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Publication History is unknown.
The first Superman character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was not a hero, but a villain. Their short story "The Reign of the Superman" concerned a bald-headed villain bent on dominating the world. The story did not sell, forcing the two to reposition their character on the right side of the law. In 1935, their Superman story was again rejected by newspaper syndicates wanting to avoid lawsuits, who recognized the character as being similar to a lead character from Philip Wylie's 1930 novel. DC decided to take a chance with Superman, figuring if any lawsuits were filed, they would just drop the feature.
The revised Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, June 1938. Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to the company for $130 and a contract to supply the publisher with material. The Saturday Evening Post reported in 1941 that the pair was being paid still a fraction of DC's Superman profits. In 1946, when Siegel and Shuster sued for more money, DC fired them, prompting a legal battle that ended in 1948, when they signed away any further claim to Superman or any character created from him. DC soon took their names off the byline. Following the huge financial success of Superman: The Movie in 1978 and news reports of their pauper-like existences, Warner Communications gave Siegel and Shuster lifetime pensions of $35,000 per year and health care benefits. In addition, any media production which includes the Superman character must include the credit, "Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster".
Superman first appeared in the flesh at the 1940 New York World's Fair, portrayed by actor Ray Middleton.
During a multimedia career spanning over seventy years, Superman has starred in nearly every imaginable situation, and his powers have increased to the point that he is nearly omnipotent. This poses a challenge for writers: "How does one write about a character who is nearly as powerful as God?" (Superman's Kryptonian name, Kal-El, resembles the Hebrew words for "voice of God") This problem contributed to a decline in Superman's popularity, especially during the 1960s and 1970s under the editorship of Mort Weisinger and then Julius Schwartz, when Marvel Comics brought a new level of character development to mainstream comic books.
Kal-L, the "other" real Superman
After the establishment of DC Comics' Multiverse in the 1960s, it was established retroactively that a second primary Superman lived on the parallel world of Earth-Two. This Superman was supposed to be the Superman of the "Golden Age" comics, while the Silver Age incarnation had his adventures in the then current Earth designated as Earth-One. It was this separation of the two primary versions of the character that was meant to explain away problems of the character, who never ceased publication from the end of the Golden Age, such as one ongoing incarnation since his debut being still in his late twenties while shown in several specific Golden Age stories and not aging during all that time and many other supportive element conflictions. The writers of DC at the time did not originally believe that having two active Supermen would be successful sales and wrote that the Earth-Two Superman only as a one time event to clear up this problem. However the character along with the other now named Earth-Two incarnations proved so successful that Kal-L was brought back as a reoccurring character being featured in the renamed "Superman Family" series and hence un-retired though on a limited basis. However the writers at DC mostly did not want to do two Superman and mostly wrote the Earth-Two Superman almost as a direct copy of the main Superman with only superficial differences such as Kal-L discovered a rocket of Kryptonian origin landing on Earth, which contained his cousin, Kara Zor-L who like the main Supergirl after acclimating to Earth, Kara-L became the superheroine Power Girl.
Despite being almost a parallel some writers started to develop specific differences between the two due to success of the character with older readers. While the success of the "other" Superman was definite, many writers originally did not want to have too many conflicting stories and had Kal-L resigned from the revived Justice Society as a full time active member in order to allow Power Girl to take his place in the team.
The revamped Earth-Two Superman proved so successful that he rejoined the JSA while Power Girl left to join Infinity Inc. while Kal-L's specific background was developed separate from the original Golden Age stories, most notably in a series of stories in the 1970s established that the Earth-Two Superman, after losing his memory thanks to the Wizard, had married his version of Lois Lane in the 1950s (Action Comics #484, (1978)), followed by having him become the editor-in-chief of the Daily Star which were never done to the true Golden Age Superman.
Kal-L was revealed to have been a founding member of the Earth-Two Justice Society in the team's origin story in DC Special #29. In the early 1980s, the Earth-Two Superman was further revamped to have been an active member of the All-Star Squadron during World War II.
During the 1985 miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, the various parallel Earths were collapsed into one, retroactively eliminating Earth-Two and all that it contained. Kal-l, along with his wife Lois Lane-Kent, were spared from universal annihilation that destroyed their source universe, and entered a "paradise" dimension at the end of the series. Kal-L wasn't seen again until the miniseries The Kingdom in 1999, where it was revealed that he had found a means of exiting his dimension, but chose not to at that time. In Infinite Crisis #1 (2005), the Earth-Two Superman was shown as having observed events in the post-Crisis DC Universe from his dimension, and finally decided to re-enter the mainstream DC Universe.
