Appearing at the Superman Conference held at Cleveland Public Library’s Louis Stokes Wing in downtown Cleveland on Saturday, October 14, 2023.
- Presenter: Peter Coogan (Washington University, Saint Louis)
- Title: World’s Finest? Or World’s Worst? The Composite Superman
- Description: Much of the discourse surrounding Superman: Son of Kal-El (2021-22), a new chapter in the Superman collection, concentrates on the titular character Jon Kent’s bisexuality. Actor Dean Cain, best known for his portrayal of Clark Kent in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-97), openly criticized the series’ “wokeness,” declaring in an op-ed for Real Clear Politics (14 October 2021) that DC Comics is “jumping on the bandwagon” and that the comics are “fighting the wrong issues”: “It’s globalist, it’s anti-America, but it’s not bold and it’s not brave.” Cain has no qualms about “inclusiveness and acceptance and tolerance,” but he finds objectionable the comic’s claims to progressiveness. Ironically, though, Cain’s very objections—his concern that Jon Kent isn’t “fight[ing] the injustices that created the refugees whose deportation he’s protesting”—are issues that the series does effectively address. This paper, centred on “The Truth,” the first in the Son of Kal-El three-volume series which collects the first six issues, argues for the importance of the series’ celebration of pluralities. I explore Jon’s statuses as the child of both a Kryptonian—himself, a refugee and an immigrant—and a human and his bisexuality to suggest that they enable him to admire, to critique and, most importantly, to transform the world that his father has helped shape. My paper advances scholarship by foregrounding the refugee plot in Son of Kal-El and by revealing how DC Comics uses it both to validate and to empower Generation Z readers.
Siegel and Shuster Society Presentation
- Presenters: Members of the Board of the Siegel & Shuster Society
- Title: Secrets of the Siegel and Shuster Society
Panel 1: It’s Complicated: Superman’s Legacy & Lineage from Diverse Perspectives
- Presenter: Vince Guerreri
- Title: “A mild-mannered reporter”: How Superman shows the rise and fall of daily newspaper journalism
- Description: It’s as much a part of Superman’s history as the red, yellow and blue costume and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. His alter ego, Clark Kent, is a journalist, initially for the Daily Star, but for most of the history of Superman, for the Daily Planet. The presentation talks about the era of newspapers when the character was created, tying Superman’s origins to the idea of news media as a “righter of wrongs.” And Superman’s story reflected changes in the industry, from the days when major newspapers were flush enough to have their own helipad to the mergers and acquisitions in the 1970s and 1980s. Additionally, Superman started as a comic book character, but his popularity grew as a newspaper comic — in the golden age of the medium.
- Presenter: Alan Jozwiak (University of Cincinnati)
- Title: Who Owns the “Super” in Superman: Superhero Copyright Infringement, Swiping, and the DC-Fawcett Lawsuit that Cemented Superman’s Supremacy as the Ultimate Superhero
- Description: By 1953, Superman’s greatest foe was not Lex Luthor, but Captain Marvel/Shazam. Captain Marvel/Shazam became the first superhero to star in a movie serial, the only superhero who could regularly outsell Superman, and had powers so vast that he battled Planet Earth (Captain Marvel Adventures, No. 148). DC Comics responded to Captain Marvel/Shazam’s success by suing his publisher Fawcett Comics for copyright infringement. DC felt that Captain Marvel/Shazam was a knockoff of Superman and that Fawcett should cease publication of Captain Marvel/Shazam. This legal action spawned a decade-long legal battle with three separate trials. Fawcett triumphed in all the trials save for the third trial; it came to light that artists from Captain Marvel swiped (i.e., copied and illegally borrowed) some images from Superman comics, thereby providing enough damning evidence for Fawcett to lose their case. At the close of 1953, Fawcett ceased production of Captain Marvel/Shazam. The main thesis of this presentation is that DC Comics’ legal battles with Fawcett had the effect of DC Comics trying to copywrite the idea of a superhero itself. This approach by DC Comics contributed to three comic trends: 1.) They stopped the advancement and development of other superheroes. According to Mike Benton, no substantially new superheroes were created after 1942; 2.) Comic book publishers began inventing other ways to illustrate heroes fight crime with the rise of crime comics, and 3.) Their legal actions inadvertently cemented Superman’s role as the ultimate superhero. This presentation builds upon the work of Neil Harris and Jesse L. Krueger, scholars who have worked with superhero copyright issues. This presentation will take both a historical and legal approach to the study of copyrighting the idea of a superhero. By presentation’s end, the audience will understand how DCs legal wrangling with Fawcett inform how we see Superman today.
