Two of my favorite heroes (one fictional, one historical). Y’know, I observed many years ago that these two seemingly disparate characters actually have quite a few similarities.
And, no, I don’t mean the fact that they were both known for wearing capes. Elvis got that idea from a different superhero.
So what are the similarities, you ask? Well, let’s look at their beginnings. Superman debuted in 1938.
As originally portrayed, Superman was a rebel, a self-described “champion of the oppressed.” He operated mostly in secret and would not only go ofter criminals and outlaws, but after those who exploit others through legal means. Corrupts politicians, slum-lords, and foreign dictators all bore the brunt of Superman’s wrath. This made Superman a threat to those who would rather preserve the status quo.
Likewise, when Elvis started recording in 1954 and began to rise to prominence, he was considered dangerous to the status quo, as well. Rock N Roll was still new and considered by many to be “the Devil’s music”, or even worse it was considered BLACK music. So when this good-looking young White man came along with his loud, rowdy music, music industry executives, radio station owners, and politicians alike, were outraged. And especially due to his “suggestive” moves on stage…
Look at the way he’s moving those hips! WILL SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?
Their images began to soften thanks to the military. In Superman’s case, it was due to World War II. Suddenly, his publisher began using Superman for pro-American propaganda ads.
“Slap a Jap?” Uh…it was a different time…
By the time the war was over, Superman was no longer an undercover rebel, he was now portrayed front and center as an American hero. He didn’t fight The Man, he was The Man.
While there was no war, in 1958 Elvis was drafted into the army, and served for 2 years, not asking for any special treatment.
This helped soften Elvis’ public image. He was no longer the scary hooligan playing the Rock music. Now he was a good ol’ boy, America’s favorite son.
They both faced early rivals for their perspective crowns. Fawcett Comics created another superhero called Captain Marvel whose comics eventually become popular enough to outsell Superman’s comics.
But DC Comics took care of that by suing Fawcett Comics on the grounds that Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman. The case dragged on for years, with Fawcett initially winning, but DC planned to appeal and Fawcett simply gave up, and ceased publishing Captain Marvel comics.
While at one point during the 50’s, Elvis’ original record company Sun Records, signed a young man named Jerry Lee Lewis, who proceeded to have a string of Rock N Roll hits like Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On, and Great Balls of Fire. Though he didn’t have Elvis’ good looks or dancing abilities, he was a better musician with great stage presence.
When Elvis was poised to go into the army and be out of the public spotlight for 2 years, Lewis was all set to take the nascent crown of King of Rock N Roll. But that quickly came to an end when Jerry foolishly married his 13 year old 2nd cousin Myra. The resulting scandal stalled his career for years, and he never fully recovered.
Hope she was worth it, dude.
But things still got rocky for our resident heroes. Superman’s comics stopped being about him fighting brutal criminals and evildoers, and entered a long period of sillyness. Now they’d have stories of him fighting goofy aliens or romancing mermaids or just all sorts of absurd but harmless adventures aimed at very young children.
Likewise, Elvis who had originally harbored dreams of being a serious actor in the mold of James Dean, and who showed great promise in his early roles, like Jailhouse Rock, eventually found himself starring in a long string of silly musicals with forgettable plots.
And then they faced far more formidable rivals. In the 1960’s Marvel Comics came along. And from the minds of legends like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, they created and published a slew of new superhero comics, with three-dimensional characters who dealt with real-world issues. The Fantastic Four! Spider-Man! The Avengers! The Hulk! The X-Men! Doctor Strange! And many more. Superheroes had never been done like this before, and by comparison they made Superman and his comrades look child-ish.
While also during the 60’s, as Elvis’ musical output was limited to the soundtracks to the his movies, new exciting musical acts like The Beatles from England had come to America and now they were the ones driving teenage audiences wild.
Clearly, things had to change.
In 1986 DC Comics hired Marvel Comics writer and artist John Byrne to revamp the Superman comics. Byrne started over from scratch, rewriting Superman’s origin in the 6-issue miniseries Man of Steel, which lead into a relaunch of the three main Superman titles at the time. This gave Superman a desperately needed shot in the arm and become a huge success. Superman was back on top of the charts.
In December 1968 Elvis staged his own “comeback” in a special live concert performance recorded and then aired on NBC. This was Elvis’ first time performing in front of an audience in over 7 years and in a tight leather outfit he seemed just like his old self again, proving that he could still thrill an audience.
But nothing lasts forever. Eventually Elvis died…
And so did Superman…
Although Superman came back…
While Elvis remains dead.
Or is he?