Superduperman

superduperman

Superduperman‘ is a satirical story by cartoonists Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood that was published in the fourth issue of ‘Mad’ in 1953. Lampooning both Superman and Captain Marvel, it revolutionized the types of stories seen in ‘Mad,’ leading to greatly improved sales. Writers such as Alan Moore have cited this story as an influence.

The plot parallels the Superman scenario of the period: ‘Clark Bent’ is a lowly assistant to the copy boy at ‘The Daily Dirt’ newspaper, where he tries, unsuccessfully, to woo the narcissistic and indifferent ‘Lois Pain.’ Meanwhile, an ‘unknown monster’ is stalking the streets of the city. Bent changes into Superduperman to help save the day, but ‘boy reporter Billy Spafon’ reveals himself to be the monster, ‘Captain Marbles.’ Superduperman is unable to harm Captain Marbles until he provokes Marbles into punching himself in the head. Hoping this victory will be enough to sway Pain, he reveals his alter ego, only to be rejected again; the story closes with Pain’s putdown: ‘Once a creep, always a creep.’

Kurtzman’s script subverts the admirable image of the superhero. Clark Bent uses his X-ray vision to peer into the women’s bathroom, and Captain Marbles has abandoned good deeds for the pursuit of money. The conflict between the two characters also parodies the legal wrangling in ‘National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Publications’ (concerning Fawcett’s ‘Captain Marvel’ character being an infringement on the copyright of DC’s ‘Superman’ comic book character).

Until ‘Mad’ #4, the magazine had not been one of EC’s top-selling titles, but ‘Superduperman’ revolutionized their format and led to sales success. In his book ‘Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives,’ Robert Petersen observes, ‘In April 1953, ‘Mad’ #4 included a parody of Superman, ‘Superduperman,’ which originated a new formula that would significantly raise the popularity of the new magazine. Instead of broadly lampooning a genre of comics, ‘Superduperman’ leveled its sights on a specific and recognizable comic character.’ National Comics launched a lawsuit against EC Comics, but ‘Mad’ editor Harvey Kurtzman was successfully able to argue that it was ‘fair use’ because the story was a parody. Petersen concludes ‘This legal cover established the basis for Kurtzman’s new editorial direction and became the bedrock of Mad’s humor ever since.’

After the eponymous eight-page story in ‘Mad’ #4, the character made a cameo appearance in the comic’s ‘Popeye’ parody, ‘Poopeye’ (‘Mad’ #21). In 1968, Mad and DC Comics became part of the same corporate conglomerate, but this did not prevent the magazine from publishing spoofs of the ‘Superman’ film series, including ‘Superduperman’ (1979), ‘Superduperman II’ (1981), and ‘Stuporman ZZZ’ (1983).

The story was an influence on Alan Moore when creating Watchmen. Moore has said, ‘We wanted to take ‘Superduperman’ 180 degrees — dramatic, instead of comedic,’ but it also influenced the art: ‘I think that we probably settled upon the kind of Wally Wood ‘Superduperman’ style. You know, super-heroics, lots of details, heavy blacks, of a distinctive style.’ When asked about the influence of ‘Superfolks’ on his work like the earlier ‘Marvelman,’ Moore said, ‘I’d still say that Harvey Kurtzman’s ‘Superduperman’ probably had the preliminary influence.’ He went into more detail in ‘Kimota! the Miracleman Companion’: ‘I remember being so knocked out by the ‘Superduperman’ story that I immediately began thinking – I was 11, remember, so this would have been purely a comics strip for my own fun – but I thought maybe I could do a parody story about Marvelman. This thing is fair game to my 11-year-old mind. I wanted to do a super-hero parody story that was as funny as ‘Superduperman,’ but I thought it would be better if I did it about an English superhero.’

The story would also influence American professor of philosophy John Shelton Lawrence. As a child he dressed as a superhero and got himself into trouble but ‘[h]is understanding of superpowers matured, however, when he read Mad Magazine’s’ ‘Superduperman’ in the early 1950s. That teenage skepticism grew into a philosophical teaching career, resulting in his current position as a professor of philosophy, emeritus, at Morningside College in Iowa. With Robert Jewert, he developed his suspicion that America’s righteous stance in the world often projects the story of the selfless crusader who can cleanly uses superpowers to rescue the innocent.’ These ideas would be expanded in their books ‘The American Monomyth’ (1977), ‘The Myth of the American Superhero’ (2002), and ‘Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism’ (2003).

In 1956, comedian Ernie Kovacs did a ‘Superclod’ sketch parody that had some similarities to Kurtzman’s version; Kovacs was also a contributor to ‘Mad Magazine.’ Filmmaker Don Glut made, and starred in, a Superduperman fan film in 1963.

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