Superman’s Origins Action Comics #1 (June 1938) probably the most famous comic book cover of all time • certainly one of the most expensive marked the debut of the worlds greatest hero -- Superman.
"Man of Steel" Both Jewish Invented Superman as a typically Jewish mythical hero Hitler oppressed the Created by Jerry Jews, and Superman Siegel and Joe was their answer to Shuster* while still in Hitler. high school in Cleveland *Canadian relatives
Several Historical Perspectives Stock market collapse in 1929 Beginning of the Great Depression: • millions out of work • bread lines and soup kitchens The Great Plains Drought • Overworked and overgrazed land began to erode • Farm topsoil blew in huge clouds turning the sky brown
The Thirties and Nazism In the late 1930s, Nazi war machine spread across Europe Hitler was the ultimate villain Oppressor of the weak, defenseless and those deemed "racially impure"
Superman was an overnight success The "champion of the oppressed" became a comfort, particularly to children during the hard economic times and the threat of World War Reality was becoming ever grimmer Superman became their light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel
While heroes may change superficially over the centuries, the basic tenets of heroism don’t change: • the self-sacrifice • the need to help • the desire to right wrongs, defend the weak, and vanquish evil
What Makes Superman so Darned American? “Superman is the American hero” (Gary Engle 333/739). Superman achieves truly mythic stature by interweaving • a pattern of beliefs • literary conventions • cultural traditions
What is the Superman Story? An orphan rocketed to Earth when Krypton explodes Raised by Jonathon and Martha Kent, a childless couple from Smallville Hides his “Superpowers” As an adult moves to Metropolis and assumes the identity of Clark Kent - reporter
The Eternal TriangleWhile defending America/World/Universe from Evil As Clark Kent he hopelessly pursues Lois Lane Lois hopelessly pursues Superman Lois must prove herself worthy of Superman by falling in love with Clark
1. Superman is an Orphan Emphasizes themes of Dislocation, Mobility and Displacement • USA is an orphan separated from parent countries. Alone: Superman & the World • USA‟s social consciousness imbed the imagery of passage form one identity to another: Mayflower • Past is left behind: Must constantly move Superman reinvents himself for the future • “This makes the orphan a potent symbol of the American character. Orphans aren‟t merely free to reinvent themselves. They are obliged to do so” (337/741)
Individual Mobility/Frontier Superman can fly at great speeds - He is mobile and can fly whenever and wherever he wants • “His incredible speed allows him to be as close to everywhere at once as it is possible to be. Displacement is, therefore, impossible” (337/740)
Superman resembles Mythic Figures Greek messenger god Hermes; Roman god Mercury Zetes, the flying Argonaut Hercules
2. Superman is an Immigrant Superman is an alien in a new land • underneath Clark‟s all American exterior he is always Superman: very visible minority • Superman undresses unlike other superheroes who don their costumes – e.g. Batman • “Superman‟s powers - strength, mobility, x-ray vision and the like are the comic-book equivalents of ethnic characteristics” (334/739)
The Immigrant Dilemma Clinging to Old World identity meant • isolation in ghettos • confrontation with a prejudiced mainstream culture • second-class social status • impoverishment Assimilation into the New World meant • loss of culture, language, tradition, soul • struggle for identity: drowning in the melting pot Generational rift
The Immigrant Dilemma mirrors the Western Myth Civilization vs Wilderness “The Mythic frontier represented an attempt to embody the perfect degree of assimilation in which both the old and new identities came together” (339/742) Lone Ranger and Tonto
3. Dual Identity solves the dilemma Engle: „Kent‟ makes the myth work (342/744) Improvement on Western Myth: • “optimistic myth of assimilation, but with an urban, technocratic setting” Disguise is a moral act to protect parents
Clark Kent: the Alter Ego • bumbling • weak • immobile • wimpy A symbol of cultural assimilation of the immigrant • “He is the epitome of visible invisibility, someone whose extraordinary ordinariness makes him disappear in a crowd” (341/744)
Duality SUPERMAN CLARK KENT Real Identity Illusion; unreal Unique, powerful Assimilated; weak Above society and Blended into society culture and culture Represents heroic past Represents everyman and gods and the present
4. Superman is an Angel The Cape • “…a veritable growth from behind his pectorals and hangs, when he stands at ease, in a line that doesn‟t so much drape his shoulders as stand apart from them and echo their curve, like an angel‟s wings” (342/744) A divine saviour of mankind “An American boy‟s fantasy of a messiah” (343/745)
Superman etymology Kal-El • Similar to Micha-El, warrior archangel • Maybe Hebrew for “all that God is” K-N-T = “I have found a son” (342/745) The Passion of the Clark
5. Superman is a religious myth An ET from heaven to supply a gap in American mythology/iconography “America has no national religious icons nor any pilgrimage shrines” (343/745) Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
Engle’s 5 Points1. Being orphaned, Superman taps into the Western‟s mythology of dislocation, constant moving, and re-identification2. Being an immigrant/alien, Superman represents the American dichotomy: fitting in or standing apart
Engle’s 5 Points3. His dual identity resolves the assimilation/ isolation dilemma: he‟s a righteous wolf in cheap clothing4. Superman is an angel: his powers are heaven sent5. The Superman myth is religious– especially Judeo-Christian–at its core