|And the Winner is...||About the DMOTYs:|
On the second day of 2006 I, your anything-but-humble critic, Brother Kneumsi unveiled a new feature honoring those who have gone before us, leaving the world of Art a better world to live in. I called it "The Dead Man of the Year Award". 2005's DMOTY recipient was Willis H. "Obie" O'Brien, the special effects genius behind King Kong and many other great ones. His influence is still written all over film, especially seen in 2005. There was no question that he deserved it... the only question was... how to top it for 2006... in 2007.
Topping Obie may be impossible. Succeeding him, perhaps not. In 1933, when King Kong was making his theatrical debut, two young men were working up an illustrated short story about a powerful villain with other-worldly powers. Five years later, after many refusals and many revisions, the two young men's concept finally saw publication, featuring the character they created. Comics, Film, Television, Books, Music and Pop-Culture itself was never the same again. The two young men were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Their character, now not only a hero, but the first ever "Superhero" was SUPERMAN!
From the publication of Superman's first appearance in Action Comics #1 in June of 1938, the character was an enormous hit which almost immediately leapt into other media in a series of bounds. However, the story of Superman's creators begins a quarter of a century earlier in the year of 1914. On July 10, 1914 Julius and Ira Shuster, a Jewish couple who emigrated from Amsterdam and Russia, respectively, welcomed a new baby to their struggling family. His name was Joseph. It might surprise some readers to note that this father-to-be of a United States Icon and Fighter for Truth, Justice and the American way was born in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Three months later, and a few miles South, another son of Jewish Immigrants (this time from Lithuania) was born to a family that already had five children running around. Jerome Siegel entered the world on October 17, 1914. His real life was infused with a history that has repeatedly become part of Superhero Origin stories when his father Mitchell was shot and killed in the store he ran. Jerome was still in Junior High.
The young man became a fan of Science Fiction, Mythology and other escapist fare. At the age of sixteen he met a kindred spirit in the form of a the new kid on the block, a boy named Joe, also sixteen, who had recently moved into Jerry's neighborhood from Toronto. The partnership of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had begun in the year of 1931.
The boys worked together on the Glenville High School newspaper (The Torch) and began to create some comic strips together. On the side, they began to mimeograph their own "Science Fiction" fanzine. This was right about the same time that the first real "Comic Books" were being produced with new material (instead of reprinted from newspaper strips). In 1933, the third issue of their Science Fiction Fanzine, a feature called "Reign of the Super-Man" was published. It was a short story written by Siegel (but credited to pseudonym "Herbert S. Fine") with classic Sci-Fi illustrations by Shuster. This (barely recognizable) version of the hero-to-be was actually a bad guy, looking a lot more like Lex Luthor than Clark Kent. It was also a reflection of its time. Referencing the plight of the working class during the Great Depression and taking its name from the infamous use of Nietzche's "Ubermensch" concept that Hitler popularized during the Third Reich.
A much more appropriate Superman was re-crafted by the two Jewish youths which inverted and reclaimed the concept of the Superman in 1935's proposal "The Superman: A Science Fiction Story in Cartoons". Although his now-iconic costume wasn't a part of the picture, Shuster's drawings closely resembled Superman's current incarnation. Siegel's re-imagining of the character changed him from a terrorizing monster into a crusading hero, capable of making things better for depression-era working class. This hero included concepts from characters like Zorro, Hercules and the Jewish myth of the Golem. He was the ultimate immigrant with the ultimate power, but the down-to-Earth upbringing to become the ultimate Boy Scout!
The idea was spectacular and the first of its kind! With the addition of a colorful circus costume, the character was ready to be printed in Newspaper Strips, competing with Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon for readers. The only question was... which syndicate would have the honor of publishing it. No other character had ever been quite like this. Therefore the results were predictable: The proposal was a complete failure, rejected by every editor who laid eyes on it.
Undaunted, the boys managed to make their way into comics, albeit into Comic Books, not their dream of Comic Strips. Their employer was Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson's "National Allied Publishing", responsible for that first comic book of new material: New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine. There they worked on action stories and mysteries, some of which they even created, such as the still-popular "Dr. Occult".
As 1938 approached, National's Harry Donenfeld looked for ways to cash in on the action that their title Detective Comics had seen some success with. Their idea was Action Comics, what it lacked was a flagship story. At a competing, but partnered press, M.C. Gaines (father of Mad publisher William M. Gaines) was publishing "All American Comics". On his desk was that well-circulated proposal for "The Most Astounding Fiction Character of All Time", which he had, of course, rejected. When Donnenfeld came a-calling, Gaines suggested he give "Superman" a try. After all, the two young men who created the character were already working for him on Detective Comics!
