Are those Timberlands?

From Robot 6:

“I was so happy that they made another Superman movie! I’m really reluctant to be critical of it in any way. But I thought the glossing over of the figuring out a secret identity and why he felt he needed one was a huge missed opportunity for that character, and one of the most interesting things about Superman is the whole secret identity. So to me it was too much action/violence and not enough character study.”

–  Jerry Seinfeld, addressing director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in a Reddit AMA

Pull Over

The State of Ohio just unveiled these new Superman license plates thanks to the efforts of the Siegel & Shuster Society, various local politicos, and most notably, Mayor Beryl Rothschild.

Read Mike Sangiacomo’s article on the plates here and the ceremony at Jerry Siegel’s house to unveil them.  As we speak, nefarious collectors all over the world are faking Ohio addresses…

Who Played Superman at the World’s Fair?

At Comic-Con, a few people asked me “So what do you think of the World’s Fair controversy???” I had no idea what it was (hey, I’ve been busy). After being filled in by Mike Catron, I think I’ve traced it back here to a guy named “Nostalgia King” who asked: “Q. How was Ray Middleton found to play Superman?”

What NK is talking about is Superman Day at the 1940 World’s Fair (more here on the Fair and the terrorist bombing that followed), where someone dressed up like Superman for a big, crazy parade that marked (I think) the beginning of Superman as franchise.

 

The newspaper accounts (and later media coverage) of who the actor was have always been deliberately mysterious and smack of hype: by not providing a name, the thought could lodge in all those kids’ minds You don’t think…….naahhh. But since the mid-seventies when someone wrote into DC and identified the guy as Ray MIddleton (a Broadway star), the association stuck. Like much of Superman history — somebody says something once and it mysteriously turns into fact. So that’s the great lesson of this whole mini-controversy (Raygate?) — don’t take anything for granted. I said it was Ray in the book. Was I wrong? Was it Ray or someone else?

Legendary comics/TV historian Mark Evanier recently weighed in on it (he thinks it was Middleton) and Steven Thompson continues to collate much of the discussion and evidence in an effort to reach a definitive conclusion. They both have good photos, dead-ends, and other ideas.

The arguments against Middleton are a) he was a judge in the Superboy/Supergirl contest (also part of the festivities) so he couldn’t be in two places at once, b) the Superman guy parts his hair on the other side, and c) they don’t look alike (see b.)

First off — does this whole question matter? Clearly, National and Duke Ducovny (who promoted the Fair event) wanted it to be mysterious. As I write in the book, this is where they saw how big this character in a cape could get. When you watch the movies, you can really see and feel this firsthand. It was the kids leading Superman, not the other way around.

For a), the parade and contest were separated by several hours so he definitely could be in both places at once. The following question then of why Middleton? is because he was already there. He was part of the big American Jubilee patriotic extravaganza at the Fair. His main role was of Abraham Lincoln. During the show, he would appear in the actual carriage (allegedly) that Lincoln rode to Ford’s Theater. This is Ray as the Great Emancipator:

The other celebrity judges of the Superboy/Supergirl contest (which also erupted in soccer mom controversy — see the book) were also already at the Fair in other roles. The better choice for Superman might have been Johnny Weissmuller, who I argue in the book was a physical model for Superman. But whether Johnny was too expensive, busy at the Aquacade (more likely), or too famous for what they wanted to accomplish (a very interesting possibility), they went with Ray.

For b) and c), I found another photo that is much closer in terms of POV. Both of these photos were taken on the very same day, a few hours apart.

So what do you think? I see them as the same person, but I am not using any kind of ultraviolet forensic technique other than the gut test. The obvious difference is the hair part, but that is easily changed, especially if they were trying to keep his identity mysterious — you couldn’t have the judge looking exactly like Superman. Though it is worth pointing out that in the 1940 comics, Superman did part his hair on the left. Still: look at how messy Ray’s hair is on the right — almost as if it was a victim of a recent restyling.

