He’s the Holy Grail of comic book superheroes. He’s the grandfather, if not the king of all superheroes. Superman can do everything. Superman created by Cleveland cartoonists writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in 1933, debuting in 1938, Superman’s superpowers include Super Speed, Super Strength, Super Vision, Super Hearing, Super Breath, invulnerability, The Gift of Flight and more — although deadly Kryptonite blocks his powers since he’s from the planet Krypton, but its our yellow sun, however, that magnifies his splendid abilities and fabulous powers.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman, is without a doubt, one of the most popular and successful fictional characters of all time. People around the world recognize the iconic deeds, know about his superpowers and weakness to deadly Kryptonite, his X-ray eyes and have seen or read about his now-familiar origin story. He is the prototypical superhero and has been featured in a nearly countless number of comic books, films, games and on any kind of merchandise you can possibly imagine from pajamas, action figures to jigsaw puzzles and so on and so forth.
Everybody knows Superman’s origin story, his powers, his primary colored costume and even his cast of characters, which includes Clark Kent’s true love Lois Lane, his pal Jimmy Olsen, his boisterous boss Perry White and his main antagonist, Lex Luthor. A condensed form of the origin tale was there from the very beginning in Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1, published April 18, 1938, according to Library of Congress data, but it’s far less known that this origin hasn’t remained the same over the decades and that many other now-famous elements of the Superman mythos were added across years of time and several mediums. The core rocket ride to Earth by the baby who would become the mighty Superman was there at the beginning, but many other now-famous elements were added in later times.
When Action Comics #1 introduced Superman to the general populace of the planet Earth, it marked the beginning of the superhero genre. The issue has become the most valuable comic book ever. Action Comics #1 featured Superman’s very first appearance, it is considered the work that marks the beginning of the superhero genre and the issue has become one of the world’s most coveted pop culture collector’s items.
In 2014, one of the first copies containing the debut adventure of original superhero Superman, which cost 10 cents in 1938, sold for $3.2 million through an auction on eBay. The mint-condition copy fetched the highest price ever for a comic book. It is estimated that only 150 to 200 original copies of the comic book still exist. It’s quite obvious that the thrilling cover certainly contributed to the issue’s success.
The character of Superman was initially created in 1933 by Jerry Siegel in a short story illustrated by his Glenville High School Class of 1934 friend Joe Shuster. They self-published the work was in a magazine they called, “Science Fiction: The Advanced Guard of Future Civilization”, filled with imaginative, futuristic tales. In the third issue, Jerry’s short story, “The Reign of The Superman”, with drawings by Joe Shuster, told of a homeless derelict, transformed by an evil scientist, into a villainous, telepathic madman. It was the first of several versions of Superman created by the team who, by the second version, had changed him into the superhero we know and adore today.
Jerry and Joe’s first pitch to get the Superman idea transformed into a comic strip was unsuccessful. A few years later, National Allied Publications (which later became known as DC Comics) was looking for a lead feature for the their upcoming adventure series, Action Comics, but a looming deadline meant there wasn’t time to create something new.
They found the rejected Superman comic strips and decided to publish them. DC Comics publisher and noted putz Jack Liebowitz, who died in 2000 at the age of 100, once said that the decision to pick-up the Superman figure was pure accident. Maybe.
Be that as it may, the successful businessman selected the cover image after witnessing the reaction from editor Vin Sullivan, which depicts the Super strong figure with a red cape lifting a car over his head. Shockingly enough, Liebowitz was also behind the idea to turn Superman comics into episodic television, a bold proposition that would kick-off filming in 1951 with the memorable George Reeves in the lead role.
The first issue of Action Comics #1 had a print run of over 200,000 copies and quickly sold out. Sales of the series had reached a million just a month later. Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were paid $10 per page — a total of $130 for their work on the issue, a decision that both men would later regret because of their lack of hiring an attorney that had specific knowledge ofcopyright laws.
The Man of Steel’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 was the one that introduced the world to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman and the cover bears the famous drawing of Superman smashing a car against an enormous rock.
First published on April 18th, 1938 and written and drawn by Cleveland’s own Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the comic introduced the mighty Superman as The Undisputed Champion of The Oppressed, the physical marvel extraordinary who has sworn to devote his entire living existence to helping those in need.
