Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

April 18, 2018

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

When I was in the first grade, the day before school picture day, I ran into a brick wall – not a metaphor, I, literally, ran headlong into the corner of our house, smashing open my head on solid brick. My father took me to get stitches – seven of them as I recall – and, on the way home, changed my life.

My father was forever changing my life.

He bought me my first two comic books.

Thanks, Dad. Tens of thousands of issues later, I am pot-committed as a comic collector. More important than that, I have become more than an aficionado of comic book collecting and consider myself something of an expert on the study of comic books as an American literary art form.

You read that right: comic books are a form a literature.

The two comics Dad bought me that day featured two of the most famous American literary characters (in any list, they would have to be listed in the top ten): Batman and Superman. In case you’re wondering, I still have the issues – Batman Family #10 and Superman Family #181.

Superman is the longest running, continually published character in American literary history. Let that sink in for a moment. No other creation of any American writer or artist has been in continual publication as long as Superman has. That is something. That is special. That is powerful.

Superman is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, any quick search will convince one of that. And, today, the comic book in which he first appeared reaches its astounding 1000th issue. That is not a typo. Superman’s Action Comics hits number 1000 today.

Superman has not simply appeared in Action Comics, of course. He has starred in his eponymous title and in many, many others. He has starred in a newspaper strip, in radio and television and movies. He has been featured in video games and music and cartoons. He is all but ubiquitous.

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

One could discuss Superman as a myth or as the genesis of the superhero or as a stand in for Moses or Jesus Christ. These reasons could be posited as causes for his longevity and I would not argue with them. But I have another.

Superman endures because what he stands for endures. Superman fights a never-ending battle. It is a battle of absolutes. There is good. There is evil. Good people resist evil. They resist temptation. They resist taking the easy way out. Superman stands for all that has been good, is good and can be good again in humanity. Superman, as he beautifully says in the majestic and (in my not-so-humble opinion) misunderstood 2013 film Man of Steel, stands for hope.

He would have made a wonderful educator, this Superman, this hero who fights a never-ending battle, who does not give up, who is a champion of truth. He would have been an amazing teacher, a role model who has endless reserves, who rallies in the face of injustice, who empowers those around him. He would have been a inspiration in a classroom.

Oh, wait. He very much is.

Superman, as I have written about before and in my accompanying blog Superheroic Leadership, inspired me. He inspired me to read. He inspired me, “in his guise as Clark Kent” to write. He inspired me to lead.

Clearly, I am not alone.

1000 issues. 80 years. A massive and recognizable presence in the world.

I guess that is why they call him Superman.

I know this: my life would be much, much different without him.

EduQuote of the Week: April 16 – 22, 2018

Superman Week

For a lot of people, Superman is and has always been America’s hero. He stands for what we believe is the best within us: limitless strength tempered by compassion, that can bear adversity and emerge stronger on the other side. He stands for what we all feel we would like to be able to stand for, when standing is hardest.

– J. Michael Straczynski

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 17 – 1000 Reasons

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 17

1000 Reasons

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


In the last installment of Superheroic Leadership, I wrote about Superman and the classic story “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Perhaps I should have waited to write about the Man of Steel for this week’s Superheroic Leadership.

Seven days from tomorrow, something fairly extraordinary will happen: DC Comics will publish the 1000th issue of Action Comics. Not many comic books (or other periodicals for that matter) reach 1000 issues. Not many superheroes have been featured in 1000 issues of the same comic (though, to be fair, Superman didn’t appear in every issue of Action Comics, but he did in the overwhelming majority of them – like 900 issues or more). Reaching 1000 issues is something of an achievement.

As a self-proclaimed expert in the American artform of comic books, I have much to say about this. I could probably go on for 1000 reasons on Superman, the reason he is the most important character in comic books and, perhaps (don’t get me started!) the most influential character in all of American literature. He must be in the top ten on any serious list.

How many other characters have been in continuous publication for over 80 years?

Think about that. I’ll wait for you.

You got it. The answer is none. A goose egg. Only Superman can claim that mantle and it must mean something, right?

For the purposes of this post, let us start and end with this lesson that Superman teaches time-and-again: one must persevere.

Perhaps Superman’s dedication to the “never ending battle” is best understood as a reflection on the dogged effort of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, his creators. Siegel and Shuster, the sons of immigrants, worked tirelessly on Superman, hoping to make some money by selling him as a daily newspaper strip. Following mountains of rejections, they, reluctantly, turned their brain-child into a comic book. Once Superman sold (his first appearance was Action Comics #1), they would see some of their dreams come true though they would never realize the riches that were, likely due them.

What their story can tell us, though, and what the overwhelming majority of the subsequent Superman stories tells us is that we should never give up, never give in, never give way when the stakes are high.

It this a simple message?

Yes.

Is Superman a simple character?

Yes.

Perhaps the elegant and inspiring simplicity is why he has been around so long.

One could do much worse …

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 16 – Who Has Everything

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 16

Who Has Everything

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


What do you give Superman for his birthday? Is he not the quintessential “man who has everything?”

