Since his first appearance in 1938 in Action Comics #1, Superman has become a permanent household name across the globe and has morphed from a teenage fantasy into a symbol for the American values of justice, heroism, and tight suits. Commencing what has now been deemed the Golden Age of comics, Superman was the first of his kind, paving the way for decades of do-gooders, super humans, and the evil and the un-American. What began as a secondary twelve page spread has elevated the unsuspecting man in a blue disguise and red underpants to endless stardom, launching countless comics and merchandise from to the most remote parts of earth. As a cultural icon, Superman’s fame has stood the testament of time and has broken the bank with movie after movie, action figures, lunch boxes, cereal boxes (pictured above), Halloween costumes, and new comics.
Superman was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster as an artistic response to the horrific events against Jews infecting the minds of Europeans and Americans alike. At the end of World War I, the world was once again falling apart – empires collapsing, banks failing, and economies spiraling out of control – and in the minds of many there was only one group to blame the Jews. Due to legislation and cultural practices prohibiting the freedom and safety of European Jews, many were forced to relocate to current day Israel, Canada, and the United States. However, instead of freedom and accepting, many immigrants were greeted by hostility, segregation, and prejudice. During the first half of 20th century, the United States was consumed by an anti-immigrant paranoia, especially against these waves of incoming European Jews, and enacted quotas and legislation making it difficult to enter the United States and to gain employment in many fields. Both children of Jewish immigrants, Siegel and Shuster walked a fine line between complete assimilation and preservation of their ethnic and religious heritage. As victims of a society which not only demanded conformity but also removal from daily view, Siegel and Shuster crafted the perfect immigrant to captivate the minds of displaced Jews and a hero to a generation’s youth ravaged by war Superman. Superman, in his creation, his heritage, and his actions is innately Jewish and mirrors the struggles of Jewish immigrants across the United States.
Superman was born Kal-El on planet Krypton to parents, Laura and Jor-El. Jor-El, predicting the imminent destruction of his beloved planet, saved his son by sending Kal-El in a spaceship from their exploding home. Kal-El landed smack in the middle of nowhere – Kansas. He was adopted by the typical American family, the Kents, and given the name Clark. Clark found it increasingly difficult to assimilate in his new home, constantly struggling between being an average American teenager and the uncertainty of his heritage and superhuman abilities. However, Clark chose to use his abilities, which include superhuman strength and the ability to fly, to protect mankind and fight against any evil that came in his path. Superman dedicates his life to protecting the underdog, the disenfranchised, and those in need of a helping hand. However, despite his heroic stature,Clark/Superman was alienated from human society.
Siegel and Shuster used their work as activism and a social commentary on their time. Superman, like many Jewish immigrants, struggled to find his place in American society. Kal-El hides himself behind the thin disguise of glasses as Clark Kent; similarly, Jewish-Americans led separate lives outside of the home where they felt uncomfortable and unsafe embracing their own heritage, such as speaking Yiddish. Superman was separated from his parents and sent to a new world,e mirroringthe reality of many Jewish families torn apart by war and destruction. Siegel and Shuster cultivated Superman as an alluring a hero for Jews and other immigrants alike to admire and to look up to who eagerly protected justice, America, and most importantly safety.