Clark Jerome Kent (Adopted name), Kal-El (Birth name)
Action Comics (Vol. 1) #1
(published April 18, 1938,cover-dated June 1938)
Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Daily Planet (as Clark Kent), Galaxy Communications (as Clark Kent), Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes, The Justice Society of America, The Black Lantern Corps.
Gangbuster, Jordan Elliot, Nightwing, Nova, Superboy, Doc Fission
Base of Operations
Superhuman strength, speed, agility, reflexes, hearing, longevity, Eternal Youth, stamina, intelligence, Invulnerability, Heat Vision, Flight, Freezing breath, Super breath, Multiple extrasensory and vision powers not limited to but including X-ray vision, Healing factor
Skills and Abilities
Award Winning Reporter and Writer, Master Hand-to-hand combatant, Master martial artist, Fighting Experience, Master Strategist, Robotics Expertise (pre-Crisis)
Tools and Weapons
Phantom Zone Projector
Superman is a superhero in the DC Universe and one of the most famous and iconic characters created for DC Comics and one of the first superheroes.
The last son of a dying world, a young Kal-El was sent to Earth before his homeworld was destroyed and was adopted by a couple. Learning that he had powers greater than those of mortal men and chose to use those to help others as Superman.
Though Superman has existed in many continuities, most of the general details are the same. When details are added related to new continuities, the new details will be noted.
- This is a brief overview of the Superman of Earth-Two. For a more detailed overview, including his appearances after the Silver Age, see Superman (Earth-Two)
Kal-L was originally born on the planet Krypton to the scientist Jor-L, an esteemed scientist and Lora, a librarian. When Kal-L was still a mere toddler, Jor-L discovered that Krypton was on the verge of destruction. Seeing there was no time to save the majority of Krypton's citizens, Jor-L created a rocket to send his son into space and to safety. Kal-L was sent to safety just as Krypton was destroyed.
After traveling through space, the rocket of young Kal-L landed on Earth near the small farming town of Smallville. When the child was found he was put in an orphanage and eventually adopted by the John and Mary Kent, a farming couple, who named him Clark. Clark grew up on their farm, learning responsibility and gaining their values of compassion and doing good. As a teenager, Clark began to develop super powers and became aware of his alien heritage, information he shared with his parents. Over time, Clark lost his adoptive mother and later his adoptive father, who, on his death bed, asked Clark to use his fantastic powers to do good in the world, which Clark agreed to. To do that, he created the identity of Superman, an alter ego that would allow him to help people without revealing his true identity of Clark Kent.
Clark Kent soon moved to the city of Metropolis and, as Superman, went after the causes of social injustice such as slum lords, wife beaters, corrupt politicians, and law officials, using his powers to defeat and intimidate them to stop their criminal activities. Because of Superman's own vigilantism, he was not initially viewed as a hero by the whole of the public, particularly in the eyes of the law. As Clark was making his name as Superman, he was hired by the newspaper The Daily Star as a writer after a story he wrote on Superman's first acts of crime-fighting. Soon, Superman turned his attention to organized crime and other criminals, which soon made him a public hero and an ally to the law. He also began working with Lois Lane, who was a co-worker of Kent's whom he was interested in, though she was only interested in Superman. The two would become professional rivals, though also very close friends, though Clark kept his secret identity from her. However, Lois would often become suspect that the two might be the same, due to Clark's ability to get to stories before her, though Clark was always able to provide a strong alibi, usually by using his powers and guile.
Superman would go on to learn his alien origins when trying to defeat the villain "Swami Riva" (actually a criminal named Dan Rivers), who acquired kryptonite, a strange stone mineral which Superman found himself being weakened by. In his investigation of the kryptonite, Superman took a journey into the past, traveling to Krypton in the years before it's destruction, allowing him to meet his birth parents for the first time and learning of his heritage. Superman would go on to defeat the fake Swami and deprive him of his kryptonite.
Superman would go on to fighting evil, gaining a number of new villains including the Archer, the Ultra-Humanite (his first super-criminal), the Toyman, the Puzzler, the Prankster, Funnyface, and countless others. Most notably, Superman ran afoul Lex Luthor, a criminal mastermind who would soon go on to be his most tenacious enemy. He would also match wits with the magical imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, who was more of a nuisance, though would cause a lot of trouble for Superman due to his ability to warp reality itself.
Notably, Superman would go on to help in founding the Justice Society of America, but was merely an honorary member, unable to commit his full time to the team.
The Silver Age (Earth-One)
- The Superman of Earth-One became the primary incarnation of Superman, sharing a very similar past to his Earth-One counterpart with some notable differences. Notably, his birth name is Kal-L and his parents (both adoptive and biological) have different names. This became the incarnation of Superman at some unspecified time during the Silver Age while the Superman of the Golden Age was turned into a seperate character from another universe.
