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Wednesday, August 27, 2021

dark kryptonite
By now, everyone’s familiar with Batman’s origin story: Witnessing his parents being murdered in cold blood by criminals sent Bruce Wayne into a lifelong war against crime, with the purpose of imposing order and justice onto an unjust, messy world.

That’s fiction. But it’s now been revealed that a real-life version of that crime story could have inspired the creation of the Man of Steel:

It was just a year after Mitchell Siegel’s death, 1933, that writer [Jerry] Siegel and artist [Joe] Shuster came up with “The Superman,” a grim, flying avenger they tried to sell to newspaper syndicates and publishers for five years. In the oldest surviving artwork, this early Superman, whom they call “the most astounding fiction character of all time,” flies to the rescue of a man who is being held up by a masked robber.

Was it Jerry’s alter-ego flying to rescue his helpless father?

“America did not get Superman from our greatest legends, but because a boy lost his father,” [author Brad] Meltzer says. “Superman came not out of our strength but out of our vulnerability.”

The more Meltzer looked, the more intriguing things became. A letter published in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer on June 3, 1932, the day after the robbery [of Mitchell Siegel’s clothing store], denounces the need for vigilantes in the harsh days of the Depression. The letter is signed by an A.L. Luther.

“Is that where (Superman foe) Lex Luthor came from?” Meltzer says. “I almost had a heart attack right there. I thought, ‘You have to be kidding me!’”

Frankly, I’m surprised Meltzer and others haven’t made the Superman-Batman connection, in light of this. I don’t know how much collaboration there might have been between Siegel & Shuster and Batman’s creator, Bob Kane. Could Siegel have shared his personal history with Kane at some point? Kane certainly could have come up with the idea himself — revenge fantasy stemming from the loss of parents isn’t unique — but the DC Comics connection certainly makes you think.

This revelation is especially disconcerting because Superman has always been positioned as the bright-side yin to Batman’s grittier yang. Granted, both characters’ creators used their hardscrabble upbringing during the Great Depression as inspiration, and that source material was dark enough; but still.

It’s also worth noting that the referenced “grim avenger” incarnation of Superman wasn’t the only incarnation of the character that the Cleveland boys attempted. The best-known pre-superhero stab that Siegel & Shuster took was “The Reign of the Superman”, a pulp sci-fi yarn which features a “Superman” who’s bald, has “psionic” powers, and is a villain. It took a few drafts before today’s iconic character was developed.

And of course, with word that Warner Bros. is going to attempt a reboot of the Superman movie franchise, with a darker tone — again, hoping to parlay the huge success of the dystopian Batman/Dark Knight movies — this new angle may become more pertinent going forward.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/27/2008 12:28:27 PM
Category: Creative, Pop Culture, True Crime
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