery by Dr. Menace. But Menace gives him a hideous monster face and blackmails him into robbery in exchange for being made normal again. The face of the ironically named Adonis is never actually shown, thus this shadow-faced version.

Superman #21 (March-April 1943): "The Robber Knight"

Sir Gauntlet
Lacey's department store is suffering from a sudden wave of shoplifting. Police have no clue, until Lois Lane turns up wearing a fur coat known to have been stolen from the store. Turns out she bought it from a recently fired saleswoman, looking to raise needed money; she was given it, after she was fired, by a mysterious figure in armor: the robber knight, Sir Gauntlet. Gauntlet is revealed to be another sales clerk, a former partner in the store, who is striking back because he felt that he was owed more than a minor sales job.

Action Comics #59 (April 1943): "Cinderella -- a la Superman!"

Susie Tompkins
Clark Kent offers to entertain Lois's visiting niece, one "Susie", by telling her the story of Cinderella.  Both are bored, and Clark falls into a reverie on how Superman's presence would have made things different.

Some months later (Action #68), Lois's introduces her niece, "Susie Tompkins", to the Planet staff. Susie has an over-active imagination: she tells whoppers, like how she once caught a whale. To teach Lois to react more kindly to such flights of fancy, Superman sets out to make them come true. This leads to the accidental discovery of a criminal plot, and adventure ensues.

The two Susies are somewhat differently drawn: Action #59's seems older and has red-orange hair. It is the exaggerating "Susie Tompkins" who returns for future stories, so that's whom I've chosen to represent, but a "niece Susie" character first appeared here. Otherwise, take Action #59 as a false start and pretend it never happened.

Susie was not a Superman "foe", as such, but her appearances gave Superman challenges (as was also the case with Hocus and Pocus), so I'm including her among the true foes.

Superman #22 (May-June 1943): "Meet the Squiffles!"

Ixnayalpay
Adolf Hitler has made a deal with Ixnayalpay, king of the impish Squiffles, to harass the Allies. Fighter plane pilots of World War II often blamed problems with their planes on "gremlins"; the Squiffles are akin to them. When Superman cannot handle the magical Squiffles alone, he enlists the help of the actual gremlins to rout them.
Superman #22 (May-June 1943): "A Modern Robin Hood!"

Robin Hood
A modern Robin Hood follows his namesake in stealing from the rich and giving from the poor. Gangster "Beetlebrow" Macklin, despite being one of the victims, admires the way Robin Hood plans his jobs and so offers to take him on as a partner.  Robin Hood refuses... for now...

World's Finest Comics #10 (Summer 1943): "The Insect Terror!"

The Insect Master
The Insect Master is proving that the various hordes of insects he's bred make him a very real threat. Even Superman's powers are of little use, like using the proverbial cannon against a housefly.

Superman #23 (July-August 1943): "Fashions in Crime!"

The Dude
Lois buys an exclusive dress, then finds an exact duplicate elsewhere for less than one-tenth the price. This leads her to a ring of fashion pirates, led by the dapper Dude.

Action Comics #64 (September 1943): "The Terrible Toyman!"

The Toyman
The innocent looking shop of "The Toyman" holds a secret: some of the toys are concealed weapons and other gadgets. Having labored for years for "the amusement of their children", The Toyman now plans to use his toys "for the consternation of their fathers". Generally, like the Prankster, he operates on the principle of surprise. No one expects that innocent doll/car/little man to be dangerous. For a variation on a theme, he proved to be a surprisingly resilient character, surviving in various incarnations through today.

Superman #25 (November-December 1943): "King of the Comic Books"

Geezer
Lois and Clark meet Henry Jones, the cartoonist behind the wildly popular comic book character, "Geezer". But Jones has farmed all of the strip's chores out to hirelings, rather than giving his fans the benefit of his own talents. Superman portrays Geezer to teach Jones the error of his ways. He also gets to punch Nazis who are out to kill Jones for making fun of Der Fuehrer.

An odd comment on the success of Superman and its production, not by Siegel and Shuster alone, but by members of the "Shuster shop" -- who produced this story. This is believed to have been written by Jerry Siegel.

