Getting to Know the Man of Steel: Five Biographies of Superman

In an article on Panels.net entitled Secret Identity: The Book That Made Me Get Superman, Chris Rohling admits to not having cared for Superman until a certain occurrence.   “I wasn’t one of those people who decried his every appearance and busted people’s chops for a being a fan of the guy,” he explains “It was more a value neutral thing.”  At the age of nineteen, however, he encountered Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s Secret Identity.  He enumerates various aspects of the art and writing that captured his attention.  While reading his come to Kal-El account, I remembered feeling a similar revelation when exposed to John Byrne’s Man of Steel , Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman.  Before, I’d flitted in and out of appreciating Superman, but  these three mini-series led me to truly understand what hardcore fans understand about Superman – it’s not only about the superpowers.  It’s about the superpowers and the incorruptible essence of he who wields them.

When asked to imagine Superman, my father reports picturing Max Fleisher’s version from the animated shorts he watched a lifetime ago.  My older brother sees Kurt Shaffenberger, George Reeves, and Christopher Reeve.  For me, a mélange including my three favorites mentioned above flits through my head like a slideshow presentation.  After more than 75 years, we have a Superman for everyone, even for Chris Rohling, who reflects:

Critics will say that Superman is a boring character because he lacks emotion/is too powerful/too good of a person. Whatever the flavor of the week is. Secret Identity proves all of these wrong. It’s a clever book bursting with heart anchored by beautiful, subtle art that creates a fully realized person and follows them through his entire life.

In 2013, I explored Superman more deeply with help from five books published within two years of one another, biographies of sorts, not shallow blow-by-blow accounts that detail strings of plots or actions.  Publishers released each in accordance with Superman’s 75th anniversary. Each confirmed theories, instilled delectation and disillusionment, and presented facts heretofore unknown to me.  Although approaching the subject with different emphases, all five biographers agree: Superman will endure.  Always an England?  Maybe.  Always a Superman?  No doubt, but they want to know why.

Although my impressions surface throughout, this essay isn’t so much a traditional book review as it is an appreciative inspection.  Parenthetical citations refer to page numbers in the book I’m quoting at that moment.  Now go forth and read.  “Superman Studies” is quite the burgeoning field.  A never-ending flow of new releases joins the multitudes already occupying crowded library shelves.  For now, however, these five will do for me.  I hope they’ll do for you too.  I hope you discover or rediscover your Superman.

Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye

61YyuIB1SCL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Readers hoping to find an issue-by-issue analysis of Superman the character should look elsewhere, because while Larry Tye offers a biography that illustrates the evolution of this international phenomenon, he does so through the lens of business.  Superman, after all — whether one imagines him with the face of Kirk Alyn, or speaking heroically like Bud Collyer or Tim Daly — exists only through creative energies put into play by editors, publishers, writers, artists, filmmakers, all this stemming from the hearts of two young fanboys from Cleveland wanting to break into the industry they loved so passionately.  If readers do choose to look elsewhere, they risk missing quite an adventure that for over seven and a half decades has been known as “Superman, Inc.”

In the book’s Preface, Tye defines why Superman interests him so deeply: “The most enduring hero of the last century is someone who lived half his life in disguise and the other half as the world’s most recognizable man” (ix). Later, he challenges those of us who might feel greatly familiar with Superman: “Ah, you say, the Man of Steel – I know him!  But do you really?  Do you know the wrenching story of his birth and nurturing at the hands of a parade of young creators yearning for their own absent fathers” (ix-x)? Here Tye refers to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, of course, as well as later creators who would take Superman into every existing medium, making him the most known man who never really existed.  How, then, did this brainchild take off?  The answer is complex, but Tye takes excellent care in analyzing behind-the-scenes dealings, even if certain participants weren’t as heroic as their visions.

