“Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!”
Even without reading this article’s headline, you already know exactly who I am referring to.
Superman made his comics debut in 1938 via the pages of Action Comics #1, a creation of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster.
A “strange visitor from another world,” Superman hailed from the doomed planet of Krypton, an alien refugee spared by his birth parents who sent their only son to Earth in order to survive and tell the story of his lost history.
Comic books are said to be one of the original art mediums that American culture created. A few weeks ago, the story of Superman culminated with Action Comics #1000, a collection of short stories by some of the most influential artists and writers in his modern history. Being a fan of Superman, of course I had to pick up the issue. Presented in anthology form, the stories ranged from humorous, exciting, emotional, and touching, all while highlighting the core values of what has made Superman so special.
It's hard to pinpoint any one defining moment in the character’s history. He’s the definitive superhero. He has graced thousands of comic books, action figures, television series, and movies. Christopher Reeve made the character spring from the comic pages in 1978’s brilliant “Superman” movie. On the opposite end, Zack Snyder graced the Man of Steel with destructive slugfests and bad CG mustache removals. Superman has gone into some really weird storylines (seriously, read some of the bizarreness that transpired during the Golden Age of comics — Superman once forced Jimmy Olsen to marry a gorilla), though most remember where they were in 1992 when the commercially successful and controversial “The Death of Superman” hit the stands.
And yet, Superman is so much more than a handful of stories. He’s endured as an American icon, an ideal of what humanity should aspire to. Children have loved him due to the bright colors, his uncompromising heroic values, and no one can stop him (not even for bedtime). Adults have seen him as a symbol of something greater. Even without the special powers, we’d all like to believe that we can embody the best in ourselves and others. We can use our own inner strengths to inspire, show compassion, be better and more than what we seem to be on the surface, even in the face of adversity.
Superman is the face of hope. Of what we can be.
In our world today, hope is a vital necessity as we find ourselves in troubled and uncertain times. The modern Superman in comics is a hero, a father, a husband, a friend, a tireless news reporter, and a crusader for truth, justice, and the American way. Most importantly, he strives to be a good person.
Superman isn't great because he always defeats Lex Luthor's latest scheme or can go toe-to-toe with Doomsday. He endures because he sees humanity’s flaws of fragility, fear, suspicion, and doubt, and in the long run, we still find the ability to overcome and endure. We admire him, but he is inspired by us. With all of his powers, it's the people of Earth that make him human. Some of his best stories are where he never throws a single punch.
Even if some of us have put to rest the stories of flying men and red capes, we can still stand to learn from him. Or perhaps, he helped to shape our own moral compasses so long ago that we’ve failed to even recall that a bold “S” logo once played a part in shaping our beliefs. Fictional characters don't have to be “real” in order to still pull tangible value from them. But it gives us the motivation to be the hero that they inspire us to be.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a certain John Williams album to put on ...