Say the word anywhere in the world (or its language equivalent) and immediately everyone knows who and what you are talking about.
Some will snicker, some will think of fond childhood memories, some will compare TV or film incarnations, many will tell their favorite comic book story or story arc.
He was the original, the mold from whom all other heroes are cast. Not just Supes knockoffs like Wundarr, Gladiator, Hyperion, etc etc. No, I mean
And now, as I turn 55, the first hero I ever knew as a being upon this planet turns 75.
Wow! Time keeps slippin’ into the future, eh?
One of my earliest memories of Supes is watching the perpetual reruns of the George Reeves-starring Adventures of Superman which aired just after a slew of Nanny’s soap operas in the early afternoon. Of course, I didn’t know they were reruns. I also had never seen a comic book in my young life yet, but that did not stop me from getting my favorite blue PJs out, scribbling a big “S” on the front, finding some red shorts (no need to do that today, eh?) and a bright red bandana that today looks impossibly small for a cape but back then seemed just right.
As I enjoyed a caveman version of cosplay swinging in my back yard, in my mind’s eye I was soaring over my garage and Mrs. Hulette’s home next door and to the steps of my best friend, Tina. I would walk the distance and tell Tina I just flew there because I was, in fact, Superman. She had never heard of the hero or Kryptonite, so we had quite the time of it. I had no background info on the Man of Tomorrow then, so I did not call Tina “Lois” ad nauseum … as I might today, time being factored in (or out).
Any guess of my first real Halloween costume? Wrong! Casper the Friendly Ghost. Mom had bought it so there was little choice.
But let me tell you, the next Halloween I grabbed the Sears Catalogue first and there was a beautiful – and I mean not handmade but gorgeous – Superman costume, which led me to believe I was not the only child of the early 1960s watching Adventures of Superman in the afternoon. Quite a surprise!
Well, don’t you know I convinced Mom and Dad to buy that costume that fit my then-tiny frame wonderfully only to have the temps for that Halloween fall to chilling proportions. Not that it bothered me, but every only child then, I am sure, was forced to wear a big coat ala A Christmas Story over their beautiful Superman suits.
The parents thought they snuck one by me, but I knew besides neighborhood trick-or-treating I would be going to a party held at the school of neighbors who worked there. Yes, my faux grandparents Nell and Bob-Bob hollered at me as I made my way to the car after the party, slinging my coat to the wind and taking off into the nighttime skies (mind’s eye, recall). “Byron, if you catch cold, your mother is gonna be mad at us! Get this coat on!” Nell yelled. “Sorry,” I told her, half a foot away, “I am too far up in the sky to hear you.” (I had not gotten the news about super-hearing yet; just flight, strength, X-ray vision and not being hurt by bullets.) I still have a charcoal sketch of a little boy in the top part of a Superman outfit done that night by a lady at the school party; sure looks like mini-me, but that “S” does not do that beautiful uniform justice.
Then, one of the biggest years of my life: 1966 and Captain Action was born! This “doll” for boys could be changed into a whole group of super-beings, ones I had never heard of. Sure I knew the Lone Ranger and Dad had told be about this Bat-guy, but who were the Phantom, the Green Hornet, Flash Gordon, Steve Canyon, Aquaman, Spider-Man …? Never heard of ‘em!
I loved those Captain Actions. I not only bought a Captain Action to wear the Superman mask and uniform, I bought a Captain Action for each costume I bought (Lone Ranger, Batman and the unknown Spidey were among the first) and lined them up (just like my WWE wrestling figures are lined up today) on my metal desk. Our house was next door to Hallie Redford on the other side and she, decades later, told my mom stories of sitting and watching me as a kid lining up my men and just looking at them, especially Superman. Glad others had nostalgic thoughts about those action figures, now all mysteriously MIA.
Also in 1966, I discovered Batman on TV (Adam West iteration)
Yep, the first comic book I bought was kind of a Superman book. I bought it while we were on vacation to Virginia Beach, VA, and it was a Lois Lane annual featuring one of those legendary fantasy stories of DC in which Lois married Superman. Of course, I did not know that until the end. (Sucker!)
I later came to enjoy Superboy in Jim Shooter’s Legion of Super-Heroes and some of the Supergirl books were also done well. But Superman and Action Comics were my bibles until …
One day in Rexall Drug Store where Dad worked, there was a comic on the rack (remember those squeaky turning racks?) I had never seen before. Then it hit me: Spider-Man from Captain Action days! And next to it, The Avengers from those awful but still nostalgic early Marvel Comics cartoons (Captain America on Mondays, then the Hulk, Iron Man, the Sub-Mariner and Thor during the weekdays).
Pretty soon a Merry Marching Marvelite was born and I really never looked back.
Oh, I enjoyed the films of Christopher Reeve (or most of them; that one with Richard Pryor: el stinkerino!) but they never made me switch back to DC.
No, that happened (sort of) in August 2011 when the New 52 came, Marvel was strangling-slash-ignoring its cosmic characters to death and I wanted change. Oh, I have not left Marvel by a long shot, but I do now proudly read of Superman in Justice League, and several other DC titles (StormWatch, Threshold, and the Green Lantern titles among them) are prominent on the current pull list.
And I still, when I am sitting in traffic at the end of the day, see in my mind’s eye myself as a boy with the blue PJs and red bandana soaring over the cars and hillside to get home a little quicker …
You see, I found a local channel that runs ... The Adventures of Superman!
Thanks for 75 great years, Supes! You will always be my first hero.
Share your memories/life experiences with the Man of Steel in the comments below!