Imagine a quarter of a million American teenagers living on the road, fleeing abuse, forced to drop out of schools that had closed, or just trying to find work to help their families. This was the situation during the Great Depression, when two teenage boys created “The Man of Steel.” Is it any wonder Superman became an overnight phenomenon?
In 1940, Superman was beginning to appear in newspaper comic strips across the country. It’s easy for me to imagine my grandfather at the breakfast table, 35 years old and the father of four children, reading the comics and wishing for a real-life superhero. He and his wife worked for the Volunteers of America, trying to make life better for the down and out while they themselves struggled. On the day the 1940 US Census was taken, Superman was laying a trap for thugs who were loaning money to poor people, enticing them to gamble it away, then making them repay it at huge interest rates. It was a complicated story line – Superman hadn’t yet become the Biff! Boom! Pow! type. But a mythical superhero, stronger than any evil, must have been a welcome fantasy for desperate people living with hunger, poverty, and the growing menace in Germany.