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Is Superman Jewish?

Above: Christopher Reeve played Superman in Richard Donner's 1978 film. Larry Tye has written a new biography of the Man of Steel.

Aired 7/10/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Guest: Larry Tye, author of "Superman: The High-Flying History Of America's Most Enduring Hero"

Transcript

Larry Tye Talks About Superman

July 13: 11-12 a.m. Panel on Jerry Siegel/Joe Shuster at Comic-Con International, San Diego.

7:30 p.m., Talk at Temple Solel, 3575 Manchester Avenue, Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

July 14: 12:30 p.m., Talk at Tifereth Israel Synagogue at 6660 Cowles Mtn. Blvd., San Diego.

July 15: 2:30-3:30 p.m., Panel on Super Secrets at Comic Con/San Diego.

7 p.m., Talk at Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla.

The synopsis of "The High-Flying History Of America's Most Enduring Hero" puts it this way:

Superman is the first full-fledged biography not just of the Man of Steel, but of the visionary writers and artists, publishers and performers, who kept aloft the red-and-blue-clad icon through seven decades and counting. Larry Tye shows us how Superman - like few other mythical characters before or since - has evolved in a way that offers a Rorschach test of his changing times and our highest aspirations.

Tye believes that Americans loved Superman from the first because he represented an unwavering sense of right and wrong. He suddenly appears just in time to combat the evil forces that threaten us. As he told Fresh Air's Terry Gross in a recent interview: "He was a bit like a Messiah in that he descended from the heavens to help us discover our humanity."

Superman was the brainchild of Jerry Siegel, who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Cleveland. He first created Superman as a bad guy, but then changed him into "a hero of light" whose mission was to save others. Siegel got his neighbor, Joe Shuster, to draw the art. The first Superman comic was published in 1938 on the eve of World War II.

Siegel's Superman creation myth included his birth name Kal-El, which means "vessel of God" in Hebrew; his descent to Earth where he became a foundling; an alter-ego who served as a disguise; and a love interest.

Superman comics spawned a TV series in the 1950s, a spin-off (Superboy) and a few feature films. Superman lives on in comic books published today, nearly 75 years later after his creation by Siegel and Shuster.

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