Umberto Eco analyzed The Myth of Superman in a very important article that makes several assertions about the Superman myth and comic books in general. I assert that this analysis is based on how the Superman story used to be. I agree with Eco that the Superman myth is of great importance. The Superman myth is perhaps the most important myth in modern American culture. Perhaps far more people can tell you the story of Superman than the story of Hercules. The changes in the Superman myth tell us a great deal about how society has changed.
Eco asserts that Superman develops in an extraordinary climate were the reader does not know what has happened before. Superman does not consume himself. This cryptic phrase means that Superman unlike a character in a novel does not change from story to story and does not develop as a character. Superman shares timelessness with other mythic characters such as Hercules. There is an illusion of “continuous present”.
Eco makes several claims about the civic consciousness and political consciousness of Superman. Superman could take over the government rather than using his cosmic level powers to combat petty street crime. Superman could affect the causes of crime like social causes but chooses not to. This is a fair characterization of Superman from his inception all the way through the 1970’s. The actions of Superman are absurd. Superman literally saves cats while watching the world burn. The shift in the average age of comic books readers led to readers that recognized this absurdity and Superman had to be changed to fit the needs of these readers. Superman was depowered.
Is the story of Superman actually a myth? A myth is timeless and the fact that the Superman story has been changed to make the story more current and marketable suggests the Superman story is an intellectual property driven by market forces and is not timeless unlike a myth. On the other hand, many people familiar with the Superman story may only be aware of an archetype version of the Superman story that may be timeless because it affects some core element of the reader’s psyche unlike revisions of Superman. The Superman Eco describes may be in fact the Superman most of the world still knows and identifies with.