Today in labor history: Superman, hero of downtrodden, is born

Today marks the 75th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance in DC’s Action Comics No. 1, published April 18, 1938. Cleveland teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the comic book hero during the Great Depression. Siegel came up with the idea and wrote the story and his friend Shuster illustrated it. Both were children of Jewish immigrants, and grew up in a working class part of town. Siegel envisioned Superman as the hero of the dispossessed and downtrodden.

Jerry Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson told reporters, “In that first issue, Superman saved the life of an innocent woman on death row, stopped a wife beater, punished some bullying thugs and brought corrupt politicians to justice.

“These were very real social evils his readers were powerless to conquer, and they loved seeing someone who could,” she continued. “My father wanted to do all those things for society, but he was just a kid from Cleveland. What he could not do, he had Superman do.”

“My father identified with Clark Kent, who was mild mannered on the outside and had unseen strengths within,” she said. “The true genius of Superman is both his dual identity and his compassion for the human race. He chose to use his unsurpassed powers for the good of mankind, usually for people he didn’t know.”

Mayor Frank Jackson has proclaimed today “Superman Day” in the City of Cleveland.

To commemorate the event, a Superman flag will be raised on the steps of City Hall with “Superman” in attendance; lights on City Hall and the Terminal Tower – the building Superman originally leaped with a single bound – will be blue, red, and yellow (Superman’s colors); Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport will have cupcakes for travelers and a birthday card for the hero at its recently-installed Superman Exhibit; and the city’s website and social media sites will feature citizen tributes to Superman.

“The Man of Steel in a steel town, the strength that he had, that’s all part of what Cleveland is,” Jackson said. “We’re a tough community that has overcome many challenges and obstacles, and Superman is a good representative model of Cleveland.”

Siegel died in 1996 at the age of 81. Shuster died in 1992, just a few weeks short of his 78th birthday.

Photo: Jerry Siegel (1914-96) and Joe Shuster (1914-92), the co-creators of Superman. AP


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.