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History

Superman is DC's first super-hero and one of the most popular and most iconic heroes, both in and out of universe.

Comics

Origins

Superman Clark 1935

Early sketch of Superman/Clark Kent

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.

Golden Age (1938-1955)

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Close-up of Action Comics #1, the character's first published appearance

The revised Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, June 1938. Although some elements were already present in that seminal first issue -mild-mannered Clark Kent works for a Metropolis newspaper, loves his co-worker Lois Lane and is secretly an alien from planet Krypton who calls himself Superman-, most of ingredients usually associated with the mythos would be added during the next decades.

Superman would prove to be an instant hit, and Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to the company for $130 and a contract to supply the publisher with material, which led to decades of legal warring over the character's rights. Superman soon became the star of Action Comics -back then an assembly magazine-, and one year later (June, 1939), his first solo title started publication.

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Ray Middleton as Superman, 1940

Superman first appeared in the flesh at the 1940 New York World's Fair, portrayed by actor Ray Middleton.

In March 1941, DC published World's Best #1, a crossover title featuring their most famous characters, Superman, Batman and Robin. The book -renamed World's Finest after the first issue, established Superman and Batman lived in the same world and were good friends.

In January 1945, DC decided to start publishing Superman's childhood adventures. In More Fun Comics #101 was published Superboy's first story where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster narrated Superman's origin, incidentally retconning his first appearance which established he began his public career after reaching manhood. After More Fun Comics #107, Superboy's adventure were movied to Adventure Comics Vol 1, starting with Adventure Comics #103 (April 1946). Shortly after Superboy Vol 1 started publication in March-April of 1949. Superboy's adventures would delve into Clark Kent past and his parents Jonathan and Martha Kent until 1985 and would introduce Lana Lang.[1]

Gradually, Siegel -and at the beginning Shuster- would swell the ranks of his supporting cast and Rogues Gallery, sometimes borrowing characters of The Adventures of Superman radio show like Perry White[2] and James Olsen[3]

In 1940, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster pitched "The K-Metal from Krypton", a story which would introduce Kryptonite and where Superman would learn about his origins and reveal his identity to Lois Lane.[4]. Nonetheless, their story was rejected, but the writers of the Superman Radio Show would introduce Kryptonite in 1943, and it ended appearing in the Superman comic books in 1949, the same year Superman learn his origins.

1950 would mark the year when Superman met other Kryptonian survivors for first time: Mala, Kizo and U-Ban, three Kryptonian criminals.[5]

Around that time, Mort Weisinger, who became the editor of the Superman and Batman titles in 1941, began to put more emphasis on science-fiction stories.

Silver Age (1955-1971)

Adventure Comics Vol 1 210

Krypto hails the beginning of the Silver Age

It's usually considered Superman's Silver Age started in March 1955 with Krypto's first appearance.[6] During that period, writers Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton and later Jerry Siegel, under Mort Weisinger's stewardship would introduce most of concepts Superman is known for. Old concepts like Superman's Secret Sanctuary[7] would be revamped in the Fortress of Solitude.[8]

Superman was so popular during that period that DC started publishing titles featuring his supporting cast. In October of 1954 Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen Vol 1 started publication. Four years later in April 1958 that book was joined by Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane Vol 1.

In March 1958, Otto Binder and Al Plastino introduced the Legion of Super-Heroes, a team of future heroes who had been inspired by Superboy's present day's adventures.[9] The Legion of Super-Heroes would remain one of the most profitable DC's properties, although their strip would move from one magazine to another (Adventure Comics, Action Comics and Superboy) before headlining their own title.

In July 1958, Superman met one of his worst enemies, Brainiac, and the Bottle City of Kandor, both created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino.[10]

Action Comics 252

Superman meets family

In May 1959 another important, enduring concept was added to the Superman mythos when Superman met Supergirl.[11] Born Kara Zor-El in Argo City, Supergirl was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, inspired by the former's creation Mary Marvel, and would soon gain her own supporting cast: Zor-El, Allura In-Ze, Dick Malverne, Streaky, Fred Danvers, Edna Danvers... Her strip was Action Comics' regular backup feature from Action Comics #252 (May, 1959) to Action Comics #376 (May, 1969) when she was moved to Adventure Comics starting in Adventure Comics #381. Her first long story-arc Supergirl: The Unknown Supergirl is one of the first super-hero comic-book multi-part sagas.

Prior to her creation, DC had gauged reader interest in the concept with Super-Girl in Superman #123 (August, 1958).

Two months after Supergirl's creation, Binder and Plastino introduced Bizarro, Superman's imperfect clone created by Lex Luthor.[12]

Adventure Comics #283 came out in April 1961 and introduced the Phantom Zone, created by Robert Bernstein and George Papp.

