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PopEntertainment.com > Miscellaneous > Feature Interviews - Literature > Feature Interviews P to T > Larry Tye

 

"Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero" by Larry Tye

Larry Tye

Keeping It Real With the Man of Steel

by Ronald Sklar

 

Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 30, 2013.

We need Superman more than ever. So the least we can do is understand him.

Good thing Superman has strong shoulders, because he carries the weight of the world on them. We project all of our cultural fears and anxieties onto him, constantly ask him for help and rescue, and although times change, we prefer him not to. 

Nevertheless, we tell his story over and over again. It never gets old. The Daily Planet has yet to go digital, and Clark Kent could no longer find a phone booth for a quick change, yet Superman remains stronger than Kryptonite. We continue to want to know what makes him make us tick.

In Larry Tye’s new book, Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero [Random House], we learn why we have Superman on the brain, and how the Superman story is actually Biblical (even more specifically, Jewish). We also examine why, in this digital age, Superman continues to outsell all the other sucker superheroes.

We think of Superman as a constant, but how can any character continue to inspire millions through so many decades?

It’s his never losing the sense of right from wrong. Dark heroes like Batman had a problem with that, and [Superman] was never fraught like Spiderman. He was always the familiar Dudley Do-Right kind of character.  In times of trouble, like what we are going through right now, I think he is really reassuring to people.

Larry Tye, author of "Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero"In your book, you theorize that Superman’s story is actually based on a biblical theme.

Superman is in my firm opinion Jewish. I knew that his creators were Jewish and his publishers were Jewish, but everything from the fact that his name when he came down from the Planet Krypton was Kal-El, which in Hebrew suggests the vessel or the voice of God. His “truth, justice and the American way” were strained out of the Jewish book called The Mishna [which instructs that] truth, justice and peace are what Jews must strive for. He floats in from outer space and is rescued by his parents two Gentiles named John and Martha Kent. They adopt him and raise him in the Midwest. If that’s not the Moses and Exodus story, I don’t know what is. Most compelling of all to me, any name that ends in “man” is either a superhero or a Jew. In this case, it’s both.

In the Fifties, conservative America was spooked by the immorality of comic books. This led to comic books being tossed into bonfires and burned, which was a troubling reminder of Nazi Germany. At that time, was even Superman considered immoral as well?

What we now refer to as The Comic Book Scare coincided with The Red Scare. The idea that the PTA and various clergy were going after comic books was surprising to me. The fact that one of their prime targets was Superman was even more surprising. He was the most straight-laced and un-sexiest of all the comic book characters. But they couldn’t make a compelling case for comic books polluting the minds of kids unless they went after the titan of the comic books, and that was Superman. The fact is, he outlasted the scare.

We often think of a Superman curse, inflicted upon actors like George Reeves and Christopher Reeve, who both played Superman. Do you subscribe to this theory?

I would say that it certainly is compelling. Starting with George Reeves and his suicide, continuing with Christopher Reeve and his accident. On the one hand, you look at it logically and you say that there were tens of thousands of people involved with Superman in various media over the years, and bad things would happen to some of them. It’s just a matter of chance. On the other hand, the notion of a curse is too compelling to throw away. Too many bad things happened in too dramatic a fashion that, even given chance, is an awful lot of bad stuff.

Why does Superman continue to be so popular today? Aren’t we more sophisticated and jaded now?

What we know for sure is, in the 1990s, the bestselling comic book of all time was The Death of Superman issue. So when we tried to get rid of Superman, people were shocked and outraged. I think, when next summer  we come upon Superman’s 75th birthday, and with the new Man of Steel movie, we will show that we need Superman now more than ever. Guys like me would like to think that behind my Clark-Kent-nerd exterior is a Superman. I think that everybody still can relate to that. There are more Clark Kents than there are Supermans or Batmans out there. And each story is still as compelling and as hopeful as it’s ever been. 

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