The last survivor of a race of Superpeople on the doomed and glorious crystal planet of Krypton, Superman could leap over tall buildings in a single bound, he’s impervious to bullets, could change the course of mighty rivers, bend soild steel with his bare hands like paper, possessed The Gift of Flight, could see through walls, hurdle a 50-story building with ease, race a high-powered bullet to its destination, lift tremendous weights, run faster than an express train and not even a bursting shell could penetrate his remarkably tough skin.
Yes, this Superman was not as powerful as he would later become, but what he lacked in Super Strength, he most certainly made up for in attitude.
Superman set so much of the template for the characters to come: The secret identity, the brightly-colored costume, the abnormal abilities and the eye-opening, jaw-dropping superpowers.
There have been countless clever variations on the theme to the point where it’s rather difficult to pinpoint exactly what defines a “superhero” and much fun can be had debating how many characters older than Superman should qualify. Could Robinson Crusoe be a superhero? Was Tarzan a superhero? Winnie The Pooh? Charlie Marlow? Peter Pan? What about Toad from Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind In The Willows”? The Lone Ranger? How about Sherlock Holmes? What about Clarissa Dalloway? Professor Abraham Van Helsing? Rhett Butler? Or Beowulf? Flash Gordon? King Arthur? Sheena, Queen of The Jungle? Maybe, even Sam Spade? Perhaps.
I think the defining characteristic of the superhero might be the extraordinary seeking to be ordinary. Both the bold costumes and secret identities are part of this fascinating formula.
Superheroes get their powers in many unique ways: Superman is an alien who was born with his, as were The X-Men. Characters like Spider-Man or The Hulk are ordinary people who received their powers by accident. Iron Man and Batman deliberately sought theirs out, at great effort and expense.
However, those remarkable powers were obtained, what sets the superhero apart from the often superhuman or semi-divine heroes of myth and legend is that the superhero wants to be a part of the ordinary world and wants to use his or her amazing powers for the benefit of ordinary people. They don’t rule as lords. They are not tragic figures undone by lust, pessimism or hubris. Well, not permanently, anyway. Not until latter-day authors got hold of them and began writing superhero stories that more explicitly resemble the myth cycles of the classical era.
Superman set the tone for all that. He has many identities: The Man of Steel, The Last Son of Krypton, The Undisputed Champion of The Oppressed, The Man of Tomorrow, The Big Blue Boy Scout, a journalist, a crime-fighter, but ask him who he is and if he’s inclined to answer with complete candor. He’ll tell you he’s Clark Kent, Jonathan and Martha’s boy. Believe me, even his Kryptonian parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, would get a kick out of that one.
Of course, he will always honor where he originally came from and be mindful of the great role destiny has thrust him into, but he knows where he lives. He knows where home is. How perfectly American.
Superman wants to live in the ordinary America, too. He puts a lot of effort into ensuring Clark Kent is seen as a normal man. It might be one of his greatest challenges.
Can you imagine the self-discipline necessary to live comfortably within a world where every object is made out of tissue paper, life moves at a snail’s pace, everyone else is stuck on the ground and you can hear everything?
Not only does Superman make the effort – he wants to live that way.
Despite all that we ask of him, he never loses his temper. Nope. Not at all. He sincerely loves the people around him. In fact, he reveres them, because of the splendid things they can accomplish despite being so comparatively frail. We astonish Superman. That’s one of the signature differences between superheroes and the mythological demigods that preceded them as literary inventions.
Of course, how did all this begin?
Well, the answer for me is very simple.
It began when two very shy and bright young men from Glenville High School’s Class of 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio were tired of hearing stories. Stories of death. Stories of pain, of misery, of murder, of terror, of tyranny, of inhumanity. The dastardly villains of Jerry and Joe’s day were not fictional concepts, but creatures of flesh and blood standing behind podiums, like a pastor’s pulpit, preaching the good word of hate. They were the ministers of death that prayed for evil. The worst of men and women choose to cradled the Earth within the palms of their very hands and called it their own.