Escape from Krypton
Kal-El was born on the planet Krypton to respected scientist Jor-El (his father) and astronaut Lara (his mother). He was raised on Krypton until age three and was a bright boy for his age, capable of speaking and reading the native Kryptonian language. At this time, Jor-El learned that the entirety of Krypton was to self-destruct very soon. The ruling organization of Krypton, the Science Council, disbelieved Jor-El's claims and forbade him from trying to warn others and start a panic. Jor-El then decided to build a rocket to allow his wife and son to escape the planet when it eventually would explode. However, knowing that being on the rocket would put both of them at greater risk, Lara chose to stay behind with her husband to give her son a better chance at survival. Jor-El sent the rocket to Earth, knowing that the Earth's yellow sun radiation's effect on Kal-El's alien physiology would give him a better chance at survival, and it escape just as Krypton was destroyed.
Arrival on Earth
Eventually, Kal-El's rocket landed on Earth in the small farming town of Smallville, Kansas. There he was found by Jonathan and Martha Kent, an aging farming couple who were unable to have children of their own. The two decided to adopt the child, naming him Clark and raising him as their own. The yellow rays of the sun of Earth granted Kal-El's body fantastic powers which the child soon exhibited, causing the Kents to refer to him as their "Superbaby". Martha also used the red, white and yellow blankets to fashion a special outfit for their new baby.
As the child grew, Jon and Martha instilled in Clark a strong sense of right and wrong and the belief in the positive aspects of society and the conviction that it is worth improving and protecting. Eventually, as a teenager, Clark gained a sense of the potential of his powers and their ability to help and protect others and decided to do so. The family decided it would be best to keep Clark's powers a secret from the world and Clark decided to create another identity who could help people in his place: Superboy. Whenever trouble would strike, Clark would change into his costume from his childhood to become the "Boy of Steel" to help Smallville and soon the world at large. Both as himself and Superboy, Clark befriended Lana Lang, a peer student with a crush on Superboy and Pete Ross, another peer who secretly learned Superboy's secret and decided to keep his secret even from Superboy. Together the teen's had many adventures together and grew close as friends. Superboy also went onto learn the full secret of his past by using his powers to see the history of events unfold before him. Later, Superboy met Krypto, a dog who was used as a test subject for Kal-El's rocket by Jor-El. Krypto had the same powers as Superboy and became a beloved pet and close friend. Superboy became so beloved by the people of Smallville that the sign to the entrance of the town proudly heralded itself as the "home of Superboy". Superboy had a number of adventures, sometimes protecting the people of Smallville and other times protecting his own secret identity from both criminals and curious parties, including Lana Lang. One adventure lead him to the accidental discovery of Green Kryptonite by his father that nearly ended his life. Superboy kept his secret weakness from society for a time by the truth was accidentally revealed when a scientist wanted to honor Superboy on the anniversary of his arrival on Earth with a Green Kryptonite sample. Superboy collapsed on a live broadcast and the world thereafter knew of Superboy's greatest weakness. Later, Superboy discovered an alternative form of Kryptonite, Red Kryptonite, when an alien visitor to Smallville inadvertantly exposed it to him. The result was the creation of an evil duplicate and Superboy would go on to learn that Red Kryptonite's effects of Kryptonian was random with each exposure. Superboy also met Aquaboy, the superhero who would grow up to be Aquaman and a close ally of Superman's. Lana Lang also became a superheroine after acquiring a special ring that gave her various insect powers. Going by the name Insect Queen, Lana would fight crime, though was primarily interested in trying to gain Superboy's attention.
The Legion of Super-Heroes
Superboy would later go onto meet a trio of mysterious teens with powers comparable to his own. They revealed themselves as the Legion of Super-Heroes, a team of teen heroes from the 30th century who were inspired by Superboy. The Legion took Superboy to the future and gave him a series of tests for him to prove his worth and be inducted as a member of the Legion. Superboy, due to unfortunate circumstance, fails each test but despite the humiliation, Superboy refused to make excuses for his failure. However, The Legion reveal that this was something of an initiation prank (each test was intentionally sabotaged) and the Legion is impressed by Superboy's humility and made him an member. From then on, the Legion would make frequent visits to the past, often to whisk Superboy off to new adventures and he would grow close to the team as its numbers grew. Together, they would battle villains such as the Time Trapper, Computo and Starfinger and Superboy's contemporary allies such as Lana Lang and Pete Ross were allowed to see their world and were granted honorary Legion status. Legion member Duo Damsel harbored a crush on Superboy that Superboy was oblivious to. Eventually, after many adventures, Superboy decided to resign due to feeling that fellow member Mon-El had all of his powers and none of his weaknesses and the Legion had a policy not to retain members bearing identical powers. Superboy returned to the 20th Century and a golden statue of Superboy was erected in the clubhouse in his honor.
