Superman

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Superman, by Alex Ross

Superman is a fictional character created in the mid-1930s by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and currently published by DC Comics under a variety of titles. The first comic book superhero, Superman spawed a pantheon of other similar characters, and a comics industry in which Superman alone was selling at well over a million copies as early as 1942[1]; he would later star in books, radio, animation, television, and film. Superman is seen as a symbol of America, reflected in his red and blue costume and marketing material describing his mission as the protector of "truth, justice, and the American way".

Contents

Comics lore

Superman is the last son of Krypton, a distant planet much larger than Earth with a red sun. Raised by two Methodist Kansas farmers, Superman was blessed by his alien heritage with great powers. In his initial appearances, his power set consisted of being "faster than a speeding bullet", "more powerful than a locomotive", and "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound". Since then, his powers have been expanded to include incredible strength, super speed, flight, invulnerability, super breath, super intelligence, heat-ray eyes, freezing breath, passing through matter, unaided interstellar travel, and various forms of superhuman senses (super-hearing; x-ray, heat, telescopic, and microscopic vision) - Superman's excessive and ever-changing powers are often the subject of criticism or parody. He is severely weakened by green kryptonite, can be reduced to normal human levels of power by light from a red sun, and is vulnerable to magic.

He lives a secret double life, posing as the "mild-mannered reporter" Clark Kent. He specifically works in the news media so he can more easily hear about and attend the scenes of crimes. In most continuities, Superman is romantically involved with Lois Lane, a fellow reporter, and his best friend is teenage cub reporter, later photographer, Jimmy Olsen.

History

Superman was the creation of two teenagers from Cleveland, Ohio: Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster, both children of Jewish immigrants. They were students at Glenville High School when they met in 1931, a pair of shy, awkward and unpopular kids who shared an interest in the adventure and science fiction stories of the pulp magazines of the day, and comic strips, specifically a genre called the adventure comic, such as Phillip Nolan's Buck Rogers, Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan. Jerry was the writer, submitting articles for the school newspaper. Joe was the artist, his illustrations complementing Jerry's work. The pair not only developed into a good friendship, but into a powerful collaboration as well; one would go to the others house each night to discuss, plan, sketch, and hatch out new stories and refine current ones. Their plan was to create a comic strip and live comfortably on the fame and fortune it would provide, but two events would curtail it considerably: the Great Depression, which threw millions of Americans out of work, and the death of Jerry's father on June 2, 1932, as a result of an armed robber.

In 1932 the boys created a periodical, titled simply Science Fiction. An anthology magazine, it was by mail-order only, and was printed off a mimeograph machine the boys had access to. The January, 1933 issue had a story called "The Reign of the Super-Man"[2], in which the central character was a bald villain who used his mental powers for personal gain. "As a science-fiction fan, I knew of the various themes in the field," Siegel said. "The superman theme has been one of the themes ever since Samson and Hercules; and I just sat down and wrote a story of that type—only in this story, the Superman was a villain."[3]

A few months after publication, their idea of a powerful villain evolved into a powerful hero. They were familiar with the legendary strongmen of mythology, so naturally their hero would have physical, rather than mental, power. Eventually, they decided on an alien from a doomed planet, who appeared on earth "Moses-like", with fantastic strength and abilities, who would fight for the common man; the death of Jerry's father also weighed in, with the result that their new character would appear in the nick of time, someone powerful enough to right all wrongs[4]. The boys' first attempt at publishing their character would occur a year later, with a boast of "the most astounding fiction character of all time" on the cover, as the hero comes to the rescue of someone at the mercy of an armed robber. With the name "Superman" bestowed on him, they intended to follow in the same direction that other comic artists have done: do a daily and Sunday strip for syndication in newspapers. Despite being ground-breaking - no previously-published fictional character had even come remotely close to what would eventually be called a "super hero" - the boys were repeatedly rejected by the publishers they had submitted it to.

But one medium held some promise. In the news stands at the time, alongside the papers and the magazines, was a new format: the comic book. In it's original form, the comic was simply reprints of the daily and Sunday strips, and at 10 cents it was a cheap way for newspapers to gain additional money. Among the early entrepreneurs who saw a potential was Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the founder of National Allied Publications, the precursor to D.C. Comics. In 1935 he had published New Fun, a comic book with all-original material in it. His intention was to continue creating original works, but there was a catch: he wanted people who could work cheap, such as struggling artists who were young and rather naive. Siegel and Shuster were hired as storyboard artists, and the pair would create several characters for the company, among them "Slam Bradley", a private eye and the first star of Detective Comics #1 in 1937.

A year later, new management took control of National Allied Publications; Detective Comics was a hit and they wanted another one, and they decided to take a chance on Siegel and Shuster's creation. Action Comics, the company's fourth title and intended to be an anthology of multiple stories within one issue, was sent to the stands in April, 1938; on the cover was Superman, appearing before the public for the first time brandishing an automobile over his head, despite having been placed there by accident as a result of a publishing deadline.[5] The initial printing of 200,000 had quickly sold out; the number sold would quickly rise into the millions within months.

Today's comic value

Due to the requirements of World War II, scrap paper was among the things needed for the war effort, which resulted in many comic books being recycled; as a result, only 100 examples of Action Comics No. 1 are known to exist. "It's the Holy Grail of comic books," said comic expert Stephen Fishler, referring to the recent placing of one on the auction block. "This is the one that started it all. There was no such thing as a super hero before it. No flying man. Comics weren't even that popular. It's the single most important event in comic book history." [6][7] The first example of Superman in comic form - indeed, the first comic superhero ever printed - Action Comics No. 1 in "fine" condition can fetch upwards of $125,000 at auction [1]; several examples have fetched more than $1,000,000. [8]

Liberal Multicultural Superman

In 2011, DC Comics have stated that Superman intends to renounce his U.S. citizenship before the United Nations in Action Comics No. 900, “I’m tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy … ‘truth, justice and the American way’ - it’s not enough anymore.” DC Comics issued a statement saying "Superman announces his intention to put a global focus on his never-ending battle, but he remains, as always, committed to his adopted home..." [9] Superman, a symbol of American exceptionalism, now leads moral relativism by joining the “blame America first” league, however, since Superman is an alien from the planet krypton. The Superman series, along with every other ongoing DC series, has been relaunched as part of "The New 52" reboot, thus eliminating all previous DC canon, including the renunciation of Superman's American identity.

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