Superman #25 (November-December 1943): "Hi-Jack -- Jackal of Crime!"

Hi-Jack
Inspired by flashy villains like The Prankster and Puzzler, banker Jack Jackson decides to cover his debts by creating a costumed identity who steals from other crooks.

This is another idea which might have been better suited to a Batman story -- not surprising, since the author was Batman's Bill Finger. I like the idea of a "jackal of crime", someone who lets others do the hard work of stealing and then robs them.


Superman #26 (January-February 1944): "Comedians' Holiday!"

J. Wilbur Wolfingham
Confidence man J. Wilbur Wolfingham has a special knack for turning the money he's tricked out of his victims into fortunes. But when Superman gets involved, Wolfingham finds not only that he can't hold onto his profits, but that his former victims are actually benefitting.

DC must have found this a winning formula, since that's exactly the plot of all 12 stories in which Wolfingham appeared in the 1940s.
Superman #26 (January-February 1944): "The Quicksilver Kid!"

The Quicksilver Kid
A thunderstorm somewhere in Italy wakes the god Mercury from a centuries-long sleep. Some time later, as playboy Mr. Mercury, he visits Metropolis and gets involved with gangsters and Superman, demonstrating his great speed. The gangsters hail him as "the Quicksilver Kid", and, since he's a trickster god, he decides to stay and bedevil Superman.

Superman #29 (July-August 1944): "The Tycoon of Crime!"

The Tycoon of Crime
Retired industrial tycoon Mr. Blob indulges in all sorts of gadgetry to make his life easier. But he also is a Tycoon of Crime, using his wealth to steal what he cannot outright buy.

Action Comics #76 (September 1944): "A Voyage to Destiny!"

Black Patch
In order to inherit his father's wealth, Roger Carson must prove himself by re-enacting how his father earned that wealth, as a sailor. Young Carson runs afoul of his father's old enemy, Black Patch, and while Carson can handle himself in a fair fight, an unfair one calls for the aid of Superman.

Superman #30 (September-October 1944): "The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk!"

Mister Myxztplk
Something strange is happening in Metropolis. A little man, hit by a truck, is suddenly too heavy to lift into an ambulance. The same little man appears at an art gallery and asks a statue to accompany him, which it does. Finally he appears in person to Clark Kent: he's Mr. Myxztplk, a 5th-dimensional being whose powers appear to be magical to us, and who has come to Earth to match wits with Superman. If Superman can get him to say his name backwards, he'll return to the 5th Dimension for 90 days.

An interesting development of an idea has led to this moment. Early on, it was realized that, since Superman was physically powerful, giving him mental challenges (as with The Puzzler, for example) made a good story. From there, the challenger became more goofy (The Prankster), and the challenges more outrageous (The Toyman) and literally magical (The Squiffles and The Quicksilver Kid), until everything comes together in this one new character. Myxztplk was popular with the readers and joined the thin ranks of recurring Superman foes in the 1940s, surviving into the 1980s (and beyond, with some variations, including a tweaking of his name to "Myxzptlk").

Superman #32 (January-February 1945): "Crime on Skis!"

The Death-Bird
At the new Sky Valley ski resort, no one dares ski in the evening, because of the sight of a giant predatory bird. Then a ski jump contestant is mysteriously killed. Native legends of the "Death-Bird" are told, then the Death-Bird is seen, but Superman's hands pass through it. Lois and Clark investigate and find smugglers carrying furs out of the Canadian Rockies. The Death-Bird is a film to scare people away. The head smuggler also took this opportunity to kill his rival in the ski jump contest.

Action Comics #82 (March 1945): "The Water Sprite!"

The Water Sprite
The Water Sprite, a supposed spirit of the water, threatens the people of Annandale for impeding the free flow of water and attacks local dams and levees. He's really a crooked contractor who hopes to sell Annandale materials for a new dam, then have the Water Sprite destroy it before anyone can learn of the substandard materials he provides.

Action Comics #83 (April 1945): "Hocus and Pocus ... Magicians by Accident!"


