Today’s guest post is by Jennifer Owens: medical industry professional, scientist, writer, and thinker on all things Superman (and Watchmen). I’ve been waiting to run this for a while — seemed perfect after the last post. Here she is:
When Brad first told me the prompt for his recurring blog feature, my first response was to get indignant and huff “well, why NOT Superman, everyone knows he’s awesome!” However, assuming that one’s audience is already on the same side as the author is a terrible way to start a persuasive piece of writing, so I’ll give you my #1 reason Why Superman?:
Because Clark Kent is no less heroic than Superman.
Once in Metropolis, Clark falls in love with his smart, independent co-worker, who won’t give him the time of day. Does that slow him down? Not in the least. He sets about impressing his editor while saving the world from Lex Luthor et. al, handily balancing his career and his side job. Superman is devoted to keeping up both sides of his facade–Clark is no less successful in his life than Superman is in his.
So went to see Iron Man 3 and it was PACKED with kids — like 8-10 years old and younger. Just tons. So that was great. And telling as to what Marvel has done. So they’re rolling the previews and the new one for Man of Steel starts — I had not seen it yet, so I was excited — the kids behind me are talking, so I throw popcorn on them and one goes: “Wait, it’s Superman.” His friend goes “No, it’s Defiance.” (?) And I am watching — again — Jor-El say goodbye to his son. And it may sound stupid, but is like the first time. Then “DC Comics” flashes on the screen and the blonde kid directly behind me, who was quiet when I threw popcorn on him, goes: “No, it’s Superman.”
And just like that, all these questions I had at the beginning of this blog — can Superman last another 75 years? — are gone. While the fortysomethings may whine that the new movie is yet another origin story or is not the Christopher Reeve version — let it go. You had your version, and it was great, I’m sure.
But this is for them, PG-13 or not. And as long as it has that simple story, then it is already a good one. And this version, early on, looks pitch-perfect to me. If you don’t start with Jor-El and Jonathan Kent — you just don’t have Superman.
I did apologize to the kids after the movie. The one just said: “Oh, that’s ok.” They liked Iron Man, as did I, but I know what they were really looking forward to — what they were talking about, on the dark ride back home.
Iron Man 3 — the still-shocking success story in Hollywood — opens this weekend. This was the ‘Iron Man’ Jerry and Joe met back in the thirties. Dials! Knobs! Hands on hips!
Jerry especially would be obsessed with metal men for most of his career, largely due to their major presence in the pulps. He met a few ‘real’ robots, and incorporated steel suits and android hybrids in much of his work, from very early (his 3rd story) to very late (his last). And oh yeah — his and Leo Nowak’s Robotman, which has some really crazy stuff in it.
BTW my favorite Iron Man issue is below — Annual #5 from 1982 (my comics sweet spot), with a fantastic Jerry Bingham cover. In 1982, it was all about the TRON background grid layer, which was a design NECESSITY in all things.
I don’t like spoilers. I was literally the kid at Loews West in Rocky River standing in line with his dad and brother when some guy — can still see his face — walks by and goes “I can’t believe he was Luke’s ________.” The worst part is I’m not even joking. Cliche City. That being said, one of the reasons I said I’d do this blog is one response I get a lot is “another book about Superman?” So I was really happy to be able to do this long interview with Vincent Dajani over at PreviewsWorld:
Superman’s origin gets rebooted every few years; we can’t control that, but the story of his creators is a different story: we should be able to get closer to the truth than we are. We owe the creators of Superman that much. And I don’t like spoilers, but…you can read the entire interview here YES WITH VERY MILD, YET HIGHLY DRAMATIC SPOILERS.
Did you read it? Told you this will be different. There is some exclusive art over there, too.
My friend @TheDuke1279 used to spoil things a lot for me, almost pathologically so, but he got better, so I’m giving him some credit here. That and he helped me with my taxes on Sunday. Did I mention I’m typing this from my HOME OFFICE i.e. attic i.e. Hello IRS.
My name is Brad Ricca. I wrote a book about the creators of Superman.
Why? Here is an excerpt:
I am at Cleveland City Hall waiting for a copy of a birth certificate that is not mine. The final typed draft of this book—marked-up, messy, and almost done—lies in an immense pile on my desk at home. But there is one more fact to check, so I am downtown, on a gray October day. Numbers and dates and spelling: these things are important. These are places to start from.
This book is not only a story, but it is about one. The story we all somehow absorb of a child rocketed to Earth from a dying planet. The orphan grows up with incredible powers and is embraced by an Earth he is sworn to protect. He likes a girl who doesn’t give him a second glance. He wears a red, flowing cape, but also hides in plain sight. It is a silly story sometimes; silly in the face of what the world sometimes shows to us, yet it has given hope and solace to generations. That is important, too.
