Valdosta Daily Times

Features

June 13, 2013

A Superman for all seasons

VALDOSTA — Superman seems a character who is needed every generation or so.

He was created in the late 1930s during a period when dictatorships were spreading across Europe. Superman came into being during the end of the Great Depression, at a time when the world was about to be steeped in a terrible global conflict.

Like many people fleeing the terrors of Europe at that time, Superman was an immigrant — an illegal alien from outer space — seeking a new home in America. Superman was an immigrant who became an American and then devoted his talents to helping his adopted nation.

Initially, Superman wasn’t all powerful. He couldn’t even fly. He jumped as in “able to leap a tall building in a single bound.” Still, early, he took on the Nazis before the comic book’s publishers decided that thrusting the horrors of the real world into the fantasy of Superman wasn’t a good idea.

After all, if he was fighting the Nazis, why not have Superman just stop the entire German army or capture Adolf Hitler?

In the comics, Superman could easily stop someone like Hitler. In the real world, there was no Superman to stop Hitler. Rather, it took the concerted effort of an entire generation of American supermen, known as G.I.s, to stop the Nazis in Europe and Japan in Asia.

Still, for children, even some adults, Superman became a symbol in those frightening and difficult times. With his dedication to “truth, justice, and the American way,” Superman was more than a character. He was an idea of possibilities. He was adventure wrapped in a cape of hope.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, as America’s power and influence grew, Superman’s powers increased. He flew. He had heat vision. He had x-ray vision. He was incredibly strong. Nothing could hurt him. He could run as fast as Flash. He had superbreath, which he could hold for long periods of time, or exhale as very hot or very cold.

He was an icon that became so powerful that he nearly destroyed himself as a character. After all, who wants to read about the stories of a character who cannot be defeated? So, he received an Achilles’ heel or two. Superman could be weakened by kryptonite, fragments of his home planet. He was powerless in the face of magic. As America became more powerful, we still had a nemesis in the Soviet Union. As we developed more powerful weapons, we could still be destroyed by those weapons.

In the 1970s, following the devastation of Vietnam, the disgrace of Nixon’s resignation, and the impotence of the Iran hostage crisis, Superman soared into movie theatres. He was played by a young unknown named Christopher Reeve. The movie was a blockbuster, but it was something more, just beneath the surface. It was a reminder of what America had been and could be again.

This week, a new Superman movie opens. Given real-world events of the past several years, it seems that the times have been more than ripe for “The Man of Steel.”

9/11, wars, terrorism, Boston bombers, Oklahoma tornadoes, there have been so many occasions when it would have been wonderful to have a real Superman?

But Superman has long been more than his powers. It is his credo: Truth, justice and the American way.

There are times in our dark world when a character such as Superman seems silly. Even the other superheroes are much darker, much more in tune with the realities of the world. But Superman appeals to the better natures that dwell within humanity. Superman inspires the limitless potential of the human spirit. Superman inspires the possibility of hope.

Quite often, Superman reminds us that there are real heroes in our midst. They may not be able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound but they are willing to enter a tall building ready to collapse or explode. They are willing to dare the impossible for the possibility of a better world. They fight, live and die for those ideals of truth, justice and the American way.

 

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