I sort of can’t believe I wrote that last sentence. But this is what history is sometimes.

My last bit of evidence is that I checked into the official Ray Middleton papers, which are housed at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. Assistant reference archivist Rachael Dreyer had this to report to Superman Nation:

Thank you for your patience as I researched your request regarding Ray Middleton’s 1940 World’s Fair appearance as Superman. I reviewed all of the boxes that contained newspaper clippings, publicity materials, and scrapbooks, as well as a box that appeared to contain correspondence from the early 1940s.

Unfortunately, the only materials that were related to the World’s Fair were programs that pertained to the show “American Jubilee,” which ran during the New York World’s Fair. Middleton is listed as a performer and the songs he sang appeared in print as well, but nothing about his Superman appearance or roles at the Fair. Once of the scrapbooks alluded to Middleton being awarded the “male leading role,” but did not give specifics as to what this role might have been.

So what was that “male leading role?” Maybe it’s more interesting if we don’t know for sure. Though if Ducovny and National were looking at head shots trying to find their Superman, it is easy to see them going for Ray Middleton’s:This whole discussion has also brought the home movies back into larger discussion. I’ve had a lot of people asking about them and have been thinking about posting them.  Check back soon maybe.

 

Review at MTV Geek

Patrick A. Reed reviews SUPER BOYS over at MTV Geek:

But in this book, Brad Ricca works something little short of a miracle. He creates a complete and well-rounded picture of the creators and the process of creation, builds a complex narrative from a staggering amount of research, and gives far greater insight into the genesis of Superman and the circumstances surrounding those events than any previous account has accomplished.  The writing is crisp and easy, the narrative is compelling, and the pages are profusely illustrated with pertinent images (many of which have never been reprinted in other volumes) – it tells an often-repeated story in a whole new way, and sheds fresh light on a vital piece of cultural history.

Read the full review here.

Reed also reviews new books on Margaret Brundage and Bazooka Joe. Big fan of Brundage (and of thin, credit cardlike gum and jokes).

Boing Boing

Big fan of Cory Doctorow and his Boing Boing site so it was cool to be part of this article by Lisa Granshaw. Especially because it includes Chuck Coletta, Dan DiDio(!) and Grant Morrison. Crazy. Granshaw looks on the Superman focus at Comic-Con and how (and I agree) there probably wouldn’t be one without him.

Read the article here. Boing Boing has the best bbs design. Takes me back to my Hotel Commodore dayz…

Review by Tony Isabella

Tony Isabella is an important figure in comics history, not only for the characters he created, but for the causes he has been an advocate of. You don’t need me to tell you that. He also ran a cool comics shop in downtown Cleveland that I used to go to as a kid whenever my mom had to go shoe shopping. I couldn’t even buy anything, but I just walked around and stared. They had stuff all the way to the ceiling that I didn’t even have names for.

Tony still lives (around) here — but I’ve never met him. Even though he has these giant garage sales (literally) of old comics memorabilia.

Tony blogs and is not one who is afraid (ever) to speak his mind. He knows a lot about Superman, but I never talked to him. Why? I found out early on that everyone had a different story on these two guys and nothing ever (ever) matched up, so I tried a different approach: to use primary sources in hopes of getting closer to the truth. I talked to the people who were close to them, but that was it. Everyone else seemed to have agendas. Agendas are interesting, but they aren’t always truthful. As in usually never. Everyone wants a piece of Superman. I had to be really aware of this myself — to avoid setting out an agenda of my own. That’s not my job. Sure, I had plenty of little agendas (maximum Doctor Occult, more Joe), but the overall question — what should we think of this all? — I wanted to leave up to you.

