“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane.
Created circa 1932 by a couple of very imaginative storytellers named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and published in 1938 in the pages of Action Comics #1 – Superman is arguably the most beloved and enduring comic character of all time, a genuine America Icon, and is certainly tops as my own favorite DC character.
My first recollection of any comic character belongs to Superman. Superman: The Movie had hit theaters in ’78 and over the next several years, into the early 80’s, I’d enjoy it on television, likely on our brand new VCR. I couldn’t have been any older than 4 or 5 years old and watching the movie was likely my first exposure to the concept of the super-hero. These fantastic people that had extraordinary abilities that so many put to good use in order to aid humanity. So, yes, as the movie promised ‘I would believe that a man could fly’ and at that young age I sat transfixed, watching something that would have a profound effect on my life. Understand, however, that I’m not talking about comics – I’m talking about an ever growing appreciation for good natured heroism that I was seeing on display, symbolized by a man donnng a cape, and pledging to fight for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” No, Superman didn’t teach me what goodness was, my parents had already done that, but he certainly he was reinforcing the lessons that they were striving to teach me and there on the screen I was seeing it visualized. Everything about that movie resonated with me, from John Williams’ classic score, to Christopher Reeve’s timeless portrayal as the Man of Steel, to the themes of hope and love of country throughout. Obviously I loved that movie, and was just as excited about the 2nd film in the series. I’ve seen them countless times since and they’ll likely forever remain my two favorite superhero films. Great as Iron Man, The Dark Knight and other films have been, none of them hold a candle to Superman’s pioneering films in my mind and none of them have stayed with me in the same way that these films did.
Seeing my enthusiasm for the character, and the films, my parents picked me up a couple of items that fueled my “Supermania” in the years to come including the classic “S” symbol that would hang in the window and reflect the shield’s design into my room when the sun hit it, as well as a bucket seat crafted in Superman’s blue, red, and yellow color scheme featuring Jose Luis Garcia Lopez’ production art in the form of stickers that were stragically placed to create actions scenes on the sides. It’s been over 25 years since I received them and I still haven’t forgotten them. I also have to be sure to mention the effect those old Fleischer Superman cartoons had on me. We often hear about how powerful Superman is, how mighty his powers really are, but I don’t know that anything has quite demonstrated his strength and determination as these cartoons did. He’s not nearly as powerful there as he is in the books, but the series creators were able to depict his feats of strength in such a way that you could feel his struggle to overcome the speed of a train, or the propulsion of a rocket, and you had to cheer when he succeeded. Perhaps it’s because it was a little closer to home (than say, towing a planet) but if you’re looking to see some fantastic animation, some classic pulp-like action, and the inspiration for shows such as Batman: The Animated Series, please consider giving the old Fleischer cartoons a try (you won’t be sorry). Needless to say, I grew up with Superman all around me in the form of the Fleischer, Super Friends, and Super Power cartoons, television programs, toys and a fairly vivid imagination so it was only natural that I’d gravitate toward the comics when I began picking them up on my own as well. I searched out old issues, new issues, and anything that featured him and Batman teaming up in those early years (see Batman entry) and in time I had a fairly hefty collection of Superman comics that I could proudly call my own. Unfortunately, those comics, and a fair amount of appearances in other titles, have had to hold me over for awhile because its been years since I picked up the series with any kind of extended regularity, having been burned so many times in recent memory with just plain poor material (IMHO, obviously). Kurt Busiek’s run was my latest attempt and the issues I picked up there were pretty good, but I am really looking forward to seeing what Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have been able to accomplish in the pages of Action Comics when the TPB’s are released, having heard so many good things about the two major story lines thus far. I’m also hoping that DC really has something worthwhile planned in 2009 to honor Superman’s 70th Anniversary, which wraps up later this year.
In wrapping the count-down up, save for Captain America only, no other comic character has had a greater impact on me than Superman has and I hope that there’s always a spot in American hearts and minds for the character. I have two nieces who love Superman (and the Justice League) and I’ve no doubt they’ll share that enthusiasm with their youngest sister when she’s old enough to join in with them in all the fun, so I’m fairly confident that The Man of Steel will continue to resonate with new generations as they marvel at his feats of strength, and more importantly, for his moral convictions and selfless service to mankind. When we can apply the example of our heroes, then they become all the more real, and all the more relevant.
This looks like a job for Superman!