This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 7, 1996

February 7, 1996 - Superman

On Sunday, January 28, Jerry Siegel died. He was 81. Siegel was a good friend of Joe Shuster.

So who were Siegel and Shuster? They were buddies who together, while still in high school, dreamed up the Man of Steel, the Son of Krypton -- Superman. Siegel was the writer; Shuster (who died in 1992) was the artist.

In some respects, their story is a sad one. They sold their rights to the concept for just $130. In various forms -- comic books, movies, TV, and action figures, for instance -- Superman has been a money machine. According to one news story, he has racked up profits of literally billions of dollars.

But in 1978, largely as a result of the mounting protests of thousands of loyal and very vocal Superman fans, DC Comics gave Siegel and Shuster $20,000 annual stipends, for life. DC also restored "creator credit." Ever since, the names of Siegel and Shuster get the nod before every Superman story, in any format. Look for them.

In a world where there is so much reality to contemplate, of what possible moment is the death of a comic book writer?

The "legend" of Superman has been recreated for each generation of fans. In some respects, I think he captures the very self-image of Americans.

In the beginning, he was merely a much stronger, tougher than normal person. At first, he didn't have the power of flight, just enough oomph to "leap tall buildings in a single bound." A bullet bounced off him, but a cannonball might knock him over.

After World War II was over (and I bet you didn't even know the part he played in the fight against the Nazis -- possibly, we might not have won without him), America settled into the prosperous and even complacent 50s. At the same time, Superman's whole physique changed. He became ridiculously muscular. He could fly through the sun unharmed. He could, even as Superboy, stand on his head and shift the world from its orbit. And wasn't that American?

His only vulnerability was kryptonite -- but kryptonite in bewildering varieties. Green kryptonite could kill him, slowly; red kryptonite had unpredictable effects that lasted for just 24 hours; gold kryptonite could remove his powers permanently, and so on. Could it be that kryptonite -- at some level of our American collective consciousness -- stood for the uncertainties and literal "new elements" of the nuclear age?

In the 60s and 70s, Superman worked to get in touch with his more sensitive side, usually without much success. In the movies, we even see him working toward nuclear disarmament. The most interesting development of this period was Lois Lane (at least in the comic books), who learned karate, started wearing pants, and generally speaking got more, well, liberated.

In the 80s, Superman went through a big adjustment, back to a very, very powerful man from another planet, but no longer the almost god-like figure of the 50s. In the 90s, he was slain while fighting an ultimate villain, then reborn (with longer hair, which as Clark Kent, he ties in a ponytail). Since then, he has settled into a deep romance with Lois, all secrets between them swept aside. At some level, perhaps this reflects the collapse of the communist threat, and an America that looked around, loosened up, and started reinvestigating family values.

As long as there have been humans, there have been heroes. In some ways, Superman is like the old gods of ancient Greece, but with science (well, a sort of science) rather than flat-out magic as his source of power.

Whatever his real purpose in our cultural lives, we can be sure that the man in the cape will keep flying, keep changing, will endure, long after the death of the two boys who gave him life.

And oh yes, at the Douglas Public Library District, you'll find a surprising variety of information about Superman: from the remarkable animated cartoons of the 40s, to full length novels, to audiotapes, to the current adventures as chronicled in the medium that still knows him best -- comics.

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