In spite of Tye’s assertion that buffs might not know the “real” Superman, critics have complained that he reports nothing new.  The author does include the gamut of infamous tales, such as how Frederic Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and the Kefauver hearings that followed nearly killed the comic-book industry during the 1950s.  Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were the only superheroes to survive the pogrom.  Then there’s the story of how the now classic film starring Christopher Reeve sprang from a conversation between Alexander Salkind and his son, Ilya, while dining together at the Café de la Paix in Paris. Alexander later initiated a grotesque Ponzi scheme, selling or trading more than 100 percent of the film, inspiring comparisons to Max Bialystock from Mel Brook’s The Producers.  Lucky for Salkind that Superman: The Movie, released in 1978, metastasized into an enormous hit, generating enough funds to pay back investors. My favorite moment happened in 1991 when artists and writers met with Mike Carlin, the editor in charge, in one of many regular meetings to discuss ideas for titles starring Superman.  Illustrator Jerry Ordway jokingly suggested, “Everyone dies – the end!”  Others took the idea seriously, however, and thus emerged the famous Death of Superman arc.  The sad fates of George Reeves and Christopher Reeve receive notice as well.  Tye devotes quite a few pages to the unwitting deal Siegel and Shuster made with Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz and the ensuing legal battles, but more on that later when I examine Brad Ricca’s biography of Superman’s “fathers.”

I agree.  Tye offers nothing new – except for his dispassionate reportage, devoid of worship, which lends credence to his voice.  He maneuvers through comics books, to comic strips, to radio, to animation, to film and television, employing his journalist’s eye to throughout – from, for instance, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson to Mort Weisinger to John Byrne – outlining both the light and the dark aspects of individuals who have kept Superman not only alive but solidly entrenched in American culture for most of the twentieth century and beyond.  A friend noted that on occasion Tye strays from accuracy, for example, when he claims Titano the Super Ape and Streaky the Supercat were from Krypton, which hardcore aficionados know is flatly wrong.  If you’re looking to pick nits, have at it.  I for one laud his meticulous dissection, how he  bares the engines propelling the shiny outer machine.

Tye concludes that Superman has “belied every prediction of his demise and defied the life expectancy for cultural icons and literary properties” (299), and he will continue to do so because:

Heroes like Doc Savage, Ty Cobb, and even Teddy Roosevelt can become dated, reduced to interesting reflections of their era but not ours.  Others, like Sherlock Holmes, Babe Ruth, and Franklin Roosevelt, still resonate, tapping into something primal.  Superman defines that archetype.  Part of it is the irresistible allure of taking flight.  Port of it is the seduction of the love triangle and his secret identity.  Part of it is being ten years old again. The more the flesh-and-blood role models let us down, the more we turn to fictional ones who stay true.  With them, and especially with Superman, it is about the possibility – or getting the girl, saving the world (or at least Lois and Jimmy), and having it our way.  Our longest-lasting hero will endure as long as we need a champion, which should be until the end of time. (300)

May Tye’s prediction come true.

Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon

41FeI0WgpaL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Co-host of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast and comic-book critic for NPR, Glen Weldon acknowledges Larry Tye as a source for his offering.  He notes that “Larry Tye’s exhaustive book on Superman came out the week after [he] turned in [his] manuscript, but [he] kept it by [his] side throughout the editing process so that it could serve as [his] ludicrously well-informed and voluble fact checker” (332)   Indeed, Weldon covers much of the same ground as Tye, but chooses to emphasize changes in the Superman canon as it changes over time with society rather than on merely describing Superman, Inc.  Weldon realizes these shifts occur in part due to marketing techniques and structural rules related to various media, but they also occur due to changes in zeitgeist and reader demand.  After all, Superman is a product, but he is a product with many makers. With this in mind, Weldon focuses on a broader conversation between owners, writers, artists, history, and a varying public mood.

The tone of this unauthorized biography is colloquial with frequent bursts of snark.  The first line of the introduction reads: “When you think about it, Lex Luthor’s got a point: everything comes easy to Superman.  That, in fact, is pretty much his whole shtick: entitled superiority” (1)  And two paragraphs later: “Superman is every handsome, athletic trust-fund kid who roars his convertible into the high school parking lot as the sweater around his neck flutters in the breeze.  Why has a schmuck like that endured for seventy-five years” (1)? . . . Relax, because in spite of his snappishness, Weldon does maintain healthy respect for his subject:

Superman changes as our culture changes.  The only thing about him, in fact, that has       remained untouched, inviolate, since Action Comics #1 hit the stands in April 1938 is his motivation.  That motivation is at once the simplest of them all and the hardest to unpack: he is a hero.  Specifically:

  1. He puts the needs of others over those of himself.
  2. He never gives up. (3)

When a story represents Superman in any other light, fans react strongly.  Many walked out on Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013), because they felt it didn’t represent Superman’s true spirit.   If the above two elements, what Weldon defines as “bedrock,” are missing, “our mind rebels; we instinctively reject it.  It’s just not Superman” (3).

