Comics History: Superman, the product, the legend.
Most products that come to mind go through a series of evolutions, adding changes that sometimes are motivated by social need, others by survival instincts.
For example, when I say “pair of jeans” what comes to mind? (Here comes into play your social environment, your cultural perspective and a series of other factors.)
Jeans started as a fabric originally worn mainly by sailors of the coast of Genoa. That material was later imitated by french cloth-makers in the city of Nimes, and the name DeNim came to be.
Much later it arrived in the US, where Levi Strauss took it, improved it, and made it similar to what we know today. But not quite. Buttons and rivets were mainly used in the confection. It was Lee who introduced the first zipper on the venerable pants.
But here I ask you: Should we crave a return to the classic jeans, the ones originally made for miners and farmer? Are our current jeans, with fancy labels and sometimes more than $100.00 sticker price related to the original product in more than name?
The same applies to the most widely recognized American superhero.
Superman, as envisioned by Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, was somewhat of a rogue, a dark knight in a blue suit. He was also camera shy, and stayed away from the public eye as much as was possible.
But above all, he was an Avenger!
Just notice this cover:
Superman can cause terror. Superman doesn’t care about the consequences. This is the late 1930’s. PC is not widespread. Soon we will be at war against the Krouts and the Japs!
And DC will produce their pro war bond cover later on…
Actually the “Slap a Jap” slogan wasn’t originated at DC, to be fair.
Those were different days, and less likely to pull punches. No black characters, females knew their place, and foreigners who weren’t white were usually trouble.
Among my sarcasm maybe you can infer that not everything being simple is necessarily better.
Heck! If we want simplicity, why aren’t we living in caves, hunting and gathering?
I repeat, Superman was originally conceived as an avenger.
Actually, if you want a Superman that comes close to the original idea, you have to thank the latest iteration in Action Comics, by the hand of Grant Morrison and Rag Morales, where a idealistic Clark Kent is at odds with the powers that be and rule Metropolis, and at times ran afoul with the law, but goes to great lengths to bring evil doers to justice.
Another matter altogether is the answer to the question: “Whose Justice?”
That’s why Supes has been considered by many comic books sages and critics a disguise for fascism, a caricaturization of absolute power. And that caricature has been maligned, much in the way the Camel cigarette logo was chastised for being aimed at young adults and even children.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My answer to that argument has always been: “Lets NOT raise children that are enticed to consume poison because the box has a cute animal in it!!” but if we compare our academic stance in math and sciences versus the rest of the industrialized worlds it is obvious that no one listens to me.
Superman has elicited a never ending trove of metaphors and comparisons. His uniform has been contrasted with the patriotic colors of the US Flag. His underwear outside his pants has been maligned as a symbol of male chauvinism.
He has been criticized for being white skinned with blue eyes, and he has been also criticized for having Jewish creators, and not looking more Caucasian.
Then, in at the end of the 40’s, DC decided to really cash in this cash cow, and started treating supes like the geese of the golden eggs, by growing a family of superboys, supergirls, superdogs, super whatever….
There was: Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl, the adventures of Superboy, Krypto the superdog, even some small episodes where Lana Lang or Jonathan Kent were the main characters of the plot. No wonder DC eventually put out a title called “Superman Family”!
Then the 50’s came and superman was completely sanitized and any vestige of his bad-boy days were bygone. He was became a device for contrive and off the wall storytelling, a manual on “how to to put a character in contrived situations, and create truly unbelievable stories.”
And thus our current era superman was born. The superman concerned with hiding his identity from Lois lane, much like a kid plays hide and seek, for plays sake. And he was given colorful foes, and crazy situations, where he even plays romantic ding-bat to Lois silly advances, and at the same time the writers had to come up with unimaginable handicaps to keep things interesting.
All the way through the 70’s Superman was supposed to be safe, kid friendly, following the Comic Book Code, like most comic book superheroes.
Till his rebirth in the early 90’s, where eventually he even grew long hair, which, by the way, many suspect was the reason why Doomsday had to kill him.
But by then, many venerable writers wanted to explore different aspects of the myth, and publishers had already accustomed the readers to endure some lack of continuity from time to time. Nowhere in DC i think we see that more than in the WonderWoman series, where between the 40’s and the 70’s the amazon went through different incarnations, professions, identities and plot lines.
So now, in the Superman post 2000, which do you like and follow?
The graphic evolution of Superman
Thanks to http://www.supermansupersite.com/evolution.html for the reference and the great info.
Also, if you want to join the myriad of readers who think that superman is at times somewhat of a dick, go over here…
and have a blast perusing the many samples of startling covers and art they have!!