Guest post by T Campbell.
Can the soul of Western civilization be found in a pair of red briefs? Was our first great superhero at his strongest, his noblest, his superest, before modern interpretations stripped him of his underwear? Is there a connection?
A generation ago, when those red briefs were an inseparable part of Superman’s design, he was the most familiar superhero by a wide margin, leading the field in film adaptations, headlining cartoon shows, and even winning over famous media critics who were fiction writers in their own right. Even now, if you believe superheroes have anything to say to American culture or the human experience, you sort of have to start with him, because he’s the prototype.
Umberto Eco called him “the representative of all his similars”  and Harlan Ellison described him as one of “only five fictional creations known to every man, woman, and child on the planet.” Born in the early hours of a visual, easily reproduced medium, he was popular enough to codify most of what being a superhero meant. The Oxford English Dictionary even mentions him by name in its definition of “superhero”: