Superman Turns 70: The Real King of All Media and what he means to me

super-friends-header.jpgContinuing our week of features celebrating Superman’s 70th birthday, Jim Ousley explores Superman’s life outside the comics page and how the Man of Steel transcended his four-color adventures.

 

 

 

 

Hard as it is to believe now, there was a time when the world didn’t have a Superman. Sure, 70 years is a mighty long time, but the Big Blue Boy Scout is so entrenched in American pop-culture that it seems like the big lug was as constant as the oceans and the stars. Of course, any icon worth his weight in Kryptonite knows that the key to establishing your long-term popularity is to conquer every known form of entertainment possible under the yellow sun. What I’m trying to say is, forget Howard Stern; Superman is the King of All Media.

Superman and his Super Friends. Click for a larger image.As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I loved reading about the adventures of Superman in the comics, especially in those great oversized DC books that found Supes teaming up with Marvel’s Spider-Man or racing The Flash. However, Superman’s appearances always meant the most to me as a kid in television and movies. Saturday mornings were always about The Super Friends, where Superman not only had to worry about all of those upstart mad scientists and pesky super-villains, he also had to deal with the always-had-to-be-involved teenagers Marvin, Wendy, and their pet, Wonderdog. Later on, I discovered the beautifully animated Max Fleischer cartoons from the 40’s, read about the movie serials starring Kirk Alyn, and began obsessing over a television series I still love to this very day; The Adventures of Superman, starring the late George Reeves. Even with a grown-up brain filled with grown-up responsibilities and to-do lists taking up valuable-but-limited space, I can still recite the "Faster than a speeding bullet…" opening monologue from the show at the drop of a hat. Superman also had quite an extensive career in radio serials before my time, but I delighted in his audio adventures via Power Records’ series of super-hero albums from the 70’s, allowing my imagination to take flight without Hollywood’s visual assistance.

After being the subject of a short-lived Broadway musical entitled It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, the forces behind Lex Luthor’s favorite pain-in-the-neck began plotting Supes’ return to theatres. Starting in 1978 and continuing through the 80’s, Christopher Reeve took over the mantle of the Man of Steel, bringing him to the big screen for the first time in decades with charming and career-defining performances. Although many of us are trying to figure out what the deal was with Superman III and IV, the first two films have stood the test of time and continue to entertain new generations. I remember seeing these with my dad and, even though we never had a lot to talk about, Superman gave us something to mutually enjoy; a kind of common ground. That’s what it’s all about though, isn’t it? The magic of a character so fully realized and imaginatively conceived that he transcends the written page or the light flickering on a movie screen, and becomes part of the fabric of who we are. Decade after decade, the Big Man continues to have a presence in television through reruns of The Adventures of Lois and Clark, new episodes of Smallville, audio books, fan films, popular song, and director Bryan Singer’s blockbuster Superman Returns. The strange visitor from another planet who always felt a little different was here for our grandparents, our parents, and for us. Undoubtedly, Superman will be there for our children’s children as well. | Jim Ousley

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