The Man of Steel has gone through countless iterations since his first appearance nearly 80 years ago.
Maybe you loved that George Reeves black-and-white version, or those beloved Christopher Reeve (no relation) movies. Perhaps you were alive back in 1938 and still remember that socialist crusader from “Action Comics #1” who couldn’t even fly; or maybe you’re still harboring a major crush on Dean Cain from “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” (who could blame you?)
Regardless of your personal favorite, I think it’s pretty clear: we can’t get enough of the Last Son of Krypton. But why is that?
It’s not just the Hollywood marketing machine. And it’s probably not the over-the-pants red underwear. (though hey, ya never know.) It’s almost as if Superman himself used his sun-fueled superpowers to blast his way out of those flimsy newsprint pages and into our everyday lives.
Maybe it has something to do with the ordinary heroes who wear that familiar “S”-symbol out into the real world as they fight for truth, justice, and the American Way. Here are just a few of them:
1. Christopher Dennis — who actually makes a living as a Superman impersonator on Hollywood Boulevard — stepped in to save a Wonder Woman impersonator who was accosted on the famed tourist strip.
On a separate occasion, the intrepid Mr. Dennis also helped return a stolen collector’s item to a local business.
2. Antonio Cortes stopped an ATM robbery in-progress in January 2016 on his way back from a charity event…where he just-so-happened to be dressed as Superman.
3. These students, cheerleaders, and football players at Morristown West High School, to honor the memory of their late classmate, Jonathan Fluker. Fluker, a defensive lineman, was given the nickname “Superman” during his 6-year battle with cancer — even wearing the iconic crest beneath his tuxedo at the prom, which he attended in a wheelchair after the disease destroyed his spinal cord.
5. This adorable little girl dressed up in blue, red, and gold to show that not even the “bird flu” scare of 2005 could stop her from playing in the park.
6. Michael Wheeler of Kansas City travelled to Ferguson, Missouri to spread peace and cheer during the riots in August 2014. He’s also a marathon runner and Evangelist, and works his Superman costume into his life whenever he can.
7. This champion promoted union rights at a 2012 Labor Day rally in Costa Rica.
8. Danny Arnold walked his daughter to school on “Superhero Day” just so she wouldn’t feel embarrassed.
9. This guy, who protested pension reforms (and, apparently, pants) at a rally in France in October 2010.
10. Damon Cole is a senior corporal with the Dallas police, as well as a member of Heroes, Cops, and Kids, a group that, well, dresses up in superhero costumes for kids. In April 2015, he made an 11-hour drive to surprise seven-year-old Bryce Schottel who was battling Leukemia.
11. This man stood up with the police in Italy against right-wing American interventionism.
12. Ben Mudge of Belfast is a personal trainer who recently graced the cover of Men’s Fitness in the UK. He also suffers from Cystic Fibrosis — and always wears a Superman t-shirt at his Cystic Fibrosis training clinics, to further inspire the kids.
13. This beautiful couple showed their pride at the 2005 New York Pride Parade.
14. Luke Junior, a security guard who’s also a boxer and whose already sounds like a superhero, stopped a bacon burglary in July 2013. He, too, was allegedly wearing the crest en route to a charity event.
15. This woman, who participated in a world record abseil attempt at Twickenham Rugby Stadium in 2005 to help raise money for Cancer Research UK.
16. This little Palestinian boy attended a protest at the West Bank wall of separation.
17. Scott LoBaido was serious about fighting for the American way when he took part in a demonstration outside the the Supreme Court during the contested 2000 election.
18. Tori Phillips literally rescued a child from a burning building in East Dallas in 2014.
19. And finally, this dog, whose adorable heroism knows no bounds.
These (mostly) human heroes might not have super-strength or X-ray vision, but they share Superman’s greatest power: hope.
There’s a reason why we keep telling Superman stories over and over and over again. It’s because Superman is the embodiment of hope, a fictional character who somehow inspires us all to make the world better.
Sometimes the specifics of that message change — which is why we have so many reboots and different iterations — but the ultimate idea is always the same. As my favorite Superman writer Grant Morrison said, “Superman represents our best, golden selves…an Enlightenment ideal of what we could be if we tried.”
The idea that an impossibly powerful immigrant who is literally fueled by sunshine could come to America and believe so strongly in the ideals of his adopted home that he volunteers to be a champion of the oppressed, and accepts no prize or glory for his good deeds? That doesn’t happen in real life — but it should. And the fact that these real-world heroes have adopted that same symbol of hope is a sign that we’re on the right path.