Lex Luthor and the Rogues of Superboy
Superboy would go onto acquire a number of notable enemies who would recur in his life.
One day, Superboy met a another boy his same age, the genius Lex Luthor. Lex was a fan of Superboy and vowed to find a way to make Superboy immune to kryptonite. During an experiment, an accident cost Luthor his lab, his hair and nearly his life until Superboy rescued him. However, Luthor became convinced that Superboy in fact sabotaged him out of jealousy of his genius and vowed revenge. Initially, Lex attempted to outdo Superboy by boosting the commerce and welfare of Smallville with his inventions. However, one of Lex's inventions went wrong, causing Lex to become a distrusted outcast in his own town. Now bitter and dedicating himself totally to being a criminal, Luthor used his genius to become a recurring thorn in Superboy's side, trying to defeat him while Superboy would thwart him. Lex event went so far as to try to kill Superboy, causing his parents to disown him, change their names and move to another city. For the rest of Superboy's career, Lex Luthor would constantly re-emerge to attempt to destroy him and prove his genius.
The brilliant scientist, Professor Dalton, visited Smallville one day and brought with him to a science exhibition a Duplicator Ray, which was designed to make perfect duplicates of its target. However, the Duplicator Ray was incomplete and all of the duplicates came out imperfect. Superboy himself was witnessing the use of the device and due to an accident was accidentally struck by the ray. It created a clone of Superboy that was malformed with chalky white skin and a flawed mind. Superboy called the creature bizarre and misunderstanding him, the creature assumed his name was Bizarro. Superboy and the US army attempted to destroy the strange homunculus but were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Bizarro met a blind girl with whom Bizarro sympathized with and vice versa. For reasons uncertain, though perhaps because if felt it did not belong in the world, Bizarro destroyed itself colliding with Superboy. Miraculously, the blind girl's site was restored by the event, with her being the person who truly understood Bizarro's humanity.
Superboy would later face a strange imp named Mr. Mxyzptlk, hailing from the 5th Dimension. Mr. Mxyzptlk had reality warping powers that far drawfed Superboy's, which he used to make mischief. However, Mxyzptlk's parents revealed to Superboy that he could be returned to his home dimension if he was tricked into saying his name backwards, albeit for 90 days. Superboy did so and thus would begin a battle of wits that would extend into Clark Kent's adulthood.
Later, an alien arrived on Earth called the Kryptonite Kid, called so because he irradiated the same energy as green Kryptonite and therefore capable of weakening Superboy with his presence. Knowing this, the Kryptonite Kid decided to come to Earth to become its greatest criminal, knowing Superboy would be powerless before him. The Kryptonite Kid nearly killed Superboy, who was saved by Mr. Mxyzptlk, who felt if Superboy died, he would be deprived years of fun in challenging him. The two fought again and Superboy once again was on the ropes when the Kryptonite Kid forced Superboy to sacrifice Krypto to save his own skin, believing the guilt would torment Superboy. Superboy ended up having the last laugh, using a mechanical doppelganger of Krypto, similar to his own Superman robots. The robotic dog lead the Kid into a field of Red Kryptonite in space which altered his disposition to good and he left Superboy alone for a long time.
The Legacy of Krypton
Superboy would also discover a number of surviving artifacts of Krypton his youth. When Lewis Lang, the father of Lana Lang, discovered a cask of Kryptonian artifacts, Superboy was brought in to decipher a message that revealed they were illegally produced weapons. Within Superboy discovered the Phantom Zone Projector, an object that transferred people into a dimension called the Phantom Zone. Superboy learned that the Phantom Zone was were Krypton kept it's most dangerous criminals where they lived in an ethereal world in a ghost-like existence able to observe but not interact with the world. Superboy was accidentally transported to this world but was able to escape by focusing his thoughts to escape to communicate with his father. Superboy they packed the Phantom Zone Projector in the weapons cache and his it at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean where only he could access it. Superboy would later find himself contending with criminal escapees from the Phantom Zone, many bearing a grudge, as the Phantom Zone Projector was created by his father, Jor-El. Though most of the criminal's ability to affect the world outside the Phantom Zone was minor, some managed to use psionic influence to facilitate their escapes. The walls between the Phantom Zone and the physical plain has also been affected by other factors (scientific experiments and mishaps) that the prisoners could exploit.
