Les Daniels

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 420

Superman, the ultimate expression of human aspirations to power and pure freedom, was an instant triumph, a concept so intense and so instantly identifiable that he became perhaps the most widely known figure ever created in American fiction. Almost immediately it became apparent that he was too super to ever lose his war against crime. Once it was known who he was, it was known what would happen to him—for all intents and purposes, nothing. Consequently, it might have been possible that his very invulnerability would have been the source of his defeat, in the public eye if not in his adventures. Some devices, like the introduction of Kryptonite, the alien element with a deleterious effect on the Man of Steel, were to prove reasonably useful in keeping up interest. What really made the series a success, however, was already built into the story.

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The most fascinating feature of Superman … is the tension existing between Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent, especially as it reflects itself in the problems both have with their "love interest," girl reporter Lois Lane. As has often been noted, Superman is unique among the vast number of heroes with secret identities in that it is not the heroic role which he adopts, but rather the average. Clark Kent, and not that fantastic flying figure, is the phony. Some practical reasons have been offered for this impersonation. It frees the hero from constant harassment and frees his friends from potential peril. It also has a certain value in increasing sales, since the frail half of the dual character makes an immediate reader identification with the hero more feasible. Yet this factor, operating as it does outside the framework of the tales, does not provide the internal logic which can be sensed lurking below the surface of Superman. Since Superman, loved by Lois, maintains the guise of Kent, whom Lois despises, [it has been] suggested that he may be somewhat masochistic. In fact, however, his amusement with this eternal triangle suggests that the element at work here is less a capacity for neurotic suffering than for entertaining himself. What makes the apparent contradictions work cohesively is Superman's sense of humor, which was to be emphasized more and more as his career progressed. (pp. 11-12)

Les Daniels, "The Birth of the Comic Book," in his Comix: A History of Comic Books in America (copyright © 1971 by Les Daniels and Mad Peck Studios; reprinted by permission of the publisher, E. P. Dutton, Inc.), Outerbridge & Dienstfrey, 1971, pp. 9-17.∗

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