Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why I Think Superman is Cool - A Guest Post by CanadianSimon

Hey, Signal Corps! As I mentioned, I'm out of pocket for a few days. In the meantime, CanadianSimon has sent along a post. And its not just Superman related (always a plus), its also a very personal piece.

I haven't done too many Guest Posts, but if this works out (and I think Simon's post worked out very well), we could make this a recurring feature. Please comment, be nice, and I'll be back next week.

Without further ado, here's Simon's post:

It has been said that comics are one of the two forms of art created in America, the second being Jazz, but where did the idea for these costumed super heroes come from? Surely the idea for space aliens, magic wish fulfillment rings and scientists who transform into monsters must be original in nature. As we all know, there are no new ideas. Rather today's comic book super heroes have their roots firmly planted in the mythos of the past. In the case of Ryan's favourite hero, Superman, we will see that the inspiration for this character goes back well over 3000 years.

Anecdotally I think a lot of people associate Superman with Jesus Christ. Even the Wachoski brothers make allusions to this in the Matrix trilogy where Neo, played by Keaneau Reeves,the series Christ like figure is purposefully given a costume the ripples like Superman's cape in the second and third movies. While Neo, Superman and Christ are all messiah figures, Superman was not based on Christ.

You see messiah is a very old term which means anointed. Typically it is used to describe a leader anointed by God. I doubt that two young men of Jewish decent, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, intended for Superman to be a metaphor for Jesus. Instead they were thinking just a bit farther back in the old testament, or Torah, of Moses. Both Moses and Superman follow the Talmudic injunction where you shall do good for goods sake. Can you imagine a being of Superman's immense power? Why would he bother to help out us puny humans unless he was truly anointed by God.

If you remember the story of Moses the only way that his family thought he could be saved was by letting him be adopted. At the time the Pharaoh had instructed that male Hebrew children would be killed by drowning in the Nile. His family put him a basket a sailed him down the river Nile where he was found and adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh. Moses went on to be a great leader of men.

This is very much like Superman's origin where Jor-el and Lara put him into a rocket ship and sent him to earth where he was adopted by the Kent's. Of course the destruction of Krypton basically wiped out the entire population of Krypton which is different than what was happening to Hebrew children during Moses time but it does mirror the sentiment that American Jews were feeling as the holocaust was happening in Europe. One might also point out the similarities of Superman's flight to Earth with that of Jewish children being sent away from Germany, Austria, Poland in the Kindertransport in the months leading up to World War II.

Additionally the name "Superman" or Übermensch was originally coined by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Nazi party of Germany co-opted the term of Ubermensch during World War II. In turned this caused Jerry Siegel to create a villainous character modelled after the Nietzsche ideal man. Later Joe Shuster suggested creating a hero with the name of Superman partly to tweak the nose of the Nazis.

Adoption also plays a major part in Superman's story. He yearns to discover his true identity and to become connected to this world. No matter what he does he never truly fits in because he is an alien. In comics Superman is an alien from another planet but that is more of an allegory for the alienation that adopted children feel. As an adopted child I can sympathize with him on this point. I have the most wonderful adopted parents who rival Ma and Pa Kent for the amazing upbringing and opportunities they have given me. However, sometimes I wonder about the who, the what and the why of my birth parents so I identify strongly with Superman's search for identity. Note: I've never tried to find out or ask about my birth parents and I probably never will. I just don't need that information to be happy but the wondering is still there lurking waiting to jump out at me when I'm feeling scared or alone.

So while some people may think that Superman can be a lame character the core ideas put into this fictional creation are extremely strong. He was based on Moses. He was intended to be something for Jewish children to look up to. He was always supposed to be fighting the Nazi's even though the comic company would not let him do so until after America entered World War II. Finally he is a role model for adopted children everywhere.

That is why Superman is cool to me.

Thanks so much, Simon!

I sincerely appreciate Simon stepping in to help out, and I hope we can have other, similar fill-in columns in the future.

Simon doesn't just leave comments on strange Texan comic geeks' blogs. He's a writer, developer and consumer of coffee. You can read CanadianSimon's blog at http://SimonMacDonald.blogspot.com


J.S. said...

Cool post, Simon!

Simon MacDonald said...

Thanks, hope everyone liked it.