On Superman

Is Superman a Superman?

By Adam Roberts

The obvious answer to the question in my title is: no. But in this instance the obvious answer is the wrong answer.

Allow me to explain.

First, I should be clear about the two terms.

Superman is the name of a comic character, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for DC Comics (as the old National Comics have now become), who first appeared in the first edition of Action Comics in June 1938. I could now list the various attributes of Super-man–born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, living as Clark Kent on Earth where, thanks to our world’s lesser gravity and the influence of the light of our yellow sun, he possesses extraordinarily enhanced abilities–but, considering the nature of this volume, and the level of knowledge you (the reader) certainly already have about our chromatically vivid hero, I’d only be wasting your time.

It’s more than likely that, although you know a great deal about Superman, you may know a little less about superman. Here I can help you:

“Superman” first appeared in English in the 1880s as a specific translation of the German word œbermensch, which was coined by the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. œber doesn’t have a precise English equivalent: it means “over,” “above,” “more than,” “beyond” (¼berwindung means “overcoming,” an ¼bersetzensung is a “translation”); but it is very well translated by the Latin word super (= “above, beyond, on top, thereupon, remaining’). Mensch means “man” in the general sense of “member of mankind” or “human being” (not man as opposed to  …

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