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Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Historical:
Action Comics #1 (1938)
The Man of Steel #1 (1986)
Superman: Birthright #1 (2003)
Created by Jerry Siegel
Joe Shuster
In-story information
Alter ego Clark Joseph Kent, born as Kal-El
Team affiliations Daily Planet, Batman
Notable aliases The Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow, the Last Son of Krypton, the Metropolis Marvel, the Action Ace, Big Blue, Supes, Nightwing, Jordan Elliot
Abilities Vast super strength, speed & stamina, multiple extra sensory and vision powers, invulnerability, longevity, flight

Superman is a fictional character and superhero of DC Comics who first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938 and is considered the first character to embody the particular combination of traits that characterize the modern superhero.

The character, created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel for National Comics (today DC Comics), subsequently appeared in various radio serials, television programs, films, and video games. Superman was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton and, as an infant, was rocketed to Earth by Jor-El, his scientist father, moments before Krypton exploded. The rocket landed on Earth outside the town of Smallville, where young Kal-El was discovered and adopted by the amiable Jonathan and Martha Kent. As he grew, he discovered that he possessed powers far beyond those of mortal men and women and resolves to use them to help others. When not fighting the forces of evil as Superman, he lives among humanity as Clark Kent, a "mild-mannered reporter" for the Daily Planet. Clark works alongside reporter Lois Lane, with whom he is romantically involved. In current comics continuity, they are married, however, the character has had several other relationships throughout his years in comics. The character's adventures are today published in a number of comic books.

Character history[edit]

Superman's abilities and relationships have changed slightly over time. Editors and writers used the process of retroactive continuity, or retcon, to adjust to changes in popular culture, eliminate restrictive segments of the mythos, and permit contemporary storylines. These changes, while significant, permit the retention of the core elements that make Superman an iconic character.

The story of Superman's origin parallels that of other cultural heroes and religious figures [1] who were spirited away as infants from places where they were in danger.

Golden Age version[edit]

In the original Golden Age comics (as shown in Action Comics #1 (1938), Superman (volume 1) #1 (1939), and Superman (volume 1) #61 (1949), as well as in later post-Golden Age stories such as Secret Origins (volume 2) #1 (1986), noted scientist Jor-L had discovered his planet of Krypton was about to explode yet was unable to convince his fellow Kryptonians to save themselves. However, he did manage to construct a spaceship to save his and his wife Lora's infant son, Kal-L. The ship was launched just as the planet finally exploded, with Kal-L landing on Earth around the time of World War I; his landing was watched by passing motorists John and Mary Kent. The couple took the infant to an orphanage, and soon returned to adopt the child, naming him "Clark." (The names of Jor-L, Kal-L, Lora, John and Mary were eventually changed to the more modern "Jor-El", "Kal-El", "Lara", "Jonathan" and "Martha" in the 1940s).

Clark grew up in an ordinary childhood on the Kent family farm outside of Smallville, slowly discovering that he possessed various superpowers, but unaware of his Kryptonian origins. After the deaths of his parents in 1938, Clark decided to use his powers for the benefit of humanity, constructing a stylized costume and moving to the nearby city of Metropolis. Obtaining employment at the newspaper the Daily Star, Clark soon made his debut as the world's first superhero, Superman. Eventually, Superman's powers increased over the 1940s from his earliest appearances, including vast increases in his superstrength and gaining the ability to fly (the earliest comics featured Superman able to only leap about an eighth of a mile at a time). In Superman (volume 1) #61 (1949), Superman finally learned of the existence of Krypton.

During the 1940s, Superman also became an honorary member of the Justice Society of America, though was shown only participating in two cases in the original Golden Age stories (All-Star Comics #8 and #36).

The Multiverse and Earth-Two[edit]

After the establishment of DC Comics' Multiverse in the 1960s, it was established retroactively that the Golden Age version of Superman lived on the parallel world of Earth-Two and was named Kal-L, while his Silver Age counterpart lived on Earth-One and was named Kal-El. While this allowed for DC comics to bring Golden Age stories back into continuity, it raised problems, as Superman, having never gone away after the end of the Golden Age, had been published as one ongoing incarnation since his debut, with awkward stories inevitably tied to past decades being ignored, and the name Kal-L had been dropped in favor of Kal-El before the end of the Golden Age. 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. In the late 1970s, Superman discovered a rocket of Kryptonian origin landing on Earth, which contained his cousin, Kara Zor-L; after acclimating to Earth, Kara became the superheroine Power Girl. Superman also continued in serving with the revived Justice Society as a member; he was revealed to have been a founding member of the group in the team's origin story in DC Special #29. In the early 1980s, Superman was also shown to have been a member of the All-Star Squadron during World War II.

Crisis on Infinite Earths[edit]

During the 1985 miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, the various parallel Earths were collapsed into one, retroactively eliminating a few Earth-Two heroes from existence (with history re-writing itself and including other heroes in their place). Kal-L, the Earth-Two Superman, along with his wife (the Lois Lane of Earth-Two), the Superboy-Prime and Alexander Luthor, Jr. of Earth-Three, now had no reality to call their own, and entered a "paradise" dimension at the end of the series. This Superman wasn't seen again until the miniseries The Kingdom, where it was revealed that he had found a means of exiting his dimension, but chose not to at that time.

Infinite Crisis[edit]

{{spoiler}} In Infinite Crisis #1, the Earth-Two Superman was shown to be observing events in the Post-Crisis DC Universe from the "paradise" dimension, and eventually feeling the need to intervene. Along with Alexander Luthor, Jr. and Superboy-Prime, he broke through the dimensional barrier.

