is familiar with the character of Superman, if only as an allusion in
political cartoons or figures of speech. Most people know the
bare bones of his story; that he's a visitor from another planet who
comes to Earth, where the peculiar conditions make him faster than a
speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to
leap tall buildings at a single bound.
But what many people don't know is that the name
"Superman" isn't just an affectation given to a chap with magical
powers. When Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel created Superman back
in the 1930s they conceived him as a literally superhuman
creature-- and probably as neat an encapsulation of the popular idea
of the future of man as there could be.
Today the back story is that Superman came from the
planet Krypton, a world of high gravity and a red sun, and that the
low gravity and yellow Sun of Earth endow him with his marvellous
powers. But in the original version of the story,
Superman's Krypton was a world where evolution was millions of years
more advanced than on Earth and whose inhabitants were possessed of
superhuman abilities as a matter of course. The early Superman's powers didn't include
anything magical such as flying or heat vision. Instead, he was
an idealised and exaggerated version of desirable human abilities.
He was incredibly strong, fast, impervious to anything short of a
direct hit from a tank round, incredibly intelligent, and could see
through solid objects because his senses were more developed than
those of ordinary mortals.
Small wonder that one of Superman's nicknames is
"The Man of Tomorrow." They were originally going to call
him "The Man of Later This Afternoon," but that was regarded as a bit