Strange visitor from another planet

by Wolf Pascoe on December 1, 2010

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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

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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:

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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 :

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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:

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You might also enjoy these entries from one of my favorite dad-blogs, Clark Kent’s Lunchbox:

Clark Kent’s Lunchbox: What’s in a Name?

How Superman Made Me a Better Father

Want an alert to the next episode in the amazing adventures of Just Add Father? Scroll up to “Get Updates” in the column to the right.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sirena December 1, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I loved the guy who played Superman on the old T.V. show, although I can’t remember his name. I think he committed suicide, obviously not able to channel his superhero persona. Comic books were also frowned upon in our household – I think “trashy” was the word that was used. I love them now. Thank goodness you amassed another collection!

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Wolf Pascoe December 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm

That was George Reeves. You can also see him in the opening scene of Gone With the Wind. He played one of the Tarleton boys. Unrelated to Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in the 1980s movies, and had a tragic accident.

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Clark Kent's Lunchbox December 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm

When I finished reading this all I could do was sit back in my chair and think, “Wow.” Growing up without a father and that constant curiosity is something I couldn’t even begin to imagine, but it’s a thought that motivates me to be the best I can be now. I wonder my not being there would impact my children’s future and who they would be.

One of the elements that sticks out for me in the relationship between Jor-El and Kal-El is how Jor-El managed to keep a part of himself alive to help Kal-El through his Superman journey. He provided his son the means for the Fortress of Solitude and left the crystals that held the knowledge of Krypton. The Smallville series in particular keeps Jor-El as a constant presence in Kal-El/Clark’s life, guiding and training him for the superheroes greater purpose.

This is one of the reasons why I write. Recording my words is a means of leaving a part of myself for my children should something ever happen to me.

This post was absolutely incredible. (And thank you for the mentions. I am humbled.)

PS. I could talk Superman all day if given the chance–gives me goosebumps sometimes.

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Wolf Pascoe December 2, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Thanks for the visit and sweet comments, Ron. Especially liked how you see your writing as a means of leaving part of yourself for your kids. Jor El lives on!

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muskrat December 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm

One of my neighbors named his son Kal-El. I think it’s a little too much.

I wasn’t allowed to get comic books either. I think Pat Robertson or someone said they were bad on the 700 Club, so none for me or my brother. I did watch George Reeves and Christopher Reeve, though!

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Wolf Pascoe December 22, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Most of the names in my kid’s school I can’t even pronounce. Kal-El would fit right in. What ever happened to Steve?

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