Weldon deftly outlines the character’s evolution.  For example, within Superman’s first decade, Siegel and Shuster transform him from a rough-and- tumble, social-justice advocate into a super patriot who pitches war bonds and preaches about Victory Gardens.   When Superman first appeared in 1938, the United States recently had weathered the Great Depression, so a hero who punishes corrupt wealth and protects the poor resonated with readers.  Scant years later after the war had begun, the comics industry was booming, especially for GIs stationed overseas craving adventures that supported their efforts.  35,000 of all comics shipped to servicemen featured Superman. Clearly this change demanded a change in Superman’s marketing and a continued flexibility in this regard has kept our boy in blue thriving.

It’s revealed how other Metropolitans undergo similar metamorphoses, – Lois Lane (whom I will cover in the section devoted to Tom De Haven’s book), Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and arguably the greatest bête noir of all time, Lex Luthor.  In the beginning, Luthor the evil scientist was a “gaunt figure with a shock of bright red hair and a thin-lipped sneer” (38).  Later on November 16, 1940, however, he first appeared in the Superman newspaper comic strip as a “scowling, heavy-set bald man in a lab coat” (38). The artist received the blame, having mistaken an earlier image of a henchman for Luthor himself.  The baldness stuck, regardless of intent.   After years in exile, Jerry Siegel returned to writing Superman stories and retroactively introduced the reason for Luthor’s hairless pate.  In Adventure Comics #271 (1960), he established that Superman and Luthor had met years earlier in Smallville, when Superman was Superboy, and that an attempt by Luthor to eliminate kryptonite had gone awry, causing him to lose his hair and blame Superboy for the mishap.  Thus, he was no longer one lab accident away from becoming a super-villain.  At this point, Luthor also receives his first name, Lex.  In 1986, John Byrne launched a revamped Superman in his mini-series Man of Steel and crafted my favorite iteration, the ruthless tycoon simulating Donald Trump, but with more intelligence and style, and with no comb over.  This fell well in line with the “greed is good” mentality of the 1980s, presaging how economic attitudes at that point possessed a villainous touch, at least in Byrne’s outlook.  Once again, combined forces – writers, market factors, medium conventions, and even error –  prod dynamic movement.

Weldon agrees with Tye that regardless of failures — of Electric Superman, or Red and Blue Superman – Superman will endure.  Never mind Bryan Singer or Zack Snyder, whose films accomplished both failure and success.  Superman’s stamina springs from the two unchanging principles that Weldon asserts lie at the core of true representations of Superman, he puts the needs of others over those of himself, and he never gives us.

Like us, he is a creature of immense strengths and surprising weaknesses. He’s not the same guy he started out as, but who among us can say we are?  He’s been around for  three-quarters of a century already, and, in some form, he’ll be here for centuries to  come, because no matter how much he changes on the outside, Superman will always peak to the most essential, the most hopeful, the most invulnerable part of us. (329)

Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – the Creators of Superman by Brad Ricca

51CYLVT5uwL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_For ten years, Brad Ricca researched documents and private collections, eventually coordinating source materials into the first comprehensive biography of Superman’s creators, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster.   He explains his motivation in his Introduction:

I never knew Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I am not even remotely related to them.  But    their story – creating the impossible Superman as teenagers during the Great Depression – is one that somehow resounds through all of us with a soundtrack we can almost always  just hear.  In the comics, Superman is always looking for secrets to his heritage.  That is  no coincidence.  We all want to know where we come from.  The same goes for our dreams and fictions.  Why have these characters lasted?  What can they tell us?  Most people say claim to like Batman better, but it is Superman who measures the best of us.  We want to know why. (xx)

Ricca studies the source, two young men from Cleveland yearning for professional success in comics.  The pair refined Superman and refined him again, moving from a bald villain with psychic powers more resembling Luthor than the powerhouse they’d eventually develop.  Ricca catalogs important influences as well.  Philip Wylie’s Hugo Danner and Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter and Tarzan feature prominently, but Ricca never mentions Doc Savage.  Joe’s fascination with weightlifting magazines and tights-wearing strong men explains Superman’s colorful costume.  Models Lois Amstel and Joanne Carter, the sources for Lois Lane, enter the scene.  Joanne Carter later became Joanne Carter Siegel, Jerry’s second wife.  Finally, the two sold their creation outright to Harry Donenfeld for $130.00, unknowingly birthing a decades-long battle equal in legend to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s.

