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The History of Invulnerability Hits the Stage

With Brad Meltzer’s Book of Lies, his estate's legal efforts to retain certain copyrights to his greatest creation and, now, the play The History of Invulnerability, it seems that Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel is more in the news than ever before.
Written by playwright David Bar Katz, The History of Invulnerability is currently on stage at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park, where it will be performed until May 2nd.

The story kicks off during the last few minutes of Siegel’s life, where he begins to have that life “flash” before his eyes. Offers Comic Book Resources, “The drama focuses on Siegel's ‘tumultuous relationship with his legendary comic-book character’ juxtaposed against Superman's impact on our planet in the 1940s. Across the globe, a little boy in a concentration camp discovers a copy of Action Comics and begins to believe that Superman is on his way to liberate the camp. As the story unfolds, both Siegel and the audience begin to realize that even Superman has limitations when it comes to our tragic world.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer adds, “Was Superman born fully formed in the mind of a kid in Cleveland in 1938? Of course not - our histories inform us. So it is probably not coincidental that young Siegel's father was murdered, or that generations of his family had suffered oppression in the Ukraine before coming to America, strangers in a strange but free land.

“Siegel was certainly not unaffected by current affairs, particularly the extermination of the Jews in Nazi camps. And so there are scenes at Auschwitz, where a pale, skinny boy (a terrific Richard Lowenburg) treasures a battered copy of a Superman comic book and escapes horror by waiting for him to come to the rescue.

“As Superman fought criminal masterminds, Siegel and partner Joe Shuster had their own battle. This is where Justice and the American Way come in. Naïve kids late in the Great Depression, they signed away their rights to their character for a pittance and the courts upheld the ownership of a greedy, amoral corporation.”

In a 2009 interview with Comic Book Resources, Katz had previewed, "It's almost a stream-of-consciousness of Jerry's life. We see his childhood through to his death. It also focuses heavily on the Holocaust, that being the context in which this superhero was created – the psychological impact of that being a generative force for [the creation of] superheroes. There's a sense of helplessness about the Holocaust and Superman rises out of that.

"Some episodes of Jerry's life,” he elaborated, “are going to be drawn in comic book form and projected onto the stage. It's a play on the idea of what is fact and what is fiction. Actors will act out some things, and then some events will be portrayed in comic book form on stage."

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, this plan came to
fruition: "Invulnerability is told in a series of connected scenes, some closely, some loosely, which gradually form into a cohesive and powerful whole, thanks to Michael Haney's astute direction, a vivid acting ensemble and a wrap-around-the-theater stage design that has a G-force pull on the audience. Haney knocks it out of the park again. The play has three constants: Siegel (David Deblinger), Superman (Steve Wilson) and the world of comics. Period-style comic book panels wrap around the walls, enveloping the audience, and as the story unfolds in live action on stage, it's simultaneously shown comics style, with original comics panels by Joe Staton (zowie!) on several screens around the theater.”

Noted Katz, “There's a whole depiction of Superman coming to Germany. He goes to Germany and literally fights Nazis. You think about what was going on in America at the same time as the Holocaust and it's just sort of mind-blowing. [Superman] is sweeping America and all of these American kids are reading it, and then you think of all the kids [in concentration camps]. What would it be like if one of them got a hold of a Superman comic and he allowed himself to imagine and believe that it was true? How would that play out in his imagination if there was this force that would be so much more powerful than the Nazis or any of the other people destroying his world?"

Katz revealed that he definitely plays with reality and fantasy throughout the play. "There's an element where everything you're seeing is true to life, but it's also a projection of what's going on in Jerry's head – fantasies and fears about what's going on in his life,” said Katz. "In a way, everything that you're seeing in this play is a dramatization or projection of something in his head, whether it's actually true or figurative."

Hopefully The History of Invulnerability will move to stages beyond Cincinnati.

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