Friday, December 27, 2013

Pilgrimage to see where Superman was born well worth the trip

Superman was created 75 years ago and has been fighting off the bad guys and meeting his newsroom deadlines ever since.
Some think that Superman is from the far-off planet of Krypton, but he was really conceived in a small neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side. Writer Jerry Siegal and artist Joe Shuster, high school students in 1933, came up with the idea for Superman, but he wasn’t officially born into the Detective Comics — Later DC Comics— universe until June of 1938 when “Action Comics #1” was released with the “Man of Steel” on the cover lifting an automobile over his head.
2013 is recognized as the official 75th birthday of Superman — or Clark Kent, as he is known in the Daily Planet newsroom. Cleveland is only about a two-and-a-half hour drive from the office here at The News-Herald Newspapers, so I knew early in the year that I would have to finally make my pilgrimage to the place of his birth.
SLIDESHOW: Photos from my trip to the House of "El"
I’ve been to Cleveland a time or two before, for wrestling tournaments when I was in high school and other various reasons, but I’d never had the opportunity to visit the places where Schuster and Siegal thought up the idea for Superman.
Therefore, that became one of my goals for 2013.
As the year went along, week after week, I couldn’t find the time to go.
Finally the first week of December, I knew it was likely my last chance to make it this year. I planned ahead, and even managed to slip in a work-related trip to the “A Christmas Story,” house that is only a few miles away from where Superman was born.
Barring interruption from Lex Luthor or some other member of Superman’s gallery of rogues, I would make my journey and be able to photograph it as well.
Superman has long been a character I followed, but once I decided that working at a newspaper was the way of my future, he shot way up the list. Sure, there are other heroes that work in the news business —such as Billy Batson in the “Captain Marvel” comics or Peter Parker from the “Spider-Man” comics — but few work as reporters at a newspaper. Clark Kent was just that.
The character has undergone many changes in his 75 years, but many aspects of him have stayed the same. He still stands for truth and justice — regardless of what “Man of Steel” director Zach Snyder changes about the character in last summer’s blockbuster or the pending sequel.
The character is a man of character, and also never misses a deadline. For someone in the business, that’s something to be accounted for.
His origin story is well known to those who follow the comics: Born as Kal-El on the planet Krypton, Superman was put into a rocket ship and blasted to Earth by his scientist father just moments before the planet exploded.
Krypton was a planet under a red sun, so once on Earth with our yellow sun he was slowly imbued with powers that included impenetrable skin, super strength, super hearing, super eyesight, heat vision, freeze breath, super speed and the ability to fly.
In the hands of a different man, those abilities could have meant the end of the world as we know it, but he was also instilled with a strong moral compass by his adoptive parents on Earth, Jonathan and Martha Kent.
Given the name of Clark Kent, he was raised on a farm in Kansas and eventually moved to Metropolis where he would be able to help more people. Initially, he took the job of a reporter so that he could be around when news of major events happened. In recent years, the character was updated for the modern world. He quit his job at the Daily Planet and struck out on his own to become a blogger.
The comics, the television shows — both live-action and animated — video games and other places where the character and I managed to interact were magical as a child.
I’m still a big fan — that won’t be changing anytime soon.
So on that day in early December, I grabbed my jacket and away I went. Once in Cleveland I took care of the business side of the trip first, which included a tour of the house from “A Christmas Story,” and then headed over to Siegal’s house.
The house is nothing special on its own, but there are a few Superman logos on the house and the fence in front has a large logo and short tale about Siegal growing up there. Rather than turn the house into a museum though, a family still lives there. The house was decorated with holiday lights while I was there.
At first it seemed a bit strange just to stop in the middle of a neighborhood and snap photos of a house, but I figure they wouldn’t be putting the signs up if the family didn’t want gawkers to stop and admire.
The next stop was an empty field a few blocks over. The house where Shuster grew up is long gone, but the property remains with a fence around it.
Being that he was the artist of the duo, large replicas of the first 13-page Superman story were hung on the fence around the property. Unfortunately, they aren’t all there anymore. A few years ago a drunken driver smashed through the fence and destroyed some of the signs. They haven’t been fixed yet.
After snapping a few photos there, the last stop on my self-guided Superman tour was a sign declaring
Cleveland the home of Superman. The sign was placed in a small park just outside of the neighborhood that Shuster and Siegal grew up in.
Having stopped to see the sign, the journey home began. Sure it only took about 15 minutes to see all three stops, and it was almost six hours in a car to do it, but I’d do it all again if anyone wanted a traveling partner for their own pilgrimage.
The only real snafu on my trip through the houses of El, that jacket I grabbed at the beginning of the day had a Batman logo and the words “The Dark Knight,” splayed across the front.

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