Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Reflections on Superman's 80th Birthday

Odds are, you know these words by heart:

Faster than a speeding bullet!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

In case you haven't heard, Superman's celebrating a birthday this year. The character first appeared in Action Comics #1, which had a cover date of June 1938, and which was probably actually released early in May (thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics for this information, which also gives evidence that the April 18th date cited by some is not correct). Whatever one considers the "actual" birthday, I figure that now's a pretty good time to celebrate.

While its hard to deny that the folks at DC must have nudged some release dates here and there to work it out so that Action Comics #1000 came out exactly on April 18th (the inaccuracy of this being the exact anniversary date notwithstanding), this is mostly just a fortunate coincidence. After all, if the generally-monthly title hadn't had a brief period as a weekly book back in the late-1980s (to say nothing of the pauses in publication after Crisis on Infinite Earths and after Superman died in the early 1990s), we'd still have to wait another few years to reach 1000. And, of course, the run was broken by DC's bizarre decision to reset everything to "issue 1" just a few years ago before re-establishing Action Comics' original numbering in 2016 (meaning that there are technically no issues in the range of Action Comics #905-956). However, Action Comics has been published twice a month ever since! But regardless of whatever jiggery-pokery was undertaken to release issue #1000 on (what is being treated as) Superman's 80th birthday, it only seems right that these milestones should occur together.

Superman's been through a number of changes through the years. The mullet phase, the electric phase, and most recently, a phase where his uniform no longer had the distinctive "red underwear on the outside" look. These surface changes have tended to highlight those aspects of Superman's character that have remained the same throughout the decades (cue that opening again... "fighting a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way"). Even then, he always seems to revert back to what has become his "traditional" look before long.

It is undeniable that Superman is an icon. The S-shield. The colors. His famous catch-phrases. All have been embedded in our memories, such that to see or hear any one of these elements instantly conjures up in our minds the rest. We see Superman, and we see a symbol of integrity. Of honesty. Of justice. Indeed, of hope. If Superman's on our side, we trust that everything will work out all right in the end. Sometimes, the fact that Superman is "merely" a fictional character comes as a bitter disappointment, because it means that we can't expect some super-powered creature to swoop down from the sky and save us from the realities of the world that threaten us. But on our better days, Superman serves as an inspiration. He represents ideals that we all can strive toward. And in our best moments, we do.

So, how will you fight for truth and justice today?

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