This was the premise of the seminal Superman Annual #11 (“For the Man Who Has Everything”) written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons in the midst of their Watchmen fame. Batman and Wonder Woman (and Robin?) come to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to share with him the birthday gifts they have brought only to find that he is in the thrall of some kind of alien plant life that has rendered him comatose. In his mind, Superman is living a reality that places him on a not-destroyed Krypton with a wife and son and parents and a life very different from the one he is living on Earth. In order to come back to reality, Superman must give up this perfect and fulfilling fantasy and return to the real world.

The “gift,” as it turns out, was sent by an intergalactic villain named Mongul whose plan for conquering the Earth includes sidelining the Man of Steel with this hallucination.

Of course, the plan does not work. Superman gives up paradise to save the Earth, not unlike Captain Kirk saving the future by allowing Edith Keeler to die in the classic City on the Edge of Forever. It is a tragic story, but a heroic one.

What does it mean for us as leaders?

All too often we can find ourselves trapped in perfect worlds, in scenarios which are comfortable and do not challenge us, whether they are of our own making or not. We can find ourselves in echo chambers in which we only hear what we want to hear, only experience what we allow ourselves to experience, only risk what we want to risk.

This is no way to lead.

Excellent leaders, like Superman, break the bonds of contentment and complacency and sacrifice their comfort for the good of others. If we are not willing to do that, we ought not be leaders. If we are not willing to question our own comfortable lives, we cannot effectively lead.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 2 – What’s So Funny about Truth and Justice?

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 2

What’s So Funny about Truth and Justice?

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


They say that Superman is a hard character to write. This is a common mantra among those who follow the Man of Steel. He’s too clean cut. He’s too powerful. He’s too good.

He’s boring, especially in the context of the “real world.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s, anti-heroes were all the rage, heroes who did not force themselves to adhere to moral codes, heroes who would cross any line to serve their vision of justice. The X-Men, exemplified by their banner character Wolverine, were an example of this. The Authority was a team of almost omnipotent characters who were brutal and violent and just. Even the Avengers were recharacterized in this fashion in an alternate universe book called The Ultimates.

How does Superman fit into this world?

Not well.

But Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo presented a story in Action Comics #775 that underscored why Superman IS Superman.

In this landmark issue, Superman is confronted by a group of “heroes” calling themselves “The Elite.” These characters kill their adversaries, relish in their power and complain that Superman is hopelessly behind the times. They blame him for all the damage caused by villains the Man of Steel has left alive, villains who inevitably escape prisons and wreak havoc on the world. They say Superman is afraid to do what is necessary to protect the world.

Staging a televised showdown with the Elite, Superman appears to unleash violence as only he can, appearing to kill each member of the team (though he secretly saves each right before their “death” using his super speed) and terrifying both the Elite and the world, illustrating the evils of violence unchecked and power uncontrolled. As only Superman can, the hero reclaims the high ground, reaffirms his commitment to his moral code and has the world cheering for him in the process.

What’s so funny about truth, justice and the American way? Nothing.

Superman stands as an example of light not giving way to darkness. He refuses to cross lines and compromise his morality. He is upstanding. He is good.

We need more of this kind of good in our world.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 1 – Superheroic Leadership

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. I

Superheroic Leadership

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


For as far back as my memory will take me, superheroes have been a part of the life of my imagination. I learned to read from the adventures of Batman and Spider-Man, learned to take flights of fancy with Wonder Woman and the Avengers and so many more.  And it was not just the four-color heroes I read about in the pages of comic books that were alive in my mind. The heroes of science fiction, especially characters from Star Trek and Star Wars, shared almost equal time.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I found that affection for comic books and science fiction was less cool than playing sports or collecting baseball cards and I, like many others who shared these hobbies, did not exactly broadcast my affinity for them. I know I am not alone in that feeling.

How could those of us who spoke the secret language of comics, who knew the difference between the Empire and the Klingon Empire and who debated whether Superman could lift Thor’s hammer have possibly known that these characters we embraced as kids would become culturally dominant icons? How could we have anticipated The Avengers, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Guardians of the Galaxy and Wonder Woman?

How could we have known the power these stories would have to captivate, to entertain and, dare I write, to inspire?

For there must be something inspirational about these characters and their stories. There must be something worth watching. There must be something with depth about which to think.

I believe there is and, while there are many reasons for the enduring popularity of superheroes and science fiction characters, I believe their lasting resonance has something to do with leadership.

Superheroic Leadership is, at least in title, an homage to Chris Lowney’s terrific Heroic Leadership, wherein Lowney juxtaposes lessons about leadership in business with the lives of early Jesuits. It is a clever and instructive book, Lowney’s Heroic Leadership, and one I highly recommend.

This every-other-week series of posts will not be as clever or instructive. What it will be is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I, perhaps only on reflection, have learned from their adventures.

There must be a reason I have spent so much time and money on and with these characters, right?

Welcome to Superheroic Leadership!

EduQuote of the Week: March 21 – 27, 2016

door quotesWhat makes Superman a hero, in fact this makes anyone a hero, is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely.

– Christopher Reeve