The Earth-Two Superman was written to be different from the primary Superman in every aspect such as his aging and his power levels. For example while incredibly powerful, the Earth-Two Superman is always written as being considerably weaker than the Earth-One Superman. The Superman of Earth-One was written as easily move planets while the Superman of Earth-Two was shown moving ocean liners. When originally introduced as separate character in Justice League of America #79, Kal-L was shown to be an even match to the Earth-One Superman. This would be changed in the very next meeting in order to distinguish the two Justice League of America #91, where the Earth-Two Superman was shown to be definitely less powerful to the "main" Superman though still incredibly powerful. These distinctions would be fleshed out fully as the Earth-Two Superman was used more repeatedly, such as showing Kal-L growing less powerful as he aged over the years, directly aging whereas the Earth-One Superman incarnation seemed to remain permanently youthful, marrying his Lois and focusing openly on his life as Clark Kent while the "main" Superman was almost used exclusively as the hero who fought the"never ending battle for truth justice and the American Way" and never really developing Clark as his real persona.
By the early 1980s, DC Comics had decided that a major change was needed to make Superman more appealing to current audiences. Writer-artist John Byrne joined Superman and re-started with the company requested Man of Steel retelling of his origin. This 1986 reboot brought substantial changes to the character and met huge success at the time, being one of the top-selling books. The re-launch of Superman comic books returned the character to the mainstream, again in the forefront of DC's titles.
All Star Superman, launched in 2005, is an ongoing series under DC's All Star imprint, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely. DC claims that this series will "strip down the Man of Steel to his timeless, essential elements". The All Star imprint attempts to retell some of the history of DC's iconic characters, but outside of the strict DC universe continuity.
Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright was a major revamp of the Post-Crisis Superman and his origin. Waid was assigned the task to streamline the comic origin make is similar to both the movies (with then unreleased "Superman Returns") as well as--perhaps especially--Smallville, which had proven very popular. The following summary is from the 12-issue series.
The cold, fairly dystopian re-imagining of Krypton created by John Byrne was jettisoned. Much like Jeph Loeb and others had done with their "Return to Krypton" arcs, Waid restored the idea of Krypton being more like it had been in the Silver Age--a place of great wonder and myth. In Jor-El's words, the "people grew tired of war, so they made peace; they feared the unknown, so they conquered it with science; and they yearned for heaven, so they created it beneath their very feet...". A substantial change was with the S-shield as well--no longer was it a symbol for his family's house, as it had been in the Silver Age, or merely an "S" standing for Superman, as it had been in Byrne's revamp, but now it was the Kryptonian symbol for hope. It was shown to be a popular symbol, used on flags, paintings, jewelry, and monuments all over Krypton. It was also on a red, blue, and yellow tapestry that was included in Kal-El's rocket ship. Jor-El was still the scientist whom no one would believe, but instead of Kal-El being an embryo when he was rocketed off, he was again said to be a young child.
The Kents were still farmers, as always, but they were even younger than they had been before. Whereas John Byrne had portrayed them as perhaps in their early to mid thirties when they found Kal-El (making them in their mid sixties or perhaps even seventies during Superman's adventures), Waid portrays them as being between 20 and 25 (again to make them closer to their Smallville counterparts). Their characters are also given an overhaul in their personalities to make them more "modern." Martha, for example, is far from the simple lovable, wise farmer's wife who loves to bake and knit. She is portrayed as being fascinated with aliens, U.F.O.s, etc., and even runs her own website dedicated to such stuff when Clark is in his twenties.
The entire dynamic between Jon and Clark regarding his Superman identity has also been reversed. In Byrne's era, Superman was committed to using his powers in secret, and once "outed" he retreated to Smallville, unsure of what to do. It was Jonathan's suggestion that he adopt a costume and dual identity, inspired by the JSA of the 1940s. Waid's story, however, has Clark coming up with the idea of the costume and identity, and shows Jon dismayed at the idea, feeling like Clark is trying to abandon his identity (and, by extension, his connection to his earth family).
Waid also brought about a new (or arguably, reintroduced an old) vision power, sometimes referred to as "soul vision." Essentially, Clark can see the "aura" surrounding a living being--an aura that disappears when they die. Waid introduced this as a way of explaining why Clark feels so compelled to defend life, as he can literally see it. Going along with this power, Waid also changed Clark into a vegetarian. These decisions have met with mixed reactions from fans .
Infinite Crisis and 52 revamp
The writers of DC have again changed the character in some profound ways due to Infinite Crisis and 52, selecting to add and remove certain aspects of the character that have been noted in past incarnations after Waid's Birthright that had proven to be unacceptable to many of the specific printed page fans such as Luthor and Kent being almost the same age and interacting as teenagers which they felt negated much of the printed page character's backstories and development. Many of Waid's "Smallville" series compliant edits have since been removed from the yet "revamped again" current incarnation of the character in order to make the character more appreciated to the expectations of the specific printed page fans of the character, as opposed to making the printed page match the expectations of the now obvious separate and non-conforming incarnation of the character from the television Smallville. The most notable change is in the origin of the present printed page incarnation, who is again a very young babe, almost borne on Earth as done in the Byrne revamp, as opposed to the young toddler that was reflective of return of many of the Silver Age elements of the character in Waid's do over. Also notable is Clark is again an open meat eater enjoying his silver age favorite Beef Wellington, negating or drastically reducing the so called soul vision aspect. While eliminating many of the Birthright series, many of these Silver Age elements are still used in the character and storyline. Superman is again written to appreciate and actively uses his Kryptonian heritage as he helps Lor-Zod and Supergirl fully adjust to life on Earth, rather than just as a historical notation.
