When I first heard that we were going to be talking about the origins of superheroes, I was ready to sit back, relax, and enjoy the review of something I already thought I knew all there is to know about. You see, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. While the city of Cleveland doesn’t immediately bring to mind anything close to superpowers, it is, in fact, where I was told superheroes were born–it’s where Superman was first created.
Growing up, I saw Superman everywhere. He was mentioned at least once a year until high school. Museum trips downtown or local history lessons would always wrap around stories until they finally mention Superman in some way, shape, or form. Superman is often the first and last thing you see visiting Cleveland–there’s a giant statue of him in the baggage claim at the airport and giant posters by the security checkpoint.
The stories I was told surrounding Superheroes were ones of the people who created them. I learned about the creative process, how to persevere through rejection and overcome the odds of creating something worthwhile, especially in the art sphere. To me, Superheroes were always a source of capitalistic gain: they were stories and figures that the general public wanted to consume; superheroes were nothing more than what the artist thought would sell best.
What Chris Gavaler brought into my perception was that there was much more behind the shiny costumes and dramatic action surrounding these superheroes. It opened my eyes to seeing a darker interior to what seemed so innocent to me before. This may have stemmed from my lack of personal attachment or familiarity of superheroes– I’ve never read a comic book about superheroes nor watched a vast majority of the movies. However, I am now much more aware of the history and depth surrounding superheroes. I was particularly fascinated by the connections made to eugenics and the importance of gender in superheroes.
The topic of eugenics took my interest because it was a new way of looking at superheroes. It takes them off of their pedestal of greatness and all-encompassing good and places them into a frame of honesty–it takes into account the context in which superheroes came to be during the late 1930s. Casting Superman in this light shows how everything from his ‘S’ emblazed on his chest to the phrases like “Give you the fate you deserve” (Gavaler 166) when talking about exterminating an entire group hints at white supremacy. The hints are taken out of the shadows and into the foreground, where it becomes clear that the author maybe had more intentions than just entertaining the general public.
As for gender, I have always been hesitant to indulge in superhero antics due to the treatment of women within both the literary and movie communities. There has been ever-present sexism within the superhero fad: damsels in distress, hyper-sexualized sidekicks, etc. It makes much more sense as to why its been so hard to have real feminist heroes come up in the superhero world given this white supremacy, eugenics context, and honestly makes me rethink my childhood dreams for wanting to see more women on the pages of comic books and on movie screens. Maybe we are better off not being put into that sphere in the first place.