Tony just reviewed the book:

It is the finest comics biography I have ever read and I’ve read some great ones . . . Ricca conveys the emotional and physical pains of Siegel and Shuster so vividly that the reader will feel them as well.  If you have a conscience, you will be incensed by the cruelty of the Superman publishers in specific and the comics industry in general.  As I’ve often said, despite the amazing artistry and power of the comic book art form, the history of the American comic book is the history of its great creators being cheated and impoverished by the dishonesty and greed of comics publishers.  Hold on to that anger.  It’s as true a thing as you will ever experience.

Read Tony’s entire review here at Tales of Wonder (and check out his garage sales…)

Comic-Con Program 2013

Not to keep harping on Comic-Con (because I know that every year I don’t go, I get pretty sick of other people talking about it too), but here’s this: So I was slightly disillusioned that there was nothing formally celebratory for Siegel and Shuster at the Con — until I got in on Preview Night and saw the official program, the big unwieldy tome you get with your giant bag. I had submitted this piece some months ago and had not heard anything, but there it was on the first page (!) of their big Superman at 75 coverage. I really like how it turned out, so I wanted to post it here. The program is really worth hunting down — it has some really interesting original Superman art and writings (and depictions of Siegel and Shuster). There is some good Doctor Who at 50 stuff in it as well. Can’t miss the new Dave McKean Sandman cover art, either.

Click for a bigger, more readable version.

New Review

A very thoughtful review over at Booksteve’s Library:

If Jerry hadn’t conceived Superman it would have been some other dreamer on some other moonlit night but somewhere along the way, in some form or another, heroic bigger than life characters would have still come about. But the fact is that it WAS Jerry Siegel who did it first. It’s Superman who is and always has been the most iconic and it was Siegel and Shuster who made him that way.  And they got shafted.

 

 

With lots of ultra-rare photos and art as well, SUPER BOYS gets Booksteve’s highest recommendation as a most important addition to comic book history. If you’ve ever cared about truth, justice and the American way, you owe it to yourself to find out just how they played into the stories of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Read the review in its entirety here.

Steven Thompson has been a mainstay reviewer of comics and books — new and old — for a long time and operates like ten blogs, offering first-rate comics history the way it should be: with rare photos, scans, and information that is shared without apology. So this review means a lot to me. His latest venture is on World’s Finest, which will no doubt be very popular in the lead-up to the new movie. His blog on artist Gray Morrow, now on hiatus, is also filled with fantastic art. I’ve come to Morrow late, but have been reading the new reprint of Orion (from Hermes) all summer.

COMIC-CON, CONQUERED

Not really.  I haven’t been for a few years, so I forgot how overwhelming it is. For all of its problems and things worthy of criticism though, there is still nothing like it: crazy, expensive, beautiful. Frustrating but liberating. Like France. I hope you can go sometime.

This time was different too because I was actually there for work. And that was really cool. When I used to go, I would give a paper or be on a panel, but as a fan, I was also overcome with this huge desire to be part of it in more significant ways. I think a lot of people who go feel exactly the same way.

So…Superman. The DC display was very nice — they displayed all of the costumes from the movies (including Superman Returns) in these giant tubes like the memorial ones in the Batcave (symbolism?). They even had the Clark Action Messianic Fishing Gear Outfit. I wish they would have had some Lois stuff there too, but oh well. Otherwise, the DC booth had lots of MAD branding which seemed sort of odd, but not really given the success of their kids show.

I did go to the official DC Superman at 75 panel. I’m always sort of confused by how unorganized these things are — no video package, no format, just (mostly) dudes on a stage.

But what an impressive collection of dudes:

 

From right: Paul Levitz, Jack Larson, Dan Jurgens, Molly Quinn (the lone woman), GRANT MORRISON, Dylan Sprayberry, Jim Lee, Tim Daly (?), David Goyer, and Henry Cavill.

That’s some Last Supper. They just kind of talked with no format. Molly Quinn talked about her relationship to Supergirl. Morrison, of course, called Kal-el the Sun God. Molly looked at him like he was radiating beta waves or something. I got a genuine thrill out of seeing him. Huge fan of The Invisibles. I actually wore a blank badge on my backpack for about two years.