- Presenter: Chris Roman (Kent State University)
- Title: Queer Superman: The Case of Apollo
- Description: In 1998, Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch created Midnighter and Apollo, gay superheroes and eventual husbands, in their Wildstorm Comic, Stormwatch. Midnighter and Apollo are analogues for Batman and Superman; Apollo’s powerset mimics those of Superman including receiving power from the Sun making the comparison hard to miss. Midnighter and Apollo’s queerness allows readers to rethink the capacious legacy of Superman (and Batman) in terms of representation and social justice. This paper argues that Apollo and Midnighter break open the suggested homoeroticism of the relationship between Superman and Batman, especially in Steve Orlando’s Midnighter and Apollo (2017). In this way, we might consider Superman’s legacy as one of queer representation. Considering the early roots of Superman, whose first issues of Action Comics concerned themselves with Superman working for social justice, then his change to a more conservative, patrician figure in later storylines, Apollo serves as a queer corrective. Thus, this paper will focus on Orlando’s 2017 Midnighter and Apollo miniseries for how it represents Apollo as a caring, queer version of Superman, one that is not afraid to embrace a more gay-femme aesthetic. In Orlando’s comic, both Apollo and Midnighter journey to Hell to face their past and their relationship. They also rescue each other. As critics have pointed out, Apollo is often figured as a damsel-in-distress character because of his feminine traits. Yet, Orlando’s comic undoes that by placing both characters in peril and representing them as forging their relationship through love and support. While Midnighter is often a fan favorite because of his darkness, hypermasculinity, and violence, this miniseries critiques Midnighter (and fans) through Apollo’s love and light. In other words, reading Batman and Superman through Midnighter and Apollo, the reader sees Superman’s power is enhanced in his relationships with Batman. Apollo’s character works as a way to see the queer possibilities in Superman.
- Presenter: Jaromir Stoll
- Title: Don’t Worry about Me! Superman in India’s Comics Culture
- Description: Although Phantom may have been a key imported comic in India, Superman has had a significant influence on the superheroes of the subcontinent. In this presentation, I will review his appearance in imported and translated media in order to analyze how he has influenced comics in this context. This begins with the arrival of superhero comics like Superman and Phantom and continues in local reimaginings of heroes like those in Raj Comics – and a particularly well-known encounter between Raj’s Nagraj and Superman, plus Marvel Comics characters. While India’s mainstream includes fusions of superheroes and Hindu mythology like Amar Chitra Katha, independent works show increasing adaptation, from Appupen’s satirical figure of Rashtraman to the educational comics of Priya’s Shakti. In the process, I will show how Superman and the superhero more broadly is an ever-evolving figure around the world – one that responds to the needs of a specific time and place.
Panel 2: Bringing Superman Down To Earth
- Presenter: Wayne Wise
- Title: The Archetypal Dynamic Tension of the Superman vs. Batman Debate
- Description: While there were certainly thematic precedents, the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 in 1938 is generally considered the beginning of the superhero genre, firmly establishing the tropes that have become the hallmark of superheroic characters ever since. Within a year the success of Superman led to the appearance of countless new characters, most notably Batman, who first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. From the beginning these two characters have embodied a dualism of the light and dark characteristics of the superhero. Superman is the Ur superhero, the first from whom all others are descended. As such he can be interpreted as the mythic equivalent of Zeus, the father of the gods, or any number of other sky gods. Similarly, Batman can be read as Hades, or any other the mythic gods of the underworld. They have been portrayed as best friends, colleagues, and deadly enemies. Nearly every other character in the genre can be plotted on a spectrum between these two points. In this presentation I will compare and contrast the dynamics between these two characters, tracing mythic and literary precedents, through the history of their interactions in comic books up to the present. Attention will be given to how these dynamics are reflected in the character’s environments, supporting casts, and in comic book fandom. The continuing debate over ‟who is better,” is part of the ongoing conversation about what the superhero genre means. The Superman/Batman dichotomy defined this genre from the beginning, and continues to do so through the present. Rather than creating an opposition, I contend that these archetypal tropes continue to create a dynamic that keeps not only Superman and Batman, but the entire superhero genre, relevant and alive.
