ED. NOTE: Throughout the week, Comic Riffs will focus on facets of Superman — the big, blue birthday boy — in advance of “Man of Steel.”
IT WAS about 80 years ago that a pair of Cleveland teens began dreaming up an outsider of a superhero who — in a single bound issue — would helped launch an entire industry.
And it was in June of 1938 that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced Superman to the world in Action Comics #1. In the intervening 75 years, the Son of Krypton has undergone decades of costume changes and plot twists and personality tweaks, as writers and artists have adapted Kal-El not only to their narrtive needs, but also their very eras.
As DC Entertainment times Friday’s release of the rebooted and re-suited “Man of Steel” to the 75th anniversary, Comic Riffs caught up with a handful of writers to ask a single question:
Why does Superman endure?
Here are their replies:
“Superman endures because we can all identify with him. Not the half of him who can lift tanks or soar through the air, but the half of him who wears street clothes and works a day job and tries desperately to fit in — the Clark Kent half. We may not know what it feels like to bounce bullets off our chests, but we've all at one time or another taken steps to be accepted by our peers as ‘part of the gang’ while knowing that, secretly, there's something inside us that makes us special.”
— Writer/editor MARK WAID, ( Kingdom Come; Superman: Birthright )
“I think Superman and Batman both [still] work because they were [created as] primal things. Bob Kane and Bill Finger got Batman right, and Siegel and Shuster got Superman right. And then, the characters have evolved to reflect the times they’re in. The Batman of the ‘50s wouldn’t work now ... and the ‘50s Superman is not the ‘70s Superman.
There is [also] something beautiful primal about how one, Kal-El, is solar-powered, and the other [Batman] shouldn’t be out by day.”
“I think at the end of the day what makes him who he is his moral compass given to him by the Kent's. He’s an alien and has all these incredible powers. It’s about a character who has to make the right decision. The decision we all know we should make even though the odds pf surviving the decision are terrible. So that’s what makes him relevant to me and it never gets old.
[Superman] reminds us off who are are at our core.”
— DC Comics writer SCOTT SNYDER (Superman Unchained)
“Superman created his own archetype — the unique combination of characteristics that we've come to call the superhero. Not just the outward trappings — tights, trunks, cape, chest insignia, shiny shiny
boots — but the notion that there's a guy out there who can choose to do anything, and what he chooses to do is look out for us. When people say he's boring, too powerful, a goody-goody, they're missing the fact that everything we think we know about the guy — his origin, his powers, his costume — has evolved over the years. ... The changes he's undergone reflect the cultural shifts that have taken place over the past eight decades, which is why when you sample any given Superman comic or movie or cartoon from a given era, you get hit with a potent dose of the zeitgeist — our obsessions, anxieties, fears and hopes.
“And throughout it all, his relationship to us has changed, too -- from overprotective big brother to coolly distant father to out-of-touch uncle to [during the 90s] ... our mullet-wearing, hillbilly cousin.
“But what makes Superman a hero isn't his costume or his powers or [thankfully] the relative achy-breakiness of his coiffure. No, there are only two elements that make a Superman story a Superman story. He's a guy who: 1. Puts the needs of others over those of himself, and who 2. Never gives up. As long as both of those elements are present in a given story — even when (also in the ‘90s) he's sporting a weird electricity-themed figure skating outfit look ,,, — it still feels like Superman.
“I think just the idea of looking up in the sky and getting inspired isn ever going to be something that we don’t need or we don’t want.”
— DC Entertainment’s GEOFF JOHNS, writer and chief creative officer