I’m not like some people. I choose to celebrate Jerry and Joe’s life, their careers and their profound impact, not only within the medium of comics, but also upon great fiction.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is the hero of heroes, the incorruptible ideal by which we, as the human race, should strive to be. He’s the icon that other superheroes look up to. He’s long since permeated the stories he stars in and has become an instantly recognizable symbol across the globe regardless of race, creed, gender, age, disability or sexuality. He’s a reminder that no matter how dire things look, no matter how dark and pessimistic things will get — and they will — there’s always something greater to strive towards. That there’s hope for tomorrow and that we’re all strong enough to make it happen.
I admit without shame that one of my earliest role models was Superman. Though, I’m not Kryptonian, don’t exhibit Super Strength or The Gift of Flight and am not a fictional character (I think?!), my personal value system has been directly influenced by The Man of Steel. Not because he has the power to leap tall buildings or alter the course of mighty rivers or bend steel with his bare hands, but because of his incorruptible moral compass that exists beneath Kal-El’s impenetrable skin.
“I never lie”, is what the magnanimous Christopher Reeve as Superman told Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) in Richard Donner’s Oscar®-winning, epic masterpiece, “Superman: The Movie” and he meant it.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is the unwavering light in a world of terrifying darkness. He’s a man who can’t be bought, doesn’t cheat and never betrays his values to win. While I can’t pretend to match that high standard of excellence, I’d like to think that I’m a little bit better of a person, even without X-ray Vision, thanks to the mighty Superman.
Who is Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman?
Shockingly enough, Superman, the brand, has traditionally stood for Justice, not revenge. Force, not violence. He is the most powerful being on Earth, but feels a deep responsibility to stand up for the powerless. He is strong, but never a bully. He chooses to follow the laws when it would be simple to impose his own. Superman would rather die himself, than kill another knowingly. Sorry, Hack Snyder. It’s true. Deal with it.
In a word, his brand is “paragon”.
This was a deliberate choice by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who saw Superman as a beacon of Hope during The Great Depression and the rise of foreign dictators. It’s tempting to say his wholesome quality was the product of a simpler time, but that’s not quite accurate. During the 1930’s, popular culture was dominated by bloodthirsty vigilantes, like The Shadow, who had no problem whatsoever dusting off the bad guys with his .45 automatics or gangster anti-heroes who starred in movies, like James Cagney in “The Public Enemy” (1930) or Paul Muni in the original “Scarface” (1932).
Instead of taking that dark and dismal road, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster made Superman an incorruptible and bulletproof champion of the weak and the disabled…and it paid off beautifully.
By 1938, after the long economic plague of The Great Depression, the superhero figure was as inevitable, as Kal-El was invincible. In 1938, famed imbecile Hitler seized control of the German army and invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia (today Czechia) with ease and Poland to follow. In Italy, Mussolini enacted anti-Semitic legislation and
Spain fell to the monstrous fascists.
Events conspired to remind the ordinary citizen that they were was small, powerless and threatened by vast, mysterious, evil forces. It was only natural, even then, that they should dream of an equally powerful and mysterious avenger.
When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster would listen to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats on the radio, they were motivated to action.
What could they do?!
One could write. One could draw.
Their forces combined: Superman. It’s that simple.
In fact, it’s the simplicity of the character of Superman that has been his greatest success.
Superman, who had been knocking about without a publisher since 1933 in the minds of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, certainly filled the bill. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected, people actually called him a “superman”. Yup, the birth of The Man of Steel was assured.
You see, around 1938, evil didn’t have to be fancy or exotic. It was so close, you could smell its atrocious halitosis. The desire to see a superhuman champion of humanity wasn’t silly, campy or ironic, but highly regarded as something of a necessity in a terrifying world. The exploded planet that gave us Superman wasn’t really Krypton, but our own.
In 1938, Superman was a social crusading President Franklin Delano Roosevelt New Dealer, fighting for the weak, the downtrodden and the oppressed. In that famous first issue of Action Comics #1, he saved a woman from wrongful execution, rescued Lois Lane when she was kidnapped by hideous gangsters, took on a corrupt bureaucrat and roughed up a man who beat his own wife. Superman’s first foes were also easily recognizable to the comics readers of 1938. They weren’t all mad scientists, criminal masterminds, thugs and bank robbers, but the greedy owners of unsafe mines, corrupt Washington politicians, homicidal drunk drivers and munitions manufacturers who started wars for their own profit. Believe it or not, they all appeared on the front cover of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and every newspaper throughout the country. It was visible, but not as colorful as Kal-El’s costume. At the same time, Clark Kent was a complete loser, especially with Lois. Readers loved this humorous duality. Lois was in LOVE with Superman, but thought Clark was a spineless coward. The sexual tension ensured that everyone kept on reading.
