Show Business: Up, Up and Awaaay!!!

America's favorite hero turns 50, ever changing but indestructible

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"O Superman, O Judge, O Mom and Dad. Hi. I'm not home right now, but if you want to leave a message, just start talking at the sound of the tone."

-- Laurie Anderson

Americans are inclined to think they know Superman and know him well and have known him forever. In fact, we hardly know Superman at all, for the details of his life have been changed again and again, according to either the whims of his owners or the demands of the market. His originally nameless father on Krypton, for example, became Jor-L, then Jor-El (and eventually Marlon Brando). His employer in Metropolis, before it was the Daily Planet, was the Daily Star and then the Evening News. His Luciferian arch-enemy Luthor, the mad scientist who wants to conquer the world, once had red hair, then became bald, then reacquired red hair; in the movies he was played as a buffoon, but now he has turned into a reasonably sane but incurably wicked conglomerate tycoon. Superman is also vulnerable to Kryptonite, the stuff that Krypton was made of, except when he is sometimes not vulnerable to Kryptonite. There is no longer one Superman, in other words, but half a dozen or more. The comic-book hero is different from the movie hero or the TV hero, and all of these differ from what Jerry Siegel imagined one sleepless night in 1934.

Nothing illustrates this mutability better than the delicate matter of Superman's sexuality. Superman at Fifty asserts that the essence of Superman is to remain perennially pure: "Virginity is a large part of what makes him so godlike . . . The superior being has to be sexless; furthermore, it must be thought a taboo or a desecration even to look upon him/her as a sex object." Although Superman over the years has generally remained impervious to Lois Lane's wiles, he has succumbed occasionally to other entanglements. In the 1950s there was a handsome brunet named Lori, "mysterious as the sea," whom Clark rescued from her runaway wheelchair. She puzzled him by issuing orders to an octopus that had wrapped its tentacles around her, but he fell in love with her anyway and proposed. "Although I love you," she replied, "I can never marry you." Because, as Superman soon learned, she was a mermaid (Lorelei?), and the reason she rode in a wheelchair was to hide her tail.

At one point during the age of suburban "togetherness," Superman's keepers actually married him off to Lois Lane, but they soon explained that the bride had only dreamed of her wedding. Since those keepers were generally desperate for new plot twists, they often amused themselves by bringing in rivals to Lois. Lana Lang, for example, was an old acquaintance of Kent's from Smallville who applied for a job at the Planet. Then there was a Supergirl who appeared as a result of Cub Reporter Jimmy Olsen's making a wish over a Latin American idol. No sooner was she dispatched back to pre-Columbian limbo than it turned out that Krypton had not exploded all at once and that Superman's cute cousin Kara had also rocketed to earth as another Supergirl, a.k.a. Linda Lee. (Why all the females in Superman have names beginning with L remains unexplained, and might make a promising subject for a Ph.D. dissertation.)

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