Blockbuster film Man of Steel,
which open in theaters June 14 to record-size audiences, is the latest in a long line of entertainment pieces built around the character of Superman. The character, a consummate standby in comics, television shows, video games and other media since his introduction in 1938, was featured in a successful series of films in the 1970's and 80's.
After a 15-year hiatus, the superhero also known as Clark Kent returned to the screen in 2006, and this latest film marks a reboot of the franchise. This storied history has helped elevate the character to the level of American icon.
So how does a character, albeit an invincible one, continue to survive and thrive 75 years in popular culture?
According to CarrieLynn Reinhard, assistant professor of communication arts, while Superman's backstory has remained generally the same, his superpowers have adapted to different ages.
While introduced with a now-classic description of his physical abilities—“Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!"—“Those powers have grown, changed, weakened through the years," Reinhard told the Christian Science Monitor.
"But what remains at his core is the idea of the ultimate immigrant – an orphan of an entire planet arriving in rural United States and being able to become successful, as both a reporter and a crimefighter,” she says.
Prior to joining Dominican's faculty, Reinhard conducted an international survey
of how people think about and respond to superheroes, which was quoted in New York Times
best-selling author Larry Tye's 2012 book Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero. She presented on the survey at the 2009 Fantasticon convention in Denmark (see presentation above).