The word “superhero” allegedly first appeared in print in 1918 to refer to a person who was especially heroic and for the first twenty years of its life, “superhero” didn’t get much use in normal conversation, but on April 18, 1938 the word superhero gained a whole new meaning when the publication of the first issue of Action Comics (advance cover dated June, 1938) introduced the world to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman.
Let’s talk about the origin of Superman. No, not the fictional origin story that writer Grant Morrison once perfectly summed up in eight words (Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple.), I’m talking about how Siegel and Shuster conceived of the character. When Siegel and Shuster first created Superman, he was a bald telepathic villain (Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time Superman would be associated with a follicly challenge villain.) who appeared in a short story called “The Reign of the Superman”, written while the duo were high school students and published in 1933 in the third issue of the pulp magazine Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization.
This “Superman” story was inspired by Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermenschen and told the story of a mad scientist who picks a man off a bread line and says he will give him “a real meal and a new suit” if he participates in the scientist’s experiment. The man agrees and the scientist gives him an experimental elixir that gives the man telepathic powers. The man goes mad, kills the scientist and then begins to use his new abilities for evil in the hope that he can take over the world. However, he soon discovers that the abilities are only temporary and with the professor dead, there is no way to create the super power formula anew. The story ends with the man’s powers fading as he realizes that he must now return to the breadlines.
Later that same year, Siegel began tinkering with the Superman character and re-imagined him as a hero with a thick head of hair. Together Siegel and Shuster drew from many different cultural influences to shape the new Superman. Shuster based Superman’s appearance off of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., while his alter ego Clark Kent was partially influenced by Harold Lloyd. The name Clark Kent, incidentally was a tribute to silver screen stars Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. The city of Metropolis got its name from the classic Fritz Lang film of the same name which was a favorite of both men. As for the characters powers, Siegel and Shuster envisioned him as a modern take on mythic strongmen like Samson and Hercules. The strongman idea was reflected in the trunks-over-tights look of the Superman costume, which at the time was the traditional outfit of a circus strongman. Shockingly, Superman was rejected by several comic publishers before National Comics picked it up for publication in the first issue of Action Comics. Superman was an instant success and it was just a little under a year before he got his own eponymous comic book and the Last Son of Krypton still holds a prominent position in popular culture to this day.
Superman’s powers were a bit ill defined in the early years, and it wasn’t until 1943 that Superman’s famed weakness Kryptonite first appeared on the Adventures Of Superman radio program. The drink called Kryptonite is a highly potent, bright green cocktail that will make you weak.
- 3/4 ounce Spiced Rum
- 3/4 ounce Coconut Rum
- 3/4 ounce Midori
- 3/4 ounce pineapple juice
- 1 splash 151-proof Rum
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: We take a flight in a lawn chair.