Jerry and Joe wrote and drew the genre-defining first Superman story. Action Comics #1 was the result! The cover featured an incredible scene of Superman lifting a car full of gangsters above his head and the story inside established a great many of the Superman motifs we still hold dear today. The destruction of the planet Krypton, the identity of Clark Kent, his upbringing by Ma and Pa Kent, the development of his powers and his mission all fleshed themselves out in the first two pages. What publishers had failed to appreciate for years, boys and girls all over the country were immediately enchanted with. The comic was an immediate, unparalleled, unprecedented and unpredictable success. Siegel and Shuster were signed to a decade-long contract to produce Superman stories and a year later in 1939, Siegel and Shuster were finally given the chance to produce Newspaper Comic Strips based on their creation. They were now celebrities, and their character was an icon.
Also in 1939, Superheroes began to come out of the woodwork. Batman was created by Bob Kane (with Bill Finger) for Detective Comics, Captain Marvel appeared in Fawcett Comics, All American featured characters like Green Lantern and The Flash and Timely showed their hand with Captain America. Within National's own line, Superheroes were springing up like wildfire, and Superman himself was given incredible attention. He was the first Superhero to be given his own comic book (with Superman #1) and his own Super-Family grew, even to the point that his teenage exploits were retroactively covered in various "Superboy" stories.
The Superhero had been born, and was an incredible success. We owe that to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Their great character was soon sprung from the page. Radio Programs, Cartoons, Movie Serials, Feature Films and a Live Action Television show all followed in the next several years. Much of Superman's evolving Mythos saw its origin in the spin-off projects, rather than the original comic book. Kryptonite, Luthor, even the ability to fly were all added to the comics after their successes in other media.
It is the ambition of many writers and artists that their creation become bigger than they are. This was certainly the case for Siegel and Shuster's creation, but perhaps this happened a little earlier than they thought it might.
Comic books were new as a medium and the rules were evolving faster than Superman's powers. As Jerry and Joe's ten-year contract neared expiration, they found themselves at odds with National Periodical Publications (now informally known as DC Comics). The first of several lawsuits between Siegel and Shuster on one side and DC on the other was filed to determine the true ownership of the Superman characters. After a two year fight, the New York Supreme Court found in favor of National Periodical Publications, but awarded the boys sixty thousand dollars each, plus the ownership of Superboy. Siegel and Shuster sold Superboy back to National for a reported one hundred thousand dollars.
A series of failed ventures followed for both men, some together, some separately, while their brainchild faced even greater success. The Superman, created by two Jewish men, was even depicted fighting the Nazis in the pages of his two books... take that, Hitler! Superman was among the few comic book Superheroes to survive from the Golden Age to the Silver Age of comic books, even sidestepping the McCarthy-like Comics Code controversy spawned in part by Dr. Fredric Wertham's 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent. Meanwhile Shuster was working as a freelance cartoonist while Siegel was ghost writing stories for his own creation.
It is worth noting that during this time Siegel also worked for Marvel Comics (formerly Timely) where he penned the stories of even more superheroes (under the pseudonym "Joe Carter"). He wrote super-stories for Charlton Comics (whose characters, like those of All American, were eventually folded into the DC Universe) and various other adventure strips on both sides of the Atlantic, including some less-serious work for Archie Comics.
Siegel sued DC again in 1967 for ownership of Superman with the same results. However, only a few years later, Warner Brothers and Alexander Salkind Productions were promoting the upcoming Superman: The Movie. Siegel and Shuster launched a campaign for recognition of their creation of DC's flagship title and succeeded in receiving a pension from DC parent Time Warner as well as creator credits on all of Superman's subsequent productions. To this day the words "Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster" appear in every comic issue, in the credits for every movie, every television episode and every video game or tie-in.
And that's a lot of media! Over the years, Superman had his ups and downs, but had also eventually become the most recognizable pop-culture icon of the 20th century. Not only did just about everyone in the United States (and elsewhere) know who "Superman" was, but also who "Clark Kent" and many others were. Terms like "Kryptonite" have entered into the American Lexicon in everyday use, whether discussing Superman or not.
