SUPERMAN: SOME PERSONAL REFLECTIONS
He Keeps Popping Into My Life
Man of Steel was released to the general public on 14 June 14 2013. I saw 5 minutes of the film nearly two years later thanks to my son who taped the movie for my wife. The latest actor to don the blue tights and big red S was Henry Cavill. The movie's director was Zack Snyder of Watchmen and 300 fame. This $170 million movie was produced by Christopher Nolan, the man behind the hit Batman trilogy. The movie was an attempt to reboot the franchise of one of the most popular heroes in the comic book canon. I leave it to readers with the interest to find out about the plot, the characters, the development, the reception, and much else. Wikipedia has an excellent overview of this action film.
My last contact with the superman-movie-world was a little more than a year ago in early February 2014. I watched some of the 2006 movie Superman Returns one evening in mid-summer in Australia with Valentine's Day just around the corner. Watching the movie gave me a brief visit into fantasy-land, and the experience of some personal nostalgia. I had watched some of this same TV film nearly four years before on 19 June 2010, so my notes informed me. I decided to write this prose-poem providing a personal perspective on this superhero who keeps popping back into my life because I have a TV and popular culture is now firmly embedded in my life.
Superman is a fictional character, a superhero that appeared in comic books first published in the 1930s by DC Comics. Superman is now considered, and has been for decades, an American cultural icon, and that means, of course, that his image has acquired an immense popularity.
Superman first appeared in a short story entitled: "The Reign of the Superman" in 1932. In that same year, in July, a dozen years before I was even born, the Heroic Age of the Baha'i Faith was closed with the passing of Bahiyyih Khanum, the daughter of the Founder of the Baha'i Faith.
According to Bahá’ís, every dispensation has one particular holy woman or "immortal heroine". In the time of Jesus it was the Virgin Mary, the time of Muhammad it was his daughter Fatima Zahra, and during the Báb’s dispensation it was Táhirih. Bahá’ís believe that Bahíyyih Khánum is the outstanding heroine of the Bahá’í dispensation. This, of course, has nothing to do with Superman. But the syncronicity of Superman's first appearance in popular culture with a particular aspect of the history of a Faith I have now been associated with for more than 60 years, was of more than a little personal interest. I do not expect this to have any special interest to others.
Paul Asay of The Washington Post writes that the "religious themes keep coming in Superman films: free will, sacrifice. God-given purpose. Man of Steel isn’t just a movie. It’s a Bible study in a cape. The messages are so strong that its marketers have been explicitly pushing the film to Christian audiences."
Superman was first conceived in 1932 and was arguably western civilization’s first superhero. Superman was first portrayed as a villain named Bill Dunn who was later revisioned into a good guy for more popular appeal. Originally, Superman was produced as a syndicated newspaper strip, which ran from June 1938 until May 1966, before being revived between 1977 and 1983.
Superman was then created, so we are informed, by two high school students in Cleveland Ohio, in 1933. By then, the Baha'i community's 9 month period of mourning, which began with the passing of this holy woman, had ended. The comic character, Superman, was sold to Detective Comics, Inc in 1938. By this time the first formal and systematic teaching Plan of the Baha'i community had just begun.
Superman now has an 83-year history(1932-2015). He appeared in comic books, his central texts in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by the George Reeves' 1950 television serials. I was too young to remember those comic-books, but I do recall some of the episodes of that TV series back in the early to mid-'50s before my mother sold our TV to, hopefully, ensure her son was not tempted into triviality on a daily basis.
In the late 1970s and 1980s Christopher Reeve films rewired the entire Superman canon. The Lois and Clark television series of the 1990s was framed as yet another central Superman text. The Crisis on Infinite Earths(2001) and The Man of Steel (1986) comic book series rebooted the entire Superman-mythos, framing a range of sources. These resources were further extended by Superman Returns, as we are informed at that reliable source Wikipedia.
In 2001, the Smallville television series was launched, focusing on the adventures of Clark Kent as a teenager before he donned the mantle of Superman. I watched some of these episodes after I had retired from a 50 year student-and-employment life: 1949 to 1999. Adaptation to various media by any literary or art form depends on a dialogue or oscillation between those media. If I engaged in a cross-media study of Superman, I could look back at the more than three-quarters of a century genesis of this trans-media dialogue. But that is not my purpose in this brief prose-poem.
Until the 1980s, comic books had largely been ignored by media theorists, except as scapegoats in media-effects debates. But comic books are on the cards for analysis by culture theorists in this new millennium. -Ron Price with thanks to Richard Berger, “Are There Any More at Home Like You?” in the Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance, Volume 1 Number 2, 2008.
Why he’s been around since our Plan
began in the 1930s and 1940s. But no
one had any idea that the lifespan of
this superhero went along with the life-
span of this super-Plan that would, in
time, take the world by storm as the hero
Superman certainly did over these last 83
years in which our global society has been
immersed in a tempest unparalleled in its
magnitude and unpredictable in its force.
Why I remember those comic books,
and the TV programs way back in the
1950s when I was knee-high to those
grasshoppers....and the Baha’is were
in that Ten Year program that took a
new Faith to where it is today in some
200+ countries and territories, the 2nd
most widespread religion on the planet,
so they tell me in that encyclopedia.(1)
(1) Encyclopædia Britannica, "Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-2002". The term "Superman" derives from a common English translation of the term Ubermensch which originated with Friedrich Nietzsche's statement, "Ich lehre euch den Übermenschen" ("I will teach you the Superman"). These words appeared in Nietzsche's 1883 work Also Sprach Zarathustra. Baha'u'llah was released from strict confinement in the prison city of Akka in that same year to begin the last decade of His earthly life, as Charismatic-Founder of the newest, the latest, of the Abrahamic religions.
The term "Superman" was popularized by George Bernard Shaw with his 1903 play Man and Superman; this was the same year as the approval of the building of the mother-temple of the West in Chicago was given by 'Abdul-Baha. The character Jane Porter refers to Tarzan as a "superman" in the 1912 pulp novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The originator of Superman would later name Tarzan as an influence on the creation of his own Superman. Abdul-Baha went on His Western tour that year, a super-human effort by a 68 year old man in the evening of His life. I saw one or two, or more, of the Tarzan films starring Johnny Weissmuller back in the 1950s.
14/7/'09 to 21/4/'15.
Note: The above prose-poem was first updated after watching Superman Returns on Australian TV 19 June 2010, and updated again on 17/2/'14, and 21/4/'15.