October 22, 2004
Although Nietzsche invented the word "Übermensch," it's a word, not a character. Superman's creators Siegel and Shuster were not educated men, so it's unlikely that they knew much about Nietzsche.
OTOH, it is highly likely that Siegel and Shuster were heavily influenced by a 1930 Philip Wylie novel called GLADIATOR:
"The parallels are obvious: Both Hugo Danner and Clark Kent grow up in rural small-town America, possessing powers far beyond the common mortal; both are imbued, from an early age, with a profound sense of fairness and justice; and they hide their respective secrets from the world at large. The resemblance is even more obvious when you consider the original 1930s conception of Superman [which was far weaker than later incarnations of the character]. Their powers are the same: great strength, skin so tough that it can withstand just about anything short of an explosive artillery shell, and the ability to jump so high and so far that it almost gives the impression of flight. And both, despite their superhuman status, espouse a political philosophy that celebrates the common human being over capitalist elites."
[The early Superman has been described as a super-FDR - a costumed socialist activist. This political aspect was gone by the time the character attained iconic status in the 40s.]
Nonetheless, the superhero concept as we know it today was invented by Siegel and Shuster. The individual ingredients (superpowers, costume, secret identity) had all been done before, but it was S&S that combined them into a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Some claim that gods and demigod heroes like Hercules were the first "superheroes," but they lack the total package embodied by Superman.
There's a new book that I'm going to try to buy ASAP, MEN OF TOMORROW, that goes into detail about the birth of the superhero genre. What excites me about the book is that it's the first history of comics to look into the Jewish roots of the majority of American superhero creators. The children of Yiddish-speaking immigrants created icons for all Americans - and the world. The Nazis hated the American Superman because he was the creation of Jews.
Posted by: LarryConley at October 22, 2004 04:53 PM (2cE9S)
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