Superboy often wanted to meet friendly Kryptonians and thought he did when he met Mon-El, an amnesiac being he believed to be his older brother. Clark Kent helped Mon-El acclimatize to Earth, even giving him a new secret identity; Bob Cobb, travelling salesman and cousin to Clark Kent. However, despite his trust in his new "brother", he began to have doubts when Mon-El seemed to be unaffected by Kryptonite. After testing him, it seems that Mon-El is a liar after "exposing" him to fake Kryptonite made from lead, when he acts like he is poisoned. However, it turns out he is poisoned; Mon-El is in fact a Daxamite, an alien with a weakness to lead, who through accident became convinced he was Superboy's brother. Unable to cure him immediately, Superboy sent him into the Phantom Zone, where the effects would be halted as long as he was in there. Eventually, his condition was partially cured in the 30th century by the Legion of Super-Heroes and Mon-El could spend periods of time outside of the Phantom Zone. Eventually Legion member Brainiac 5 discovered a cure for lead poisoning and Mon-El joined the Legion full-time.
Superboy would also face a young delinquent from the Phantom Zone, Dev-Em. Dev-Em trapped Superboy in the Phantom Zone, committed a crime spree for which Superboy would be blamed. Dev-Em eventually freed Superboy and escaped into the future. Superboy managed to clear his name while Dev-Em would eventually turn over a new leaf in the 30th Century, becoming a crime fighter and ally to the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Return to the Legion
Superboy would eventually return to the Legion as a reserve member, called upon to the future when needed. His missions included using his powers to discern the real Cosmic Boy from a magical doppelganger, free Chameleon Boy from brainwashing by the wizard Mordru, preventing the terrorist Tyr from mind controlling team member Timber Wolf, stopping the Fatal Five from altering the timestream, and stopping the crimeboss Starfinger from kidnapping Duo Damsel. When Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy married and left the team, Superboy returned to the team as an active member. Superboy was present for the induction of new team member Wildfire and the heroic death of member the Invisible Kid. Superboy, Lana Lang and Ultra Boy also battled a conspiracy to brainwash the Legion and Superboy also spearheaded a team of Legionnaires to capture the villain Universo. Superboy and Mon-El were stranded in Superboy's original time due to the machinations of the Legion of Super-Villains but Sun Boy managed to lead the Legion to victory and save the time-displaced heroes. Other heroic acts by Superboy during his tenure included preventing Legionnaire Element Lad from killing his most hated enemy, helped the Legion prevent a device called The Miracle Machine from being stolen and saving the son of industrialist Leland McCauley (an enemy of the Legion) while on a sabotage mission on one of his planets.
Superboy was present to thwart an assassin from killing Legion member Phantom Girl and also assisted the hero Tyroc in retrieving jewels. He even convinced the suspicious Tyroc into using his power for the Legion by joining as a member. In doing so, they created a scenario for one final test of Tyroc's ability to improvise which he passed with flying colours, an act that would earn him the ire of Legion hopeful Absorbency Boy, who's potential slot on the team Tyroc received. During this time, Superboy would also meet Laurel Kent, a distant descendant who only had the power of invulnerability. Superboy would also battle the Fatal Five again as part of a special taskforce, as well as facing the duo of Charma and Grimbor the Chainsman.
Later, Superboy and Legionnaires Karate Kid, Chameleon Boy and Saturn Girl found themselves sucked into the future while attempting to repair a hole in spacetime.
In the original Siegel and Shuster stories, Superman's personality is rough and aggressive. The character was seen stepping in to stop wife beaters, profiteers, a lynch mob and gangsters, with rather rough edges and a looser moral code than audiences may be used to today. Later writers have softened the character, and instilled a sense of idealism and moral code of conduct. Although not as cold-blooded as the early Batman, the Superman featured in the comics of the 1930s is unconcerned about the harm his strength may cause, tossing villainous characters in such a manner that fatalities would presumably occur, although these were seldom shown explicitly on the page. This came to an end late in 1940, when new editor Whitney Ellsworth instituted a code of conduct for his characters to follow, banning Superman from ever killing.
Today, Superman adheres to a strict moral code, often attributed to the Midwestern values with which he was raised. His commitment to operating within the law has been an example to many other heroes but has stirred resentment among others, who refer to him as the "big blue boy scout." Superman can be rather rigid in this trait, causing tensions in super hero community, notably with Wonder Woman (one of his closest friends) after she killed Maxwell Lord.
Having lost his homeworld of Krypton, Superman is very protective of Earth, and especially of Clark Kent’s family and friends. This same loss, combined with the pressure of using his powers responsibly, has caused Superman to feel lonely on Earth, despite his many friends, his wife and his parents. Previous encounters with people he thought to be fellow Kryptonians, Power Girl (who is, in fact from the Krypton of the Earth-Two universe) and Mon-El, have led to disappointment. The arrival of Supergirl, who has been confirmed to be not only from Krypton, but also is his cousin, has relieved this loneliness somewhat.