Let’s not forget also that Superman was extremely patriotic at a time when America desperately needed a hero. As World War II began, he offered comfort to scared, young men going to fight. Superman stayed out of the fighting, because the publishers at National Allied Publications (today DC Comics), could see the obvious problem: If he devastated the Nazis and the Japanese, as everyone knew he could, he would be in advance of history.
Hard to believe, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were tired of hearing stories, so they decided to tell one. One last time, they morphed a concept they had been evolving for years and Superman met the world on April 18, 1938.
Over the last 80 years, Superman has suffered a myriad of alterations to costume, powers, cast, even origins. His essence remains the same.
In my opinion, Grant Morrison penned one of the best Superman stories, “All-Star Superman”. In an interview on the inspiration for the series, he dismisses superhero deconstruction in a single statement.
Superman has become a cultural icon recognized internationally as a paradigm of lawful good morality. However, an argument can be made that Superman is misread. That he is, as a character, representative of the nature of humanity.
A native of another planet, Superman is a literal alien who must save humans because we are naturally an evil race unable to save ourselves. Thus, Superman’s arch enemy Lex Luthor is a metaphor of how the best and brightest human is in fact an egotistical maniac, whereas the best person on the planet is not actually human at all. Some would say that argument is valid, but cynical and it misses the point.
Superman’s lack of membership in the human race is merely a matter of biology. Everything Superman grows up to be is a result not of where he came from, but who raised him. The Kents, Martha and Jonathan, are farmers who find themselves in a peculiar situation as they discover a child of the stars. They wean little Clark Kent on values considered the pinnacle of humanity. Alien by nature, human by nurture. Their adoptive son came from The Xeno Galaxy. A superhero for everyone.
A god walks the streets of Metropolis in the guise of a mild-mannered journalist from the wheat fields of Smallville. He passes citizens who have developed the habit of glancing up at the sky every now and then, attempting to glimpse a myth. Someone with great power who uses it for good, like Ditko and Lee’s Spider-Man. Someone who didn’t need to watch his parents gunned down in the street, who never indirectly caused the death of a loved one so he could learn that responsibility is shackled to power, like Kane and Finger’s Batman. Someone who simply wants to do the right thing and will die defending for complete strangers, like Siegel and Shuster’s Superman.
This is why the world needs Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman.
Especially, now more than ever.
We are a disbelieving race, one who normally only looks up to curse the rain. Hope is a four-letter word often uttered with sarcasm or derision. Superman is perhaps the only literary creation who acts as our paragon. Someone to look up to, someone to strive to model. Not because he is a boy scout, but because he embodies everything we could be. We might be. We should be.
He is someone who makes us tell stories. Stories of life. Stories of love, of hope, of kindness, of charity, of courage. Where heroes are NOT merely concepts, but saviors who fly across the world, helping others in need because, we as a species, have a great capacity for good. Stories that make us stop and turn our faces to look…look up in the sky.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman was so popular, he became the first character to get his very own comic book. Superman #1 hit newsstands in the steaming hot summer of 1939. The Man of Steel has held up pretty well, you could say. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s more to Superman than meets his X-ray eyes.
He’s more layered than what many individuals choose to believe or think. Superman is the alien from another planet, the midwestern farm boy and the bumbling alter ego, Clark Kent. When you take a moment to think about it, each must be kept in mind when writing and drawing the character of Kal-El because each enriches Superman’s humanity.
The fact that those aspects of Superman all came together in one figure was, for the most part, a gorgeous accident. You see, the character is a patchwork sewn together beautifully. There’s a little bit of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan in him, the circus strongman, Douglas Fairbanks’s Zorro, Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, the brave athlete of Jesse Owens, the wisdom of Albert Einstein and more. The Man of Tomorrow is drawing on all of these different things that were going around in the late 1930’s pop culture and it stuck around.
Don’t forget that the term “superman” was in the air: It was used to describe President Roosevelt.
There are also deeper currents at work here. Sure, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were the sons of Orthodox Jews and many have questioned their religious background as if it were inspiration for Kal-El’s being.
