In a small attic bedroom in Cleveland, two young men were dreaming up a hero who would save the world. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two nerdy Jewish boys from the Jewish neighborhood of Glenville, had been friends since they were introduced at the local public library. Despite their struggles with poverty and anti-Semitism, the two had a passion for science fiction and comic strips that would eventually lead to the creation of one of the most iconic superheroes of all time—Superman.
Jerry had been bullied for years in school, but found solace in the science fiction magazines his older brother Harry brought home. He was particularly inspired by Gladiator, a character with superhuman strength, and Doc Savage, a pulp magazine hero known as “The Man of Bronze.” Jerry even tried his hand at creating his own comic strip takeoff on Tarzan called Goober the Mighty for his high school paper, the Torch.
Joe, too, was a nerd with Coke-bottle glasses and was even more invisible to the girls at Glenville High than Jerry. His parents were so poor that he had to draw on the walls when he was four years old and he couldn’t afford paper. Joe’s talent was drawing and he had even won a drawing contest at the Torch. The two were inspired by the new art form of comic books, particularly those put together by editor Max Gaines in 1933.
On that fateful summer night when Jerry couldn’t sleep, he got up and wrote a script for a new character that was an amalgamation of everything he had ever written or read. He ran to Joe’s house and woke him up, thrusting the script beneath his blinking eyes. Joe got it immediately and sat down to work, drawing as fast as he could as Jerry paced the wooden floor and narrated. Together, they created Superman—an alien with super strength whose real name was Kal-El (“Voice of God” in Hebrew). Kal-El came to Earth as an abandoned baby and was adopted by a couple of Gentiles and renamed Clark Kent. By day, Superman was a mild-mannered goy with glasses (just like Jerry’s and Joe’s). He would live in a city called Metropolis.
This Superman was not a villain, but rather the ultimate champion of the oppressed, battling corrupt politicians, saving the falsely accused, and beating up wife beaters. He didn’t want anyone to know who he was and spent half his time tricking his newspaper pals about his identity. He would have a love interest, named Lois Lane, who was based on a teenager named Joanne.
Superman, an illegal alien, had come millions of miles not to be featured on the front page of the Daily Star, but to save mankind from itself, its ugly awful self. In 1933, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created a hero who would become an icon for generations to come—a symbol of hope in a time of darkness.