The Secret Origins of Superman? Maybe (A books read post)

Based on a recommendation from my friend Ross I checked Brad Ricca’s SUPER BOYS: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster out of the library to gain more perspective on the Alien Superheroes chapter (which focuses on Superman for obvious reasons). Ricca does a very good job chronicling the guys’ lives and early creative endeavors (Siegel wrote some remarkably funny columns for his high school paper) to the later years when Shuster did kinky illustrations for one magazine and Siegel was working on Archie Comics’ way too camp line of superheroes (curiously, given Ricca mentions Siegel’s fondness for the Shadow, he doesn’t mention his work on Archie’s painfully bad Shadow comic).

Ricca also does a very good job showing how Cleveland, the guys’ home town, was an inspiration. Cleveland was a city of notoriously reckless drivers; Superman makes war on reckless drivers in a couple of stories. Some of his early stunts weren’t that far off from what professional strongmen touring the Midwest were doing. However his determination to trace everything Siegel wrote to a real-world root or some element of Siegel’s tortured soul gets old and unconvincing fast. Overall, though, a good read.

DISGUISED AS CLARK KENT: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth is less persuasive in arguing that contrary to popular assumptions about comics’ many Jewish creators (that the field was desperate enough not to have issues hiring Jews that more prestigious publication avenues might), Jews were naturally drawn to create characters who championed the oppressed and the vulnerable.  And wasn’t Superman losing his entire planet a reflection on how Jews had been cut from their culture when they emigrated, then later on the impact of the Holocaust (while Peter Novick argues the Holocaust wasn’t a major issue for American Jews in the 1950s and ’60s, I suppose a subconscious reaction isn’t out of the question)?

Some of this was interesting: while the idea of the X-Men as a metaphor for Jews isn’t new to me, I had no idea Claremont was half-Jewish himself and specifically referenced that and anti-Semitism as an influence. A lot of the time, he comes off as reaching — the idea Doctor Doom as a Roma is lashing out because of his people’s deaths during the Holocaust doesn’t fit the Silver Age take on Doom at all. This was worth a look but not as insightful as it might have been.

Moving from one project to another: the editor on my golem article specifically asked me to include Marge Piercy’s HE, SHE AND IT in my revisions so I read it this week. While I knew Piercy equated a cyborg character to a golem I wasn’t aware it went beyond that, to include an entire retelling of the Golem of Prague legend.

The story concerns Shira, a Jewish woman in a dystopian, corporate-dominated near future. Having lost her son in a custody dispute, she returns to her Jewish hometown and discovers her mother’s neighbor, Avram Stein, has built a cyborg, Yod, to defend them (yes, the use of “stein” for the scientist is not coincidental). Both Joseph the golem and Yod the cyborg have no problem dealing with ruthlessly with threats, but have to ask if that’s really how they want to live their life.

Unfortunately Piercy’s writing embodies everything I hate about literary SF — constant info-dumps, lots of navel gazing, characters who can understand and discuss the torments of their soul with crystalline clarity, then talk about them at length. I forced myself through so I can finish the article but I am massively underwhelmed.

#SFWApro. Covers by Nick Cardy (top) and Jack Kirby, all rights to images remain with current holders.

2 Comments

Filed under Reading

2 responses to “The Secret Origins of Superman? Maybe (A books read post)

  1. Sorry to hear this about Piercy. I haven’t read that novel but admire her work. She wrote a terrific book called ‘Sex Work’ about the gilded age of NY and women like Susan B Anthony and Victoria Woodhull.

  2. Well if you like her other books, you might find He, She and It a better read than i did. YMMV and all that.

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