Hocus
Pocus
A series of coincidences leads the dim-witted street magician Doc to believe he's suddenly acquired real magical powers -- and a nearby gangster is fooled, as well. In order to stop a criminal plot, Superman must make Doc's magical commands continue to come true. Doc and his assistant, Flannelhead, take the stage names Hocus and Pocus for their appearances.

Superman #34 (May-June 1945): "When the World Got Tired!"

Koda of Attar
A wave of lethargy strikes Metropolis. Superman finds Luthor is behind it, but he has incredible new allies: the former alien tyrants Koda and Goki of Attar. It is their ray, which they used to subjugate their own race on their home planet, which is causing the lethargy. But they fled Attar when it was about to explode (sounds familiar...), crashed on Earth, and were in suspended animation until Luthor found them. Once Superman defeats Luthor, they blow themselves up, no longer having a home planet to flee to.

Action Comics #86 (July 1945): "The Enchanted Mountain!"

The Wizard of Wokit
In an rural European village, the townspeople are terrorized by the return of a legendary menace long thought dead: The Wizard of Wokit. Superman appears to rescue them from the Wizard, and a battle of Kryptonian powers versus magic ensues. Superman finally beats the Wizard -- and we learn this whole story was Lois's interpretation of an old legend she found in a second-hand book.

World's Finest Comics #19 (Autumn 1945): "The Battle of the Zodiac!"

Aba Raja
When Lois threatens to expose Aba Raja as a fake, the astrologer forces her to sit in his time-chair, in which she is transported to the living constellations. But even here Superman comes to her rescue, and when she realizes she's been under hypnosis, the real Superman still arrives in time to capture Raja and his men.

Action Comics #100 (September 1946): "The Sleuth Who Never Failed!"

Insp. Erskine Hawkins
Having had a triumphant career in Scotland Yard, Inspector Erskine Hawkins retires to solve a pet mystery: Who is Superman? For this story, through manipulation of evidence, Superman "proves" that he cannot be Clark Kent, Hawkins's top suspect. The good Inspector returned in two more stories, once in which Superman creates a false identity to give Hawkins an answer to his mystery, and once in another mystery.

Superman #49 (November-December 1947): "Clark Kent's Most Dangerous Assignment!"

The Gargoyle
The Gargoyle is the loyal henchman of businessman-turned-criminal J. C. Quagmire. Quagmire gave him devices to amplify his weakened sight and hearing after an explosion damaged them, giving him his grotesque look. It may have been Clark Kent's most dangerous assignment, but he wasn't much of a challenge for Superman; at least he was visually interesting.

Superman #61 (November-December 1949): "Superman Returns to Krypton!"

Swami Riva
Swami Riva is actually confidence man Joe Rivers. Faced with capture, in desperation he "hexes" Superman -- who suddenly turns weak, allowing Riva to punch him (!) and escape. Riva now starts selling his services to the underworld. Superman pinpoints the source of his weakness as a mysterious stone in Riva's turban, a meteorite. He then tracks the course of the meteorite back through space and learns it is a part of a destroyed planet -- his own former home, Krypton. (Yes, Swami Riva has the first occurence of Kryptonite in the comics, although Kryptonite was actually created for the Superman radio show some years earlier.)

Out of curiosity, I compiled this list of the Top Ten Most Popular Superman Foes of the Golden Age (comics dated through 1959, for this purpose).

Luthor
60
The Prankster
25
Mr. Mxyztplk
20
J. Wilbur Wolfingham
12
The Toyman
11
Susie Tompkins
7
The Ultra-Humanite
6
Hocus and Pocus
4
Insp. Erskine Hawkins
3
The Puzzler
2

There were a couple of others who appeared twice (Elton Craig, Mala of Krypton and his brothers) but they appeared late in the 1950s and tend to be associated more with the Silver Age. I also didn't count Hitler, who frequently appeared during the war years as the person beind a number of one-shot foes. As mentioned above, there were also a few Golden Age foes who re-appeared in the '70s and '80s, but such appearances didn't count for this exercise.