Other than him: Superman as the alien that made good

— Roy Schwartz

Paper given 31 July 2021 at Mythcon 51 Session 6

When discussing depictions of the alien in American popular culture — as extraterrestrial, as strange foreigner, and as both, an otherworldly Other — the most famous example is rarely considered; SUPERMAN. Introduced in 1938, this strange visitor from another planet possesses powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men but walks among us disguised as a mild-mannered human. He’s the fantastic hiding in plain sight as the most mundane, an Other beloved as familiar, a singular being of another race who’s come to symbolize the best in humanity. And not by accident. Superman was created by two Cleveland teens, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They were Jews in the Midwest during the rise of Nazism abroad and at home, bashful geeks bullied by other boys and rejected by girls, one the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the other an immigrant himself. They were Others in every sense, and into their alien hero they poured all their wishes, to belong and be accepted but also to be exceptional and revered. To be special but also to blend in. To be both Super and man. They gave their assimilation/​assertion fantasy a nebbish secret identity based on themselves and empowered him with their Jewish heritage; the origin story of Moses as a baby sent adrift to safety, the physical and moral strength of Samson the mighty lawman, and the mission of the Golem as an inhuman protector of his creators. They made him a refugee fleeing catastrophe on the eve of World War II and sent him to tear Nazi tanks apart nearly two years before the US joined the war. In following decades, Superman’s mostly Jewish writers, artists, and editors continued to borrow Judaic motifs for their stories, further exploring the character’s unique standing as an alien who’s accepted as human, an Other who’s come to embody our idealized selves. In the postwar era he was blamed for causing juvenile delinquency, in the sixties and seventies he underwent frequent Kafkaesque metamorphoses, in the eighties he unsuccessfully attempted to renounce his alien heritage and with it his Otherness, and more recently he’s been featured in various alternate narratives in which he turns evil, like The Dark Side comic books, Injustice video games, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League film.

Authoritative information may be found here.

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source URL 🌐SWOSU Digital Commons - Mythcon: Other Than Him: Superman as the Alien That Made Good
date recorded 📅2022-01-23
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