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Transcript of SUPERMAN
1980s & '90s
...reflecting culture through the years
Superman was created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster.
The sons of Jewish
& Shuster created
Superman as the
raised in America, yet not even born on Earth.
The United States had recently gone through several financial ordeals. The Great Depression and gangsters like Al Capone manipulating wealth in major cities...
...led to a Superman who largely antagonized gangsters, con men, dirty politicians and bank robbers--money criminals.
His costume--peculiar at the time--was based off that of a strongman in a traveling circus.
Superman often terrorized criminals as he stopped them, bringing to life the power fantasies of a nation victimized by organized crime.
In the early 1940s, Superman expanded into radio and animation.
The US transitioned out of the Great Depression and into WWII.
This led to a decidedly war-focused Superman across media.
He routinely battled the Nazis and was even depicted capturing Hitler & Stalin.
Patriotic rallying also led to Superman opposing the Japanese.
...with Anti-Japanese sentiment fully present, both in comics & animation.
And with a growing fear
of the power of science,
Superman was there both
...and protect against
scientific & industrial
It's no surprise, then, that Lex Luthor--a super-scientist and corrupt businessman--debuted in the 1940s.
(the red hair would only stick around for 1 year.)
1950's & '60s
After the War, the "Baby Boom" meant more young Superman fans than ever before.
Superman began to appear more on merchandise aimed at his young audience.
Though he had already appeared in animated and live-action film, Superman even made the leap to TV.
To reflect the family values of the '50s, Superman even gained a cousin...
The '50s also saw the rise of the B-movie...
...bringing about Superman stories with a sci-fi bent.
As the '60s arrived, Superman
was caught between the
moral conservatism of the '50s
and the oncoming psychedelic
He was morally "safe" enough to push the U.S. government's Presidential Fitness Program via a comic starring JFK...
...while at the same time, his adventures became strangely psychedelic, often dealing with body/mind morphing in some odd way.
Despite accurately reflecting the tension of the changing age, the Swinging Sixties were not the most natural fit for Superman, and he was overtaken in popularity by Marvel characters trading on collegiate cool.
Due to waning popularity, Superman's image was revamped at the beginning of the '70s.
He was drawn in a grittier, more dynamic fashion...
...and had his power levels lowered, in a reaction against the perceived silliness of the '50s and '60s.
Superman was pitted against hot-button issues of the day, and dealt with heavier repercussions of life as a superhero...
...in general, he was made more angsty.
The decade was darkened by the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the Energy Crisis...
...leaving America desperate for something clean and optimistic.
was the third of a group of films (with
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
) credited with launching the era of blockbuster sci-fi movies.
Christopher Reeve's throwback '50s optimism, combined with state-of-the-art special effects, helped establish a pattern that would be embraced by Reaganite blockbusters of the '80s.
In the '80s, DC Comics decided to reboot their entire line of comics in an effort to gain new readers. The "old" Superman was given a farewell story written by now-legendary comics writer Alan Moore...
...and was re-started by now-legendary comics writer/artist John Byrne.
The "new" Superman was drawn with even more muscle definition, mirroring the action movie heroes of the time.
Superman's powers were again reduced, eliminating space- and time-travel stories for believability, leaving him largely Earth-bound.
Batman's popularity began to overtake Superman's in the late '80s. The two even fought in Frank Miller's
The Dark Knight Returns
, which depicted Superman as a stooge of President Reagan in a dystopian version of 1980s America, damaging Superman's image.
As the '80s turned to the '90s, violent, hyper-stylized superheroes like Batman, The Punisher, and Wolverine gained massive popularity.
To counter his waning popularity in this era of stylized violence, Superman would have his own "extreme" comics event: The Death of Superman.
Though it was short-lived, the death of a major lead character was unprecedented, and interest in the character was reinvigorated.
After a short experiment with a mullet and a switch to electric powers (in an effort to appeal to the "edgy" demographic...
...Superman returned to his iconic, traditional look.
The attacks on the World Trade Center created a paradigm shift. Media became categorized as pre-9/11 and post-9/11.
One initial reaction in the wake of 9/11 was U.S. audiences embracing the superhero film & its clear delineations between good & evil.
This paved the way for a loose continuation of the Superman movie franchise, picking up after Superman II and ignoring the critically-reviled Superman III & IV.
However, after the initial wave of superhero films, certain post-9/11 hallmarks became apparent. Note the cool lighting of the posters, reflecting emotional darkness & the low-lit aesthetic of the surveillance era.
Both Superman films from the last decade followed this aesthetic.
Another post-9/11 hallmark is the presence of "disaster porn," or gratuitous depictions of destruction to major city areas.
It is notable that Superman's first feat in his first post-9/11 film appearance was preventing a plane from crashing into Metropolis...
...and that the second film appearance qualifies as one of the biggest "disaster porn" spectacles ever to make theaters.
In the comics, however, Superman has recently (like many critics) begun rejecting "disaster porn" and post-9/11 darkness, having been rebooted by DC Comics once again.
He has re-embraced his "man of the people" stance from the '30s, defending Metropolis from the corrupt, even wearing a more homespun version of his costume during his first adventures...
...though eventually evolving to his current suit, which ditches the circus strongman underpants in favor of a more armored look that evokes technological advance.