Superman: 80 Years of Cultural Influence

Action Comics #1. Images may be subject to copyright

Action Comics #1. Images may be subject to copyright

On this day 80 years ago, the world was introduced to a new literary character that would not only revolutionize the entertainment industry, but would shape mythology and ideals throughout the twentieth century and into today. April 18th, 1938 was the first publication of Action Comics #1 and the first appearance of Superman, and unbeknownst to the public at the time, they were witness to a landmark moment in pop culture history.

Superman is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most recognizable images and symbols in the world today. A person does not need to be a comic book reader or fan to recognize his face and logo; they are part of our cultural lexicon which represents strength, power, and morality. Athletes have the Superman S logo tattooed on their body as a testament to their physical attributes, and artists have rendered public figures and celebrities in Superman’s costume and poses to convey their truthfulness. And this is possible because the ideals of Truth and Justice that are behind Superman resonate with people of all cultures and ethnicities.

At his core, Superman is the ultimate immigrant story: an outsider from a distant land who adopts the principles of his adopted family and land, and uses those principles to help the disenfranchised and those who cannot help themselves. At the time of his inception, America was undergoing a cultural shift as immigrants from all over the world converged on America in search of a better life. Though often met with unjust prejudice that was prevalent at the time, these populations flourished and adopted American sensibilities into their own ethnic traditions. Readers could look at the pages of an issue and see Superman working a successful day job in one panel, then see him saving the world a few panels later. He could be looked upon as an inspiration to any reader, young and old, who felt that they too could do a small part of what Superman is capable of doing.

Throughout his 80 year history, the Superman character has evolved with the times, remaining relevant during periods of war and cultural shifts. Countless writers have added traits and faults to his personality in ways that humanize the character far differently than he was initially imagined. However, it is this ability to adapt to modern times and settings that continues to bolster Superman’s popularity. Whereas classic mythological heroes such as Hercules and Odysseus remain relevant, it is far easier to relate to Superman and the multitude of superheroes he inspired because his story works so well in our modern setting. And as readers pass on the collected stories of Superman and writers continue to build upon the universe and mythos of the character, it is absolutely certain that Superman will remain an integral part of pop culture and world culture for many more decades to come.

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