The History of a Legend: Superman
"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!" (Bridwell 11) These celebrated words have echoed for over six decades in American cultural and social society. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster, Superman was intended to fight greed, crime, injustice and abuse. The impact created by Superman, or better known to the average man as Clark Kent, extends far beyond the comic book itself. Although many have grown to love him for the courage he represents, the personification Superman employs deviates from what is truly natural or innately human by challenging undisturbed and irrefutable conventions.
Superman made its first appearance on an American audience in the year 1938 in Action Comics during the bitter and unforgiving days of the Depression (Barrier et al 11). Initially, the comic book hero who came from the planet Krypton was intended to fight the evils that plagued America but became more than that; he developed into an American icon. But, why?
At the end of the late thirties and start of the early forties, "Clark decided he must turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind and so was createdSuperman" (Bridwell 25). He began to mold that of an exemplary citizen who, under his disguise, was a reporter for the Daily Planet. When the United States entered World War II in 1939, one year after Superman first appeared, the creators began to take Superman in another direction. Franklin D. Roosevelt well understood the power of modern media to influence public opinion. He began to use Superman as propaganda in support of the war effort (Wright 34). Covers of comic books began to reveal the American pride of its favorite superhero. Superman was pictured with an eagle resting on his arm and an American flag swaying in the background hoping to demonstrate to all that America would not falter. During the Depression and the War, the aim of the Siegel and Shuster was to create as close a character to the American. At the start of the early 1960's, his persona would quickly change.
The evolution of Superman's powers began to show drastic improvements in the 1960's. The western frontier hero now turned into a more masculine, hubris- driven super being who was able to fly into outer space and "loop around one of the Martian moons" (Bridwell 218). The man, who, in the forties, was merely just trying to make an impression on society, was now using x-ray vision, super hearing, and extreme strength to fight crime. With the outpour of new heroes like Batman, The Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man, something was needed in order to secure demand with the surrounding competition. The new vision of Superman came out of need to receive response from the same audience that once found Clark Kent to be one of a kind. Superman soon began to devote all his strength and powers to fighting the evils of Lex Luther.
Today, the regression of Superman as an American idol into a more socially acceptable superhero can be seen in the television show Smallville. Most viewers perceive Superman, played by Tom Welling, as a handsome and attractive young man. The use of aesthetics to create a successful production was also seen in 2006 when the film Superman Returns hit theaters. The " morally upright" character still displayed his unyielding will to prevent wrongdoing, but slowly began to diverge from a common man fighting crime into a more supernatural and unrealistic being.
The many faces of Superman sprung from Siegel and Shuster's attempt to address the "young, alienated, and disposed Clark Kents' of society in order to commit to and inclusive national culture" (Wright 11). And by all means, they proved to be successful. Although their character sprung from the time of the Great Depression, he was able to leave an impression on society for years to come....
Cited: Barrier, Michael, and Martin Williams. The Smithsonian Book of Comic- Book Comics.
New York: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981.
Bridwell, E. Nelson. Superman: From the Thirties to the Eighties. New York:
Crown Publishers, 1983.
Dooley, Dennis, and Gary Engle. Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend. Ohio:
Octavia Press, 1987.
Wright, Bradford W., Comic Book Nation. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University
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