About halfway in, Levitz said something about “thanks to Jerry and Joe” and it went unheeded. Later on, when the moderator (in a t-shirt) asked what everyone’s favorite piece of Superman memorabilia was, Levitz said it was one of the bricks from Jerry Seigel’s house — which the Siegel and Shuster Society (w/ Brad Meltzer) made happen as part of the restoration of the house. So that was nice. Overall, it was a good panel. Not the “celebration” I was expecting, but certainly lots of talent. Jack Larson got an Inkpot Award, and shared some stories. No Lois. And no offense DC, but you could have sprung for t-shirts.

The big Superman/Batman announcement had been made about an hour or so before, so everyone already knew. Goyer made clear that they weren’t sure if it would be called “Superman vs. Batman” or “Batman vs. Superman.” Versus.

I also signed over at Trickster. It was (thankfully) away from the madness at an awesome bar/bowling place (Market Tavern Bowl) where I could sit and drink beer(s). Luckily, I was saved by pal Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson (yes, that Wheeler-Nicholson; she blogs here)  and Jeff Trexler who was the focus of the legal panel. We talked a long time about shadowy conspiracies. I spent all my money at Trickster (thanks Anita). Pope, Mahfood, and Michael Golden were there so I was kind of dazed.

On Sunday, I was part of a panel on the lawsuit, and it was one of the best Superman panels I’ve ever been a part of. From left: Jeff Trexler, moderator Heidi MacDonald, me, and Pete Coogan (our host).

Heidi is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer. She used a chronological framework that worked really well for a relaxed, kind of Meet the Press (Russert era) conversational vibe. The room wasn’t completely packed, but it was attentive, as we reached a good mix of me spinnin’ yarns and Jeff offering absolutely aces legal explication. At one point, I told the crazy Howard Cosell story I tell in the book and Heidi actually impersonated the Humble One.

Like I said, the room was not full. Yet two major Time-Warner VIPs, one current, one former, were in the front row.

The stalwart Jamie Coville (with Catron, one of the medium’s major archival historians) taped the panel, so I’m sure he will have it soon (I’ll link to it here). UPDATE: Jamie has it posted (already!) at First Comic News. We all owe Jamie a big thanks — if you can’t go, he brings it to you. His work is of immense value to historians and fans alike.

Heidi’s last question on this, which she called comics’ “most important story” was simply “what-if?” My answer was that I wished the families could have shared in the celebration this year. Jeff’s wish was that Joanne Siegel could have enjoyed the fame and recognition she deserved in her last years. The night before, as we left the Con, we saw them setting up the Superman VIP party — complete with Fortress of Solitude structures and Superman lamps shining on the masses huddled in the Gaslamp below.

Overall, I had a great time and think DC did a nice job (at the Con, not the party). Not that my opinion matters. We knew they wouldn’t go out of their way, but the story was there, in the underneath. In the end, Superman was everywhere, which was really good to finally see.

But ha, nice location branding, Sony.

 

Thanks as well to Mysterious Galaxy who went out of their way to let me have a guerrilla signing there. If you want to buy cool signed books from the Con, head to their website. The response to my book from some unlikely people was really encouraging. Same with retailers. Otherwise, I got to hang out with my editor Michael Homler and talk Optimus Prime and other stuff. We walked around with Greg Weisman for about twenty minutes until I realized who he was (rookie mistake). He had some stories.

It was also great to see people like Craig Yoe, Bud Plant, Mike Catron, Matt Smith (the real one), and Bill Vuk, who I began my comic career with when we split up a collection of borrowed Invaders that we both devoured in two nights. And great to finally meet Heidi MacDonald. The big misses were not running into Sean Wicks (King of Blu-ray @WixPix) and Glen Weldon, author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography (his NPR diary for the Con also is a must-read). The place is just too nuts to see everyone. But thanks also to Caroline, Duke, and Chris for coming out as support — though they saw more panels than me. Caroline saw Harrison Ford. I said “No, you saw Han.” Her: “No, I saw Indy.”