In Superman/Batman #3 (December 2003), Batman observes, "It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then...he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. And how fortunate we all are that it does not occur to him." Later, as Infinite Crisis began, Batman admonished him for identifying with humanity too much and failing to provide the strong leadership that superhumans need.
Main article: Alternative versions of Superman Both the multiverse established by the publishers in the 1960s and the Elseworlds line of comics established in 1989 have allowed writers to introduce variations on Superman. These have included differences in the nationality, race and morality of the character. Alongside such re-imaginings, a number of characters have assumed the title of Superman, especially in the wake of "The Death of Superman" storyline, where four newly introduced characters are seen to claim the mantle. In addition to these, the Bizarro character created in 1958 is a weird, imperfect duplicate of Superman. Other members of Superman's family of characters have borne the Super- prefix, including Supergirl, Superdog and Superwoman. Outside comics published by DC, the notoriety of the Superman or "Übermensch" archetype makes the character a popular figure to be represented through an analogue in entirely unrelated continuities. For example, Roy Thomas based rival publisher Marvel Comics' Hyperion character on Superman.
Powers and abilities
Main article: Powers and abilities of Superman As an influential archetype of the superhero genre, Superman possesses extraordinary powers, with the character traditionally described as "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound", a phrase coined by Jay Morton and first used in the Superman radio serials and Max Fleischer animated shorts of the 1940s as well as the TV series of the 1950s. For most of his existence, Superman's famous arsenal of powers has included flight, super-strength, invulnerability to non-magical attacks, super-speed, vision powers (including x-ray, heat-emitting, telescopic, infra-red, and microscopic vision), super-hearing, and super-breath, which enables him to blow out air at freezing temperatures, as well as exert the propulsive force of high-speed winds.
As originally conceived and presented in his early stories, Superman's powers were relatively limited, consisting of superhuman strength that allowed him to lift a car over his head, run at amazing speeds and leap one-eighth of a mile, as well as incredibly tough skin that could be pierced by nothing less than an exploding artillery shell. Siegel and Shuster compared his strength and leaping abilities to an ant and a grasshopper. When making the cartoons, the Fleischer Brothers found it difficult to keep animating him leaping and requested to DC to change his ability to flying. Writers gradually increased his powers to larger extents during the Silver Age, in which Superman could fly to other worlds and galaxies and even across universes with relative ease. He would often fly across the solar system to stop meteors from hitting the Earth, or sometimes just to clear his head. Writers found it increasingly difficult to write Superman stories in which the character was believably challenged, so DC made a series of attempts to rein the character in. The most significant attempt, John Byrne's 1986 rewrite, established several hard limits on his abilities: He barely survives a nuclear blast, and his space flights are limited by how long he can hold his breath. Superman's power levels have again increased since then, with Superman currently possessing enough strength to hurl mountains, withstand nuclear blasts with ease, fly into the sun unharmed, and survive in the vacuum of outer space without oxygen.
The source of Superman's powers has changed subtly over the course of his history. It was originally stated that Superman's abilities derived from his Kryptonian heritage, which made him eons more evolved than humans. This was soon amended, with the source for the powers now based upon the establishment of Krypton's gravity as having been stronger than that of the Earth. This situation mirrors that of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter. As Superman's powers increased, the implication that all Kryptonians had possessed the same abilities became problematic for writers, making it doubtful that a race of such beings could have been wiped out by something as trifling as an exploding planet. In part to counter this, the Superman writers established that Kryptonians, whose native star Rao had been red, only possessed superpowers under the light of a yellow sun. More recent stories have attempted to find a balance between the two explanations.
Superman is most vulnerable to green Kryptonite, mineral debris from Krypton transformed into radioactive material by the forces that destroyed the planet. Exposure to green Kryptonite radiation nullifies Superman's powers and immobilizes him with pain and nausea; prolonged exposure will eventually kill him. The only mineral on Earth that can protect him from Kryptonite is lead, which blocks the radiation. Lead is also the only known substance that Superman cannot see through with his x-ray vision. Kryptonite was first introduced to the public in 1943 as a plot device to allow the radio serial voice actor, Bud Collyer, to take some time off. Although green Kryptonite is the most commonly seen form writers have introduced other forms over the years: such as red, gold, blue, white, and black, each with its own effect.
Main article: Superman character and past Clark Kent, Superman's secret identity, was based partly on Harold Lloyd and named after Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. Creators have discussed the idea of whether Superman pretends to be Clark Kent or vice versa, and at differing times in the publication either approach has been adopted. Although typically a newspaper reporter, during the 1970s the character left the Daily Planet for a time to work for television, whilst the 1980s revamp by John Byrne saw the character become somewhat more aggressive. This aggressiveness has since faded with subsequent creators restoring the mild mannerisms traditional to the character.
