Saturday, June 14, 2008


Superman, the septuagenarian original comic book superhero

by Luis Torres de la Llosa Sat Jun 14, 3:02 AM ET

NEW YORK (AFP) - Superman, the original comic book superhero, turns 70 this month, but his strength and invulnerability draws fewer fans in the 21st century world of flawed, postmodern heroes.

An indisputable icon of American pop culture, the Man of Steel made his first appearance in the June 1938 issue of "Action Comics." He is the brainchild of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, residents of the midwestern town of Cleveland, Ohio.

Superman can fly in the sky, but he's not a bird or a plane. He's faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

About 1.9 meters (six feet, three inches) tall and weighing some 102 kilos (225 pounds), Superman has blue eyes, black hair and is a mild-mannered reporter working at the "Daily Planet" newspaper under the alias Clark Kent. He was born on the planet Krypton, exiled to Earth as an infant, and for decades has been fighting for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

"He is a complete fiction, but he is so complete, so ideal, and so well-known around the world -- most Americans will know his origin simply by osmosis by the time they are eight -- that he is a much fuller representation of an American self-view than Uncle Sam or Mickey Mouse," said Bradley Ricca, who produced a documentary titled "Last Son" on the origin of Superman.

"He really is the quintessential modern American symbol," said Ricca, who is a Case Western University professor specializing in American literature and popular culture. "He is an immigrant in an imperfect world" who "battles injustice in any form."

Superman "is the first fictional superhero, with all the characteristics at the same time: the powers, the cape, the secret identity, the colorful costume, the complicated love triangle, and the unmatched sense of justice," Ricca told AFP.

Superman "is the progenitor of the genre and sets the standard for other figures," said Peter Coogan, who holds a doctorate in American Studies from Michigan State University and specializes in superheroes in US history.

"It can be said that all superheroes are imitations of or the children of Superman," playing "a symbolizing function as an embodiment of American mythology," Coogan told AFP.

"Superheroes embody a vision of the use of power unique to America. Superheroes enforce their own visions of right and wrong on others, and they possess overwhelming power, especially in relation to ordinary crooks," said Coogan, who also heads the non-profit Institute for Comics Studies.

In his 2007 master's thesis at Georgia State University, another student of the genre, Aaron Pevey, wrote that Superman lost popularity precisely because he is invulnerable.

"While Superman might have succeeded as a modern hero, he fails as a postmodern one," wrote Pevey. That explains, he believes, why DC Comics has seen a slump in sales of Superman comics over the last few years.

Teenagers prefer darker, troubled, sometimes ambivalent heros, including such classics as Batman, Spider-Man or Wolverine of "X-Men" fame.

Superman, born in the years before World War II and a distant heir of Nietzsche's Ãœbermensch, has seen his personality change over time.

While aggressive in the 1940s, by the 1950s the storyline focus was more on Clark Kent's quest for the love of Lois Lane, his colleague and future wife. In the 1960s and 1970s Superman developed a more complex personality, and in 1986, DC Comics hired John Byrne to carry out a character overhaul. The result was a character that was less of a messianic figure and more of a modern-day Hercules.

With sales slumping, DC Comics killed off Superman in a battle with a powerful character named Doomsday in 1993. But Superman, whose various nicknames include "The Man of Tomorrow," of course come back from the dead.

In a country where the quest for entertainment is a national obsession, it is more likely that Superman will continue facing close encounters with deadly kryptonite than he will be forced into retirement.

"Superman has endured, and will endure, because he is more than just a silly character with his underwear on the outside and a spitcurl," said Ricca. "He is the hope not that we can be rescued, but that we can be good."

Two children look at the cover of a comic book showing Superman, distributed by the UN, UNICEF, and DC Comics in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The comic books aim to teach children the danger of land mines. Superman, the original comic book superhero, turns 70 this month, but his strength and invulnerability draws fewer fans in the 21st century world of flawed, postmodern heroes.

Also it does not help that Hollywood cannot even make a passable Superman film, and worse yet EVERY Superman game made SUCKS ASS. As of right now the next Superman film, Man of Steel s going to be a reboot of the Superman Returns reboot. Not suprising given the people who worked on that film.

What is the best Superman property that has been a hit with the teen crowd? SMALLVILLE and why is it a hit? Because it is about a young Clark Kent growing into the role of being a hero facing the same problems that teens and young adults have to face as well. These are problems the type of problems and issues that superpowers do not always work against.