In their haste to advance in the business, the two accepted a horrible deal that now exemplifies the perils of copyright.  In fairness, though, how could they have predicted Superman, Inc?  On the other side stood Donenfeld, a pornographer seeking legitimacy, and his partner, Jack Liebowitz.  Both were unmovable when it came to recognition and remuneration.  Siegel and Shuster weren’t above symbolically infusing this reality into the stories they wrote for Superman comics:

In Superman #14, Jerry tells a story of a young inventor named Chet Farnsworth who has invented an astounding “fire extinguishing powder” that promises to save countless lives.  Clark [Kent] wants to write a story about the young inventor but finds that he has sold the  rights to a man named Jim Baldwin, a slick “famous promoter.”  Predictably, Farnsworth is treated similarly – very similarly – to how Harry and Jack treated Jerry and Joe.  (208)

Ricca expanded my knowledge base substantially.  I’d known that with Bernard Baily Siegel created one of my favorite superheroes, the Spectre, and that both Siegel and Shuster were responsible for Slam Bradley, Dr. Occult, and Henri Duval.  Siegel, of course, also devised Superboy and many elements important to Superman’s lore during the 1950s and 1960s — as if siring Superman himself weren’t enough?  Additionally, I now admire the breadth of input Siegel contributed to the Legion of Super-Heroes, a team of teenaged crime fighters operating in the thirtieth century:

The list of characters that Jerry introduced to the Legion included Bouncing Boy, Brainiac 5, Computo, Cosmic King, Duplicate Damsel, Glorith, Invisible Kid, Matter-      Eater Lad, Lightning Lord, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Saturn Queen, Spider Girl, Sun Boy, and Ultra Boy, among many others. (247)

Especially amusing is his self-referential take on Bouncing Boy.  I’ll indulge myself with an unnecessarily long quote about Bouncing Boy, whom I adore:

One of the most enduring of Jerry’s creations was Chuck Taine, who first appeared in  Adventure #329.  Chuck, an errand boy, mistakenly drinks a bottle of “liquid super-plastic” because he thought it was “soda-pop” (Jerry’s use of pop” belies his Ohio roots),   and he transforms into the round, super-elastic Bouncing Boy.  Like human Flubber, he is   perhaps partly named after Chuck Taylor, whose famous rubber shoes were meant to give   schoolyard athletes some bounce in their jump.  Bouncing boy, who was overweight and   a jokester, was the first slacker superhero and very much mirrored Jerry’s new attitude          toward comics (and his own middle-aged girth). (247-8)

Earning standard scale for this work, as well as for work on Superman, Siegel received no author bylines per the agreement he’d reached with Jack Liebowitz in 1957 when the publisher allowed Siegel back into National Periodicals after an absence of several years, a humbling move for Siegel given the contentious nature of their relationship.

Ricca illustrates Siegel and Shuster’s predicament aptly.  Imagine suffering financial setback after financial setback while watching your creation evolve into the center of a multimedia empire, into an exemplary cash cow.  In 1975, however, artist Neal Adams began helping to negotiate a deal that led to the following result:

Things finished up by Christmas Eve.  Jerry’s quote in the papers was priceless for         anyone who still believed in Santa Claus: “After more than 30 years we are overjoyed at      being reunited with Superman.”  Glasses clinked and hands clapped.  On the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite on Tuesday, December 23, 1975, reporter Sam Chu Lin reported that Jerry and Joe would henceforth receive $30,000 a year.  This number had been negotiated up by Adams from $10,000 and also included fine print for continuing payments to their families when they both died.    It also – at Adam’s insistence – restored the “Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster” byline to every Superman publication.  When Superman: The Movie finally debuted in 1978, comics fans and professionals cheered openly as Jerry’s and Joe’s names pushed at them from the screen, in crystal blue type from beyond the stars. (283)

Ricca concludes by discussing Siegel and Shuster’s final years.  Upon his death, Joe Shuster’s family discovered that he’d incurred sizable debts, so happily-ever-afters remain hypothetical to some extent.  Ricca also adds sections about heirs and issues surrounding copyright and creative rights.

Ultimately, Super Boys is depressing and a stellar argument against entering the comic-book industry.  Also, Ricca focuses more on Siegel than on Shuster.  In fact, Shuster nearly disappears completely in portions.  Nonetheless, Superman fans must read this book.  Ricca’s ten-year research odyssey has paid off.  Finally, we have a thorough account of Siegel and Shuster, as well as an account of their importance to the world of comics.