Superman's large cast of supporting characters includes Lois Lane, perhaps the character most commonly associated with Superman, being portrayed at different times as his colleague, competitor, love interest and/or wife. Other main supporting characters include Daily Planet coworkers such as photographer Jimmy Olsen and editor Perry White, Clark Kent's adopted parents Jonathan and Martha Kent, childhood sweetheart Lana Lang and best friend Pete Ross, and former college love interest Lori Lemaris (a mermaid). Stories making reference to the possibility of Superman siring children have been featured both in and out of mainstream continuity.
Incarnations of Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, and Superboy have also been major characters in the mythos, as well as the Justice League of America (of which Superman is usually a member). A feature shared by several supporting characters is alliterative names, especially with the initials "LL", including Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Linda Lee, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris and Lucy Lane, alliteration being common in early comics.
Team-ups with fellow comics icon Batman are common, inspiring many stories over the years. When paired, they are often referred to as the "World's Finest" in a nod to the name of the comic book series that features many team-up stories. In 2003, DC began to publish a new series featuring the two characters titled Superman/Batman.
Superman also has a rogues gallery of enemies, including his most well-known nemesis, Lex Luthor, who has been envisioned over the years in various forms as either a rogue scientific genius with a personal vendetta against Superman, or a powerful but corrupt CEO of a conglomerate called LexCorp. In the 2000s, he even becomes President of the United States, and has been depicted occasionally as a former childhood friend of Clark Kent. The alien android (in most incarnations) known as Brainiac is considered by Richard George to be the second most effective enemy of Superman. The enemy that accomplished the most, by actually killing Superman, is the raging monster Doomsday. Darkseid, one of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe, is also a formidable nemesis in most post-Crisis comics. Other enemies who have featured in various incarnations of the character, from comic books to film and television include the fifth-dimensional imp Mister Mxyzptlk, the reverse Superman known as Bizarro and the Kryptonian criminal General Zod.
Superman has come to be seen as both an American cultural icon and the first comic book superhero. His adventures and popularity have established the character as an inspiring force within the public eye, with the character serving as inspiration for musicians, comedians and writers alike. Kryptonite, Brainiac and Bizarro have become synonymous in popular vernacular with Achilles' heel, extreme intelligence and reversed logic respectively.
Inspiring a market
The character's initial success led to similar characters being created. Batman was the first to follow, Bob Kane commenting to Vin Sullivan that given the "kind of money (Siegel and Shuster were earning) you'll have one on Monday". Victor Fox, an accountant for DC, also noticed the revenue such comics generated, and commissioned Will Eisner to create a deliberately similar character to Superman. Wonder Man was published in May 1939, and although DC successfully sued, claiming plagiarism, Fox had decided to cease publishing the character. Fox later had more success with the Blue Beetle. Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel, launched in 1940, was Superman's main rival for popularity throughout the 1940s, and was again the subject of a lawsuit, which Fawcett eventually settled in 1953, a settlement which involved the cessation of the publication of the character's adventures. Superhero comics are now established as the dominant genre in American comic book publishing, with many thousands of characters in the tradition having been created in the years since Superman's creation.
Superman became popular very quickly, with an additional title, Superman Quarterly rapidly added. In 1940 the character was represented in the annual Macy's parade for the first time. In fact Superman had become popular to the extent that in 1942, with sales of the character's three titles standing at a combined total of over 1.5 million, Time was reporting that "the Navy Department (had) ruled that Superman comic books should be included among essential supplies destined for the Marine garrison at Midway Islands." The character was soon licensed by companies keen to cash in on this success through merchandising. The earliest paraphernalia appeared in 1939, a button proclaiming membership in the Supermen of America club. By 1940 the amount of merchandise available increased dramatically, with jigsaw puzzles, paper dolls, bubble gum and trading cards available, as well as wooden or metal figures. The popularity of such merchandise increased when Superman was licensed to appear in other media, and Les Daniels has written that this represents "the start of the process that media moguls of later decades would describe as 'synergy.'" By the release of Superman Returns, Warner Bros. had arranged a cross promotion with Burger King, and licensed many other products for sale.
Superman's appeal to licensees rests upon the character's continuing popularity, cross market appeal and the status of the "S" shield, the stylized magenta and gold "S" emblem Superman wears on his chest, as a fashion symbol.
The "S" shield by itself is often used in media to symbolize the Superman character. It has been incorporated into the opening and/or closing credits of several films and TV series.
In other media
The character of Superman has appeared in various media aside from comic books. This is in some part seen to be owing to the character's cited standing as an American cultural icon, with the concept's continued popularity also being taken into consideration, but is also seen in part as due to good marketing initially. The character has been developed as a vehicle for serials on radio, television and film, as well as feature length motion pictures, and computer and video games have also been developed featuring the character on multiple occasions.