The imagery that infuses from Superman’s famous origin tale and the character himself, whether it’s bits of Moses, Jesus Christ or even the golem – a clay figure brought to life who was used as a defender of the Jewish faith, were all interesting influences, even though, Jerry and Joe never used religious influences in their creation of Superman, many have claimed otherwise.
Indeed, so much of Superman’s story echoes that of classic archetypes that it has kept a generation of Joseph Campbell-referencing scholars unbelievably busy.
The Man of Steel is an immigrant, a refugee, an orphan, an intergalactic Boy Scout in tights, blessed with fantastic intelligence and wonderful athleticism. He is troubled by shyness and insecurity and he is a divided individual – both man and Superman, timid reporter Clark Kent and fearless hero Kal-El.
It’s literally no wonder Superman caught on with Depression-era readers and his dynamic popularity has continued through the ages and the decades, ever since his first appearance in 1938.
Through it all, no matter what unusual costume changes or personality alterations he underwent, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman never stopped being the paragon of moral and physical strength his creators had endowed him to be from the very beginning in Cleveland, Ohio.
Superman has survived so much, including from vile supervillains, misunderstood publishers, the spreading of evil, hate and negativity from the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis and noted scumbag Adolf Hitler himself to idiotic physicians, like Dr. Fredric Wertham, silly directors and producers in Hollywood and so much, much more.
With all due respect, Superman is the first fictional character to ever openly share with others the importance of The Power of Tolerance and Diversity, especially at a time when segregation was considered the norm.
After all, Tolerance and Diversity are always worth fighting for. If anyone disagrees with that, they are un-American.
Superman, Tolerance and Diversity go together like baseball, hot dogs and America.
You never saw or heard Betty Boop, The Shadow, Felix The Cat, The Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, The Green Hornet or Mickey Mouse and all the other great comic strip or cartoon characters that were around when Superman first debuted in the 1930’s, actually come out and speak about The Power of Tolerance and Diversity.
When it comes to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman, Tolerance and Diversity are his game. If you don’t like it, take your act somewhere else.
Comics and superheroes are currently on the upswing in the media, even while the actual print magazines struggle to exist. These four-color heroes and their morality have invaded every aspect of our lives and sometimes we even benefit from them.
You see, comics are words on pictures and the stories that are shared within those tales can inspire individuals to help others in need, so that they can make a profound difference in the lives of others.
The lights of creativity soared through Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster when they were giving the world Superman. Their genius chose to defy the logic of the times in The Great Depression and gave Hope to many people who so desperately needed it and that same inspiration continues today.
If the medium of comics can do that with superheroes, just choose to think of what else we can imagine, create and accomplish when we put our minds to it, just like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster have done by creating Superman.
Once regarded as one of the lower forms of mass entertainment, comic books are today widely considered to be potentially capable of complex and profound expression as both literary and visual art forms.
Whereas noted moron Dr. Fredric Wertham’s 1956 diatribe, “Seduction of The Innocent”, warned parents against the mind-warping influence of comics on children, many commentators now study the modern myth of the hero as found in Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman, while others are looking to Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics for messages promoting global capitalism.
Taking into great account the powerful psychological impact of gestures, visual styles and montage effects possible with sequential art, critical inquiries also address the visual aspect of comic books, especially the adaptation of Hollywood film techniques to the panel-by-panel language of comics.
While most comic books are composed of formulaic stories drawn from various genres, including superhero, science fiction, western, war, horror, romance and humor, some creators have exploited this mass-medium to bring socially-relevant tales to their audience.
For example, the comics Two-Fisted Tales, Shock SuspenStories and Weird Science, all produced during the 1950’s by EC Publications, featured stories that dealt seriously with issues of racism, bigotry and war. Another EC comic, Mad Magazine, ushered in a new era of satire through parodies of popular American culture. As an example of the social-consciousness of the early 1970’s, writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams broached the subject of teenage drug abuse through a Green Lantern/Green Arrow storyline.
In step with the sexual and political revolutions of the 1960’s, underground artists—many inspired by the EC comics of their childhood—used the comic book as a forum for frank depictions of changing lifestyles. R. Crumb, creator of Fritz The Cat and one of the founders of the psychedelic-inspired Zap, was a prolific contributor to undergrounds and continues to draw autobiographical stories that often render, in clinical detail, his unconventional sexual obsessions.