I am still waiting for the birth certificate and am now worried about how much time is left on my parking meter. To my right, on the black benches, two employees are trying to help an elderly woman get a death certificate for her late husband. The woman doesn’t understand why the insurance company is making her do this. She came here on the bus. She is crying. At the snack stand, which sells candy, pop, and cheeseburgers, the clerk closes his eyes. On the small TV mounted over the wrought iron cashier’s cage, local junior high flag football is being played. A kid catches a bomb and sails into the end zone.
When my dad would tell me that Superman was created here in Cleveland, I never really believed him. We took excursions downtown from the suburbs and explored it like it was some once-great civilization, with huge parts of it empty and exploded away. There were secrets and stories here, of a past that might once have been golden. As I grew up, I began to see why he might be right. At the time I am writing this, our football team has not won a game in eleven months. Our baseball team has not won a championship since 1948. The newspapers are filled with bad things. The air is getting cold and the skies will be overcast for the next six months. When we see a patch of blue, we look up and stare.
Superman is not real.
But here, at some point, he somehow was.
This story is not like the others. This story is not just about Superman, but is about two men and their work, both in public and in secret, over a significant portion of the twentieth century. This is about what they really did, not what we wanted them to. That is important, too.
I never knew Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I am not even remotely related to them. But their story—creating the impossible Superman as teenagers during the Great Depression—is one that somehow resounds through all of us with a soundtrack we can almost always quite hear. In the comics, Superman is always looking for secrets to his heritage. That is no coincidence. We all want to know where we come from. The same goes for our dreams and fictions. Why have these characters lasted? What can they tell us? Most people may claim to like Batman better, but it is Superman who measures the best of us. We want to know why.
But how? Not only through dusty facts and forgotten artifacts, but through the very actions that stole their hours. The truth is, Jerry and Joe told us their own secrets in the comics and stories they puzzled over for decades. We have been distracted by half-remembered tales when the answer has been right in front of us the whole time. The work: that is their secret identity.
Superman is not real. But the facts I discovered are just as unbelievable: a mystical cult, a bald, power-mad millionaire, a bulletproof strongman, the real Lois Lane, and a writer’s unlikely, secret service to his country. I found out that the first Superman story was stolen. I not only learned the true cause of Jerry’s father’s death, but who the culprits could be. How? I live in Cleveland; I went to all the places and read all the comics. It took a long time. I read Jerry’s last, unpublished story and my spine, as the comics always somehow promised, actually tingled. And I discovered someone real who, by all accounts, is supposed to be a lie. And somewhere in this book is who I think Superman really is. But that’s my interpretation; you have to find yours.
They call my name and I pay $25 for a birth certificate of someone I did once meet, but am not related to. I open it and pause. It is a new date and a new spelling, one that sounds suspiciously like a famous Superman character. This is how it starts: how truth can become imagination, and thus, a window into a hopeful world right next to our own. But creation has a cost.
Superman isn’t real. But sometimes we wish he could be.
This is the story of that wish coming true.
Big day in Cleveland — the “Superman at 75″ story made the front page of The Plain Dealer, along with two full color pages full of articles, quizzes, and calendars — all in Section A. The last time I remember Superman being on the front page of the PD was when Joe Shuster died. That was above left-column, with a small, but full-color drawing of Superman.
Mike Sangiacomo has been the lone voice of local recognition in Cleveland for decades, so to see this robust story — the first I’ve seen in anticipation of the anniversary — must be very satisfying for him. Keep following the story — the article includes a list of dates and events if you feel like visiting (or live in) our fair city. The story is also bolstered by a substantial online component (including an interview with me — thanks Mike). This is the kind of article the event needed — led by the character, but really about the creators — about the real city as it is now. I think that is probably the most appropriate way to celebrate this anniversary.
I mentioned before that The Plain Dealer is experiencing the same problems felt by all of our big city papers — so looming layoffs, delivery reductions, and other dooms, real and imagined, make this story all the sweeter.
Today’s provocative guest post is an essay provided by Adam Luhta, a musician and thinker here in Cleveland. His essay explores a lot of the fuzziness between fiction and non- that Superman seems to inhabit so easily.
I’ve been waiting to run this, but today seemed like a good day, because I keep thinking of this section from Adam’s work:
We believe our heroes to be selfless, honorable and courageous; attributes we all ourselves hold to some degree. However, these abilities are often hard to summon, and therefore, when they shine in someone the world notices. Sometimes we must be reminded of these abilities in order to utilize them; we must be taught that we have them and of what we are capable.
That sounds just about right today. Read Adam’s essay here: Superman-AdamLuhta
Adam Luhta is in his final semester at Case Western Reserve University where he is studying English, Creative Writing, and Film. Beyond academia, he has roamed the cityscapes and countryside on the music circuit as a song and dance man. Adam has one wife, innumerable animals, and more Star Wars action figures than you. Follow him at Adamluhta.com and on Twitter @rudetorats.