Superman v.1 149

Superman #149 - One of many "Deaths of Superman"

Another permanent fixture of that period were "Imaginary Stories" that took place out of regular continuity and featured alternate versions of the characters. Initially they were imagined tales, but later they would be reclassified as alternate universes. Since they were out of continuity stories, writers were free to change the status quo in ways would never be allowed in the main continuity. Superman #149 "The Death of Superman" (November, 1961), was one of such tales. Lex Luthor tricked Superman and the world into believing he had reformed, and then he lured Superman into a trap that would lead to the Man of Steel's permanent death. However, Luthor wasn't aware of Supergirl's existence. Supergirl would capture Lex and he would be trialed by a Kandorian court and banished to the Phantom Zone.

By 1961, Superman was a very different character from his 1938 self due to his wildly different backstory and other differences. In order to explain away the discrepancies between the 40's and 60's characters, Julius Schwartz came up with the concept of the Multiverse. In September 1961 came out The Flash #123 "The Flash of Two Worlds", that established the existence of Earth-One and Earth-Two. Kal-L was the original Superman who debuted in 1938 and worked in the Daily Star and Kal-El was the Superman who had existed since the mid 50's.

Bronze Age (1971-1985)

Superman v.1 233

Superman #233 - The dawn of a new age

In 1971, Julius Schwartz took over from Weisinger as editor of the Superman titles, a position he would hold until 1986. Schwartz considered the Superman titles needed a new direction: Superman and Supergirl were too powerful, and a lot of stories relied overly on gimmicks such like Kryptonite. Looking to correct those perceived issues, Dennis O'Neil and Curt Swan penned and drew Superman: Sandman Saga where Clark Kent started working as a newscaster for Galaxy Communications, all Kryptonite on Earth was turned into harmless iron and Superman lost two thirds of his power. At the same time, as part of the advertised new direction, Linda Danvers graduated college, moved to San Francisco where she'd work as a cub photographer for KSF-TV Station and showed off a new costume.[13]

Nonetheless, Dennis O'Neil Superman was rejected by the readers, forcing Schwarz to revert Superman back to his previous level of power as soon as "Sandman Saga" was over. Still several changes such like Clark Kent's new job stuck, and from that point on the tone of the Superman comics would be a bit more serious and less light-hearted, as concepts such like differently-colored varieties of Kryptonite or the Legion of Super-Pets all but disappeared. And writers such like Elliot S. Maggin and Cary Bates would explore different sides of the Man of Steel.

Superman Family Vol 1 200

Superman Family was an anthology title

Sadly, the Superman spin-off titles were victims of DC's 70's implosion. Supergirl Vol 1, Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane Vol 1 and Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen Vol 1 were cancelled and replaced with Superman Family Vol 1 in May 1974, a 100-page anthology series published from May of 1974 until September of 1982. The numbering sequence began with issue #164, picking up from "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen". Each issue of Superman Family contained several stories spotlighting various characters within the Superman universe including Superboy, Supergirl, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Krypto, the adventures of Nightwing and Flamebird in Kandor, the private life of Clark Kent and the adventures of the older Earth-Two versions of Superman and Lois Lane. The series began publication on a bi-monthly schedule but changed to a monthly format in 1981. In September 1982, Superman Family was cancelled and only Supergirl was given another ongoing (with a Lois Lane backup strip).

In 1976, the Superboy title also underwent changes. The Legion of Super-Heroes had been regular supporting cast members since Superboy #197, but after Superboy #221 the title was officially changed to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1, and in October 1977 Superboy's adventures would be moved to "Adventure Comics".[14]

In spite of the new and shifting directions, Superman's origin remained constant throughout the whole Pre-Crisis era, even though it was every so often explored and retold in issues such like Action Comics #500, Amazing World of Superman #1 or minis like Krypton Chronicles Vol 1.

Showcase 99 01

Kal-L (shown with Earth-One "S" shield) retiring from the Earth-Two JSA (Showcase #99)

Meanwhile, the Earth-Two line of books didn't shy away from shaking the status quo off. In All-Star Comics #58 (February, 1976) Gerry Conway, Ric Estrada and Wally Wood revealed the original Superman had a cousin called Power Girl. In Showcase #99, Superman retired from the Justice Society of America to let Kara Zor-L assume his position. Later he married Lois Lane[15] and became the editor-in-chief of the Daily Star.

Nonetheless, his huge popularity meant he eventually rejoined the JSA while Power Girl left to join Infinity, Inc.. 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.

DC Comics Presents 28

DC Comics Presents, Superman's Team-Up series

In July 1978 DC started to publish a Superman team-up title, DC Comics Presents Vol 1. In each issue, Superman teamed up with or came upon a different hero. The title would last ninety-seven issues until cancellation in 1986.

