The tough, blue-collar roots of Superman's creators are getting a fresh look on the superhero's 75th anniversary.
Creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster lived just a few blocks apart in the Cleveland neighborhood that shaped their teenage lives, their dreams and the imagery of the Man of Steel.
In the city's Glenville neighborhood, still in the throttling grip of the Great Depression, Siegel and Shuster labored on their creation for years before finally selling Superman to a publisher.
The Man of Steel became a Depression-era bootstrap strategy for the Siegel/Shuster team, according to Brad Ricca, a professor at nearby Case Western Reserve University who uses Superman in his classes.
"They really just saw it as a way out," he said.
In his upcoming book "Super Boys," Ricca says the story of Superman's creation is mostly about their friendship: two boys dreaming of "fame, riches and girls" in a time when such dreams are all the easier to imagine because of the crushing economic misery.
Ricca said Siegel and Shuster reflected Cleveland's ethnic mix: both were sons of Jewish immigrants, struggled during the Depression and hustled to make something of themselves.
"The Depression is all about, you know, if nobody is going to give you a job, you make your own, you find your own niche and we find that's what they are doing," Ricca said.
Superman's first appearance, in Action Comics No. 1, was April 18, 1938. The first and greatest superhero has gone on to appear in nearly 1,000 Action Comics and has evolved with the times, including a 1940s radio serial, a 1950s TV series and as a reliable staple for Hollywood. Pop culture expert Charles Coletta at Bowling Green State University said Superman ranks globally with George Washington and the Super Bowl as American icons.
But it wasn't just hardscrabble circumstances that tempered the Man of Steel, Siegel's daughter said.
Laura Siegel Larson said Cleveland's public library, comic pages and high school mentors all nurtured her father's creativity.
"The encouragement that he received from his English teachers and the editors at the Glenville High School newspaper and the literary magazine gave my dad a real confidence in his talents," she said by phone from Los Angeles.
The school even allowed Siegel to mimeograph the science-fiction magazine he wrote and sold by mail subscription, she said.
The tale of Superman's first moments begins in Siegel's bedroom. He once recalled coming up with the idea while looking up at the stars and imaging a powerful hero who looked out for those in distress.
Today, Siegel's home is easy to pick out on a street with a mix of renovated and dilapidated homes: a stylized red Superman "S'' adorns the fence and a sign identifies the home as "the house where Superman was born."
And like the Man of Steel, the neighborhood is tough.
"You better have 'S' on your chest if you come out after dark," grinned Tommie Jones, 50, helping move furniture several doors away.
Hattie Gray, 61, who moved into the home nearly 30 years ago unaware of its history, has gotten used to the parade of Superman fans walking by or knocking, trying to savor a piece of comics lure.
"I get people all the time, people all the way from Japan, from Australia," she said. "It's a great joy to live here."
The top floor, where Siegel went to write, still offers the nighttime view of the sky that inspired Siegel.