The first adaptation of Superman was as a daily newspaper comic strip, launching on January 16, 1939. The strip ran until May 1966, and significantly, Siegel and Shuster used the first strips to establish Superman's backstory, adding details such as the planet Krypton and Superman's father, Jor-El, concepts not yet established in the comic books. Following on from the success of this was the first radio series, The Adventures of Superman, which premiered on February 12, 1940 and featured the voice of Bud Collyer as Superman. The series ran until March, 1951. Collyer was also cast as the voice of Superman in a series of Superman animated cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios and Famous Studios for theatrical release. Seventeen shorts were produced between 1941 and 1943. By 1948 Superman was back in the movie theatres, this time in a filmed serial, Superman, with Kirk Alyn becoming the first actor to portray Superman on screen. A second serial, Atom Man vs. Superman, followed in 1950.
In 1951 a television series was commissioned, Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves, with the pilot episode of the series gaining a theatrical release as Superman and the Mole Men. The series ran for a 104 episodes, from 1952–1958. The next adaptation of Superman occurred in 1966, when Superman was adapted for the stage in the Broadway musical It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman. The play wasn't successful, closing after 128 performances, although a cast album recording was released. However, in 1975 the play was remade for television. Superman was again animated, this time for television, in the series The New Adventures of Superman. 68 shorts were made and broadcast between 1966 and 1969. Bud Collyer again provided the voice for Superman. Then from 1973 until 1984 ABC broadcast the "Super Friends" series, this time animated by Hanna-Barbera.
Superman returned to movie theatres in 1978, with director Richard Donner's Superman starring Christopher Reeve. The film spawned three sequels, Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987). In 1988 Superman returned to television in the Ruby Spears animated series Superman, and also in Superboy, a live-action series which ran from 1988 until 1992. In 1993 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman premiered on television, starring Dean Cain as Superman and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane. The series ran until 1997. Superman: The Animated Series was produced by Warner Bros. and ran from 1996 until 2000 on The WB Television Network. In 2001, the Smallville television series launched, focussing on the adventures of Clark Kent as a teenager before he dons the mantle of Superman. In 2006, Bryan Singer directed Superman Returns, starring Brandon Routh as Superman.
Musical references, parodies, and homages
See also: Superman in popular music
Superman has also featured as an inspiration for musicians, with songs by numerous artists from several generations celebrating the character. Donovan's Billboard Hot 100 topping single "Sunshine Superman" utilized the character in both the title and the lyric, declaring "Superman and Green Lantern ain't got nothing on me". Other tracks to reference the character include Genesis' "Land of Confusion", the video to which featured a Spitting Image puppet of Ronald Reagan dressed as Superman, "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" by The Kinks on their 1979 album Low Budget and "Superman" by The Clique, a track later covered by R.E.M. on its 1986 album Lifes Rich Pageant. This cover is referenced by Grant Morrison in Animal Man, in which Superman meets the character, and the track comes on Animal Man's walkman immediately after.
Parodies of Superman did not take long to appear, with Mighty Mouse introduced in "The Mouse of Tomorrow" animated short in 1942. Whilst the character swiftly took on a life of its own, moving beyond parody, other animated characters soon took their turn to parody the character. In 1943 Bugs Bunny was featured in a short, Super-Rabbit, which sees the character gaining powers through eating fortified carrots. This short ends with Bugs stepping into a phone booth to change into a real "Superman", and emerging as a U.S. Marine. In 1956 Daffy Duck assumes the mantle of "Cluck Trent" in the short "Stupor Duck", a role later reprized in various issues of the Looney Tunes comic book. In the United Kingdom Monty Python created the character Bicycle Repairman, who fixes bicycles on a world full of Supermen, for a sketch in series of their BBC show. Also on the BBC was the sit-com "My Hero", which presented Thermoman as a slightly dense Superman pastiche, attempting to save the world and pursue romantic aspirations. In the United States, Saturday Night Live has often parodied the figure, with Margot Kidder reprising her role as Lois Lane in a 1979 episode. Jerry Seinfeld, a noted Superman fan, filled his series Seinfeld with references to the character, and in 1997 asked for Superman to co-star with him in a commercial for American Express. The commercial aired during the 1998 NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl, Superman animated in the style of artist Curt Swan, again at the request of Seinfeld.
Superman has also been used as reference point for writers, with Steven T. Seagle's graphic novel Superman: It's a Bird exploring Seagle's feelings on his own mortality as he struggles to develop a story for a Superman tale. Brad Fraser used the character as a reference point for his play Poor Super Man, with The Independent noting the central character, a gay man who has lost many friends to AIDS as someone who "identifies all the more keenly with Superman's alien-amid-deceptive-lookalikes status."
