Episode #1422

American Icons: Superman

Originally aired: July 6, 2006

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Friday, May 31, 2013

Superman Feature Card_Big

We go up, up and away with Superman and find out why "The Man of Steel" remains as popular and elusive as ever.

Disguised as a mild-mannered reporter, Kurt Andersen explores the history of Superman with cartoonists Jules Feiffer and Art Spiegelman, director Bryan Singer, novelists Michael Chabon and Howard Jacobson, and the 1978 Lois Lane: Margot Kidder. Is this strange visitor from the planet Krypton derivative of Jewish mythology? Can one superhero wield ultimate power for a moral good? And what’s up with the blue tights?

Originally aired: July 6, 2006


Margot Kidder

Comments [9]

Christine from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

Like @jean bradbury, I didn't think I'd be interested until I started listening to this amazing episode. Thank you to all who contributed to making it!

I am kicking myself for not having noticed the hints at Superman's Jewish identity. I think it's time a new adaptation featuring a Superman whose eyes are not blue, if that isn't an outrageous thing to say. I'm looking at you, Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem (author of the marvelous novel _The Fortress of Solitude_), and maybe Jerry Seinfeld to executive-produce.

Jun. 09 2013 12:06 PM
Scott from Dobbs

Studio 360 forgot to mention that before the TV show, Superman was a film serial. One of those Saturday serials that was broken up in chapters. Each week you would see the next chapter until all 12 or so would be shown. Great stuff.

Jun. 08 2013 09:38 PM
Jonathan Mitchell from New York, NY

Bridgeman: I helped produce this episode, and the Tarantino monologue is indeed a great moment in Kill Bill. We considered including it, but he actually cribbed its main points it from a Jules Feiffer essay from the 1960's, and in the interest of time we only included the Feiffer version. You can hear excepts of him reading from his essay starting at about 27:23.

Jun. 08 2013 01:01 PM

I'm surprised that this episode doesn't mention the monologue David Carradine has in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 2, which was released in 2004. It's an interesting take on an essential aspect of Superman.
Here it is, in case you don't remember:

As you know, I’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating.

Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique.

Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone.

Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S” – that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us.

Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak… He’s unsure of himself… He’s a coward.

Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.

Jun. 07 2013 08:05 PM
Swathi M from Edison, NJ

What an amazing story! I've heard it about three times already on the radio and I still listen through to the end each time. It twists my heart strings a bit when the fates of the creators are detailed and it all just seems so...ironic.

Jun. 05 2013 11:48 AM
jean bradbury from seattle

A wonderful show. I didn't think I was interested in Superman until I heard it and loved it. One note though - where was the best Superman song ever written - "Superman's Song" by Crash Test Dummies? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihUIPlLw2ZE

Jun. 04 2013 08:47 PM
Andrew Campbell from WNYC-New York

Fascinating, great--the real complexity of individual and public life and the role of mythos/mythology in it...

Jun. 03 2013 09:09 PM
Jerome from Machester, CT

What an excellent insight into the Superman character. Delving into the issues of total control, of might making right, of symbolism, costuming reached beyond the superficial into moral dilemmas. Wouldn't a movie be facinating based on the comic book series that developed the what if the spaceship that brought Superman to earth had landed in Russia, growing up under Stalin's rule! That hasn't happened, and probably won't, but it would be interesting.

Jun. 01 2013 08:04 PM
Bob Andelman from St. Petersburg, FL

Journalists preparing to do a hack job on the history of Superman in the days ahead of the new "Man of Steel" would do well to listen to this episode of "Studio 360," hosted by Kurt Andersen. It's really well done, with interviews that include Jules Feiffer, Jack Larsen and Art Spiegelman, as well as audio from movies, radio, TV and Broadway. Good stuff.

May. 31 2013 09:14 PM

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