This June we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1. Yes, I know that the character existed for some time before that June 1938 date, languishing in various slush files. The tales of rejection are legendary. And we also know that comics hit the stands BEFORE their cover dates. For instance the current issue of The Flash (#15) is noted as the February issue. Having said all that Superman’s birthday is and forever will be June 1938.
And it is shaping up to be a banner year for the Man of Steel.
For instance, on January 27th the Superman at 75 Panel Discussion and one day exhibit is being held at the center for Jewish History ,15 West 16th Street at 1 PM. (Of COURSE he’s Jewish!). The panel will be hosted by the author of “Superman: The High Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero”. Also appearing will be Denny O’Neil, the legendary Jim Shooter and Jennette Kahn the former publisher of DC comics. The panel will explore Superman’s incredible longevity, how he has adapted to his times over the decades and what the future holds for the Last Son Of Krypton.
So why exactly DOES Superman endure?
If you were to go back to , say 1941, and visit any newsstand you would see literally hundreds of superhero characters who are completely forgotten today. There was a complete boom in the superhero genre and the market was flooded. By the early 1950’s however, superheroes were all but gone. Only Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman survived in their own titles for DC. Some few other characters survived as back up features (Green Arrow and Aquaman for example).
One reason that Superman endured those dark days was simple. The very popular TV show, Adventures Of Superman was sweeping the nation, making a star out of George Reeves and introducing a new generation of children to The Man of Steel. Never underestimate the power of Television!
But I think there is a more basic reason that Superman was able to endure and continues to thrive.
He is a remarkably flexible character. Superman has been adapted to reflect the society of the time from his earliest days right up to his 75th birthday. In the 1930’s during the Great Depression Superman was a social crusader. Most often he dealt with corrupt politicians, gangsters, wife beaters etc. His focus was on the problems of the days . He was the Warner Brothers of Superheroes.
During World War II he was a symbol of the strength of the Nation, eagle perched on his elbow, flag proudly waving. All of America’s might in a single package.
The 1950’s and 60’s saw UNCLE Superman. The Mort Weisinger Superman. A character firmly aimed at the 8-12 set. He was the “moral majority” incarnate.
From the 70’s through the 80’s Superman grew up along with his readership. Was re-imagined by John Byrne and Frank Miller and even had a tussle with Muhammad Ali. The old boy still had legs!
Then the just as we were all taking Superman for granted DC showed us what it might be like if her were gone. So they killed Kal-El in the now legendary Superman #75. And the response was dramatic and immediate.
Kill Superman??!!! Everyone from hard core fans to people who never read a comic book in their lives were as shocked as if a REAL person had been killed. And even though we knew…KNEW he wouldn’t stay dead, it was a relief when he was brought back. We’d never take him quite so for granted again.
Finally, today Superman is once again being re-imagined by DC in the New 52 line. A new feature film is due out this year and is already generating a lot of buzz among the fanbase.
The future looks very bright for The Man of Tomorrow.
Superman at 75? He sure doesn’t look it!