Clark Kent and his high-flying alter ego is arguably the greatest fictional hero ever created. The crime-fighting journalist’s legacy has endured for decades, spawning cartoons, video games and all sorts of merchandise. Kal-El, the famous son of Krypton, has also been monumentally successful at the box office, breaking records and wowing critics.
With several comic book series still in rotation, numerous video games in production, animated TV shows in syndication, and Zack Snyder’s blockbuster Man Of Steel film (perhaps incorporating an Avengers-like Justice League franchise!) in the works, Superman still soars in the imagination, his red cape flowing as majestically as ever.
Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, recently caught up with author Larry Tye to discuss his new book Superman, which examines the life of the world’s most famous intergalactic immigrant.
Tye recounts the superhero’s origins, lifting the lid on the popular character’s creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. He breaks down the creative impulses that resulted in Superman as we know him, and analyses why, perhaps unlike any other character, his popularity still endures till this day.
Emphasising the influence of Jerry Siegel’s childhood and upbringing on his depiction of the Super-Man, Tye explains:
“Every day, when he’d go out on the school playground, kids would yell at him, ‘Siegel, Siegel, birds of an eagle, and he wished he would fly away. The only thing he could do was to escape into a world of fantasy and create his own kind of characters that could fly away.”
Describing Siegel’s eureka moment of inspiration, Tye says:
“He stayed up with a pencil and paper that he had brought to bed with him, and suddenly, in the course of the night, this vision of a ‘hero of light’ came to him. And he jotted down the story, and then next morning, he ran down the street to his neighbor Joe Shuster’s house … and he said, ‘Here’s my story. Make it work on paper. Draw something.’”
Spurred on by the excellent Gross, Tye makes for an entertaining and educational interview. Insightful and erudite, the author is as passionate as he is scholarly and academic about his subject matter. He intelligently reflects on the Kryptonian hero’s popularity, offering a wonderfully anecdotal history of all things Superman. He proffers his own views on why Americans have taken the Daily Planet reporter and superhuman enforcer to heart.
“Americans embrace Superman partly because he captured so many things that are part of our psyche and part of our sense of ourselves,” he says. “He gave us an unwavering sense of right and wrong. He sweeps in to solve our problems. He was a bit like a Messiah in that he descended from the heavens to help us discover our humanity. And unlike all these other heroes — the dark Batman or the fraught Spider-Man — Superman was out there, always like a clear sign of light.”
Head on over to NPR to hear from Tye about the legendary hero so often mistaken for a bird or a plane.