Umberto Eco argues that the writers of Superman managed to create a myth out of a character who could not possibly be a myth.
Let me put it this way — pairing the words “myth” and “Superman” actually creates a problem. A man cannot be a myth, and yet, Superman cannot be a mere man.
That sounds …………. PARADOXICAL.
That’s where the genius comes in.
Disclaimer: The following summary is an oversimplification:
1- Superman’s identity is totally relatable to the everyday person. That way every reader can have that totally secret fantasy that no one knows about in which they rise from their mundane life into something heroic. English Teacher? Nah, Super Mega Awesome Speed Reader.
2- Superman can’t be a mythical hero. Mythical heroes are born from pre-existing stories. Hercules kills the Hydra; it will always end that way. It’s all about HOW it happened. Superman is unpredictable–his story is all about WHAT happens. His audience aren’t “co=participants” but are actually “spectators.” He’s like novel characters–heroic, and typical, but not mythical.
3- Time works like this: one event causes the other until the initial event can’t be traced. While all that’s happening, hate to break it to you, you’re getting OLD.
Hang on…but Superman isn’t 80+ years old!
THAT’S BECAUSE HIS AUTHORS NEVER AGE HIM.
Superman is comprised of short episodes that are always solved by the end. When the next episode begins, it’s like the last one never happened!
Time passage doesn’t exist and Superman is stuck in a perpetual present.
4- Isn’t that boring? Yes. But that’s what the crazy weapons and enemies are for. Superman always wins, but it’s entertaining to see what unforeseeable enemy he’s up against.
5- A Superhero that has no past experiences to learn from? That means planning becomes irrelevant, as well as the responsibility for the choices made. No matter what he does, he’ll always ends up where he starts – the present.
6- Humans seek repetition in narrative and characterization like I seek chocolate mousse in France.
There’s comfort in familiarity.
7- What is GOOD? Superman’s typical, non-mythical, unconsuming, time-ignoring version of good is in small acts in a small area — what most humans can amount to. Superman cannot be a part of something bigger or universal because he relives the immobile present everyday.
Unless it’s aliens.
Aliens are cool.
RELATION TO PRIMARY TEXT
OKAY so how does this help us read The Superman Chronicles?
It’s clear that timestamps, or the lack thereof, are important.
Eco’s article points out that time passes within episodes, but not between episodes.
For a moment, let’s contrast the use of timestamps and verbs in an an earlier episode as opposed to a later one to further add to Eco’s argument. It is also may be interesting to think about it in relation to commercialism and politics in a later discussion.
In the first episode (June 1938) timestamps are emphatically clear and hint at large passages of time. For example, “that night”(9), “a few minutes later”(10), and “next morning” (13). This makes it very clear that time, days even, have passed within the episode. Likewise while the verbs mostly function in the present, a few slips into the past happen: Superman states “it WAS your idea”(6) and Kent says “Superman HAD DROPPED in”(9).
In later episodes, (May, 1939), Superman’s writers may have begun to understand the importance of his immobility. In this episode, only TWO timestamps are used: “a few minutes later” and “in a few seconds”(163), both of which allow little to no time to pass. Timestamps in the later episodes are replaced with verbs in the present tense, all of which create the feeling that Superman is constantly in action and constantly in the present. The reader jumps with Superman from verb to verb and the concept of time falls away. Superman “hears” and “lands” all in the same moment(160). Words like “suddenly” are overused. To the reader, the present is all that exists.
1- At which point does time passage switch in episodes and why is that so?
2- Is time passage important for a narrative to occur?
3- What can you do with an immobile hero?
4- Why are people so obsessed with superheroes like Superman? What is his appeal?
– Mary Edward