Happy 75th Birthday to “the Man of Tomorrow”. Here in Spain, coincidently, “Man of Steel” arrives to the big screen on his anniversary. No better way to celebrate the Last Son of Krypton.
I have been following the adventures of Superman since I was 11. For better or worse, I have every Superman comic since the 1960s. While comics, TV shows, movies, and cartoons all depict Superman in different ways (and sometimes fall flat), there are some fundamentals to the character that still hold true, and deserve a brief mention on Superman’s “diamond” anniversary—though I doubt Superman would support the diamond industry.
Created by two Jewish boys from Ohio, the sons of immigrants. Superman’s first stories told of a boy, an immigrant himself, who grew up on a farm, and becomes a reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper in hopes of changing the world. He is a progressive age character who goes after corrupt bankers, crooked politicians, wife abusers, and “mad” scientists. In Mark Waid’s famous 2000s version of Superman, Birthright, Superman even is a vegetarian. Superman is fundamentally progressive age hero.
Fascists, Billionaires, and Big Data Collection
During the interwar years, there was an ever greater fear of the weaponisation of technology—a fear actualised with the atom bomb. Today, that fear of technology might be that of companies such as Monsanto and the pharmaceutical industry. Superman’s arch-nemesis is a man, Lex Luthor, billionaire, weapons scientist, and sometimes-politician. A fan favourite since his introduction in 1944, Mister Mxyzptlk, is the “trickster”, an imp from the 5th dimension who causes mayhem, but only wants to keep the Man of Steel humble—an important balance needed for the American hero. Another long-time villain from the 1950s, Brainiac, is a super-computer-humanoid that collects information on every one and everything—even in the 50s no one wanted to have their data mined. Famous for his roles in the Christopher Reeve film and the most recent release, General Zod is a fascist militaristic type from Superman’s home planet—fitting that Superman’s enemy during the Vietnam War be a warmonger who is obsessed with imperialist Kryptonian ideals. It’s curious that after decades missing from an active role Superman’s rogue’s gallery Zod would return now… Suffice it to say, Superman’s villains still ring of relevance—silly tights excluded, of course.
Superman is a Feminist
Moreover, from the beginning Superman comics were feminist—especially seen in the character of Lois Lane, a woman who was renowned for her journalistic work in the 1930s. Fighting for social justice, Lois never let a (super)man tell her what to do. In many renditions of Superman’s tale, his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent dies, leaving Clark’s mother, Martha, to take over the farm. While not explicitly, this, too, demonstrates a sort of respect for women entrenched in Superman comics. True fact: fascist dictatorships, such as that of Francisco Franco, were even afraid of Superman’s feminist undertones, to say nothing of his dual identity, and bright, fashion-foward wardrobe.*
Representative of the Other
Superman is the story of “the other”, the alien, the immigrant, the nerd, the person who has to live a dual identity, who isn’t afraid of strong women, the farm boy, the struggling journalist, and the working class hero who becomes representative of Truth and Justice (the “American way” part is added during WW II) . Happy birthday, Clark.
*Look Kids! I’m a published writer and historian of Superman comics: The Ages of Superman: Essay on the Man of Steel in Changing Times