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Secret Identity

You may already know that two Glenville High School students created Superman here in the 1930s. But Brad Ricca delved into the origins of the two teenage creators for his film Last Son, a documentary that revisits the city and times in which Siegel and Shuster lived. It explores tragedy and unearths long-forgotten influences that show how the iconic superhero the world knows today as the Man of Steel was forged by the Cleveland of their youth.
Erick Trickey
On Saturdays, when he was growing up, Brad Ricca would ride along on his father’s window sales rounds, listening to his tales of Cleveland and imagining the city of the past.

His favorite story was how two teens from Glenville, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, created the first comic superhero — one of the world’s most instantly recognizable characters, the ultimate double-identity figure, the American man idealized by high-flying imagination. Shuster, the original illustrator of Superman, had gone to the same middle school as Ricca’s father, and they’d had the same art teacher.

“Even as a kid,” says Ricca, who’s from Westlake, “the idea that Superman was from here was really cool.”

Now Ricca is 38, a lecturer at Case Western Reserve University who co-teaches a freshman seminar on superhero comics. A few years ago, he picked up Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, a 2004 book by Gerard Jones. It described how Siegel had written the story of Superman and Shuster had brought him to life on the page, and the tragedy of how they sold Superman to their publisher for $130 then lost their jobs producing their creation after they sued to regain the rights.

A single paragraph stood out: Jones wrote that Jerry Siegel’s father had been murdered in a robbery at his clothing store. Ricca, like Jones, thought that never-before-reported story might be a key to understanding Siegel and his famous character. Yet the account was vague. Something about it didn’t add up.

Check back Jan. 2 for the complete story.

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