CLEVELAND — The tough, blue-collar roots of Superman's creators are getting a fresh look on the superhero's 75th anniversary, which the city celebrates today.
Creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster lived just a few blocks apart in the Cleveland neighborhood that shaped their teenage lives, their dreams and the imagery of the Man of Steel.
In the city's Glenville neighborhood, still in the throttling grip of the Great Depression, Siegel and Shuster labored on their creation for years before finally selling Superman to a publisher.
The Man of Steel became a Depression-era bootstrap strategy for the Siegel/Shuster team, according to Brad Ricca, a professor at nearby Case Western Reserve University who uses Superman in his classes.
“They really just saw it as a way out,” he said.
In his upcoming book “Super Boys,” Ricca says the story of Superman's creation is mostly about their friendship: two boys dreaming of “fame, riches and girls” in a time when such dreams are all the easier to imagine because of the crushing economic misery.
Ricca said Siegel and Shuster reflected Cleveland's ethnic mix: Both were sons of Jewish immigrants, struggled during the Depression and hustled to make something of themselves.
“The Depression is all about, you know, if nobody is going to give you a job, you make your own, you find your own niche, and we find that's what they are doing,” Ricca said.
Superman's first appearance, in Action Comics No. 1, was April 18, 1938. The first and greatest superhero has gone on to appear in nearly 1,000 Action Comics and has evolved with the times, including a 1940s radio serial, a 1950s TV series and as a reliable staple for Hollywood.
But it wasn't just hardscrabble circumstances that tempered the Man of Steel, Siegel's daughter said.
Laura Siegel Larson said Cleveland's public library, comic pages and high school mentors all nurtured her father's creativity.
The tale of Superman's first moments begins in Siegel's bedroom. He once recalled coming up with the idea while looking up at the stars and imaging a powerful hero who looked out for those in distress.
Today, Siegel's home is easy to pick out on a street with a mix of renovated and dilapidated homes: a stylized red Superman “S” adorns the fence and a sign identifies the home as “the house where Superman was born.”
And like the Man of Steel, the neighborhood is tough.
There isn't an outsized Superman profile in Cleveland like the way the city celebrates its role in the history of rock 'n' roll, including the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Fans hope today's 75th anniversary will raise the Siegel-Shuster profile. The city is making a start with a Superman day proclaimed by the mayor and giving out birthday cake at the airport's Superman display.
The June release of Hollywood's latest Superman tale, “Man of Steel,” should renew fan interest. The film offers a fresh start for the kid from Krypton, with Henry Cavill as the boy who falls to Earth and becomes its protector.