In 1980 New Adventures of Superboy and Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 began publication, the latter with issue #259, continuing the numbering sequence from "Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes". This series continued publication under the title Legion of Super-Heroes until issue #313, where it was renamed "Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes". During this time, a second ongoing Legion title, Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 3 began publication, running concurrently with Volume 2. With issue #326, Tales of the Legion began reprinting the initial issues from Legion (Volume 3) until its cancellation with issue #354. Volume 3 continued publication for a total of 63 issues, and came to an end in 1987.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Crisis on Infinite Earths 7

Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And Superman will never be the same

Unfortunately, the sales of the Superman titles showed an alarming decline in the early 80's. Supergirl and Superboy's second ongoing were cancelled in 1984. Initially both charactes were going to continue in a new title DC Double Comics, but those plans fell through. World's Finest, DC Comics Presents and Legion of Super-Heroes (Volume 3) would also be cancelled two or three years later.

Around those years, creatives claiming Superman was held back by the existence other Kryptonian survivors and the character needed a full revamp made their voices heard until they were listened by DC President Jenette Kahn.

During the 1985 miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, the various parallel Earths were collapsed into one, retroactively eliminating Earth-Two. Supergirl died and her existence would be forgotten in the surviving reality.

Prior to the reality reset, though, Alan Moore and Curt Swan were allowed to work together on Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Pre-Crisis Superman's swan song and a heartfelt to the most successful incarnation of the character.

Dark Age (1986-2000)

Superman 0036

John Byrne's new Superman

After the Crisis, newcomer to DC writer and artist John Byrne was hired to reboot Superman. In October 1986 came out the first issue of The Man of Steel (Volume 1) mini-series that rebooted Superman with a new and substantially changed origin. In the new continuity, Krypton was a cold, dystopic world, the Kents were still alive and around, Superman was born on Earth, was the only Kryptonian survivor, never was Superboy, never knew about his origins until after starting out his super-hero career, didn't care about Krypton, was noticeably less powerful, and wasn't JLA's co-founder.

John Byrne's reboot 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. After the initial uptick, though, Superman's sales and popularity started to decline again. And Superboy's existence being retconned out sent the Legion titles into a tailspin.

During the late 80's and 90's there was four Superman monthlies: Action Comics -which was turned into a weekly ensemble magazine for a while-, Adventures of Superman Vol 1 -Superman (Volume 1) renamed in order to retain the numbering-, Superman Vol 2 and Superman: Man of Steel Vol 1. Editor Mike Carlin ensured a steady level of quality and a tight continuity, but after the Fall of Metropolis storyline, which wrapped up all ongoing plots started by Man of Steel, the titles began to lose steam, and the writer found themselves severely hampered by the editorial veto against introducing more Kryptonian characters and delving into Kryptonian lore.

John Byrne's origin story also was tweaked during the mid-90's event Zero Hour.

Mercury Age (2001-2011)

Superman 0012

Superman's restored supporting cast

By 2001, it was agreed that strict adherence to John Byrne's origin was hindering Superman's evolution and success. In Superman (Volume 2) #166 (March 2001), Jeph Loeb started Superman: Return to Krypton, a story arc that intended to bring Superman's Silver Age origin back without writing Man of Steel out, as well as bringing Krypto back. Return to Krypton wasn't successful and would be quickly ignored, but new attempts to rewrite Superman's origin would follow.

In 2003, 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 and make it similar to "Superman Returns") as well as Smallville (TV Series). That same year, Many Happy Returns proved the original Kara Zor-El was still popular, and Superman: Man of Steel Vol 1 was cancelled.

In 2004, Superman (Volume 2) #200 jettisoned the 1986 origin definitely, and Jeph Loeb's Superman/Batman: The Supergirl from Krypton brought Kara Zor-El back.

In 2005 DC launched All-Star Superman Vol 1 1, an award-winning limited series written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely that paid homage to the Pre-Crisis Superman.

2005-2006 Infinite Crisis event changed Superman again, restoring parts of his Pre-Crisis past such like his Superboy career or his JLA co-founder status. Superman Volume 2 was cancelled and Adventures of Superman was renamed back to Superman Vol 1. Supergirl Vol 5 continued publication.

In 2009 Geoff Johns wrote Superman: Secret Origin Vol 1 six-issues limited series in order to set Superman's new origin, blended elements of Pre-Crisis Superman and his Post-Crisis incarnation.

In 2011, the Flashpoint event rebooted the universe DC again.

Post-Flashpoint Era

In November 2011, all Superman books were cancelled and replaced with new volumes. Action Comics Vol 2 and Supergirl Vol 6 told the origins of the new Superman and Supergirl respectively, as Superman Vol 3 focused on Superman's current-day adventures and Superboy Vol 6 told the adventures of the new Superboy.

Serials

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."

Movies

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 and a Supergirl spin-off of varying degrees of success and quality.

In 2006, the 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."

Television

  • 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.
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DC Animated Superman

  • 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.
  • 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.

Video Games

Due to his popularity, Superman has starred or been featured in a large number of video games since the Bronze Age, albeit reception has been mixed.

Novels


Related Articles


Notes

  • 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".


Trivia

  • 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.
  • Superman's favorite food was Beef Bourguignon with Ketchup, but in Superman: Birthright he's 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.
  • 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.[16]


Links and References


Footnotes