Lately I’ve been thinking about Superman. This is not all that unusual, as there are three different’ representations of the character sitting on my desk as I write this, but I’ve been thinking about what he means to the world.
Larry Tye’s wonderful Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero asks us why we still care about a character created 80 years ago, and gives us plenty of answers. That we do care is an assumption the author makes without question. Other characters survive from that long-ago Golden Age -- Batman, Wonder Woman -- but Superman remains a cut above them all. It’s his simplicity, the template upon which all superhero stories are built, which has helped him endure, but Tye shows us that, from the very beginning, the Man of Steel’s bosses found ways of spreading his legacy across multiple media platforms and into the hearts and minds of people everywhere.
Tye explores spiritual aspects of Superman in the chapter “A Matter of Faith”. Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were both Jewish, and the children of immigrants, and their character inherited many aspects of their upbringing. Superman is also an obvious metaphor for Christ--he’s sent to Earth by his father to save people.
No matter how you read it, there’s something there more than just a man in tights. Whether the spark which caught fire to the imaginations of Siegel and Shuster was divinely inspired is anybody’s guess. It feels good to say it was, because it means we deserve Superman, we were meant to have him in our lives.