This year marked the release of the new Superman film just in time for Father’s Day and the 75th year anniversary of Superman’s creation. I was pretty excited for this film, the trailers and print ads had gotten me pretty amped up despite the fact that I’m not a big superman fan. In fact I feel confident saying that the last few generations have gravitated away from the father of superheroes in favor of the darker, more anti-hero characters. On top of that I’m only really getting into D*C (outside of Batman which I loved) as an adult—I was a Marvel girl growing up and my one true love was always and will forever be Spiderman. Peter Parker was hot okay? Science nerds in spandex…….. Anyway. As a result I don’t know too many people who are dedicated Superman fans. I think one of my friends is but for the most part Superman was always the butt of every joke at my comic book store. He was boring. He was dated. He was your grandpa’s radio superhero. The new film seemed like it might change all that.
Sadly after watching it I realized something: Superman doesn’t work as a darker hero. The biggest reason Man of Steel was SO disappointing for a lot of viewers was that Superman lost his light. My theory is that is largely because what the film primarily delivered to us was Superman but without Clark Kent and Clark Kent is essential to making Superman work. Hardly a revolutionary thought—this duality is considered essential by his creators Siegel and Shuster. My disappointment in this film drove me into wanting to learn more about Superman since I have an embarrassingly large gap in my comic book origin story knowledge bank. Truthfully the only time I’ve read superman in inked form prior to my twenties were in Batman comics and to this date I still haven’t read a Superman comic. Justice League, yes. Superman…no.
So I did what I always do: I turned to books! Well okay first I looked at Wikipedia and then I started reading. I also went to a little installation at the Cartoon Art Museum here in San Francisco because hey—why not? Due to a kicked up workload and some other things I need to do, like oh, blogging, I haven’t actually finished reading my book yet but it’s a great read and I’ve got a few fun things I learned about like:
1) Superman is Jewish: well okay Superman isn’t actually Jewish, he was in fact written to be as non-religious but appealing to Christians as possible. HOWEVER. Superman’s forefathers, of which he had four fathers, were all Jewish and recent immigrants. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who first wrote and drew life into the character found each other in a Jewish shtetl in Ohio. Liebowitz and Donenfield put Superman into print after countless rejections and were the, love em or hate em, geniuses who figured out how to turn this blockheaded cartoon into an empire. While lots of people argue over the religious subtext to Superman (Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars all have found evidence that he’s modeled of their respective messiahs) there can be no doubt that at least a little bit of that Jewishness leaked in.
2) Comic books didn’t really exist before Superman: While Siegel admits to elements of Moses and Samson in Supes creation, there’s also a lot of *ahem* “borrowing” from other fictional popular characters of the time. Superman is one thing above all else and that is American—a melting pot of selected features from a variety of sources and packaged as new. Still most “comics” were newspaper strips or books featuring compilations of a number of stories. Action Comics #1 was still an anthology but eventually Superman became the first hero ever given his own book.
3) Superman’s favorite food is beef bourguignon with ketchup: Yeah I had to look up a favorite dish, if one existed, because I needed something to blog about! Recipe follows at the end of the post. I have to say it broke my heart a little to write this one—KETCHUP?! REALLY? Oy. Apparently this is a running gag in the comics—Clark Kent dumps ketchup on top of his beef bourguignon oh how positively…American. It also serves as a code word for Superman with his parents and Lois Lane. I must stay true to my source material but ugh ugh ugh. I decided the only way to balance out this American invasion of the classic French dish was by also adding in a fair amount of Cognac. I think it worked.
4) Who cuts Superman’s hair: Superman does. With his laser eyes. This apparently gets established in some of the earliest freaking comics. One of the reasons we HATED the film, and I use the royal we I guess here, was the barrage of marketing. I really got sick of the Gillette ads. Hey guys you weren’t being clever—this has been a running gag for years! I found this copy of the Jimmy Olson Superman’s Pal comics at the Cartoon Art Museum and had to snag a photo.
5) Superman has always been a very liberal hero: When Superman was first introduced he championed the New Deal and championed a number of causes over the years following. Over time, in an effort not to offend any of their readers, this aspect was played down in the comics. During WW2 it was considered to have Superman fighting the war but the realization was that it would be over too quick—and then what? Superman instead fights behind the scenes and fighting for progress isn’t something you can do with your fists (no matter what Captain Hammer things) so it was a much better use of this character. One storyline that particularly caught my eye was actually from the radio series which I have since started listening to: “The Clan of the Fiery Cross” After infiltrating the KKK, writer Stetson Kennedy realized Superman serials could be used to fight the Klan both by revealing secret details to the public and destroying any mystique they might hold over a new generation. It was so effective that the KKK instituted a national boycott of Kellog—a sponsor of the program.
Beef bourguignon with ketchup
An Olivia Original — Sacrilege name of my geekdom. Please ghost of Julia Child, don’t hurt me! Read more