- Presenter: Marcel Walker
- Title: Superman, Survivor Testimony, and the Holocaust
- Description: This presentation will explore the specifics of the manifestation of Superman as the brainchild of two young Jewish creators from Cleveland, Ohio at a pivotal historical moment for the Jewish diaspora and the world at large. By observing the parallels between Superman’s fictional history within comics over the decades, the gradual acknowledgement of the realities of the Holocaust across comics media, and the evolution of comics storytelling, an understanding emerges of how the story of Krypton’s last surviving child is also a roadmap for navigating personal trauma. In addition, we’ll see how the tradition of exploring Jewish culture and history through comics media has evolved through various genres, from veiled narratives using superheroes to compelling personal biographies. Time will be devoted to discussing the contemporary comic-book series CHUTZ-POW! SUPERHEROES OF THE HOLOCAUST, an educational publication of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh that (literally) draws analogy between the inspirational qualities and actions of superheroes and the attributes of the series’ real-life protagonists. Marcel Lamont (M.L.) Walker is an award-winning graphic-prose creator and expert in social applications for comic-book art. He is the lead artist, book designer, and project coordinator for the acclaimed comic-book series CHUTZ-POW! SUPERHEROES OF THE HOLOCAUST, and a lifelong Superman devotee.
- Presenter: Chris Maverick (University of Pittsburgh)
- Title: Bill Was Wrong… it’s ALL About Clark: Embracing the Human and Deprivileging the Super
- Description: In Quentin Tarantino’s 2004 Kung Fu epic, Kill Bill, Vol. 2, the eponymous antagonist observes that “the glasses, the business suit – That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.” It wasn’t a new idea. Like much of Tarantino’s pop culture heavy dialogue, it was a sentiment cribbed form a certain view of longtime fandom. However, because of Tarantino’s popularity, the view became entrenched in the public psyche as perhaps the dominant take on Superman. However, it was a view that was rapidly vanishing from the narrative even by the time Tarantino made it. The Superman character has always been representative of the greatest potential of the human race — the comic incarnation of Nietzsche’s namesake Übermensch. Classically this meant exploring the possibilities of a man with the power of a god. However, Umberto Eco’s “The Myth of Superman” teaches us that the power of the Superman narrative is in its inconsumable ability to remain relevant to the changing times. However, with technology and science, “the super” imagined by Siegel and Shuster is all but attainable today. Thus, since the postmodern twilight of the 20th century, shows like Lois & Clark (1993), Smallville (2001), and Superman & Lois (2021), films Superman Returns (2006) and Man of Steel (2013) as well as countless comics have instead asked us to imagine a Superman who no longer imagines humanity’s rise to godhood. Instead, as technology and postmodernity push up to the boundaries of the divine, we are more concerned with what it means to keep that humanity. Clark is what Superman aspires to be, and perhaps, so do we all.
- Presenter: Trevor Smith
- Title: The Last Son of Krypton: the Role of Fatherhood in the Superman Narrative
- Description: Across creative teams, multiverses, and a variety of continuities, one of the most consistent aspects of the Superman origin is the influence of the man of steel’s two father figures: Jor-el and Johnathan Kent. Through these two characters — the brilliant, sacrificial, and alien Jor-el and the humble, blue-collar, and all-too-human Pa Kent — Superman inherits a dual identity. In the spirit of his Kryptonian father, from whom he bears the name Kal-el, he is a scientist and humanitarian by nature, studying, collecting, and safeguarding the world from the Kryptonian homestead of the Fortress of Solitude. Following from his upbringing by his human father, given the name Clark Kent, Clark is mild-mannered, caring, and ever-faithful in the goodness of humanity which he witnesses regularly on the busy streets of Metropolis and the rural countryside of Smallville. These two identities, two legacies, find a synthesis in the heroic persona of Superman — an all-powerful alien who is often more human than those he protects. Throughout Superman’s publication, the notion of the character passing on this inherited legacy to children of his own has been flirted with on multiple occasions, from the imaginary tales of World Finest’s Super-Sons to the fantasy reality of Alan Moore’s “For the Man Who has Everything,” but it wasn’t until 2015 with the introduction of Jon Kent that Superman truly stepped into parenthood. This presentation hopes to answer the crucial question of how fatherhood defines the character of Superman, both in terms of his Kryptonian and human fathers and through his current role as a father himself.
Panel 3: History Intersects with Comics
- Presenter: Andrew Fogel (Purdue University)
- Title: Making Make-Believe Real: Superman, Material Culture, and American Childhood
- Description: This presentation, based on my dissertation, charts the real-world impact of Superman and how embedded he is in American culture. DC Comics’ dissemination of the Man of Steel as a commodity and children’s emulation of him in everyday life as a “living being” created a surreal world that I call Comicland, a metaspace where the imagination and the material world converge through pageant, masquerade, and multimedia. The elaborate marketing by DC Comics and the imaginative play of their audience of silent generation and baby boomer children brought superheroes and their make-believe worlds to life as an immersive realm that subsequent generations now inhabit. The real and imagined geography of Comicland includes athletic contests at the 1940 New York World’s Fair in the name of Superman for boys and girls, large Superman balloons floating above the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the marketing of Superman playsuits and toys for children, and numerous reports of boys’ breaking bones or dying after trying to fly like the Man of Steel. Archival research of textual records held by the New York Public Library and Macy’s as well as periodicals and audiovisual sources inform my talk and paint a picture of these manifestations of Comicland.
