Jerome Siegel Coulton Waugh - Essay

Coulton Waugh

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Superman] is a national figure, perhaps the most worshiped and adored of our time. (p. 256)

The simple and marvelously effective idea back of "Superman" was to take one of the interplanetary heroes who … had added supernormal powers to their sex-bursting physique, and allow him to whip through the setting of our place and time….

We have always worshiped heroes, and Superman is only a modern cousin to Paul Bunyan, who once took an annoying tornado by the dark, fast-twisting, deadly tail, and cooped it up in a homemade cage…. (p. 257)

There is, of course, a deeper reason for Superman's present, enormous popularity. The world, life itself, has come to be fearfully difficult for millions of people. When one considers that millions of people of Jewish ancestry were despotically and deliberately destroyed by Hitler, it is obvious that tyrannical forces have been in operation which make Caspar Milquetoasts out of such mild little tyrants as Hannibal, Genghis Khan or Napoleon. The body of the great public is highly disturbed; it would like to do something about it, but it doesn't know what to do. The individuals who make it up feel their own smallness, their soft brains and bellies—then along comes Superman. A vast, nation-wide sigh of relief and delight…. (p. 258)

The odd, pathetic thing about it is, that people have such a respect for anything that gets into print that they actually believe the enemies of democracy or the law are being tumbled over backwards by these ballpointed heroes. However, the activities of Superman are by no means all in the world of make-believe. The owners and creators of this strip have very wisely turned the big guy's enormous influence into a number of socially useful channels; he has taught young people to keep clean and healthy, and he has held up our national ideals in a very definite manner…. (p. 259)

Coulton Waugh, "The Star-Startled Manner," in his The Comics (reprinted with permission of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.; © 1947 by Coulton Waugh; copyright renewed © 1974 by Odin Waugh), Macmillan, 1947 (and reprinted by Luna Press, 1974), pp. 247-63.∗