During the 1980’s, Raw Magazine editor Art Spiegelman aspired to bring comics to a new level of sophistication by publishing avante-garde works by European and art-school-trained cartoonists. Spiegelman’s own “Maus”, which was inspired by his father’s Holocaust experiences, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and proved to critics that comics could be a viable medium for serious literature, but when it comes to profound literature, why comic books, why superheroes and most importantly, why Superman? WHY?!
One must consider the fact that superheroes don’t just exist in our stories or movies and novels. They are infiltrating our lives in many ways. When I remember my superhero or people who most inspire me, I remember a simply for their acts of honesty, courage or kindness. Most of ours interested in superheroes from an early age and I do declare proudly that I am one of them.
The superhero costume, despite if it’s tights or armor, displays powerful greatness and imagination to the viewer. In theory, the costume forms part of the strategy of concealment, but in fact, the superhero’s costume often functions as a kind of magic screen onto which the repressed narrative may be projected. No matter how well he or she hides its traces, the secret narrative of transformation of rebirth, is given up by the costume. Sometimes, this secret is betrayed through the allusion of style or form: Batman’s trusty sidekick Robin’s gaudy uniform hints at the murder of his circus-acrobat parents while mimicking Robin Hood. Iron Man’s at the flawed heart that requires a life-support device, which is the primary function of his armor. Yet, more often, the secret narrative is hinted at with a kind of enigmatic, dreamlike obviousness right on the hero’s chest or belt buckle in the form of the requisite insignia.
There’s a reason why, even after all these years, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is still The Undisputed Champion of The Oppressed and the legendary leader of the comics industry.
Superman’s originality has remained consistent and as new generations enjoy, examine and re-examine why The Man of Tomorrow chooses to remain so unbelievably popular. They’ll understand why this particular superhero, who can fly in the sky, shatter through brick walls, he’s bullet resistant, can even burn metal by just looking towards it and he remains a certified cultural American icon in the process.
It has been said that art imitates life. For Superman, he’s been imitated by some of the finest actors that have ever sounded like him and even put on his cape.
From Ray Middleton, Danny Dark, Mark Harmon, Henry Cavill, Nolan North, Adam Baldwin, Michael Fitzmaurice, Brandon Routh, Tom Welling, George Reeves, Dean Cain, Kirk Alyn, Tyler Hoechlin, Christopher Reeve, Tim Daly, Bud Collyer, George Newbern, James Denton, Yuri Lowenthal, Mark Valley, Christopher McDonald, Bob Holiday, David Wilson, Michael Daingerfield, David Kaye, Stuart Milligan, Matthew Bomer, Leonard Teale, Beau Weaver and the list will continue through the ages.
Yet, out of all of them, the magnanimous Christopher Reeve accomplish more than just playing Superman and Clark Kent because it was Reeve himself that made the world believe, not only Superman was real, but believe that a man can fly. For Reeve specifically, he most certainly proved that Superman was real, on the screen and off.
It’s safe to say for those actors and their choice to portray The Man of Steel, on-screen or stage, has been beneficial to their careers. But what if someone wants to imitate, not just the actor who plays Superman, but the deeds of The Man of Tomorrow?
When someone sees Superman help others, what can that accomplish deep within the realm of someone’s brain?
Can superheroes inspire real-world change?
With Superman, that’s as crystal clear as the various crystals in The Man of Steel’s Fortress of Solitude at The North Pole because activism has long been part of comics and when you have a social justice superhero like Superman — his behavior can motivate others to hunger to help others in need.
Since 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman has appeared in comic books, newspaper comic strips, on radio, various forms of animation, movie serials, different television programs, a hit Broadway Musical, an Oscar®-winning motion picture directed by Richard Donner, truckloads of merchandise, video games and social media, helping people who believe in human rights, dignity and opportunity for all to move hearts, minds and policy. He’s drawn crowds and made an impact at comic book conventions, movie theaters and beyond.
When he arrived on the scene, many thought Kal-El was the world’s first social justice superhero, being that Superman was most certainly a social crusading President Franklin Delano Roosevelt New Dealer.
