Super Nerds

Reads: 94  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


 

Super Nerds

The unlikely creators of Superman

The two 1930's Cleveland High School buddies would perfectly fit today's category of "nerds."  Their mutual love of science fiction books, movies, and magazines pulled them together like magnets.  As they discussed the latest editions of Amazing Stories or Weird Tales, the characters almost materialized in the room.  The dialogue springing from the pages spoke much louder to both of them than that of their teachers.  The characters didn't once mention diagramming sentences, calculating fractions, or memorizing scientific formulas.  They were far too busy avoiding asteroids, tracking down bizarre villains or perfecting time travel.  Now those were subjects worth studying!

The two friends, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both worked for their Cleveland High School newspaper, the "Glenville Torch."  The Torch would both ignite their interests and spur their growing talents.  Jerry loved to write and Joe had dreams of becoming a professional illustrator.  Siegel had begun a series of short parodies of the famous Tarzan series, titled "Goober the Mighty." Then Shuster began to provide illustrations for several of the stories. As the two shy Jewish boys peered through their eyeglasses at Goober, they had no idea their collaboration would eventually give birth to the most famous superhero in history. 

Their backgrounds certainly didn't reflect their creation's stature, but were more like that of his "mild mannered" alter ego – Clark Kent.  Both were sons of immigrant families with very limited resources.  Shuster, in fact, had previously scrounged the streets of his hometown of Toronto for paper to use in expressing his artistic talents.One day he ran across a bunch of unused wallpaper rolls with plain white backs he could draw on. "It was a goldmine for me," he recalled, "and I went home with every roll I could carry."

Even after Shuster graduated from Cleveland High, the two continued to work together, authoring and illustrating science fiction short stories.  Frustrated by constant rejection slips, they founded their own independent magazine, simply called Science Fiction.  The third issue of the publication, in January of 1933, included a story titled "The Reign of the Superman."  The superman character was actually a monster.  Clearly springing from Mary Shelley's recently published novel, Frankenstein, the Superman was the handiwork of mad scientist, Professor Ernest Smalley.  The good professor, along with the aid of the mysterious powers of a fallen meteor, imbued the creature with astounding telepathic superpowers.  Unfortunately, his creation didn't use them for "truth, justice, and the American way," but carried out a reign of terror until his powers finally wore off.  Not having evoked any audience response, the Superman was dropped.

During the mid-1930's, a new science fiction format emerged.  Action-based newspaper comic strips had been around for a while but usually gave the reader only a short glimpse of the story each day.  Expanding the stories into a small comic "book," however, provided the reader with a full dose of drama and suspense.  Perhaps, Siegel and Shuster conjectured, if they revived their super person, gave him a full makeover – including a transformation from villain to hero – he might make a good subject for one of these new illustrated booklets.  One comic book character, who looked promising, was Norman Marsh's "Detective Dan: Secret Operative."  Buoyed by the hope of Marsh's success, Siegel and Schuster enthusiastically set about writing and illustrating a comic book version of their newly altered character, Superman.

Their new superhero's future looked bright.  They had interested Consolidated, the publisher of Detective Dan; and their cover sketches and page layouts looked sharp.  Then suddenly, they encountered a massive dose of Kryptonite.  Marsh's Detective Dan comics didn't sell well.  Consolidated told Stiegel and Shuster they couldn't take the risk of publishing another comic book.  They were both devastated but Shuster carried his disappointment to the extreme, destroying their only copy of the story's layout.  Fortunately, Stiegel managed to save two cover sketches from his partner's wrath. 

Eventually pushing through their disappointment, they trudged forward with a briefly successful comic strip in 1935, titled "Henri Duval of France, Famed Soldier of Fortune."  Unfortunately, the fame of their swashbuckling soldier of fortune lasted only four episodes.  That was apparently enough, though, to refuel Siegel and Shuster's creative engines.  The previous year, the thirty-six page New Fun magazine, had bridged the gap between a newspaper comic strip and a comic book.  It combined a number of short graphic stories, each written exclusively for the publication. 

After Henri Duval had bitten the dust, Siegel and Shuster sent New Fun a proposed layout for a new hero, "Dr. Occult, the Ghost Detective."  The illustrated tales pitted the doctor against a host of paranormal evil-doers.  His skill set included astral projection, hypnosis, clairvoyance, and telekinesis, as well as "force field projection."  The poor ghosts and vampires he battled never stood a chance.  The success of Dr. Occult let his creators know that their skills, through not as colorful as his, were apparently in demand.

During the next couple years, they introduced more comic-strip heroes, including a spy known as Bart Regan, a tough detective named Slam Bradley, and a courageous policeman by the name of Sandy Kean.  As Siegel and Shuster switched on their creativity to develop another new character, they decided to fall back on an old one.  Even though he hadn't made an impact in his first appearance, there was something about "the Superman," that the duo simply couldn't ignore. 

In his new hero role, he slowly morphed into a character ready to jump onto the comic book pages and start a life-long career of fighting crime.  As Siegel and Shuster fleshed out their new creation, they gave their character, now known simply as Superman, a captivating back-story.  His home, a distant planet named Krypton, had been hopelessly threatened with destruction.  In an attempt to give their new-born son a chance of survival, his parents, Jor-El and Lara, tearfully placed him in a rocket and blasted him into space.  After crashing into the planet Earth, he was adopted by a childless Kansas farm couple, John and Mary Kent.  They soon realized their new family member was a bit out of the ordinary, exhibiting super strength and unexplainable powers.  Naming him Clark Kent, they were careful not to reveal his true identity and abilities to outsiders, for fear of his being taken away and studied by government scientists.

A few more details needed to be added to prepare Superman for his super journey through comic-book history.  When Clark became an adult and learned his true identity, he decided he had to go to the big city of Metropolis and use his powers to protect its citizens.  The city's name was taken from Fritz Lang's 1927 film, "Metropolis," which is often considered to be the first great science-fiction movie.Once there, Clark lined up a reporter job for the Daily Star, named by Shuster after the Toronto Star of his hometown.  Within a few issues, it became the Daily Planet

As Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen stepped into the little comic strip's world, along with a host of evil doers like Lex Luther, Brianiac, and Bizarro, the little pen-and-ink stage was set for super action.  That action would eventually jump from the printed page onto the silver screen and fly into the television sets of millions of enthusiastic fans of all ages.  So what was the super fortune amassed by the two creators of the most popular superhero of all time?  Well…other than some later legal settlements from DC Comics, which fortunately helped them stay afloat financially, the excited young friends, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn't fare too well.  They were so thrilled to have their creation in print, they sold all the rights of Superman to Detective Comics, later known simply as DC, for a not-so-super $130.

 

 


Submitted: November 11, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Dennis L. Goodwin. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Facebook Comments

More Non-Fiction Short Stories

Boosted Content from Other Authors

Short Story / Non-Fiction

Writing Contest / Flash Fiction

Short Story / Flash Fiction