Superman Influences

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Superman art by Gerry
Superman art by Gerry

An influence on early Superman stories is the context of the Great Depression. The left-leaning perspective of creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel is reflected in early storylines. Superman took on the role of social activist, fighting crooked businessmen and politicians and demolishing run-down tenements. This is seen by comics scholar Roger Sabin as a reflection of "the liberal idealism of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal", with Shuster and Siegel initially portraying Superman as champion to a variety of social causes. In later Superman radio programs the character continued to take on such issues, tackling a version of the KKK in a 1946 broadcast.

Siegel himself noted that the many mythic heroes which exist in the traditions of many cultures bore an influence on the character, including Hercules and Samson. The character has also been seen by Scott Bukatman to be "a worthy successor to Lindhberg ... (and) also ... like Babe Ruth", and is also representative of the United States dedication to "progress and the 'new'" through his "invulnerable body ... on which history cannot be inscribed." Further, given that Siegel and Shuster were noted fans of pulp science fiction, it has been suggested that another influence may have been Hugo Danner. Danner was the main character of the 1930 novel Gladiator by Philip Wylie, and is possessed of same powers of the early Superman.

Superman's iconic costume resembled those of the circus performers from the time. Swimsuits from the 1930's also provided the influence Shuster and Siegel needed. Legendary heroes such as Robin Hood wore tights and Hercules was known to have worn a lion's pelt giving further inspiration for the stereotypical capes certain heroes wear.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Superman's name is partly based on philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch, which literally translates to “overman” (or “superman”). Nietzsche’s Übermensch is any person who rejects unfounded thinking, while Superman is super for his special powers. Some people argue that Kryptonians’ mental and physical superiority when compared to humans is meant to indicate that they are racially better, as eugenics would teach.

Whilst the term Superman was initially coined by Nietzsche, it is unclear how influential Nietzsche and his ideals were to Siegel and Shuster. Les Daniels has speculated that "Siegel picked up the term from other science fiction writers who had casually employed it", further noting that "his concept is remembered by hundreds of millions who may barely know who Nietzsche is." Others argue that Siegel and Shuster "could not have been unaware of an idea that would dominate Hitler's National Socialism. The concept was certainly well discussed." Yet Jacobson and others point out that in many ways Superman and the Übermensch are polar opposites. Nietzsche envisioned the Übermensch as a man who had transcended the limitations of society, religion, and conventional morality while still being fundamentally human. Superman, although an alien gifted with incredible powers, chooses to honor human moral codes and social mores. Nietzsche envisioned the perfect man as being beyond moral codes; Siegel and Shuster envisioned the perfect man as holding himself to a higher standard of adherence to them.


Creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel were both Jewish, so of course there are Jewish influences on the character, although Clark Kent (the character) was raised as a Methodist, according to Superman stories published by DC Comics. Superman's story mimics that of Moses as both characters are saved by their parents by being placed in a vessel to carry them to safety. Also, both characters were found by adults who adopt them as children. Both Moses and Superman later rise to prominence and do good.

Clark Kent and his family celebrate Christmas, which would indicate that the Kent family (who reside in Kansas, a state with less than 1 percent Jewish population) is Christian.

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