In the years since Siegel and Shuster split from DC, Superman's proliferation into various media continued in super force. A very popular television show called Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves ran for six seasons in the 1950s, helping to keep Superman on the public's mind. Superman has since appeared in a number of cartoon shows, both solo and with his Justice League friends. Believe it or not, a Broadway Musical (featuring tunes from the creators of Bye Bye Birdie) was less than successfully staged featuring Superman. He has been featured in Five major motion pictures (not counting Serials, Cartoons or the theatrically released pilot film Superman and the Mole Men) in this country alone. These helped to launch the career of actor Christopher Reeve and the great director Richard Donner, not to mention giving composer John Williams another major score for his resume. Superman's cousin Supergirl even received the big screen treatment in the 1984 feature Supergirl: The Movie starring Helen Slater. On television, Superman has enjoyed considerable success. The television show Superboy ran for one hundred episodes (with two different actors playing the lead role) in syndication between 1998 and 1992. The romantic comedy/ drama Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (starring Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain as the title leads) ran for four seasons (88 episodes) between 1993 and 1997, not in syndication but on the major network ABC. Overlapping this run was Superman: The Animated Series, which ran on the WB Network for 54 episodes between 1996 and 2000 and featured the voices of Tim Daly and Dana Delany. In October of 2001, Superman returned to Smallville in the series of the same name. Due in part to the good work of actor Tom Welling, Smallville retells the Superboy story with the rule of "no tights, no flights". At the time of this writing, Smallville is in its sixth season, is still doing well, and still carries the names of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in every episode's credits.
Sadly, Siegel and Shuster would not live to see many of these latter credits. Joe Shuster died on July 30, 1992, only a few months before DC's successful "Death of Superman" storyline revitalized his character yet again. Jerry Siegel passed away on January 28, 1996, a few months before the debut of Superman: The Animated Series and a year before Superman lost his cape and underwent a major (if temporary) overhaul in both powers and costume. Though both men have passed on, their influence is undeniable.
There are Superman fans all over the world, some in surprising places. As the first Superhero, and thus, the progenitor of every such character that came after, Superman shows his influence, and that of his creators, in ever Superhero incarnation. Stan Lee himself, creator of some of the most famous Superheroes of all time, including Spider-Man, Daredevil and The X-Men credits Superman directly as a major basis for his work.
Within the last few years, Superheroes have experienced a major renaissance, especially at the box office. While movies like The Matrix have Superman written all over them, more direct descendants have popped up all over the place in some very successful movie adaptations (and a few failures). The trend hasn't let up, and 2006 has proven to be another successful year of the Superhero. Among the Superhero and Comic Book-themed films to see light in 2006 were V For Vendetta, X-Men: The Last Stand and various straight to video animated shows featuring Mignola's Hellboy, Marvel's Avengers and Superman himself. There was even a Romantic Comedy that featured a Supergirl-like lead in the film My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
The biggest influncene of Siegel and Shuster on the year of 2006 was, of course, the big screen success of Superman Returns. Helmed by Bryan Singer (director of both X-Men and X2), starring newcomer Brandon Routh as Superman and Oscar Winner Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor and released in its original form as well as a 3D IMAX Experience, Superman Returns was well received by most fans and critics and was successful enough to spawn a sequel (already in progress).
But the hits don't stop there. Oscar Buzz has started over the noir mystery Hollywoodland, about the death of George Reeves. Ben Affleck stars as Reeves and is shown, of course, in both guises of Siegel and Shuster's greatest creation. 2006 also showed the release of all five Superman Feature Films in a box set that includes Superman and the Mole Men, all of the Fleisher Superman cartoons, the pilot Adventures of Superpup and a number of documentaries and surprising features. Separately, Supergirl: The Movie was released on DVD for the first time by Warner Bros. Finally, both as part of the box set and individually, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD after years of fan demand. Truly, this was a great year for Superman movies.
And what about his original medium? Superman is still doing well in the comic books. At the time of this writing there are no less than Five regular Superman titles published by DC (not counting his team up and one-shot issues), and every one of them carries the credit "created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster". The Universe-Spanning Infinite Crisis also saw its conclusion in 2006 and featured many versions of Superman, often all tied in together. As for their original vision, two hardcover books featuring Siegel and Shuster's newspaper strips have been re-released in 2006 by DC and Kitchen Sink Press: Superman: Sunday Classics 1939-1943 and Superman: The Dailies 1939-1942.
Costumed adventurers didn't begin with Superman and without Siegel and Shuster, it's possible that the Superhero would have been born sooner or later. However, without Siegel and Shuster, there would have been no Superman and the face of Comics, Film, Television, Stage, Radio, Literature, and even Music wouldn't be the same without Superman, nor would Superheroes be anything like what they are without Siegel and Shuster. The debt owed these two men is hard to calculate.
But it's being paid. At the time of this writing, Jerry Siegel's estate now controls fifty percent of all Superman characters (a feat even Super Jerry wasn't able to achieve within his lifetime). Siegel and Shuster are still given Posthumous awards and now have Awards named after them. As their impact is undeniable, especially in 2006, I proudly lay upon them one more... the 2006 Dead Man of the Year award goes to both Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, fathers of Superman, fathers of a Genre. Awarding one without the other... well, that just wouldn't be Super, would it? I honor you both, and I thank you for your hero. My hero.
Rest in Peace supermen...
Siegel and Shuster
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