The 1940s radio serial, The Adventures of Superman, introduced Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and Inspector Henderson to the Superman story. The series also introduced kryptonite, and told the first stories about Superman meeting Batman.
Narrator Bill Kennedy intoned at the start of each program: "Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superman! Yes, it's Superman - strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman - who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way."
The first animated Superman series was a string of eight-minute cartoon shorts produced by Max and Dave Fleischer for Fleischer studios, Superman. Beginning in 1941, Fleischer Studios produced nine animated segments of Superman, at which point production was switched over to Famous Studios, where the series continued until 1943. In total, seventeen episodes were completed and have been widely released on both VHS and DVD formats throughout the years.
Superman came to the silver screen in two live-action movie serials in the 1940s, portrayed by Kirk Alyn.
Superman returned to the silver screen in 1978's Superman: The Movie. It spawned three sequels of varying degrees of success and quality.
In 2006, the long languishing Superman movie franchise got a restart with Superman Returns. Director Bryan Singer has said that the continuity is "branching off from" elements of "the first two Superman films with Christopher Reeve," which serve as, as he puts it, a "vague history." Thus, the film disconsiders the plot of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Superman: The Animated Series ran from 1996-2000 and followed the adventures of Superman as he defended both Metropolis and the entire Earth.
The title for episodes airing under the title The New Batman Superman Adventures is The New Superman Adventures, as acknowledged by WB.
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- Clark Kent is the secret identity of Superman. Kent, as opposed to Clark, is traditionally presented as behaving in a more introverted or "mild-mannered" manner compared to his superheroic self.
As Clark Kent, Superman has always worn his costume underneath his Clark Kent clothes, which lends itself to easy transference between the two personalities. In the wake of John Byrne's The Man of Steel, the contemporary reboot of Superman continuity, many traditional aspects of Clark Kent were dropped in favor of giving him a more aggressive and extroverted personality, including such aspects as making Kent a top football player in high school, along with being a successful author. Recently, some aspects of this change have been dropped, in favor of bringing back elements of the earlier "mild-mannered" version of Kent.
In Metropolis, Clark Kent works as a reporter at the Daily Planet, "a great metropolitan newspaper" which allows him to keep track of ongoing events where he might be of help. Largely working on his own, his identity is easily kept secret. Fellow reporter Lois Lane became the object of Clark's/Superman's romantic affection. Lois's affection for Superman and her rejection of Clark's clumsy advances have been a recurring theme in Superman comics, television, and movies.
Some fans have noted that in order for the disguise to be credible, Clark has to be at least as skilled an actor as Christopher Reeve himself; in the Birthright mini-series, young Clark Kent studied the Meisner technique so that he could seamlessly move between his Clark and Superman personas.
- Superman's "S" shield has differed in the different eras. The modern Superman, under John Byrne, had the "S" as nothing more than that: just an S which stood for Superman, stitched together by Martha Kent after Superman's debut in Metropolis. With Mark Waid's Birthright series, the "S" shield was re-imagined as the Kryptonian symbol for "hope." After Infinite Crisis, it was further revealed that an inverted "S" shield was the symbol for resurrection.
- There have been a number of TV shows and movies on Superman.
- The TV show Smallville focuses on a teenage Clark Kent.
- Prior to Superman: Birthright, Superman's favorite food was Beef Bourguignon with Ketchup, but following Mark Waid's retcon, Superman is now a vegetarian.
- The use of the name 'Clark' came from actor Clark Gable. The name 'Kent' came from Kent Taylor, actor and the brother-in-law of Jerry Siegel's wife.
- The prospect of Superman and Wonder Woman as a couple has been an ongoing debate among fans. In the John Byrne revamp of Superman, Superman felt a very strong attraction to Wonder Woman, even to the point of dreaming and fantasizing about her. While Superman initially thought romance would never be a part of his life due to his crime fighting, he thought for a time that his subconscious was telling him that Wonder Woman was the closest match he would ever find in a potential romantic partner. There have also been hints over the years that Wonder Woman herself is attracted to Superman.
- According to official DC facts, Superman stands 6 foot 3 inches and weighs 225 pounds. His given age has varied over the decades; during the 1970s and 1980s, his age in most stories was 29, while the timeline given in Zero Hour #0 and most stories written since then increased his age to 35.
- One of Superman's favorite snacks are soft pretzels from a neighborhood vendor named Mahjoub.
- Actor Michael Dangerfield lent his voice to the character of Superman on the Krypto the Superdog animated series.
- Actor Yuri Lowenthal provides the voice for Superman-X, a 41st century clone of Superman on the Legion of Super-Heroes animated series.
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