News and Tribune

June 20, 2013

MAY: Man of steel

Local columnist

When I left for college, the stack in the corner of my closet was as high as my chest. 

Comic books. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of comic books. I began collecting them in 1962 when I was in second grade and had most every issue until I stopped in the summer after my fifth grade year. They weren’t all gems. Aunt Flossie persisted in giving me Harvey Comics. She had an affinity for “Baby Huey.” But most of them were DC comics — Superman, Batman and all of their spin-off editions. In 1963 I also began collecting comics of a brand-new hero who could swing from building to building on a web. A regular issue was 12 cents. A giant publication was a quarter. Most of them were in excellent condition; unlike my baseball cards, none of them ever made it to the spokes of my sister’s bicycle.

A quick run today on eBay shows that the average price for DC comics during those years is $15 to $20. More than a handful of the comics are worth more than $100. The very first comic of Spiderman in good condition is worth $2,000; an edition in very fine condition is worth $15,000. There were six other Spiderman comics issued in 1963, ranging in value from $200 to $500 in good condition. Add to that a thousand comics at $20 each. You do the math — my falling tears keep staining the paper.

Can you guess where this story is headed? I came home one weekend and my room had changed. Suddenly it was no longer a bedroom — MY bedroom — but a “guest room.” And just as suddenly, the stack in the corner of my closet was gone. I remember the words of my mother, “But it didn’t seem like you read them anymore.” 

Things aren’t always as they seem. Take Clark Kent, for example. To most people, it seems as if he is just a meek, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper. But when danger is lurking around the corner, he is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive. In fact, he is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Sometimes things are thinly disguised. Who would have known that a pair of reading glasses probably picked up at Walgreen’s would have protected Superman’s secret identity for more than 75 years? The character of Superman was introduced in June, 1938, as one of several anthology features in “Action Comics #1.” Superman proved to be so popular that a year later he became the first super hero to have his own self-titled comic book. 

Some things are not so easily understood. Consider the “S” on his costume. I would have just assumed that it stood for “Superman.” According to one story line in the comics, the “S” was designed by Jonathan Kent and was in honor of an ancient Native American symbol for healing. In the “Superboy” television series from the 2000s some students tied Clark to a post in a cornfield and painted a red “S” on his chest, standing for “scarecrow,” as a part of a high school hazing tradition. In the latest incarnation of the movie franchise, when asked by Lois Lane what the “S” stands for, Superman indicates that it is not an “S,” but rather the Kryptonian symbol for “hope.”

Life is like that. It takes a special person to see through the get-rich-quick schemes. It requires wisdom and patience to know who can be trusted and who needs to be shunned. 

A hero may not have X-ray vision, but has the ability to penetrate to the core of what makes up a person. Just because there is an “S” on the chest, doesn’t mean the individual is “super.” A true hero knows to be discerning.


— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.