Follow by email

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Man of Steel

There is much buzz about the forthcoming Superman reboot, The Man of Steel which will be directed by Zack Snyder and hit screens in 2013.  It’s still some way off but Superman has always had the ability to get the geeks, nerds and fanboys, of which the Tainted Archive is one, in a spin. And so in this post, a single blog entry, we will turn you into an Instant Superman expert.

These days he may not have the cool of Batman, but Superman was the first superhero and in many ways he is still the best. He’s been around since 1938 and since day one has been the most recognisable superhero of them all. Created by science fiction buffs, Jerry Siegal and Joe Schuster, Superman’s entry into print was arduous. When Action Comics 1 was published in June 1938, the character of Superman had been developing in the minds of his creators for more than five years, and had been turned down by publishers umpteen times. The Man of Tomorrow, it seemed, was too far ahead of his time for the conservative publishers of the period. It’s hard to imagine now, in this age of superheroes, just how unique a concept Superman was, but put yourself in the mindset of a population where westerns and crime stories were the height of fashion, then this story of an alien who gains super powers on Earth and travels around in a skin-tight costume ,righting wrongs and upholding the American way, seems  radical indeed.

The character had originally been conceived to fill in the funnies section of newspapers, and when the story was bought by DC several newspaper strips had to be joined together to make a complete story – it worked and Superman was an immediate success. The man of steel’s alter ego was firmly based on the then popular comedy actor, Harold Lloyd
The Superman of these early years was different to the character as we know him today – the biggest difference is that he couldn’t fly but was able to leap over incredible heights and distances.
During the 1940′s the character was developed and many of the key elements of the Supesiverse were brought to the fore – Louis Lane as the love interest for instance was an immediate success and the character of today is recognisable in these early strips. The character of Lex Luthor was accidentally drawn without hair for a newspaper strip version of Superman and an icon was born.

When the war broke out during this decade Superman’s villains, up to that point run of the mill masked bandits, suddenly took on  relevance as Superman was called into service with many patriotic war based stories. Supes was taking his brand of truth, justice and the American way to the Nazis who were decimating Europe.
The 1950′s saw the public becoming bored with costumed heroes as horror comics became increasingly popular, but Superman along with several other big name characters survived and indeed prospered throughout the decade. The character’s powers increased throughout the stories of the 1950′s. And he ended the decade as a kind of demigod – everything about him became super and the character could now boast:

  • Unlimited super strength, speed, stamina, endurance and durability.
  • Extreme longevity
  • Enhanced mental processes, defences, and genius level intellect.
  • Unlimited physical senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing).
  • Ability to perceive the entire electro-magnetic spectrum and various other forms of energy.
  • Flight
  • Flight across the universe to distant galaxies and solar systems,flying through space warps near earth and emerging many light years away.
  • X-ray vision
  • Heat Vision
  • Precise muscle control and vocal control.
  • Freezing/hurricane breath.
  • Super-Ventriloquism
  • Super-Hypnosis

The decade saw a  new writing team which  introduced elements that would quickly become part of the brand – The Fortress of Solitude was invented by writer, Otto Binder who had been poached from rival title, Captain Marvel and Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen also made his first appearance during the decade.
The 1960′s may have been the silver age for comics but it was the golden age for Superman, and when Otto Binder left the title in 1960 he left behind much of the groundwork that writers of the title would find useful in the years to come.
By this period the character had now become well known in mediums other than comic books – he had conquered radio, TV and the early morning cinema screens. Kirk Alyn had become  the first actor to portray Superman on the screen in 1948′s Superman which was a serial filmed for the Saturday morning cinema shows. But it wasn’t until the 1951 TV series that an actor really became synonymous with the character. With George Reeves in the title role the series ran for 104 episodes, from 1952–1958.
The 1970′s  would not only see Superman: The Motion Picture, which even today stands as one of the best superhero movies ever made, but also reveal that Superman was beaten up by Muhammad Ali in one of the most surreal comic books ever. There were a troubled few years mid decade when a new creative team tinkered with the character and delivered an almost unrecognisable supesiverse – Clark Kent now worked for a TV news station and was an anchorman and many of his powers were removed to make him more vulnerable. However falling sales soon meant that the older elements were brought back  – Though Superman’s powers were never quite as great as they had been previously.
It was during the 1980′s that Superman was really reborn in the comics – The Crisis on infinite Earth storyline saw much of the DC universe rebooted. After this Superman found himself in the capable hands of writer, John Byrne who steered the character through come classic adventures. One even had Superman kill when he executed three criminals from Krypton – things would never be the same again.
The 1990′s dawned and by now comics had changed so greatly from the 1940′s titles that they were almost a different species, and no matter how many reinventions Superman had he was still firmly grounded in the 1950′s. The answer was to kill him – 1992′s Death of Superman arc was a sensation and sales hit an unheard of  six million copies of a single issue (Superman 75). The character did return as a long-haired bruiser in The Return of Superman but DC milked the death and there were many follow ups though none were quite as successful as the death and return arc.

And now we enter the new millennium with Superman now bigger than ever – the Smallville TV series has won Emmies, there have been several big screen movies with  three different actors playing the character, though thus far Christopher Reeves remains the definitive screen Superman. And in 2013 we will see yet another big screen version of Superman when Superman: The Man of Steel hits screens around the world.

No comments: