The Twelve Labors of Jerry Siegel

Jerry Siegel fascinates me- I really wish we knew more about him. I think there's a lot more to know about him. I very much get the feeling that he was the real powerhouse behind Superman, and that his interests may be a lot broader than some might think. However, in trying to piece together this Action #1 mystery, we need to see if Superman incorporated any other imagery taken from the Hercules iconography. Looking at the great classical art, I'm astonished by how familiar it is from the comics. An interviewer asked me why I thought the pulp superheroes all wore elobrate outfits and the comic superheroes were in spandex. I told her it was because these kids were immersed in the Neoclassical movement- these Greco-Roman figures were everywhere you looked.

Following Gerard's lead, I looked up covers from Siegel's 1940's tenure on Superman and Action, and it was amazing how similar it all was to the Hercules imagery ( I agree with Gerard that Shuster was following Siegel's lead on all of this, since these covers are by other artists). But I'm after specific motifs- seeing if Siegel was actually looking at that same material. I'm willing to bet the farm that he was:


Hercules first labor was to kill the Nemean lion. The ancient world is filled with art depicting this battle. So is Action # 27.


This 1945 cover pictures Superman battling a giant eagle (or vulture?) in order to free Lois.


This mirrors the myth of Hercules killing a giant eagle (often a vulture) in order free Prometheus.


A whole host of early Superman covers picture him pulling on giant cannons or some other formidable looking object in order demonstrate his super-strength.

And the very same imagery is everywhere in ancient, Renaissance and Neoclassical art.

Superman isn't like Hercules, he is Hercules updated, for a modern audience. Siegel threw in some motifs from the Bible stories, but many scholars believe that those stories are adaptation of earlier myths.

I still stand by the diagrams I've listed below- this is merely background, showing how these old stories were recycled. And what is not often taught in school today is that Hercules was not just a heroic figure, he evolved into a bona fide god. There were Hercules cults all over the ancient world, and many Roman emperors took him as their personal deity.

Jack Kirby did a great Kamandi story where a tribe of apes did the very same thing with Superman. It's funny, I've gotten a few scathing emails for following this story- Action#1 is a holy icon to some people. Was Kirby being prophetic, yet again?

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