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June 21, 2013

'Man of Steel' Caps Superman's 70-year Evolution

by Penelope Poulou

Superman, the iconic American hero fighting for social justice and the American way of life, was born as a comic book character more than 70 years ago. Over the decades, the character evolved into a hero on television and in the movies.

Now, Man of Steel, the latest film on the superhero's exploits, gives Superman a 21st century makeover.  

Superman's character rests on his dual nature. He was born as Kal-El on the planet Krypton, which was destroyed right after his parents launched him to Earth. Allusions to the story of Jesus are threaded through Man of Steel. Kal-El, now known as Clark Kent, is adopted into a humble human abode in Kansas and, like Jesus, is 33 years old when he faces mortal danger and humankind's mistrust.

Howard Marshall, the manager of  “AfterTime Comics,” an established comic book store in the Washington, D.C., area, believes the character of Superman transcends Christian tradition.

“One of the reasons we in our culture have a need for these superheroes is because it's like modern mythology," Marshall said.

There are other interpretations. Some religious commentators and pop culture articles contend Superman has Jewish origins. They liken him to Moses, and point out that "Kal-El" sounds like the Hebrew words which mean "voice of God."

Marshall disagrees. He says though Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were Jewish, they did not infuse any Jewishness into the superhero, at least not purposefully.

“I don't feel that they consciously did that,"Marshall said. "I think that we all in our culture, or culture from which we were raised, we may unconsciously or subconsciously do things a certain way or think a certain way, but I don't think they actually said 'OK, let's put some Jewishness into this character.'”

Rather, Marshall says, the comic book hero born in the 1930s in the middle of America’s Great Depression, was meant to represent the superhero in everyone. Superman became a household name in the 1950s, when George Reeves fleshed out the character in a TV series.

The series shaped the baby boomer generation.

“We were the first ones to have TV as furniture full time in the living room," Marshall said. "There will be a quick shot of him like “Boom!” Punching a villain in the face...he's knocked out. Just one quick tab and then he goes to the next guy. It was pretty exciting.”

But it was the Superman movies in the 1970s and 80s that won fans the world over. Christopher Reeve embodied the superhero in the iconic role.  

Director Zach Snyder's turbo-charged Man of Steel offers 3-D special effects, sonic speed action, an impressive cast and a new chiseled Superman played by newcomer Henry Cavill. Cavill resembles a young Christopher Reeve, but holds his own.

For now, the film is a box office hit, but it remains to be seen if it will stand the test of time.