But this did happen:

I was debating with someone if we trudge to Comic-Con to do this stuff to recapture our childhoods, but I don’t think it’s that. It’s more like retribution or vindication or just plain old exhibitionism. Or science-fiction made science-real at last. Either way, being on the stage standing next to a Nova Centurion within arm’s reach of the Star-Lord helmet was . . . pretty mind-boggling.

 

Speaking of the House of Ideas, congrats to Sean Howe for winning a well-deserved Eisner Award for his Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Easily the most entertaining book I’ve read all year. Go pick it up — it is an obvious passion project, which is the best kind of writing to read. 

Sean wasn’t at the Con, but had Tom Spurgeon read a letter of acceptance for him:

 

Thank you for this tremendous honor.

I’d like to thank the dedicated scholars of the past and present, for ensuring that the historical details of the comic-book medium, and its attendant industry, are never forgotten. There’s still a wealth of information about our heritage that resides exclusively in dusty old files, curling mimeographed fanzines, and shoeboxes filled with photos, many of which are hopelessly neglected in garages or hoarded in basements. If you feel a shudder of recognition at that description, there are bright-eyed staffers at comic research libraries that would love to hear from you.

I’d also like to express my gratitude to those generous souls who shared their memories with me, who entrusted me with their stories and opened my eyes. It’s always been my hope that this book would serve as a reminder that credit should always rest with the men and women behind the comic books. No company has ever created a comic book, or a character, on its own — for that you need the creativity of individuals. I know you know this, but… sometimes we forget. Sometimes there are very enthusiastic consumers who will excitedly name the holder of a trademark but have no idea who sat behind a desk or a drawing table in 1966 and just let their imagination wander.

Maybe it’s not too late to change that. Thanks.

 

“Sometimes we forget,” but “not too late.”

And this last photo just because there is still some wonder to it all, when the imagination is left to wander:

The 75th Anniversary of Superman at Comic-Con

Comic-Con week!

I will be on this panel:

The Secret History of the Siegel and Shuster Lawsuits (10:30AM-11:30AM; Room 26AB)—Five years after the Siegel heirs won a historic victory and regained a share of the Superman copyright, a higher court has set aside the verdict and also shut down the Shuster estate’s claim. As we face the final chapter of the Superman copyright dispute, this panel will explain what is really happening. What crucial details were overlooked or misinterpreted? Is there still hope for other creators?  Or does Superman’s 75th anniversary mark the end of truth, justice and the American dream?  Moderated by The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald with commentary by Siegel and Shuster biographer Brad Ricca (Case Western Reserve University), this panel features the legal analysis of Jeff Trexler (Fordham Law School), whose influential commentary on the Superman lawsuits set a new standard for comics-related legal analysis and also became part of the case.

This will be good — potentially with some major surprises (potentially not hyperbole), so don’t miss it. If you want a signed copy of Super Boys, come to this panel. That’s all I can say.

Otherwise, I will also be over at the offsite oasis known as TR!CKST3R:

TR!CKST3R was started by Pixar artists and celebrates creator-owned stuff, so of course it is the perfect place to sell Super Boys.  

And, what I am really happy about, I contributed an article about Jerry and Joe to the Con program. Very happy about that.

So it’s always kind of a nerd debate, but I don’t think there would be an original Con in 1970 if superhero comics had not taken off. And despite how out-of-context The New York Times quotes me (#problems), while I do think that somebody would have eventually come up with a superhero, it would not have been Superman. The character is just too unique. We might now be getting excited about Talkie-Con or Bravo-Con or Sharknado (sorry, can’t do it) -Con in that alternate reality. There is a very good chance it wouldn’t be Comic-Con.