- Presenter: Tom Ue (Cape Breton University)
- Title: Generation Z, Activism, and the Refugee Crisis: The World as One in Superman: Son of Kal-El (2021-23)
- Description: Much of the discourse surrounding Superman: Son of Kal-El (2021-22), a new chapter in the Superman collection, concentrates on the titular character Jon Kent’s bisexuality. Actor Dean Cain, best known for his portrayal of Clark Kent in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-97), openly criticized the series’ wokeness, declaring in an op-ed for Real Clear Politics (14 October 2021) that DC Comics is “jumping on the bandwagon” and that the comics are “fighting the wrong issues”: “It’s globalist, it’s anti-America, but it’s not bold and it’s not brave.” Cain has no qualms about “inclusiveness and acceptance and tolerance,” but he finds objectionable the comic’s claims to progressiveness. Ironically, though, Cain’s very objections—his concern that Jon Kent isn’t “fight[ing] the injustices that created the refugees whose deportation he’s protesting”—are issues that the series does effectively address. This paper, centred on “The Truth,” the first in the Son of Kal-El three-volume series which collects the first six issues, argues for the importance of the series’ celebration of pluralities. I explore Jon’s statuses as the child of both a Kryptonian—himself, a refugee and an immigrant—and a human and his bisexuality to suggest that they enable him to admire, to critique and, most importantly, to transform the world that his father has helped shape. My paper advances scholarship by foregrounding the refugee plot in Son of Kal-El and by revealing how DC Comics uses it both to validate and to empower Generation Z readers.
- Presenter: Daniel Neff
- Title: Heroic History: When Comics Rewrite the Past
- Description: Superman stops the Challenger explosion. Wonder Woman changes the course of World War I. Captain America does the same to World War II. Dr. Manhattan ends the Vietnam War years early (and with a very different outcome. A surprising number of superheroes, including Superman, have punched Hitler. Superheroes (and Supervillains) would have the power to significantly change the flow of history, for good or ill. We’ll look at some of the most dramatic ways this has happened in both comics and movies. Is this good way to ground a story in reality or a cheap way to add shock value? What are some of the side-effects of these changes that maybe the writers didn’t think about? How might our history be different if we really had superheroes?
Panel 4: Pop Culture and Pedagogy
- Moderator: Timothy Levine
- Presenters (Panel): Chuck Coletta (Bowling Green State University); Jenny Swartz-Levine (Lake Erie College)
- Title: In the Classroom: Popular Culture Studies and the Superhero Genre in Academia
- Description: Broadly defined, “Popular Culture” refers to the widely shared beliefs, practices, and objects that incorporate the activities of everyday life, including the consumption of consumer goods and the production and enjoyment of mass-produced entertainments. While Popular Culture may at first appear to be a trivial matter, it turns out to be the site where many of the most important and controversial issues are explored and debated. Since its inception as an academic field at Bowling Green State University in the late 1960s, Popular Culture Studies programs have spread to colleges and universities around the world. Graduate and undergraduate courses in popular music, television, film, literature, and folklore, as well as courses that focus on how to research and analyze Popular Culture and its influence on society are found throughout academia. One of the most vibrant areas of Popular Culture Studies focuses upon Graphic Novels and Sequential Art. Comics are now widely viewed as texts worthy of interpretation and critical examination to be fully understood in a cultural context. This presentation shall consist of a discussion of teaching comic books, with a particular focus upon the superhero genre and Superman, within the contemporary college setting and how that intersects with the fan’s view of comics. We shall focus upon topics such as conventional representational codes, ideological themes, and metatextuality within Superman franchise as well as how we guide students from their initial knowledge base as a fan into the conventions of studying comics as an academic discipline. Our discussion may also include commentary on audience analysis and the adaptation of comics to other media if time permits.
- Presenter: Mark Martell (University of Illinois Chicago)
- Title: Superheroes and Cultural Mythology: Taking Action and Creating Social Change In A College Course
- Description: Superman’s influence has spawned countless superheroes, but historically, most superheroes who came after did not always reflect the changing demographics of comic readers. This presentation focuses on a college course at the University of Illinois Chicago where students create new superheroes, using the Superman-as-immigrant framework (Atanassova, 2021) and various theoretical lenses. The presenter will describe pedagogical approaches and the creation process of these modern and diverse superheroes who combat ignorance, inequity, and injustice—for a better tomorrow! Creations can be viewed on the course Instagram @uichon121.