Superman turns 75 …
Happy Birthday to comic book’s greatest creation and to one of comic book’s greatest creators…
Seventy-five years ago today thousands of children (the vast majority of them boys) went with their parents (the vast majority of them the mothers) to drug stores, to grocery stores and past magazine stands. There they spotted a new magazine, published on that very day (the vast majority on the northern east coast of the United States).
It wasn’t a new type of magazine – it was a comic magazine. There have been magazines featuring comic strips as long as there have been magazines and comic strips.
This one featured new comic strips – never published anywhere else. This WAS fairly new. Comic magazines featuring new material had only been around a few years. Most of them were comical, had funny animals or reprinted adventure strips – retreads of the popular pulps of the day.
On the cover of this magazine was a man in blue tights and a red cape lifting a car over his head and smashing it to the ground while other men ran in panic. He was called Superman and his 14-page story was the first feature.
Other stories in Action Comics #1 were boxer Pep Morgan, Marco Polo, ace reporter Scoop Scanlon, two stories of crime-fighting cowboys – one set in the Wild West and one in modern times in England, and master magician and crime fighter Zatarra – whose daughter is still around in the comics.
Nearly all the stories were serials – part one of who-knows-how-many.
The comic book was a hit. It marked the birth of the superhero.
Happy 75thbirthday to Superman.
Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. In their mind they created a comic strip along the lines of pulp hero Doc Savage; they had similar powers and even a Fortress of Solitude. An early advertisement for Doc Savage called him a “superman”.
They did not know they created an new literary archetype.
The superhero is one of only two purely American archetypes – the other being the cowboy. The superhero is also the last archetype to have been created. Well, with any lasting power, that is. You could argue the hippie was also a lasting archetype. At one time it was, true, but now the hippie is used for laughs or otherwise has a negative connotation.
Look at the upcoming summer movie schedule to see what affect Superman has had on our culture. Look at the cartoons on television; even sit-coms. Do you think there would have been a “Big Bang Theory” without him?
I have written in a previous blog about the rotten treatment of Siegel and Shuster and their heirs – receiving hardly a penny from the Superman franchise. Many comic book professionals are making very valid points about this on their blogs and on their Facebook pages today. I join in their chorus. But I still wish Superman a happy birthday.
It is also Carl Burgos’ birthday. 75 years ago he turned 22. At this time he was drawing backgrounds and panel borders while working for Harry Chesler, a comic book magazine publisher. Did he pick up a copy of Action Comics #1 on his birthday? Probably not. Did he ever read Superman comics? I don’t know for sure, but I would suspect the answer is “Oh yes!”
Some time before October 1939 Burgos sold a character he created to Timely Comics, a rival of National Comics – Superman’s company. It was another superhero of the Superman archetype, but different enough to avoid being a mere copy of Superman
The character was the Human Torch. While not as popular as Superman at the time, it was still a success.
So much so that there is still a Human Torch (albeit with a different origin and identity) to this day.
So much so that the company, Timely, is still around (albeit with a different name – Marvel Comics, home of Spider-Man and the Avengers; you might have heard of them…).
Except for the 1950s, the Human Torch has been a published character since its creation. Only Batman, Wonder Woman and, oh yes, Superman, have been published longer and/or more continuously.
75 years ago a character was published that created an industry and through it America’s last great literary archetype. 97 years ago a man was born who would help launch one of that industry’s biggest publishers.
And on a personal note, happy birthday to my friend Don – born some time after Burgos and Superman – whose infectious love of comics and pulp magazines is greater than anyone I know!
Happy Birthday to them all!