The more conspiracy-minded people around me think it’s a little strange that the only panel that says anything about Siegel and Shuster is one about the lawsuit…at 10:30 AM on Sunday…opposite the Kirby panel with NEIL GAIMAN. I tell them there are three “Superman at 75″ panels (one with Morrison), but they note they are all DC-approved. Mark Waid, Glen Weldon and I proposed a panel about Superman’s anniversary, but it was rejected. Too bad — we had big plans. BIG plans. Maybe the world wasn’t ready. We would have talked about Vartox, the real person behind Bizarro, and heard Mark’s very quiet, thoughtful remarks about Man of Steel. Glen will be at the Con promoting his book and covering it for NPR. But no panel, so find him on Twitter @ghweldon in case we can host an impromptu salon somewhere probably nowhere.

There is an official Superman at 75 party:

Saturday Night. DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Entertainment celebrate 75 years of Superman. 8:30 p.m.-midnight, Float Rooftop Bar, Hard Rock Hotel. Invitation only.

There are zero unofficial Superman parties. That being said, I think Comic-Con ITSELF is the unofficial party. And that’s maybe how it should be. This isn’t sour grapes, I’m kind of joking around to make a point. Superman, our Superman, is the triumph of the meek, the nerd, the awkward. Let’s face it, Clark would only get invited to a LexCorp party as a power move anyway (and would probably spill the shrimp cocktail). Lois would surely get invited — but she’d leave.

So no, despite what my Kremlinologist colleagues whisper at me, it is actually not the end of the world that there isn’t a giant Siegel and Shuster celebration at Comic-Con this year with giant gold statues and hologram replicants on panels. Far, far, from it. If there were, I’d probably be making fun of that instead.

 

The point of Superman — the whole story, really — was the triumph of the underdog. This is still how it is — and there is a lot of power there.

I’ve talked about who really owns Superman before. After Man of Steel, it is definitely the fans who have bankrolled/Kickstarted another ten-year franchise. Whether you like the film or not, it is you who are in control of the story (come on, you know there will now be massive punishment/introspective soliloquies before Supes forgives himself in #2). The people at that party know that. We should, too.

I’m not going to lie, if I was invited to that DC party, I would totally go. But 131 people (thanks Jeff Trexler) have already posted that they are going to our panel, so I’ll be getting ready for that instead. I am bringing a book to Comic-Con about Superman — and I still can’t believe it. Dream come true (Ed. update: still not invited).

Now that I have to miss the Kirby panel with @NeilHimself, I am reminded of Gaiman’s article “The Myth of Superman” from 2006:

Superman is different because he doesn’t really belong to the writers who’ve created his adventures over the last 68-plus years. He has evolved into a folk hero, a fable, and the public feels like it has a stake in who Superman “really” is . . . the specific stories we tell about Superman – the what-happened and what-he-did – don’t matter that much. Superman transcends plot. We retell his tales because we wish he were here, real, to keep us safe. Everyone knows the Superman story.

You might think this quote is a bit problematic about creator rights, but he’s right. Superman is bigger than ©Superman. And I think that a big part of that balancing act of transcendence — that story – is how he was created. For me, that’s how the story — as underdog, as fighter — is always maintained. The story of Jerry and Joe makes Superman as mythic as any flash of heat vision ever could. Even better because it is real. That’s how we should be positively celebrating the character — not just with history and panels and collectibles, and who owns what, but with our own imaginations. Our own launches into open space. Superman is, for me, always a story about making art — just as much as it is about punching Brainiac into space.

I disagree with Neil a bit though. No one thinks of Superman as real. They think of themselves as him. That’s the secret. That’s why we make our way west in July. We don’t want to get rescued. We want to put aside the glasses, open up the shirt, and take that first step up — in a positive act of defiance. We want to act in a slightly strange, slightly dangerous way. Superman, even in his earliest incarnation, can leap several stories into the air.

Stories.