Monday, May 16, 2011

A legend examined

Superman first appeared in 1938. And, one way or another, he's still going strong. That's an awfully long life for a fictional character. (He is fictional, right?) Things have changed along the way, of course. Comic books used to contain multiple stories; nowadays multiple comics contain one story. They no longer cost a dime, and one of the best ways to read them is not on paper but on an iPad, which zooms in on each panel. As for Superman, long ago there was the flap about him dying. Well, he came back, changed in a number of ways. I found it all very confusing. The last time I looked he was married to Lois Lane (or maybe it was Clark Kent that married her) and Lex Luthor was President of the USA. Things change.

The latest flap that made the press was the thought that Superman might renounce his American citizenship. Real politicians were up in arms about this, which suggests that my parenthetical statement about about whether or not he is fictional may not be so silly. Geoff Boucher at Hero Complex writes the best summary of the whole story, explaining the Superman phenomenon for the average reader: "When you look at the history of American superhero comics, you realize that the most memorable good guys have one thing in common: Like Clark Kent, they’re outsiders, whether by birth, choice or accident. That gives them the narrative tension of a built-in internal struggle.... Then there’s Superman, who stands alone. His planet is in fragments, his people dead except for the odd superpowered straggler who turns up now and then. He has grown up in an archetypal American childhood – a farm outside a small Midwestern town – but is, despite everything about him, an impostor. He is very much American, and he is very much alien – not unlike the waves of immigrants, legal and otherwise, who have spent the last two centuries coming here to make, or remake, their lives against a blank canvas."

Read Superman: American patriot, illegal immigrant or both?

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