John Kobler

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 900

[The] Man of Steel, with his super-hearing, super-sight and super-vitality, has become all things to all boys. He has shaken the pedestal of many a classic boyhood idol: Tarzan, whom he can outleap and outfight; Nick Carter, whom he can out-sleuth; Galahad, whose purity is as tarnished brass compared to his. More than this Superman accomplishes with casual ease feats that are common to every boy's daydreams…. And to top it all, his motivating traits are "super-courage, super-goodness and super-justice"; his mission in life "to go to the rescue of persecuted people and deserving persons."

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Perhaps the greatest of all Superman's achievements is that he is a miracle man in fact as well as in fancy. No other cartoon character ever has been such an all-around success at the age of three. No other cartoon character ever has carried his creators to such an accomplishment as Siegel and Shuster enjoy at the age of twenty-six. (p. 14)

The young creators of the Man of Steel would have been hailed by [Sigmund] Freud as perfect clinical illustrations of psychological compensation. For here are two small, shy, nervous, myopic lads, who can barely cope with ordinary body-building contraptions, let alone tear the wings off a stratoliner in midair. As the puniest kids in school, picked on and bullied by their huskier classmates, they continually moped off into what Doctor Freud termed "infantile phantasies," wherein they became colossi of brute strength, capable of flattening whole regiments of class bullies by a flick of their pinkies….

[There] were years of struggle and discouragement. The partners brewed many a strong potion—Doctor Occult, a sort of astral Nick Carter who kept tangling with zombis, werewolves and such; Henri Duval, a doughty musketeer in the image of D'Artagnan—but no editor hastened to press riches on them. What few continuities they did place were bought by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, a grand-mannered, bespatted ex-Army officer, who in February of 1935 had published New Fun Comics, [the] first original comic magazine…. But the major couldn't see Superman for two pins….

[As Siegel related,] "I am lying in bed counting sheep when all of a sudden it hits me. I conceive a character like Samson, Hercules and all the strong men I ever heard tell of rolled into one. Only more so. I hop right out of bed and write this down, and then I go back and think some more for about two hours and get up again and write that down. This goes on all night at two-hour intervals, until in the morning I have a complete script."…

The story [Siegel and Shuster told in their first twelve strips of how Superman was sent to Metropolis, U.S.A., as a baby] is now as familiar to the average American boy as George Washington and the cherry tree. (p. 70)

We next see him grown to supermanhood, a broad-shouldered, Greek-profiled titan. In the process he has acquired a dual personality. Part of the time the world knows him as Clark Kent, a distinctly prissy reporter for the Daily Planet, who tends to shy away from unpleasantness. But let evil show its fangs and he ducks into privacy, shucks his college-cut clothes and stands forth, bold as truth, in the gaudy working clothes of Superman. This Doctor-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde arrangement enables Clark Kent to hand his paper some extraordinary scoops on Superman's latest coups.

Most of them are brought off in behalf of Lois Lane, the Planet's toothsome girl reporter, whose nose for news is constantly landing her in dire straits. (p. 73)

Besides being the greatest soliloquizer since Hamlet, Superman is also a humorist full of whimsey and light banter. No matter how rough the action or how grim the crisis, he is always ready to toss off some blithe gaiety. "May I get in on this?" he inquires with elaborate mock courtesy, as he slams himself through brick and glass into [Lex] Luthor's hide-out….

With millions of parents ready to ban Superman from the house should ever his high moral sense falter, the company takes its civic responsibilities seriously.

Superman is never allowed, for example, to destroy property belonging to anybody except the villain, and then only when absolutely unavoidable. He will readily project himself through a building, rendering it utterly uninhabitable, but only when Lois Lane's predicament inside is so desperate that to use the conventional entrance might mean a fatal delay. Superman never kills anybody and never uses a weapon other than his bare fists. He knocks evildoers silly at the drop of a hat, tosses them clear into the stratosphere and generally scares the daylights out of them. But those who get killed are always hoist by their own petards, as when a gangster whams Superman on the skull with a crowbar, only to have the crowbar rebound and shatter his own noggin.

Rarely by so much as a word or a glance is the tender passion suggested between Superman and Lois Lane. For one thing, Superman himself has shyly confessed that he would never embrace a girl, lest he inadvertently crack her ribs. It is a curious evidence of children's precocity that most of them sense how Superman and Lois feel about each other anyway. (p. 74)

John Kobler, "Up, Up and Awa-a-y! The Rise of Superman, Inc.," in The Saturday Evening Post (reprinted with permission from The Saturday Evening Post Company © 1941), Vol. 213, No. 51, June 21, 1941, pp. 14-15, 70, 73-4, 76, 78.

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