On June 2nd, 1932, three men robbed a clothing store on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio. The store owner, a 60-year-old Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, attempted to stop them. In the commotion, the owner collapsed from a heart attack and died. It is a tragic story, but, sadly, also a familiar one. There have been stories like it before and since. Stories of robberies, muggings, murders, and worse. We hear about them all the time, and feel a surge of anger and sorrow that there was nothing to stop these events from happening. Then we forget about them and move on, until next time, accepting the fact that we are powerless in such a violent world.
That store owner’s name was Mitchell Siegel, father of Jerry Siegel, the man who would go on to create (along with Joe Shuster) another familiar story. A story of an immigrant from another world who foils robberies: Superman, the Man of Steel. Out of a real world tragedy came a fictional yet inspirational force for good.
Superman has changed over the years — evolved, you might say — into the true-blue Boy Scout-type character we know today. There are many who feel that he is just a figurehead for DC Comics; that he is uninteresting and unrelatable. But I have to say that when I hear people describe Superman as “unrelatable” I become slightly afraid of that person.
When you hear those aforementioned stories on the news and feel the irrational, emotional urge to do something about it — to put yourself between innocents and harm’s way — that’s Superman.
He’s much more than that though; every superhero does that. What makes Superman special is not his strength or speed or x-ray vision, but that he is simply Good with a capital G. He is who we all wish we were all the time. He always tries to see things from all possible perspectives and honour everyone’s opinion, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with it. He sees the best qualities in anyone. He goes out of the way to help people he’s never even met.
But he’s not some naive fool, blinded by his own optimism, as some say. If anything, due to his super-senses, he is even more aware of the world’s suffering. He doesn’t brood about it though, he takes action. He does what he can to make something good come from the bad. Like a wise parent, however, he cannot fight our battles for us. He does only what is outside of our grasp, so that we may increase it.
There are too many heroes these days in comics, film, TV, whatever, who simply give in to our primal wish-fulfillment. Kicking in doors, beating people up, and looking “badass” while doing it. Where have all the inspirational heroes gone, who make us want to better ourselves? Superman is one of those. He is not badass; he’s so much more, and that’s why he will endure for longer. Because while it’s easy to just shoot the bad guys, it is a hollow victory. If we follow Superman’s example, if we solve problems rather than eliminate them, we can achieve lasting greatness.
When Jerry Siegel’s father died, he didn’t go out into the night seeking the fleeting satisfaction of vengeance; he created something bright out of the darkness. Something that, 75 years later, still moves people all over the world. Imagine what you could do.