The idea of being on the receiving end of questions is a fairly new experience for me as an entertainment journalist, but not an unenjoyable one as I’ve discovered while promoting my upcoming oral history of Superman book, Voices from Krypton.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been on a number of podcasts where I’ve had the opportunity to put into words many of the thoughts I’ve had about the character of Superman and his history that I’ve never really articulated. And one of the common questions has been regarding how I discovered him in the first place.
In 1965 I was just five-years-old, living in a Brooklyn, New York apartment with my parents, younger sister and a black German Shepherd named Fuzzy. Oh, and a black and white television, which I was already obsessed with. Not its inner workings or anything, but what was playing on it (just to be clear). One day (can’t be more specific than that) I sat on the floor playing with my toys, when I became mesmerized by some guy in a costume with a cape, who actually took flight. It was, of course, a rerun of the 1950s TV show Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves, and my young imagination was blown away, an instant connection formed. On top of that, I learned that I could watch the show five days a week, which I began doing.
But that’s only one part of the answer. The other is that my father had a comic book. A single comic book. No superheroes, just dogs. Next to karate, the man loved canines more than just about anything (and I do know how that sounds), and his (now my) comic book was The Illustrated Story of Dogs, published in 1958 and costing a whole quarter. A pretty good investment given that when I came across it, there was another immediate connection. I had not seen a comic book before, but found the format amazing. Needless to say (like that’s ever stopped me) my next revelation was that this guy on TV — Superman — had his own comic book adventures, which my parents began buying for me.
Flash forward two years. I’m seven and we’ve moved from the apartment we were in to an apartment building, also in Brooklyn, located at 1261 Schenectady Avenue, apartment 4-K. Don’t bother stopping by to say hello; we moved to Long Island in 1972. But I do have to say (and my wife doesn’t agree with me) that those five years between 1967 and 1972 were some of the most formative I’ve ever experienced, because it was during that time that, beyond Superman, I encountered Star Trek, the Adam West Batman series, Planet of the Apes, Dark Shadows, the Universal Monsters (courtesy of the former WNEW’s Saturday night Creature Feature), James Bond, the vampire genre and other passions that have stayed with me ever since, many of which have been the subjects of books I’ve written.
Which leads me back to Superman. Saturday mornings in 1967 gave us The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, and insofar as comics were concerned, I gradually built up collections of any comic that featured the “S”: Superman, Action Comics, World’s Finest (which teamed Supes with Batman every issue in the days before the pre-Dark Knight always kick his ass), Superboy, Adventure Comics featuring Superboy, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen and Justice League of America. I simply couldn’t get enough (which goes a long way in explaining the 330,000 words making up Voices from Krypton) and it resulted in another treasured memory: traveling with my friends by bus to Flatbush Avenue on Saturdays (bear in mind that we were between nine and 11 years old — I can’t understand how we got away with it either) to visit “My Friends Bookstore” and buy back issues of our favorite comics, in my case all Superman-related.
By the time I left Brooklyn, I was primed, without realizing it, for the arrival of Superman: The Movie six years later and, as ensuing decades would prove, I found myself to be what I call a “Generational Fan,” traveling with the “S.” To me, it doesn’t matter who’s playing him on the big screen or the small, voicing him in animation or writing and drawing him in the comics — whatever the situation, I’m there. And during it all, what I appreciated about him gradually evolved, from the superheroics he performed to what he has come to represent: truth justice and a better tomorrow. In a conversation I had with Superman: Birthright and Kingdom Come writer Mark Waid some years ago, he crystalized for me the appeal of Superman: “This is a man who has the power to do whatever he wants, and he chooses to do what’s right.”
Holy crap; he nailed it.
That five-year-old boy watching George Reeves recently turned 63 and all these years later, a smile inevitably crosses my face whenever Superman shows up on screen. And what I particularly love is when somebody creates a tribute video — like the one below — that interweaves different interpretations of the Man of Steel into a tapestry that has spanned the past 85 years.
I still believe a man can fly. In fact, I never stopped.