Superman and Philosophy: What Would the Man of Steel Do?  Edited by Mark D. White

51udaR0k6WL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_I love the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series.  The editors of each volume select subjects from popular culture – films, books, television shows, even video games — and gather philosophers to discuss these in connection to concepts within their specialties.  In conjunction with the release of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Mark D. White chose Superman, inviting his colleagues to analyze him in relation to . . . I think you’ve guessed it already . . . ethics.

Two reasons for matching popular culture with philosophy appeal to me especially.  First, it’s inevitable given that most criticism involves philosophizing on some level.  The two are wedded through methodology.  Second, experiencing difficult ideas by way of enjoyable pursuits lightens matters significantly.  I’ve read Immanuel Kant in translation, which nearly ruined my sobriety.  I can’t imagine confronting him in German.  No twelve-step program in any reality could rescue me from that relapse.  But digesting his theories with guidance from trained philosophers who enjoy the same pop entertainment that I do?  Philip Sidney’s dictum about poetry applies here as well: teach and delight.

Many wish to be Superman, to fly, to amaze others with great powers, to reap the love generated from completing mighty deeds.  In the song Real World, Matchbox 20 encapsulates this desire:

I wonder what it’s like to be a superhero!
I wonder where I’d go if I could fly around downtown!
From some other planet, I get this funky high on the yellow sun!
Boy, I bet my friends will all be stunned.  They’re stunned!

Superpowers would amaze friends, impress the masses, and he or she possessing these gifts could seemingly do anything.  Many dream this grand fantasy, but not me.  What astounds me about Superman involves his ability to resist temptation, to unwaveringly utilize his talents for the greater good.  He surely struggles, because a human heart beats in that alien breast.  When Brainiac descends upon Metropolis, people look up, grateful but unsurprised.  They wonder at how he arrives like the proverbial bird, plane, or speeding bullet.  They’ll cheer as he dismantles Brainiac’s space ship, or his giant robot, with his bare hands.  Then off he goes, never stopping to wink at the ladies, or to grin heroically into cameras while celebrating his success before the nation at large.  Instead, he simply finishes the job, secures everyone’s safety, and leaves until needed again.  His powers astonish the citizens, provoking jealousy in more than a few.   That resistance to temptation, however, to not become “Super Tyrant,” to not easily bank in on those abilities, to avoid falling into arrogant entitlement, to keep surging forward with his version of might for right . . . I’m not sure I could do it, and so even with superpowers I wouldn’t be Superman.  Therefore, on I abide, happily mired in my mundane existence.

The ethicists contributing to Superman and Ethics cover a wide range of topics.  Leonard Finkelman, for instance, clarifies Thomas Hobbes’s pessimistic philosophy and Jean Jacques Rousseau’s optimism by ascribing pessimism to Lex Luthor and optimism to Superman.  Hobbes’s theories are pessimistic, because he defines human nature as naturally driven toward violence and best checked.  Rousseau, on the other hand, earns the label optimist in that he  affirms humans only learn the behaviors Hobbes attributes to nature through interactions with society. My stance on attaining superpowers in the previous paragraph slightly mirrors how Finkelman interprets Luthor’s feelings, the only difference being that my pessimism isn’t absolute.  I hold that a virtuous Superman, one that resists power-induced corruption, could exist, but those who have the fortitude to pull it off are rare.  Luthor, the ultimate Hobbesian pessimist, would argue that such people don’t exist.  We’d all go to the dark side once empowered and set loose:

The only reason that Superman doesn’t completely dominate humanity is that he uses his powers for the good of humankind rather than to dominate it.  Many writers regard this as  one of the primary reasons that Luthor cannot help but view Superman as an alien: as  Hobbes argued, humans are essentially limited in their willingness to help others.  We’ve  all asked the question: what would you do if you had Superman’s powers?  According to   Luthor – and any other human nature pessimist – if your answer doesn’t include some variation on the term “global domination,” then you simply can’t be human . . .  Superman’s unfailing helpfulness excludes him from being included amongst humankind.   It’s just too alien a characteristic! (175-6)

Another contributor, Arno Bogaerts, introduces the inevitable comparison: Superman to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch.   Bogaerts argues that Nietzsche’s original figure has been misconstrued and misused over time, especially by the Nazis during World War II, and that the Superman we know and love can rectify this confusion, since “the Ubermensch, who is able to look into the abyss of meaninglessness without flinching, is positioned as an independent creator of new myths and entirely new values” (87-8).  General Zod and Luthor don’t meet Nietzsche’s definitive criteria, but Superman does, because:

