Comic book superheroes have been with us for a long time. Perhaps too long. A friend of mine whose children are grown still wears superhero t-shirts. I see Spiderman on his shirts most often.
The modern superhero started with Superman, who first appeared in an Action Comic issue of 1938. In 1942, we had the first superhero dramatization. WOR radio of New York started a popular Superman program. Superman b-movies followed, leading to George Reeves, as the Crypton native, fighting molemen in a 1951 film. That film, in turn, led to the popular TV series that ran, with Reeves, from 1953 to 1957.
It was the 50’s TV series that, in reruns, introduced me to Superman. I came to watch it every day after school when I was six. I coaxed my parents into buying me a Superman costume for my seventh birthday, and I wore it around my house and neighborhood until grew ragged around the heels.
Like so many lads before and since, I wanted to be like Superman. Superman did not seem to be subject to the things that confine us in everyday life. The series did not show him having to sit in a classroom, or in front of homework. He did not have teachers telling him what to do. When someone menaced him or someone else, Superman was always victorious in the battle.
Who would not want to be like Superman? The caped crusader and the superheroes who followed him have created a modern mythology. In centuries past, people had epic poems telling them the deeds of gods and godlike heroes. Today we have summer blockbuster films showing us the deeds of superheroes.
The superhero has evolved. The simple heroics of Superman were followed by the colorful villains scheming against Batman. Marvel’s Spiderman, who appeared in the 1960’s, was much more human than Detective Comics’ superheroes, and a bit neurotic. Even Batman, after years of campy TV shows and films, has become darker and more troubled through the recent trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan. I look forward to seeing Nolan’s Superman film scheduled for 2013, which may add new dimensions to the first superhero.
And there are still other fascinating aspects to these heroes. Three years ago, after years of pursuing sports and physical fitness, I collapsed on a restaurant floor, and was rushed to a hospital. I’d had a heart attack at a relatively early age. During my months of recovery, I thought of the red cryptonite that disabled Superman, of the walking stick carried by Thor’s alterego, and of Tony Stark-Iron Man’s heart condition. As Achilles in ancient mythology was vulnerable through his heel, modern superheroes also had to get through crippling weaknesses to recover their strength.
And so I took new interest in the superheroes. If I do not wear Spiderman shirts, as my friend does, I’ve been watching the new Spiderman and Batman movies this summer. Next year I may be too old for such pursuits, but that remains to be seen.