A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.
— Albert Camus
I bought my first Superman comic about a month after my father died. I had wandered into a local market, looking for candy, and noticed them on a magazine rack. They cost ten cents. I knew about Superman from the TV series with George Reeves. The show aired on ABC, Wednesday nights at 8:30, half an hour after my bedtime. But I was allowed to stay up to watch.
The TV series didn’t mention Superman’s origin. All you got was this backstory, repeated each week at the beginning of each episode:
But the comics were different. Superman, I soon learned, was an orphan. His father, the scientist Jor-El, had perished when Superman’s home planet, Krypton, exploded. Jor-El had placed his infant son, Kal-El, in a rocket ship aimed at Earth. The rocket landed near the town of Smallville, where Kal-El was found by a kindly couple, the Kents.
The Kents were good parents and provided the infant with a loving home. After Kal-El’s super powers became evident, they helped their son master them. They taught him not to use his abilities selfishly, but for the good of others.
In the comic books, Superman was obsessed with his mysterious origins, especially with his lost father. Tantalizing bits of the past were always dropping around him, as in the cover pictured at the top of this post. I possess a copy of that particular comic, “The Superman of the Present and the Superman of the Past,” bought off the rack. It’s enclosed in a glass case in my bedroom, a sort of mini-fortress of solitude.
Here’s one with a similar story, where a fragment of Krypton, containing the house where Superboy was born, falls just outside Smallville :
I collected those comics with a furious passion. My mother was appalled. She had read a book called Seduction of the Innocent, about the evils of comic books. Neither of us had any idea that my love for Superman was filling my own loss. When my collection reached a hundred, my mother prevailed on me to throw it out. One evening, she watched me put every comic I owned into a grocery bag and set it inside our garbage can on the curb.
In the morning, the sound of cans being emptied woke me. I had a sudden change of heart. In a panic, I raced outside to the curb, but was too late. Already half-way down the block, the truck sped away. Deep in its bowels, my precious collection mingled with eggshells, canteloupe rinds, and old newspapers.
I set to work at once to re-constitute the collection. In an effort to prevent me, my mother witheld my fifty-cent-per-week allowance. But I still had the lunch money she gave me for the school cafeteria, which I used to buy comics. They were more important than lunch. Soon I had a new collection, larger than the first. I have it still.
Nick, whom we adopted at birth, also loves Superman. I’ve moved on to other heros, Lincoln for example. For now, Superman rules in Nick’s pantheon. We have the old TV series on video and sometimes watch it together. Here’s what he likes best:
You might also enjoy these entries from one of my favorite dad-blogs, Clark Kent’s Lunchbox:
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