The chances are that Superman has been around longer than you have. He has always been a part of my life, and this month he turns 75.
That’s not bad for an undocumented immigrant who just sort of fell out of the sky.
That Man of Steel from Krypton was introduced in the first issue of Action Comics, dated June 1938. In truth, that comic was issued in April, but, according to Larry Tye in his 2012 book Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, the owners postdated the cover to June in case sales were slow and it hung around on newsstands a long time.
They needn’t have worried. Superman was a hit, a new type of hero, sewn together from other literary characters ancient and modern like some Frankenstein’s monster in red-and-blue tights. He never lost his appeal, despite 75 years of the sort of things that would bring us mere Earthlings down.
For instance, he died. That was when DC Comics was looking for an attention-grabber, but they brought him back. He also survived the 1959 suicide (or was it murder?) of one of the best-known men to portray him onscreen, George Reeves. He was the Superman I remember so well from childhood on TV’s long-running Adventures of Superman, which I caught in reruns about the time Reeves died.
I grew up on the comic book version of Superman and watched the TV show each week. (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”). I remember sending off Kellogg’s cereal box tops for a plastic Superman model in the mail. His cape was shaped like a wing, and a slingshot-type device would send him flying.
For weeks afterward, my time was spent sending Superman up, up and away – and using the garden hose to wash him off the roof after he went off course.
Superman stayed with me as I aged. One Halloween a few years ago, I was “conflicted Superman” at our office costume contest. I wore a white dress shirt with a blue Superman T-shirt over it and my necktie hanging out. Eyeglasses completed the costume, as though Clark Superman Kent had finally succumbed to his bipolar lifestyle.
It would be tough to imagine a world lacking all the cultural references that have sprung from the creation 75 years ago by young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (who sold all rights to Superman for $130): Brainiac, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bizarro, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Ma and Pa Kent, Jor-El, Supergirl, Metropolis, Smallville, Daily Planet, kryptonite, X-ray vision, faster than a speeding bullet, the “S” symbol that instantly identifies the superhero worldwide.
Oh, and we should never forget truth, justice and the American way!
This month brings a new film, Man of Steel. I haven’t been to the movies in years, but I think I’ll go help Superman celebrate his first 75 years.