I recently became Facebook Friends with Dr. Paul Shackley... When I went to his profile and info pages I noticed that he had authored several articles that he placed online.
One that really jumped out at me was his article on "Getting Superman Right". It was too long in its entirety to reprint here. I asked him if he could condense it to fit a blog post, which he graciously did. The results are posted below to share this work of his. My thanks to Dr. Shackley for permission to post this in my Blog.
Extract From 'Getting Superman Right'
By Dr. Paul Shackley
Why do Kryptonians exactly resemble white North Americans? One answer would be that superheroes, like gods, are myths, therefore resemble their creators. They are made in our image. This answer is basically sound. Anyone writing a new Superman story must accept the absurd premise of humanoid extraterrestrials as part of the established myth. However, thoughtful versions of the story rationalise its absurd elements. Superman is sf-based, not fantasy-based. His origin is extraterrestrial, not supernatural. The very first episode explained his superhuman feats scientifically, not magically. I offer below two alternative answers to the above question: Kryptonians are either descendants of terrestrials or a fiction within the fiction.
The Last Son of Krypton
The Kryptonian god, Rao, a powerful superior being associated with an old red giant star, presided over a large planet with a dense atmosphere. Rock-hard plants grew on the surface and a few almost un-killable animals lived on a plateau where the atmosphere was breathable by terrestrials although other conditions, like gravity, climate and visibility, were hostile. Rao rescued shipwrecked terrestrials, placed them on the plateau and oversaw their evolution so that they increased their strength, endurance and visual range while retaining their human form.
In order to survive, the Kryptonians, as they now were, developed the physical sciences but not evolutionary theory because they were clearly not related to Kryptonian animals which had different facial features, number of limbs, body chemistry etc. Therefore, the Kryptonians believed that they had been created on Krypton by Rao whom they simply identified with their red giant sun. This explains why the Science Council and the Raoist priesthood were the dual authorities in the later cities of Kryptonopolis, Kandor and Argo.
Rao’s aim was to generate a hero who would escape to Earth when Krypton exploded. Indoctrinated by recordings in his spaceship, Kal-El is conscious of his heroic mission but adopts a human guise while on Earth. This Superman joins other cosmically powerful beings in the Justice League. He flies through space in the Solar System, survives unprotected trips through hyperspace and the time stream and will live through an indefinite future, roaming the galaxy after completing his terrestrial superhero career.
In Superman: Last Son of Krypton, a novel by Elliot S. Maggin, human beings have spread to various planets, we are not told from where. On Krypton, “…two stranded space wanderers found each other…” and began to populate the planet. (1)
Because of the “monstrous” gravity, drastically changeable weather and poor visibility:
“The race’s physiology was subtly altered while outward appearances changed very little…” (2)
With denser muscles, sharper reflexes, broader perceptions and wider optical capacity but unchanged appearance, Maggin rationalises Superman’s human appearance and superhuman powers. (3) However, I think that outward appearances would change under such conditions unless Rao controlled the adaptations.
My “Last Son of Krypton” scenario is an adaptation of Maggin’s.
The Smallville Angel
In the Smallville TV series, green meteors, accompanying Kal-El’s spaceship to Earth, harm him but give terrestrials strange powers. In my second alternative version, there was no spaceship. The meteors gave more powers to Clark Kent because his pregnant mother, Martha, was at Ground Zero but not directly hit by any of the meteors. Clark, either acting from a distance or moving too quickly to be seen, averts disasters and rescues accident victims, thus giving rise to the story of the “Smallville Angel”. Since he is occasionally glimpsed running impossibly fast, there is also a legend of “the Superboy” but no one produces any photographs and the sightings are never verified.
Working at the Metropolis Daily Planet, the adult Clark, now able to fly, still uses his powers secretly but prepares for the day when he will be seen in action. By changing his voice, stooping slightly, pushing his hair back, dressing conservatively and wearing large distracting glasses, Clark conceals any resemblance to the figure he presents when, in casual dress, he flies or uses super strength.
He notices in the Planet a comic strip about Superman. This fictitious costumed character is strong and fast but does not fly and has neither visual powers nor a secret identity. He came as a child from the fictitious planet Krypton and was brought up by an unnamed couple who taught him to use his powers for good, as Jonathan and Martha Kent had done for Clark. Clark seeks out the reclusive author/artist of the strip who turns out to be his friend from Smallville, Peter Ross. Pete not only saw the Superboy but recognized him as Clark and based Superman on him.
The Planet has a promotion in which an actor wears a Superman costume. Seeing with X-ray and telescopic vision that, on the second or third day of the promotion, the actor has been delayed and will arrive late, Clark removes his glasses, pulls his hair forward, dons the costume and poses in the Planet foyer. Some colleagues walk past and may even look directly at him but do not initially recognize Clark’s face without glasses above the colourful costume. He experiments with a deeper voice and colleagues in earshot do not turn towards him.
Before anyone does recognize him, his visual powers and super-hearing tell him that an airliner is about to crash on Metropolis and he flies to the rescue. He moves at super-speed, does not wait for thanks or applause and also vibrates his face at super-speed in order to blur any films or photographs. Thus, he is not recognized and continues to operate in a superhero identity. The Planet staff finds that its fictitious character has come to life but is as puzzled as everyone else. Superman is only ever glimpsed moving very fast at a distance with a blurred face. No one suspects that he has a secret identity as the Gotham City vigilante must.
When Ross leaves the strip, other writers and artists base it on the real Superman so there are different versions of the character. One version is even more powerful than the real superhero and his Kryptonian background, involving the god Rao, is developed. Later, Superman rescues Lois Lane. She interviews him but does not immediately suspect any connection with her colleague, Kent.
This Superman can fly to the Moon and back if he fills his lungs with oxygen but cannot remain conscious indefinitely in a vacuum. To travel to other stars or times he needs a spaceship or a time machine like anyone else. He spends a lot of time in his Kent identity and as an investigative reporter in places like Iraq. He believes very strongly that he must use his powers to help but not to change society. (Maybe the powers fail if he tries?)
He opposes injustice but also accepts legal constraints on his actions and therefore is conservative on questions like the justice of the current war. He does not join the war on either side but awaits the decision of an international court and then expects the authorities to act appropriately. He investigates Luthor but this takes a long time. He dies in action and is commemorated by a large statue with out-flung cloak and an eagle on the shoulder in Centennial Park. We see life continue without him.
(Several aspects of this scenario are based on John Byrne’s revision of the character.)
Crossovers between the Two Versions?
Never. Maybe one Superman reads about the other as a fictitious character. There was an old Superman story about a villain who could animate newspaper comic strip characters long enough for them to help him commit robberies but that seems a bit far-fetched.
Please Note: The Above Extract is copyrighted by Dr. Paul Shackley. He is interested in anyone's comments. For the full article and Dr. Paul Shackley's other articles, including "Getting The Justice League Right", please see those and his email contact info at his web site: http://www.zen118085.zen.co.uk/general/index.htm
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