Larry Tye's Superman Biography Takes Off With The Crowd
November 14, 2013
photograph by David J. Bromley, permission of Larry Tye
Larry Tye, author of
The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero", has
a hit on his hands. He is continuing a successful tour of talks and
book signings and his Nov. 12 appearance at the Weinstein
Jewish Community Center in Richmond, Virginia was testament to this.
The event was well advertised in print and internet to ensure public
attendance. And attend they did - the enthusiastic audience had only
a few empty seats, and the line afterwards to obtain a signed copy of
the book was long.
Mr. Tye is a self-described "serious" journalist - he is an
award winning writer for the Boston
Globe and his book topics range from figures such as Kitty
Dukakis to Satchel
Paige - but the longevity of the Man of Steel is a real point
of interest for him, and proof that Superman is a permanent American
icon. As he told his audience, this character is one of the few cultural
traditions that can enjoyed by multiple generations - as the children,
parents and grandparents in the audience demonstrated. Superman really
does represent decency and that is part of his universal appeal across
borders and languages.
But the historical anecdotes are what makes Tye's history so revealing
- he interviewed well over 200 people in his research and had access
to an unpublished 150 page manuscript by Jerry
Siegel - even the most knowledgeable comic book enthusiast will
be in for an education. The initiated will be interested in stories
about creators such as Mark
Waid or John
Byrne, but the average fan can appreciate information such as
how a children's psychologist came to influence the Superman "motto"
or how comics, especially Superman comics, came to inspire and even
educate teenaged U.S. soldiers in World War Two.
The author repeatedly returned to the childhood of Siegel as formative
in the creation of what would eventually become the character we know
today - his family and neighborhood life, the tragic death of his father,
his friendship with young artist Joe
Shuster, and his Jewish heritage - that reveal an analytical
thought process that seeks to understand the origin not merely of Superman,
but of the young mind that conceived him.
This interpretation was as refreshing as Tye's personable nature, which
maintained a high level of group participation throughout the talk.
There were no visual aids, and the author used no microphone. Though
soft spoken, he is an accomplished speaker with excellent projection.
An animated person, Tye quizzed the audience on details of Superman's
past, such as sponsorship of WWII war bond drives and the inter-religious
claim on this worldwide phenomenon. Christians, Buddhists and even non-believers
lay claim to The
Man of Tomorrow - but the emphasis in terms of faith was justly
on Judaism, the religion and culture which bred the young writer and
artist that brought us the first costumed superhero, a concept which
forever changed popular entertainment. The initial publishers of Superman
were Jewish as well, and Tye explained the Jewish implications of Clark
Kent's "Kryptonian" name, Kal-El, as well as similarities
in the origin story of Superman to aspects of Genesis and Exodus.
There is no doubting the Jewish origin of The Man of Steel, just as
there is no doubting his universal appeal. As Tye reminded the audience
in regard to the constancy of Superman's moral character, this fictitious
being does not really belong to the corporate copyright holders - he
belongs to the world.
Tye's book tour continues tonight at The
Jacksonville Jewish Community Alliance in Florida and on November
19th at Temple Beth El
in Harrisburg, PA.