But he wasn’t. Like Dick Grayson and even Wally West, social justice values and activism have been fighting alongside superheroes and their stories for decades, but if anything, it all started with Cleveland’s own, Superman.
Yes, Superman, that strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortals, the Kryptonian hero, appearing in Action Comics #1, didn’t start his career battling the sadistic Lex Luthor, the heartless Brainiac or the evil General Dru-Zod. Individuals must realize that Superman started out racing against the clock to exonerate Evelyn Curry, an innocent woman scheduled for execution by the state, rescuing another woman from an abusive spouse, roughhousing gangsters that were ready to harm Lois Lane and nabbing a corrupt lobbyist trying to deceive the American public.
It’s essential to remember that The Man of Steel’s young creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were the children of Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Canada and from Cleveland, Ohio, the sons of those same immigrants, Jerry and Joe, they gave us Superman.
It’s safe to say that Jerry and Joe saw the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe and understood that the rising mindset of supremacy, exploitation and demagoguery was among the greatest threats to our own nation. In Superman’s debut, they portrayed his smashing of oppression and challenging government misconduct as the epitome of heroism.
It’s self-evident that the social justice values of The Man of Tomorrow in our comic books, movies, cartoons, television programs and other various forms of entertainment, can inspire many to see how we got from then to now.
To be sure, those values have been the radioactive spider for superheroes over the decades, as Captain America punched Nazis, Wonder Woman battled male oppression and Nazism and the mutant X-Men struggled with prejudice that the mirrored racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and closed mindedness within in our own society. Even Spider-Man’s motto, “with great power comes great responsibility”, is a key principle underlying human rights.
Still, Superman did it first.
From beating up mine owners who were mistreating their employees in the August 1938 issue of Action Comics, capturing Hitler and Stalin and taking them to The League of Nations (today the United Nations) in Look Magazine in February 1940, battling the lethal capers of The KKK on radio in June 1946 to Superman taking on intolerance and discrimination in the pages of the comics that are the usual surroundings for The Man of Steel and his SUPER adventures.
These themes are not new to the superhero genre, but they have become far more prominent in recent years.
As creators — including film directors and comics writers and artists — superheroes and their plots have become more diverse, storylines about racial profiling, sexual harassment, queer equality and the humanity of immigrants have become more common in comic book, film and TV superhero tales.
Consider: Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” on Netflix took on sexual violence. Complex blockbuster films like “Captain Marvel” (2019) and the Academy Award-winning “Black Panther” (2018) definitely increased representation while reminding viewers that (spoiler alert) even the best of us are capable of unwittingly perpetuating oppression that must be righted. On the indie front, La Borinqueña, the Puerto Rican superhero created by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, defended Puerto Rico from environmental threats, even teaming with notable DC Comics superheroes in a graphic novel to raise money for disaster relief and in Action Comics #987, Superman — himself an undocumented Kryptonian immigrant — stepped up to defend human immigrants from an armed white assailant angry over the loss of his factory job.
That spirit of inclusive, social justice storytelling is more important now than at any time since the first superheroes fought the rise of fascism in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Hate crimes based on Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and transphobia are on the rise in the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia white supremacist riot and President Donald Trump’s failure to condemn it in August 2017. Demonizing immigrants and refugees and the Black and Brown countries from which many of them hail, has become increasingly prevalent in media and politics. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have brought home and challenged the pervasive nature of sexual harassment, discrimination, wanton violence and destruction in our society and the fundamental tenets of due process, democratic participation and equal justice under law are under extreme pressure from threats foreign and domestic.
As the dominant cinematic and cultural force of the moment, superheroes have a critical role to play in elevating our shared values of human rights, universal dignity and opportunity for all, even as they entertain millions and rake in billions of dollars around the world. Indeed, the power to move hearts, minds and policy flows from good storytelling and broad reach as well as social justice narrative.
Research shows that popular culture is capable of fostering empathy, inclusion and greater understanding, but it’s got to be entertaining to have that effect.
That’s why I’m so proud of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman.
The way I see it, Superman filled a desperately needed gap in the 1930’s, since there were few diverse representations of superpowered characters in comics and eventually, the same can be said for superheroes in animation, television and film.
In creating Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster wanted to give voice to the diversity and the strength embodied in men, women and people of color and tell a more positive story to audiences.
