Where does the name “Superman” actually come from?
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in the late 1930s, but the character may have been influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1883 novel.
DC Comics’ Superman is the original comic book superhero, and arguably the greatest. Since its inception in 1938, The Man of Steel has grown into a cultural icon whose influence has spanned from comics to newspapers, radio to television and even the big screen. As Superman took his rightful place in American mythology, questions about his early origins arose just as important. How did two young creators from Cleveland, Ohio blend their knowledge of science fiction and German philosophy into one of the most popular fictional properties of all time? The answer is a story of timing, tragedy, and ultimately tenacity.
Friedrich Nietzsche Thus spoke Zarathustra: a book for all and none was published in 1883. The philosophical novel espouses the death of God and suggests man as a simple bridge between animals and the Übermensch. The Übermensch is a goal of human perfection that, according to Nietzsche, all humanity should strive to achieve. Thomas Common’s English translation of 1909 rendered Übermensch loosely as “superman” in the style of George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 play, Man and Superman. While Nietzsche’s works will only gain popularity after his death, the term superman has become cemented in the popular lexicon.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster met in 1932 while attending Glenville High School. The boys became quick friends based on their common Jewish heritage and love of science fiction. Magazines like Amazing stories and Strange tales inspired the young duo, who started producing their own fanzine, Science fictionwhile still being students. It would be in the third issue of this ephemeral periodical that the Superman would appear for the first time. “The Reign of the Superman” was published in 1933 and tells the story of a mad scientist who endows a homeless man with telepathic abilities. In return, the telepathic wanderer kills his benefactor and attempts to take over the world. The first superman was actually a super villain.
By 1935, Science fiction had fallen by the side of the road, and Siegel and Shuster had landed jobs at National Allied Publications. Early creations like Doctor Occult and Slam Bradley helped pay the bills, but the idea of a Superman continued to grow in their minds. In 1937, Harry Donnenfeld and Jack Liebowitz acquired National Allied Publications and decided to publish a new comic in the vein of the already popular Detective Comics. Siegel and Shuster reorganized their idea for Übermensch and presented it to the publisher. The character became a hero instead of a villain and showed powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men. Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to the property for $ 130, and Superman was created in Action comics # 1 in April 1938.
Modern scholars debate the influence of Nietzsche on Siegel and Shuster. Hitler’s rise to power and the use of the term Übermensch in Nazi propaganda may have embittered them on Nietzsche’s theories. Additionally, there is no hard evidence that Siegel and Shuster ever read Thus spoke Zarathustra. Phillip Wylie’s 1930 sci-fi novel, Gladiator, has recently been cited as a possible influence. Or maybe Superman was created to refute Nietzsche’s desire to dissolve moral constructs and abandon religion. The man of tomorrow has become a beacon of morality and, for some, a figure of Christ. Whatever the real origin of his name, Superman popularized the superhero archetype and changed the face of pop culture forever.
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Source: Siegel and Shuster
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