Roderick Nordell

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482

What saddens me is that the Man of Steel seems to be going the way of that mighty hero of the past, Hercules. Perhaps humanity can stand the superhuman only so long without laughing. At any rate, it appears that after all his Herculean labors, Hercules became for the ancients a figure of fun, brought on stage for comic relief….

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[In] those early days—"It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's …!"—the Man of Steel stood on his own two feet. Superman was the star. He was enough.

But at some point Superman's drawing power must have faltered, as I used to think none of his other powers could. Like the bygone strong men in the current film Hercules, Samson and Ulysses, he was teamed with another comic-book hero, Batman. The Man of Steel and the Cowled Crusader joined forces to arrest any mutual decline in popularity.

Also in the shadow of Superman's cape came Superboy and Supergirl and even Krypto, the Dog of Steel. (p. 104)

And now the men behind Superman have gone so far as to make him a grandfather. Can Superman Meets Donald Duck be far behind? Think of the Man of Steel as a second banana!

Such thoughts reduced my gravity as I read The Three Generations of Superman. The children had told me the Man of Steel had a grandson of steel, but I couldn't believe it.

Yet there is was, in red and blue and yellow, tempered only by the disclaimer that this was an "imaginary tale, which could happen in the future, but may not."

There was the graybeard pointing with his cane to a picture of one of his former triumphs: "Heh, heh … If I say so myself, son, you've never topped my fame … though you've equaled it!"

And the middle- or working-generation Superman says: "It's too bad that repeated encounters for many years with green Kryptonite so weakened your superpowers that you had to retire. I know I can't replace you, but I try!"

And the third generation—Superbaby, as the children say—plies his grandfather with questions about the old days before crime was stamped out.

I could not help enjoying the victory of Supergrandpa and Supergrandson over robots controlled by outer-space "alien plotters," who conclude: "We'll never try again to invade that world! What chance would we have, when our mightiest machines were defeated by an old man and a child?"

But surely in that direction lie comic books that can hardly be taken seriously. Pop art may have made museum pieces of the comics. Camp taste may have found sophisticated entertainment in them. But when Supermen become grandpas and grandchildren, they cannot be far from supporting roles on the Dick Van Dyke Show. (pp. 104-05)

Roderick Nordell, "Superman Revisited," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1965, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 217, No. 1, January, 1966, pp. 104-05.

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