Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Guernican Kryptonite

I heard a smart guy, Medieval scholar guy, amazing professor guy, who lived on a converted turkey farm, once say that Picasso's painting, Guernica, symbolized the end of the Modern era. Whatever the merits of that, my young mind was inspired to think up what a good symbol for the start of the purported "postmodern" era would be. I looked around that time, (1930s) and something lined up quite nicely, time and meaning-wise: the publication of a saddle-stitched newsprint magazine called Action Comics #1, the cover featuring a guy in a red, blue, and yellow costume lifting a car and smashing it against a boulder with two guys in suits running away in terror and another regular-clothed guy on all fours looking on timidly. From context, the car must have belonged to bad guys, maybe the guy on the ground was dumped out of the car as he tried to get away from a crime scene. Maybe the other two guys were in on it and will be grabbed after Sups takes the car out of action. Or was this primary colored male (of which ALL colors are created) smashing the car against the Prometheus stone? The creation of the Superman in print as a protector of the innocent just as America was laying the foundation of its global power while Hitler was creating a literal blond Germanic Superman from ideological madness doomed to fail, summed it up for me as a perfect Now Open sign for Post-Modernism.

This is what he looked like back then - doing his thing against what he eventually became. (recent homage - art by Kevin Nowlan)

When I left Bloomington, my destination was originally Pittsburgh (where I am now) but I had to go check out Henry Ford's ghost factory in Detroit, and then hit Cleveland on the way to Steel City to visit what is essentially a shrine for cartoonist nerds such as myself ...

[First, a quick anecdote about leaving Detroit: I-75 was under construction and my GPS sent me on a road that forced me toward a bridge. I usually love accidentally discovering new things to explore, but this bridge was headed for another country, our neighbors to the north, though this bridge was going south out of Detroit (strange map around here). I had to plead to turn around and then went through three checkpoints to "re-enter" America. One guy gave me the fifth degree because I look like the perfect fake-American Arab, with my ballcap, kitty, and story about traveling here and there. "Where you headed?" "Cleveland." "Where you coming from?" "Bloomington." "Then WHY are you in Detroit, sir?" "Uh ..." That's when things got awkward. "Do you have a gun, sir?" "I ... no .. I don't." "It's okay if you do, you're allowed, you just ought to tell me. I'd be angry if I find out later." (this is verbatim) "No gun." "Do you have over $10,000 in cash on you?" "I wish." "Ok, take a left at those cones." "Did I actually leave the country?" "No, sir. You did not." Then I drove on.]

Back to 1938! Actually 1933, when jewish teenager Jerry Siegel re-invented a badguy Superman he created as the goodguy boyscout we know today, with art by his high school buddy, Joe Shuster, who lived nine blocks away, in the Cleveland suburb of Glenville. They pitched their bulletproof man for over five years until it was chosen to adorn the cover of a new comic release from the company that would become D.C. Comics. Jerry's father died from heart failure after his downtown store was robbed by gun-wielding thugs. Superman fought regular criminals in the early days, and extraordinary criminals like the Nazis, but didn't fight Super-villains until later, because Siegel created him not as an imaginary pulp hero, but as a Golem to protect the innocent.

And here is the house where it happened!

This is the backyard of the house (most likely never seen by Jerry and Joe, nerds.)

and here is a house just down the block.

Unfortunately, this neighborhood is one of the most severe foreclosure areas in the country. I talked to the guy painting the Superman house (pictured above), which has had a family living there for 20 years with no affiliation to Sups or DC or anything related. He mentioned that the house was being restored by the community development agency and that there will be a big unveiling in July with everyone invited (COME ON OUT).

So far, this is the only evidence in the area that Superman was born here, but plans are in the works to change that.

I went into the development office looking for more info on that event and was delightfully surprised to find a super hot, highly professional, locally loved, and enthusiastic supporter of her neighborhood and the role of this historic house in it. This is from her office.

As well as this, a brick from the original chimney which was torn down, available for sale with proceeds going to the restoration project (click here to make tax-deductible donation and get a piece of history).

And here's the last photo that will ever be taken of the Superman color scheme that's been on the house for the last few decades (unless another nerd drove up after I left that day). The house will be painted in original colors. Check out this video of the man who's leading the charge for the restoration, Brad Meltzer.

Yes, Superman had a cat (named Streaky) when he was Superboy (NOT a Jerry Siegel idea). This is what Solomon was clearly thinking about while checking Superman's house for cobwebs to eat.

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