Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Meet the Jewish Parents of Superman and Wonder Woman

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Jewish Contributions to Humanity #6:
Original research by Walter L. Field.
Sponsored by Irwin S. Field.

Jerry Siegel  (1914-1996). b. Cleveland, Ohio.  Mr. Superman.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

A scrawny, unpopular, bespectacled high school student in Cleveland, Jerry Siegel thought up Superman one night in 1934 as a solution to a problem common to so many high school boys—girls. As he said in an interview 40 years later, he thought he’d have better luck if he could do things like jump over buildings and throw cars. Enter Superman. A journalist by day, superhero by night, and a character on which Siegel could place both Lois Lane’s yearning and apathy. She was drawn to Superman, but ignored Clark Kent—her coworker at The Daily Planet—failing to see him for the hero he really was. Siegel and his friend, comic partner and illustrator Joe Shuster spent a few years searching for a buyer for their hero, when in 1938 they sold all rights for Superman to DC Comics…for $130—$10 for each of the 13 pages. The pair continued writing and illustrating Superman for nearly a decade, but when they sued for a share of profits in 1946, DC Comics refused and fired them, instead settling for a one-time $94,000 payment. Siegel wrote again for DC Comics for a few years in the 1960s, but the company eventually let him go, later restoring Siegel’s and Shuster’s bylines—after the former launched a public relations campaign—paying them each a lifetime annuity of $20,000, which was eventually raised to $30,000. In 2013, the original check that DC Comics wrote to Siegel and Shuster (it was $130 for the rights and $282 for their first actual comic) sold at auction for $160,000.

Joe Shuster (1914-1992). b. Toronto, Canada. Mr. Superman.

The other man behind Superman was as integral as Siegel in revolutionizing one of America’s great art forms, which was only five years old when Shuster and Siegel created Superman. Born in Toronto, Shuster said his inspiration for Superman’s hometown of Metropolis was the Toronto skyline. And his love for comics was inspired by his father, who every night after work would read him the vividly colored newspaper comics. Following his and Siegel’s ill-conceived sale of the Superman rights and his decades of working for and suing DC Comics, Shuster had to retire from the field in the 1970s due to partial blindness, and had to rely on his family’s support for most of the remainder of his life. In an interview, Siegel said Superman was a combination of two people: Harold Lloyd, an actor, and Joe Shuster, his friend.

William Marston (1893-1947). b. Saugus, Massachusetts. Mr. Wonder Woman.Inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006, Marston, a psychologist by training, introduced Wonder Woman—he initially named her “Suprema”—in the 1940’s, at a time when all the great American superheroes and villains were male. Marston, who was influenced by the early suffrage movement, made Wonder Woman strong, independent, and courageous—powerful traits in an era when many saw women as less capable than men. She became a feminist icon, and a superhero who could force villains to tell her the truth with her magic lasso. Through Wonder Woman, Marston introduced his idea of female rehabilitative justice as opposed to male retributive justice. Wonder Woman’s homeland, Paradise Island, held her captives not in a prison, but in Reform Island, a transformation-oriented penal colony.

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