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Why Superman Endures

by Bill Galvan, August 1997

As we prepare for Superman's 60th anniversary, we should reflect on what makes Superman so special and why he has endured for so long. Having been a Superman fan for more than 20 years, I can only offer my slightly biased opinions on why that might be.

First off, Superman is an original. The character practically started the comic book industry as we know it today. Whether he should shoulder the blame for that fact is a debate for another time, so let's concentrate on the positives. Most all comic book superhero stories follow the same pattern as set by Superman. An individual possessed of amazing powers uses these abilities to defend the innocent and fight the bad guys. Sure, there were others that came before, The Shadow, The Phantom, but neither were comic-book superheroes before Superman. He set the standard.

Second, the character embodies the ultimate fantasies of power and goodness. Who hasn't always wanted to make the last minute save, to be looked to as an inspiration? Who hasn't thought of themselves as a Clark Kent, hiding an inner strength that nobody else knows about? Superman plays upon all these themes, and readers have identified with them readily.

Third, Superman has many different facets of character on which to draw upon for limitless stories. Clark Kent, the kansas farm boy turned metropolitan newspaper reporter. Superman, the ultimate superhero and most powerful being on the planet. Kal-el, the alien child from another planet where the possibilities are endless.

Let's also consider the "unknown" facts about Superman's character that make him as contemporary as his Image and Marvel peers. He is a loner. Despite Lois, Superman has no sidekick in which to share his adventures. Batman has a great reputation as a hard-boiled gritty loner, but still finds a place for Robin to tag along. Superman fights his never-ending battle alone.

He is probably one of the most "realistic" characters there is. His powers may be fantastic, but his real identity is one that is easily attainable. He is not a millionaire playboy, but a reporter for a major newspaper. His occupation touches crime, politics, corruption, the daily lives of everyone. In today's comic market it's easy to call stories with sad endings more "realistic" but in my opinion, Superman's identity is more realistic than most.

Of course, these reasons I've mentioned only touch the surface of Superman's popularity. After 60 years, Superman is still the premiere superhero of the 20th century. And I have no doubt that his popularity will continue into the next millenium.


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