Monday, May 7, 2012

Superman Returns Again...and Again...and Again

QUESTION: When I was a kid, I had a Superman lunchbox. Over the years, I forgot all about it, but recently, as I was going through some boxes in my attic, I discovered it again. If I remember correctly, it’s from 1954. Can you tell me anything about it and does it have any value or should I just put it out with the trash?

ANSWER: You had better take a closer look at that old lunchbox before you toss it out. This particular metal lunchbox, which includes a thermos bottle, depicts Superman doing battle with a robot and inclusive of the original thermos. One like it is presently for sale on eBay for $2,150. The lunchbox, considered rarer than most, joins other Superman collectibles, many of which have gone up in value in recent years. This is particularly the situation when it comes to rare Superman comic books. Depending on their condition and scarcity, the classic ones often fetch big bucks. The 64-page first edition from 1939, containing The Complete Story of the Daring Exploits of the One and Only Superman, including the four Superman stories from Action Comics No. 1-4, sold at auction for $26,000.01 a few years ago. And just the Action Comics #1 sold for $1 million in February 2010.

American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born American artist Joe Shuster created Superman in 1932 while both were living in Cleveland, Ohio. Detective Comics, Inc., later D.C. Comics, bought the rights to the Superman story and debuted him in June of 1938 in Action Comics #1. At the time, America needed some type of hero, even a make-believe one. The Great Depression, a devastating Great Plains drought, and a swelling uneasiness about Nazism had wrenched people's spirits. The arrival of the "Man of Steel" offered a welcome fantasy for kids disheartened by the country’s dismal state of affairs. Over the decades, he subsequently appeared in various radio serials, television programs, films, newspaper strips, and video games.

Widely considered to be an American cultural icon, Superman helped to create the superhero genre and establish its primacy within the American comic book. The character's distinctive blue, red and yellow costume, is said to have been influenced by such comic book characters as Flash Gordon and that of circus strongmen.

Rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father moments before his home planet’s destruction, he was discovered and adopted by a Kansas farmer and his wife, then raised as Clark Kent who later became Superman’s alter ego.

Siegel and Shuster envisioned their character as one who would right wrongs, fighting for social justice and against tyranny. In the original stories, Siegel and Shuster made Superman rough and aggressive. The character attacked and terrorized wife beaters, profiteers, gangsters. Later writers have softened the character and instilled a sense of idealism and moral code of conduct. Although not as cold-blooded as the early Batman, the Superman featured in the comics of the 1930s is unconcerned about the harm his strength may cause, tossing villainous characters in such a manner that fatalities would presumably occur, although these were seldom shown explicitly on the page. By late 1940, editor Whitney Ellsworth instituted a code of conduct that banned Superman from ever killing again.

Today, Superman is commonly seen as a brave and kind-hearted hero with a strong sense of justice, morality and righteousness. After all, he’s the hero of a younger age group. Young people got hooked on Superman's exploits right away. Tales of his origin, superhuman powers and good-over-evil conquest' adventures were just part of the enticement. His, alter-ego as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent with love interest Lois Lane added human interest to the stories as well.

With the release of the next Superman film, there will be another deluge of Superman collectibles. Currently, there are nearly 131,000 Superman items up for auction, in both vintage and newer examples. There’s a huge array of Superman collectibles available to collectors, ranging from toys, games, dolls, lunchboxes; jewelry, clothing and watches to electronics, wall art, statues, records and DVDs.

The earliest paraphernalia, a button proclaiming membership in the Supermen of America club, appeared in 1939. By 1940 the amount of merchandise available increased dramatically, with jigsaw puzzles, paper dolls, bubble gum and trading cards available, as well as wooden or metal figures. By 1942, the character of Superman had been licensed to appear in other media, and the popularity of such merchandise increased. A surge of popularity seems to occur after the opening of each Superman film. The most popular Superman items on eBay seem to be from 1954, 1967, 1978, 1984, and 1998. 

Lunchboxes appeared from 1954 onward. A number of companies, including Adco, Hallmark, Thermos, King-Seeley, and Aladdin made them in either metal or plastic. While most are rectangular, there are some working-man dome-style ones.

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