Thursday 16 January 2014

Bald Villain Becomes Handsome Superhero

In the early 1930's, high school students Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster brainstormed about a comic book character.  They created a bald, telepathic villain name Superman.  In 1933, "The  Reign of Superman" was published in Science Fiction:  The Advance Guard of Future Civilization 3.  But the story went no further.

Writer Siegel and artists Joe Schuster went back to the drawing board.  This time their hero would fight for the forces of good.  They thought of the motion pictures they loved to watch at the local theater.  One of their heroes was Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who had played Robin Hood back in 1922.  They would pattern Superman after him.  And his alter ego, Clark Kent, would be named after screen legends Clark Gable and Kent Taylor.  

It took them six years to find a publisher for their comic.  "The Superman" was rejected by Consolidated Book Publishing.  More edits were needed.  Siegel went back to Clar Kent's childhood.  He would be found as a baby by a loving couple name Sam and Molly Kent who would adopt him.  Samson and Hercules both served as inspiration for the new superhero who fought for social justice and against tyranny.  In keeping with Robin Hood, Superman would wear a cape, with a giant S on it.  The costume would also resemble a circus strongman outfit.  Rather than mental abilities Siegle stressed Superman's physical powers.  Metropolis, where he would fight crime, would be named after the movie featuring Fritz Lang.

Speculation about Siegel's inspiration for Superman has also led to his personal life.  His father was killed in a violent Cleveland robbery the year before Superman appeared.  Such a superhero would have fit in well in the Great Depression, a time in which crime in business and corruption in politics was rampant.  The Mafia and Prohibition went hand in hand in the Thirties.  Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal would have been in place in an attempt to help the poor, another popular theme of the 1930's.  Another event of the decade was Charles Lindbergh's first solo flight across the Atlantic.  Superman has been called "a worthy successor to Lindbergh".  Superman's alter ego has also been called "Kal El" which resembles the Hebrew words for "voice of God".  Some readers have compared Superman to Moses, a Biblical figure who led his people to the Promised Land.  Just as Moses was sent away by his parents in a basket to a new land, Clark Kent was sent away by his parents in a vessel to a new planet

Today, the original Superman comic is worth a fortune.  One online headline reported a man finding a "rare comic book worth ten times the amount that the house it was found in".  He and his wife fought over the comic which ended up ripping, cutting its value in half.  Originals can fetch as much as $2.16 million.

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