Fortunately, these positive stories have been adopted by more and more creatives and it’s so comforting to know that Superman is in such good company with writers, artists and filmmakers that are increasingly choosing to elevate truth and social justice as their contribution to The American Way.
We need them more than ever.
Throughout the 8 decades in which he has graced our comic books, newspapers, radio stations, the Broadway stage, television and film screens and truckloads of advertising and merchandising, Superman’s appearance has remained constant, thereby imbuing his distinctive identity with potent brand recognition: In addition to his ubiquitous blue costume and red cape, the resounding power of the stylized red and yellow \S/ insignia on his chest has assumed a symbolic gravitas, becoming a fully integrated part of our collective social consciousness as an inspiring icon of the triumph of good over evil. The superhero from Cleveland, Ohio is more than an intergalactic Boy Scout in tights and he’s always meant to be that way.
Yeah, I know how you feel.
You may cue John Williams now.
Of course, with their dreams, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster changed fiction.
They invented the world’s first and greatest superhero with their dreams. They inspired an industry that still thrives today because of their dreams. They believed in themselves and each other because of their dreams.
Together, Jerry and Joe created a character that gave individuals hours upon hours of entertainment, excitement, happiness, pleasure, enjoyment for generations upon generations of Superman fans around the world someone to believe in and Jerry and Joe believed in Hope, Strength, Courage and Justice that was wrapped up in a red cape.
Jerry and Joe firmly believed that the character they created would be giving people throughout the world someone to believe in, especially in places within our world where Hope, Strength, Courage and Justice might be absent.
When those two bespectacled, shy kids from Glenville High School’s Class of 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio dared to dream bigger than any cartoonist before them, little did they know that they had created not only the most enduring, fascinating, influential and beloved fictional character of pop culture, a cultural and an American icon, but also a brand-new genre that would spawn countless thousands of stories and characters and become a modern mythology for our time.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s contribution is not only to comic books, not only to fiction, but to our culture, literally go far beyond Superman and his epic exploits and further adventures, but it all started with The Man of Steel.
Though many of the conventions of Superman’s mythos that we now take for granted, if not for Jerry and Joe themselves, it all sprang forth from that core ideal crafted by the work and the genius of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster of a man with faculties, powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortals, who used those gifts as a hero of the people, a protector and as an undisputed champion of Peace, Honor, Honesty, Tolerance, Diversity, Freedom, Fairplay, Ethics, Hope, Liberty, Strength, Courage, Compassion, Understanding, Patriotism, Truth, Justice and The American Way for one and for all and to those who could not defend themselves.
You see, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is the all-American immigrant from the stars that showed us all how to hero and believe that a man can fly.
The answer is simple:
Because no comic book character or superhero published by DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, IDW or by any other company would have ever had a chance in the first place if it wasn’t for the profound thinking of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and their invention of Superman.
With Superman, there’s a comics industry, cosplay, merchandising, superhero cartoons, motion pictures, television shows, video games and more.
So much more.
When you take a moment to think about it, Superman ignited the careers and employed Stan Lee, Jack “The King” Kirby, Joe Simon, Steve Ditko, Jim Shooter, Jim Steranko, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, Will Eisner, Dr. William Moulton Marston, Neal Adams, Todd McFarlane and countless many, many more whose generous and legendary contribution to this field goes far above and beyond my words here.
81 years later, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is as poignant and as important as he ever was and people throughout the entire world still look up to him as the stunning symbol of strength and unity for which we all strive.
More than any other fictional hero or character, Superman has always reflected the best of our society and has endured and grown larger than those two young men from Glenville High School’s Class of 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio could have ever imagined.
That’s the magnitude and the power of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman and the true concept of believing in your dreams.
If Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster can make their dreams into reality on the streets of Cleveland Ohio, what can you do?
Now, go do it.
You can. You are. You will.
Not too shabby for two kids from Cleveland, Ohio.
Not too shabby at all.
Again, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is the all-American immigrant from the stars that showed us all how to hero and believe that a man can fly.
Peace, Honor, Honesty, Tolerance, Diversity, Freedom, Fairplay, Ethics, Hope, Liberty, Strength, Courage, Compassion, Understanding, Patriotism, Truth, Justice and The American Way for one and for all.