Superman has been interpreted and discussed in many forms in the years since his debut. The character's status as the first costumed superhero has allowed him to be used in many studies discussing the genre, Umberto Eco noting that "he can be seen as the representative of all his similars". Writing in Time Magazine in 1971, Gerald Clarke stated: "Superman's enormous popularity might be looked upon as signalling the beginning of the end for the Horatio Alger myth of the self-made man." Clarke viewed the comics characters as having to continuously update in order to maintain relevance, and thus representing the mood of the nation. He regarded Superman's character in the early seventies as a comment on the modern world, which he saw as a place in which "only the man with superpowers can survive and prosper." Andrew Arnold, writing in the early 21st century, has noted Superman's partial role in exploring assimilation, the character's alien status allowing the reader to explore attempts to fit in on a somewhat superficial level.
A.C. Grayling, writing in The Spectator, traces Superman's stances through the decades, from his 1930s campaign against crime being relevant to a nation under the influence of Al Capone, through the 1940s and World War II, a period in which Superman helped sell war bonds, and into the 1950s, where Superman explored the new technological threats. Grayling notes the period after the Cold War as being one where "matters become merely personal: the task of pitting his brawn against the brains of Lex Luthor and Brainiac appeared to be independent of bigger questions", and discusses events post 9/11, stating that as a nation "caught between the terrifying George W. Bush and the terrorist Osama bin Laden, America is in earnest need of a Saviour for everything from the minor inconveniences to the major horrors of world catastrophe. And here he is, the down-home clean-cut boy in the blue tights and red cape".
Scott Bukatman has discussed Superman, and the superhero in general, noting the ways in which they humanize large urban areas through their use of the space, especially in Superman's ability to soar over the large skyscrapers of Metropolis. He writes that the character "represented, in 1938, a kind of Corbusierian ideal. Superman has X-ray vision: walls become permeable, transparent. Through his benign, controlled authority, Superman renders the city open, modernist and democratic; he furthers a sense that Le Corbusier described in 1925, namely, that 'Everything is known to us'."
Jules Feiffer has argued that Superman's real innovation lay in the creation of the Clark Kent persona, noting that what "made Superman extraordinary was his point of origin: Clark Kent." Feiffer develops the theme to establish Superman's popularity in simple wish fulfilment, a point Siegel and Shuster themselves supported, Siegel commenting that "If you're interested in what made Superman what it is, here's one of the keys to what made it universally acceptable. Joe and I had certain inhibitions... which led to wish-fulfillment which we expressed through our interest in science fiction and our comic strip. That's where the dual-identity concept came from" and Shuster supporting that as being "why so many people could relate to it".
Superman's immigrant status is a key aspect of his appeal. Jeff McLaughlin saw the character as pushing the boundaries of acceptance in America. The extraterrestrial origin was seen by McLaughlin as challenging the notion that Anglo-Saxon ancestry was the source of all might. Gary Engle saw the "myth of Superman [asserting] with total confidence and a childlike innocence the value of the immigrant in American culture." He argues that Superman allowed the superhero genre to take over from the Western as the expression of immigrant sensibilities. Through the use of a dual identity, Superman allowed immigrants to identify with both their cultures. Clark Kent represents the assimilated individual, allowing Superman to express the immigrants cultural heritage for the greater good. Timothy Aaron Pevey has argued other aspects of the story reinforce the acceptance of the American dream. He notes that "the only thing capable of harming Superman is Kryptonite, a piece of his old home world." David Jenemann has offered a contrasting view. He argues that Superman's early stories portray a threat: "the possibility that the exile would overwhelm the country."
Critical reception and popularity
The character Superman and his various comic series have received various awards over the years. The Reign of the Supermen is one of many storylines or works to have received a Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award, winning the Favorite Comic Book Story category in 1993. Superman came at number 2 in VH1's Top Pop Culture Icons 2004. In the same year British cinemagoers voted Superman as the greatest superhero of all time. Works featuring the character have also garnered six Eisner Awards and three Harvey Awards, either for the works themselves or the creators of the works. The Superman films have, as of 2007, received a number of nominations and awards, with Christopher Reeve winning a BAFTA for his performance in Superman. The Smallville television series has garnered Emmys for crew members and various other awards. Superman as a character is still seen as being as relevant now as he has been in the seventy years of his existence.
- Official Superman website
- Golden Age, Silver Age and Modern Age Superman at the Comic Book Database
- Superman Homepage
- Superman Database
- Alan Kistler's Superman Files
- Superman at the Open Directory Project
- Superman Anthology Wikia
- Superman Wikia
- Superman Rebirth Wikia
- Bionic Bunny from Arthur 1996 Wikia
- Bionic Bunny from Arthur Wikia