Every writer has a story they’ve been waiting their whole life to tell. This is mine. We are a country founded on our own legends and myths, and in this election year, where everyone is pushing hope, what’s crazy to me is that we still don’t know which of these myths are real. Cain is known as one of the world’s worst villains, but maybe he’s not the bad guy in the story. And why did the world get Superman? Because a little boy named Jerry Siegel heard his father was murdered and, in grief, created a bulletproof man. These stories — about Cain and Abel, about Superman — are not just folklore. They’re stories about us. Our heroes and villains tell us who we are. And sometimes we need to find the truth, even if it means revealing our own vulnerabilities.
For the past 70 years, the public has been told that Superman was created by two teenagers in Cleveland. And that’s true. Action Comics was published in 1938. But what no one realizes is that Superman was actually created in 1932, just weeks after Jerry Siegel’s father was killed in a robbery. So why does no one know the story? Because Jerry Siegel never told anyone. In the thousands of interviews he gave throughout his life, where they asked him where he got the idea for Superman, Jerry never once—not once!—mentions that his father was killed during a robbery. To this day, half the family was told it was a heart attack, while the other half says it was a murder. The story goes back to the two other versions of Superman that were created before the hero we now know and love—one of them, the first version, even has Superman as the main villain. In fact, even in the current version of Superman, when he was first introduced, Superman couldn’t fly. He jumped. He didn’t have heat or x-ray vision. All he was was strong—and bulletproof. The one thing young Jerry’s dad needed.
For me, the interesting part has never been the Superman story; the interesting part is Clark Kent — the idea that all of us, in all our ordinariness — can change the world. That theme is in every single thing I’ve ever worked on, from the novels, to the comics, to “Jack & Bobby.” I believe there is greatness in all of us and once you find what you love, and accept yourself for who you are — that greatness comes out. In every novel, that’s always the journey. They don’t win until they lose — and finally accept themselves for who they are.
Research isn’t magic. It’s just legwork. I spoke to Jerry Siegel’s family, as well as his widow and his daughter, who told me that in all the years that people have written about the Siegels, I’m the first one to actually call and speak with all of them. During the research, I went back and searched through the old newspapers from 1932 just to see what was going on when Jerry’s father was killed. You won’t believe what’s in there.
It’s the same with Cain. According to most modern Bibles, Cain thinks God’s punishment is too much—‘My punishment is greater than I can bear’ is what the text says, which is why Cain is seen as such a remorseless monster. But when you go back to the original text—like in the geniza fragments from Cairo—that same passage can just as easily be translated as My sin is too great to forgive. See the difference there? In this version, Cain feels so awful…so sorry…for what he’s done to poor Abel, he tells God he should never be forgiven. That’s a pretty different view of Cain. Of course, most religions prefer the vicious-Cain. A little threat of evil is always the far better way to fill the seats. But sometimes the monsters aren’t who we think they are.
When I was thirteen years old, my father lost his job and moved us from Brooklyn to Florida. He called it the do-over of life. He was forty years old, had two kids, no job, no place to live, and barely $1,200 to his name. Once we got to Florida, we couldn’t afford babysitters, so we’d go on the job interviews with my Dad. I still remember sitting in a Wendy’s while my he was being interviewed for an insurance job — we had to pretend we didn’t know him, and all I could think was, “I can’t believe my life is being decided in a fast food joint.” From there, my parents used a fake address to get me into the good local public school, and it was there I first started thinking about college. Seeing all those rich kids, and their cars and houses, and how little they appreciated it all…that made a mark in me. It made me hungry, and it gave me my most leaned-on, overused point-of-view: as an outsider. I’ve never been part of the in-crowd. And I never want to be (except on my weakest days). But in that mix of mess that built my life, all the blame and credit began with those poorly planned decisions by my father. It’s an easy joke, but I’ve been writing books to deal with it since.
This book was born at the same time my mother was diagnosed with (now fatal) breast cancer. Every novel is shaded and filled with whatever issue the author is personally wrangling with. My mother’s impending death was clearly mine. She read this book faster than any other, and I read her the final dedication on her deathbed. My mother’s the one who gave me faith in myself and in people and in just simply being who you are. That’s all she knew how to be. The woman who was still shopping at Marshall’s on the day I called her and told her we hit #1 on the bestseller list. It was her best lesson: never ever change for anyone. So it’s no surprise to me that my mother’s best lesson — and the issue of losing a parent — is the strongest theme in the book.
When I write a novel, I paint with one palette: the palette of words. It’s just me and my editor, who keeps me from riding off the cliff. But in a comic book, you’re painting with a brand-new palette. Now you have words and pictures. And you have another person — the artist — who’s affecting the final picture. The artist can take the worst scene and draw the best picture for it, and suddenly I’m a genius. Or they can ruin my carefully concocted geekiness and turn it to mush (which never happens). And then you have TV. There you paint with the palette of…everyone. In a TV show, it’s like trying to push water. You don’t control it. Directors, actors, studios, networks, show-runners, editors, etc all grab the brush. So for a novelist, it’s far harder to release that control. But in the end, all the palettes rely on character. That’s the core of any craft. Today, we all love to rank which is cooler: books, TV, comics, film. But that’s just snobbery. It’s not a hierarchy. It’s a continuum.
Does a book really need a soundtrack? No. And neither does a movie or a TV show. But when you pull on those manipulative strings that music tugs on, you sometimes get something that’s just mesmerizing. And so we built a soundtrack. Sony Music had someone score the key chapters of the book — they sent me the songs — and I rejected most of them. Then we fought and pulled each other’s hair and finally settled on songs that truly evoked the mood of the novel. You can go to a certain chapter, hit PLAY, and read along with music that I believe perfectly represents that chapter. And that’s cool to me. Plus, there’s nothing, just nothing like sitting in a room and hearing someone sing the title track to your own book. That’s neater than Play-Doh.
My wife jokes and says this website is my new religion. And maybe it is. But I really do believe in it. I believe ordinary people change the world and I believe that enough of us can join together to keep Jerry Siegel’s house from destruction. I’m just a guy who went to Cleveland, Ohio and saw that the house where Superman was created was falling apart and a total wreck. So now we’re saving it. We don’t need grants, or political favors, or skeevy politicians. All of those entities let it languish. We’ll save it. Or we’ll at least try. And how could I not believe in that?
know it sounds hard to believe, but yep, Superman red and blue. You can’t miss it. Even if you want to. However, when we restore it, we’ll return it to the true colors when Jerry Siegel lived there.
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