Monday, April 19, 2010


The actors who play the role of Superman are often conflated with the character. They are him, to the public. This has been especially relevant since Christopher Reeve's paralyzing accident. Celebrities often offer themselves as examples and models for dealing with any sort of hardship. When Reeve became quadripilegic, his role as Superman became important. He persevered and refused to give up hope that his condition could be cured.

I had a conversation with Jeff Ray, an IU student who works at the Wells Library. He noticed that I was checking out a book about Superman, and we started talking. He told me about his brother's condition, confining him to a wheelchair, and how they loved Superman. Knowing of Reeve's condition added a level of meaning to the character and made him all the more important to them.

Tracy Todd also identifies with Superman because of her condition as a quadriplegic. She recently wrote about her connection with the figure via Christopher Reeve in a blog entry.

With time, I managed to rebuild a new life in a new body. With the help of family, friends and my community I think I can safely say that I have managed to carve out a new, meaningful existence. When things get tough, I think of my Superman – his courageous and positive spirit carries me through the challenges of everyday life. And for that, I am thankful.

That's a great passage. Life is pretty hard, even if you're not dealing with physical difficulties. We use whatever we can find to get through it. I read again and again that superhero stories are only for immature boys, for people who don't want to grow up, that they're adolsecent power fantasies. People who say that are wrong. Tracy Todd, Jeff Ray, and a host of others who live with any sort of difficulty are proof of that. Todd ends with a great line:

Do you have a superhero carrying you through life?

I've been thinking a lot about what rold heroes (and superheroes) play in the world. Todd's blog post seems a perfect summary of the good that they can do for us.

I've been looking for this for a long time

So Barry Freiman has written up a list of descriptions of all the Superman references on Seinfeld. I'm pretty happy about this, since I have been trying to figure out in which episode Jerry and George talk about Superman's sense of humor for a awhile now.

That is all.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Science Books

Back to the types of books that focus on Superman. This time: Science!

I was a bit surprised at this, but there are several types of books that deal with science and superheroes. Only one, as far as I know, is solely focused on Superman: The Science of Superman, by Mark Wolverton.

Wolverton takes the position that, though none of Superman's powers are achievable for humanity today, the future may be different. He sees the powers as little more than quantitatively different from such natural human abilities as sight, breathing, etc. He speculates that a combination of technical advancement and evolutionary change will make the equivalent of superpowers a possibility. As far as I can tell, this book served as the primary source for the History Channel's program The Science of Superman.

The Science of Superheroes by Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg takes the opposite approach, demonstrating that nothing superheroes do will ever be attainable by humanity. They discuss alien life and the fact that Krypton would have to be gigantic beyond possibility to create a gravitational pull strong enough to make Superman the kind of being in the comics. There may be some influence on the History channel show as well.

The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios is a bit of a different book from those two. Kakalios is more interested in teaching physics than in whether or not powers are possible. He's quite happy when the powers are handled with a nod to the way the world works, but he's not hung up on it. He's pleased enough to teach us how to use basic (though extraordinary) Newtonian equations to find out how much force Superman would need to jump the 1/8 mile advertised by Siegel and Shuster in Action Comics #1. (He's not at all concerned with flight, since there's no real physics behind it: he ignores the impossible in favor of learning from the possible).

I like this idea of using Superman, and other heroes--the latter two books are inclusive--as a learning tool. A while back I gave a talk to a middle school about this very thing. I brought up other subject areas: fashion, psychology, philosophy, etc. These are topics that don't have more than one book devoted to them, and I think I'll devote a separate essay to them.

In one sense, these resemble the religious books. They take superheroes as a starting point and then discuss the implications.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I've been busy. Busy writing. Writing sixty pages of chapter 4. Maybe it'll have to break into chapters 4 and 5, and old chapter 5 will have to become chapter 6. I set a deadline for myself: have a draft of chapter 4 done by April 1. Well, that didn't quite work, because...because 60 pages, I suppose. I had expected 30. But, man, there's just a lot to say there. At one point, I realized that I needed to know a bit about Beauty and the Beast. I went home, found some books on the topic, read the relevant parts (I'd already read the books), and wrote nine pages that evening. It's out of control.

You read that right. I had to know about Beauty and the Beast for a book about Superman. Cupid and Psyche. East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon. Tale Type 425 for all you folklorists reading this. Do any folklorists read this? Also, Type 312. That's right. Bluebeard.

This is, perhaps, the best part about this project. One night, I found myself doing a bit of research into the life and career of Ben Affleck. Finished with that, I then picked up the next book on my reading list: a history of the friendship of Kurt Goedel and Albert Einstein. Not long after that, I watched the Iron Giant, then got out a book about ritual among the Ndembu. I think it's safe to say that these topics, in that order, and all related to a common end, have never been put together before.

Speaking of The Iron Giant...a great many people, grown men and women, discuss crying when a giant alien robot utters the word single word "Superman." And I've got to admit, it's a pretty emotional moment. That is one fantastic movie.

So I'm now taking a bit of a break from Superman. Those 60 pages (written in about 8 days--I set myself that deadline on March 24th. 30 pages seemed possible in that timeframe) took a lot out of me. The problem is, I can't seem to keep to my break. I spent last night contemplating Yoruba sculpture and how it relates to Calvin and Hobbes. The comic strip, not the philosophers. And, of course, how they all relate to Superman.