For the twelve-year-old boy in me who wrote a fifteen-page paper on the effect of comic books on children during World War II, Superman at 75: A Jewish Hero for All Time is a dream program. Joining together an expert like Larry Tye with Jack Larson (THE ORIGINAL JIMMY OLSEN!!!!), Richard Donner (director of the Christopher Reeves Superman), and Geoff Johns (chief creative officer at DC Comics), means bringing our audience a rare concentration of expertise and celebrity. Honestly, I wouldn’t dare go see the new Superman movie without hearing what the four of them have to say!
I couldn’t even wait ’til the program to grill Larry Tye, author of Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, about his favorite Superman and how he first learned about our favorite superhero’s Jewish roots.
What first drew you to Superman?
Two things: I was intrigued by why we as Americans embrace the heroes we do, and decided one way to explore that would be to look at our longest-lasting hero of the last century, Superman. The other reason was I wanted to be ten years old again, and revisiting my childhood pal let me feel like I was.
What is your favorite Superman plot?
I loved the 1990s series where he fought his most dastardly enemy ever (Doomsday), died in the arms of his beloved (Lois), and, after the requisite funeral and mourning, came back to life. Those stories reminded me that what comic book creators take away, they can give back, and they reminded the world why it loved (and needed) Superman.
How did you become aware of Superman’s Jewish roots?
Partly by reading all the good works on the Man of Steel’s ethnicity that came before, partly by reading Superman creator Jerry Siegel’s unpublished memoir, which no one other than his family and lawyers had seen before. The more I read, the more I saw how much sense it made: who, better than a Jew, to show the world the difference between right and wrong? And what else could someone be whose Kryptonian name, Kal-El, in Hebrew means “vessel of God,” and whose English name ends in “man.”
Who was your favorite Superman?
That’s easy. Everyone’s favorite is the one they first fell in love with, and for me it was the clunky TV Superman of the 1950s, George Reeves.
Watch the first-ever episode of Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves:
Why do you think Superman still has appeal seventy-five years later?
Start with the way he evolved over the years to give us just the hero we needed in each era. Add in how he’s stayed constant and true to our highest ideals, no matter the era.
Don’t miss the longer discussion between Tye, Larson, Donner, and Johns on Sunday, June 2 at 2:00 p.m. See you there!