Superman: From Cleveland to Krypton

The Man of Steel's Jewish roots.

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Moses and Superman are eventually discovered and raised in foreign cultures. Baby Moses is found by Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, and raised in the royal palace. Superman is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent in a Midwestern cornfield and given the name Clark. From the onset, both Batya and the Kents realize that these foundling boys are extraordinary. Superman leads a double life as the stuttering, spectacle-wearing reporter whose true identity no one suspects. In the same way, for his own safety, Moses kept his Israelite roots hidden for a time.

Superman's original name on Krypton also reveals Biblical underpinnings. Superman is named Kal-El and his father Jor-El. The suffix "El" is one of the ancient names for God, used throughout the Bible. It is also found in the names of great prophets like Samuel and and Daniel and angels such as Michael and Gavriel. We may never know whether Siegel and Shuster were aware of these precise Hebrew translations; nevertheless, the name could not be more apt.

While the invincible Superman may have stood the test of time, the lives of his creators were not as triumphant. From the beginning, Siegel and Shuster were so busy they had to hire assistants, but while DC Comics was making millions, Superman's creators weren't sharing the wealth. The two men were paid a salary, but their initial payment back in 1938 had included all rights. They had sold their percentage of a goldmine for $130 and were eventually fired from their own creation.

Lawsuits followed. None were successful. Siegel and Shuster tried and failed to create new characters. Their names were familiar only to comic book aficionados. Then, rumors began to circulate in the early 1970s that a big budget Superman movie was in the works. DC Comics received $3 million for the rights to film Superman. Once again, Siegel and Shuster were left out of the equation.

This time, the two men tried a new approach. They bypassed their lawyers and went straight to the media. Newspapers across the world picked up the story of Siegel and Shuster, the poor boys who'd created an American icon, made DC Comics rich--and were now penniless and forgotten. That Shuster was now going blind added to the story's poignancy.

Legally, DC Comics owed Siegel and Shuster nothing, but bad publicity was costing the company dearly. A financial settlement was reached, and the names "Siegel and Shuster" appeared in Superman comics once more. In 2006, Superman returned to the big screen, and not a moment too soon--in today's post 9/11 world, we need a hero more than ever.

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Simcha Weinstein

Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is the founder of the downtown Brooklyn Jewish Student Foundation. Rabbi Simcha is a sought-after television and radio guest, and has been profiled in many publications, including the New York Post, the Jerusalem Post and the Washington Post. He is also the author of Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero.