If you’d never read a Superman story from the late 50s to early 60s, you’d probably think they dealt with Superman fighting crime or fending off some threat to humanity. But you’d be wrong.
Back in those days, Superman spent a lot of time protecting his secret identity, being pulled into romantic dramas, and investigating situations more perplexing than menacing (Why was the ghost of Lois Lane haunting him? Why did the entire planet forget he existed?)
When the writers ran out of these silly premises they came up with the “imaginary story” concept. These “what if” stories were a way to address situations that would dramatically alter Superman’s life, without having to deal with the narrative complications of their actually happening. What if Superman married Lois Lane? What if Lois Lane died? What if Lois had super powers and Clark Kent didn’t?
Occasionally Superman foiled a robbery or kept a meteor from flattening a city, but these episodes were secondary to a larger plot of, say, Lois trying to best Lana Lang for Superman’s attention. Examples of Superman primarily using his powers to stop criminals or save people from natural disasters were few and far between.
But you really can’t blame the writers. They’d invented a character who was practically indestructible and could physically do almost anything. Besides possessing godlike strength he could fly, shoot x-rays from his eyes, or even use his ridiculous “super ventriloquism” to throw his voice. It was pretty hard to come up with anything that might be any kind of a challenge to him—except perhaps for navigating human relationships.
Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Tomorrow: Zatanna the magician!