Sunday, April 21, 2013

Looking Back At 75 Years Of Superman

This week saw a milestone for DC Comics and the comic book industry as a whole. On April 18, 1938, DC Comics (then National Allied Productions) debuted a new title: Action Comics. The cover featured a new superhero called Superman, a character that would change the industry forever by ushering in a new era of comic books.

Looking Back At 75 Years Of Superman
By: Jay

The 1930's was a hard time for our country, a time when the country was in the grip of the greatest economic depression.  There were bread lines, soup kitchens and people begging for anything you could spare on every corner. America was hungry for heroes, both real and make-believe, that could inspire us through their struggles with the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

Some looked to political leaders like President Roosevelt, others looked to Hollywood with heroes like Errol Flynn, or turned their dials to listen to the Lone Ranger.  For others they turned to the newsstands where they found their favorite pulp magazines that told cheap adventure stories with the addition of some illustrations. The demand for more heroes lead to an evolution of the pulp magazines into a brand new medium called the comic book industry which featured more colorful and exciting saviors.

In 1931, aspiring writer Jerry Siegel and his family were feeling the hard times of the Depression, when he met an even poorer aspiring artist Joe Shuster at Glenville High in ClevelandOhio. The two young men bonded over their love of fantasy and “scientifiction” pulp magazines. The teenagers would spend their weekends, nights and as much of their days as possible together (when they weren’t in school or holding down small jobs to help feed their families), in brainstorming sessions. Siegel made and maintained contacts with some of the most prominent writers in the industry, as well as other young people who would be known as “Big Name Fans.” Among them included a pair of teens from the Bronx named Mort Weisinger and Julius Schwartz, who had gotten hold of a mimeograph machine to create the very first science fiction fanzine, The Time Traveller, in 1933. Inspired by these young men in the Bronx, Siegel and Shuster created a fanzine of their own.

One of Siegel and Shuster’s earliest collaborations were “Reign of the Superman,” a story that was heavily illustrated about a grim and brutal vigilante with super-human abilities. Siegel had always stated that what became known as “The Superman” was rejected by every publisher they submitted it to, major or minor. The more accurate statement would be that their road to publication had a series of false starts including one prospect in 1933. Consolidated Book Publishers of Chicago expressed interest in including “The Superman” in the second issue of a black-and-white comic book titled Detective Dan, which sold so poorly that a second issue was never made. In that unpublished foreword, Siegel wrote that in 1934, “I conceived the idea of an even more dynamic Superman [and] this time I scripted it in newspaper script format.” This “more dynamic” Superman had the famous Kryptonian origin that we all know today.

It wasn’t until a few years later though when Siegel and Shuster’s dreams started to become a reality. On April 18, 1938, the premiere issue of Action Comics (cover-dated June 1938) hit stands. As Paul Levitz, former president of DC Comics, once said, “Superman literally launched this industry.” The fledgling comic book industry had not produced a major star until the Man of Steel’s debut.  

By the end of the following year Superman had flown onto the pages of the Sunday newspapers across the country, and he starred in his very own comic title Superman. Within another year Superman would take his first steps in his conquest of other media when the Superman radio program began its long run. He would continue this path and star in animated cartoons, movie serials and features, on television and on the Broadway stage. Today Superman has become a cultural icon, recognized around the world, and his adventures translated into virtually every language on Earth.

Over the years Superman has been compared to many archetypes that range from the religious such as Jesus Christ to that of the ultimate immigrant. It doesn’t matter which archetype you place Superman in. The common theme is one of hope and inspiration to people from all over the world. 

I grew up with Superman. I was born a few years before Superman: The Movie came out and I remember watching it with my dad and reading the comics together. Superman was always in my life, inspiring me to not just be me, but to try to be better, to try to make the world better by doing all I can. I remember the look on my dad’s face when he found out that it wasn’t the cape, or his super powers that drew me to Superman, but instead it was his morality that made him my favorite super hero. My dad told me that he was glad he introduced me to comics and proud that I could read a comic with Superman, who has God-like powers, and take away that lesson from him.

Over the years Superman has died, turned into blue and red energy and fought both heaven and hell. Through it all Superman stayed true to the hero that inspires all others by standing for truth and justice.

Now 75 years after the first issue of ­Action Comics hit stands the nation is facing another economic hard time and hope is desperately sought. Like the times, Superman has changed. In 2011, Action Comics was relaunched as a part of The New 52. While a lot of things changed with Superman, like his relationship with Lois Lane and his costume, the one thing that remains the same is that Superman stands as a beacon of hope.

What do you think about Superman? When were you first introduced to the character? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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