"Why tights? Why a cape? You're a grown man, don't you feel ridiculous?"



Cringe if you like, laugh if you must, but keep in mind that when Siegel and Shuster were young men in the 1930s, they and their companions would have had to dress similar to the swimsuit models above if they wanted to take a dip in the pond. Yes, those are swimsuits. Don't all guys wear a belt over their briefs? Well, only a "super" guy can get away with it these days.



Though heroes in tights date all the way back to the days of Robin Hood, Superman's ensemble of tights, cape and external briefs owe more to the "big top" than to legends.



The Greatest Show on Earth


Notice the combination of tights, cape and external briefs on the "fire breather". This type of act was usually part of the sideshow and often a free demonstration was given as the barker did his ballyhoo spiel. It was the only way kids without the price of a ticket could get a taste of the sideshow.





Since Superman "leaped" rather than flew in the earliest comics, he looked rather like a circus "flier" traveling from one trapeze to another.





The "strong man", a mainstay of circuses and sideshows for years, awed crowds with fantastic feats of strength as illustrated above by the great Sandow, who was also capable of "bending steel in his bare hands."





The Flying Wallendas, the most famous high-wire act in the history of the circus, demonstrate their trademark "human pyramid" stunt. Superman demonstrates his funambulist skills as he carries a thug across telephone cables.





The teens and "Roaring 20s" gave birth to many strange and even dangerous fads. Harry (the Human Fly) Gardiner not only climbed tall buildings, he did so usually wearing ordinary street clothes and with no special equipment. Onlookers, their jaws gaping, probably wondered what was wrong with the elevators.



I put this postscript here so that my suppositions not be mistaken for historical canon regarding the creation of Superman. Rather, I decided to take a backward glance at Siegel and Shuster's world. The one that existed over sixty years ago where movies were a dime, the jitterbug was a dance, and a "bimbo" was a tough crude man.

Since existing interviews of Superman's creators took place most often long after the creation process, a lot of the finer details of Superman's creation remain lost. It was with the hope of filling in some of those gaps that I decided to research the 1930s, because few artists in any medium ignore the world that surrounds and sustains them. Even Superman's debut was filled with the slang of that bygone era as well as the more colorful dialog from B movie westerns and serials, i.e., "weak-livered polecat."

I don't know if I came close to the mark or veered miles off target, but ... I aimed to please.

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