Monday, February 22, 2010


A while back (1981) the BBC produced a documentary on Superman called "The Comic Strip Hero", and "Batmitey" was kind enough to post it on YouTube. It begins with an intereview with Superman's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They talk about all sorts of stuff. It's crazy to see Joe Shuster hold up his sketch for the cover to Superman number 1.

Also weird: watching Frederic Wertham become annoyed by Superman. He'd written his book nearly thirty years before this documentary, in which he proclaimed Superman to be one of the worst things a kid could read, and yet he doesn't seem to be able to see beyond Superman's powers and the violence with which he solves problems. He seems especially annoyed that the character isn't real. When asked by the interviewer what he thinks of the fact that people say Superman stands for truth, justice, and the American way (this is in the fifth part, as divided on youtube), he can't even answer the question because it makes no sense to him. "How can it stand for something that doesn't exist..." he starts to say, which isn't the question. Then he goes back to the powers: "He flies through the air..." and he talks about how a woman who's raped doesn't need someone who can fly, but a police officer.

It's an interesting perspective. Again and again, people in the documentary talk about how Superman (and superheroes in general) are for little boys who want to be like them. Even Jerry and Joe talk about this. Also lurking behind Jerry and Joe's comments are their everyday wish fulfillments, such as being noticed by girls.

Then there's the thing that's not talked about, but that Wertham is heading toward with his comments when he talks about what "these two schoolboys" started in the beginning...It's what writer Brad Meltzer keeps coming back to in his novel The Book of Lies...the fact that Jerry Siegel's father was probably murdered. When Wertham refers to what the rape and murder victims need instead of Superman, he seems to forget that the victims often don't get what they need. People do bad things to each other. The law cannot protect everyone. So we imagine Superman, and a world where, when the law fails, there's something beyond it to save us. And wouldn't it be great if that something were powerful and unbound by the laws of nature so it could save us anywhere, any time? Wouldn't it be great if this person, or a whole group of people, didn't try to use their power to take over the world?

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