Unlike some religious figures, Superman isn’t weighed down by his humanity nor is it  presented as some sort of curse.  Instead, he embraces it and thereby gains his greatest    strength.  Although he can show great compassion, and will always be around to “catch      us if we fall,” he does allow “mankind to climb to their own destiny” because of his           unwavering belief in humanity’s potential for the future.  In these respects, Superman can  certainly be seen as giving “meaning to the earth.”  [Mark] Waid probably said it best in    his introduction to the collected All-Star Superman series: “Gods achieve their power by        encouraging us to believe in them.  Superman achieves his power by believing in us.”  I think even Friedrich Nietzsche would agree to that. (96-7)

Superman the iconoclast, who helps humankind break free of tired traditions and moribund spirituality, models vibrant ideals without threatening our independence. According to Bogaerts, he best represents Nietzsche’s primary formulations, free from the misapplications and misunderstandings of later generations.

Readers will gain clearer understandings of deontology, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, the philosophers I’ve mentioned, and ethics in general.  White hasn’t written a biography per se, but he has orchestrated an interesting discussion about Superman and what about him so fascinates his fans:  his ethical nature.  I’m willing, then, to accept it as a biography.

Our Hero: Superman on Earth by Tom De Haven

41A-s8byniL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_At 224 pages, Our Hero represents the briefest among the five biographies I’ve included in this article, but that in no way dims the overall quality of his output.  One can consume the entire volume in a sunny afternoon out on the veranda, and De Haven’s comprehensive index, very comprehensive for a book this size, makes information easy to locate.  Keep this one on hand to solve bets or to quickly review Superman-related facts that may have slipped your mind.

In 2005, Chronicle Books published De Haven’s novel, It’s Superman, a non-canonical origin story set in the 1930s.  During promotional interviews for his literary effort and for Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, with which he had no involvement, interviewers kept asking him the same three questions: “Why has Superman lasted for almost seventy years?  Can you explain his appeal?  Does he still matter in the twenty-first century” (3)? Our Hero incorporates his answers to these queries.

Especially memorable is De Haven’s chatty rendition of the Weisinger years.  The tyrannical Mort Weisinger – “picky, petty, intimidating, overbearing, and monstrously cruel” — edited all titles in the Superman line starting in the mid-1950s until he resigned in 1970 (110). These were the years after Wertham, when the Comics Code Authority rigidly dictated that no violence, no sex, no morally objectionable whatsoever would appear in comics if they wanted that stamp of approval on their covers, which meant sales.  Perhaps in reaction to these standards Weisinger “had decided to put Superman in more ‘situation’ stories rather than in stories involving crime and super-villains” (127). Krypton grew from a mere concept into a fleshed-out world to which Superman could time travel.  The famous silly imaginary stories cropped up.  Certainly he did no favors for Lois Lane:

Maybe hoping to pick up some new female readers, the ones who bought Archies and romance comics, [Weisinger] replaced the fearless and often foolhardy big-city         reporter with an irritating newsroom pea brain whose only concerns were uncovering Superman’s secret identity and then (sigh) marrying him. (113)

His alterations definitely affected the Lois seen on The Adventures of Superman, portrayed first by Phyllis Coates and next by Noel Neill.  De Haven notes that “the original Lois Lane as created by Jerry Siegel and then carried on by Siegel’s comic book successors became the Mort Weisinger Lois, a Cold War-era female nuisance and wife wannabe” (113).

De Haven continues illustrating Weisinger’s ogrish ways and reactions to them.  Curt Swan, for my generation the definitive Superman, developed migraines due to the verbal abuse Weisinger doled out so liberally.  Swan actually quit to work for an ad agency, but returned to DC, because the money was better.   And did scripter Don Cameron try to push Weisinger out of his office window?  It seems no one would have blamed him had he succeeded.

Lovers of Broadway will enjoy De Haven’s defense of It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman!, which premiered in 1966.  De Haven reminds us that “most reviews were positive” and “Patricia Marand won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Lois Lane” (150).  For this daring move, I’ll give De Haven the last word, not just for this section, but for the entire article:

As with athletes and artists, there has always been a selfish, even a self-serving quality to Superman, to Superman’s ego.  He doesn’t require love from the multitudes; Lois  will  do.  Basically, what he needs, and all he needs, is the freedom to act in ways that are satisfying to him.

That’s why he’ll “never stop doing good.”

It makes him feel good, dammit.

Our hero. (206)

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