Contacting his cousin, Power Girl, the Earth-Two Superman told her of what was happening in the paradise dimension, and told her that he were going to bring back Earth-Two, not only to save everyone from themselves... but, also to save Lois Lane-Kent, who was growing ill. He attempted to recruit the Earth-One Batman, but Batman declined, realizing that the plan would equate to genocide on a global, even universal, scale.

Soon after, Alexander Luthor, Junior initiated his own plan that utilized various sources, including various heroes and the corpse of the Anti-Monitor, and revived Earth-Two, along with other Earths. Superman and Lois Lane-Kent were instantly teleported to Earth-Two, and Lois was revived, only to suddenly collapse and die.

In grief, he lashed out at the Earth-One Superman, blaming him for what had just happened (Earth-One Superman had just arrived following his attempt to save Blüdhaven citizens from the Chemo attack). As the two fought, they experienced how their lives would be if they had lived in each other's world. With the Earth-Two Superman, he named himself after rescuing Lois for the first time and earned Batman's trust in their first encounter. This led to them being able to put Lex Luthor away and sparing the criminal when they found out he had Kryptonite poisioning. Things changed when, after his massive fight with Doomsday, he stood up and wrenched the monster's head a full 180 degrees. They changed further following his decision to send Dr. Light into the Phantom Zone instead of mindwiping him (as shown in Identity Crisis). The end result lead to an all out fight between his Justice League and the other members years later that destroyed Earth.

As the two fought, the Earth-One Wonder Woman arrived and stopped the Earth-Two Superman, who realized that Alex Luthor's plan is greatly flawed. The three flew off to find Alex, only to learn that he and Superboy-Prime had fought with the captured heroes, led by Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark), Nightwing and Superboy (Conner Kent). Alex and Superboy-Prime had fled, but Conner was dead, killed in a kamikaze attack trying to stop the mad plan that led to the creation of New Earth. What Earth-Two Superman will do in the conclusion of the story is unknown and his fate One Year Later is also unknown.


Silver Age version[edit]

During the 1940s and 1950s, various familiar elements of the Superman mythos were gradually added, and became firmly established by the late 1950s. This included a greater emphasis on the science fiction elements of Superman's world, including his Kryptonian origins, as well as an updated version of his origin story.

In the version that had become extant by the early 1960s (and memorably summarized at the start of each episode of the 1950s Adventures of Superman television series[2]), Superman was born on Krypton as Kal-El, the son of Jor-El, a scientist and leader, and Lara, a former astronaut. When Kal-El was two or three years old, Jor-El learned that Krypton was doomed to explode, and he brought this to the attention of Krypton's ruling leaders, the Science Council. Disbelieving Jor-El's prediction, they refused to warn their fellow Kryptonians, and forbade Jor-El to do so. Jor-El and Lara promised that they wouldn't leave Krypton (Lara vowed to stay by her husband's side rather than accompany Kal-El to Earth, so that his ship would have a better chance of surviving the trip), and decided to use the little time remaining to save their son. Moments before Krypton exploded, Jor-El launched Kal-El in a rocket ship towards Earth, knowing that Earth's lower gravity and yellow sun would give the boy extraordinary powers.


Kal-El's ship landed in a field near the town of Smallville, and was discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent. They named him Clark, after Martha's maiden name. After formally adopting him, the Kents raised him on their farm through his preschool years. By the time Clark started school, the Kents had sold their farm and moved into Smallville, where they purchased a general store. During this time, both Clark and the Kents had discovered Clark's amazing powers, and, with the Kents realizing the good he could do with his powers, began training their adopted son to use his powers wisely. At the age of eight, Clark adopted the superhero identity "Superboy," and began to fight crime, both in the present and in a far future time as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. After he graduated from high school and the Kents died, Clark moved to Metropolis to attend Metropolis University. During his junior year, Clark changed his superhero name to Superman. After graduating with a degree in journalism, Clark was hired by the Daily Planet.

In 1971, the Galaxy Broadcasting System and its president, Morgan Edge, purchased the Daily Planet, with Edge subsequently naming Clark Kent as the lead anchorman for its Metropolis television station, WGBS-TV. Later in the 1970s, Clark would be joined in his newscasts by childhood friend Lana Lang as a co-anchor.


This version of Superman was retired in 1986 after the continuity-altering miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths. Just before the reboot of the character, the Silver Age Superman was given a sendoff in the two-part non-canonical story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, written by Alan Moore with art by Curt Swan. Although the later Modern Age version of Superman was said to have been active during the Silver Age, most previous Superman appearances and elements were rendered out of continuity by Man of Steel. Later, Birthright and stories which followed would bring much of the Silver Age mythos back into continuity.

Modern Age versions[edit]

The Man of Steel[edit]

In 1986, after the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries (usually referred to as simply "Crisis"), DC Comics hired writer/artist John Byrne to recreate the Superman character and retell the Superman mythos, reshaping the previous forty-eight years of stories by putting several new twists on the established mythos.

In this post-Crisis version, as seen in Byrne's miniseries The Man of Steel, Superman—like all post-Crisis Kryptonians— was created through in-vitro fertilization on Krypton. While a fetus, he escaped Krypton's destruction in a spacecraft (his "birthing matrix" with a rocket engine attached), and landed some fifty years later on Earth, just outside of Smallville, Kansas. Effectively this Superman was born on Earth, and was a son of Earth as much as of Krypton. As in the original version, he was found and adopted by the Kents, and raised like a normal human. In the retelling, Clark's powers developed gradually, beginning with his invulnerability, and he didn't fly until he was a teenager. After leaving Smallville, he traveled the world before settling in Metropolis, completing his education, and going to work at the Daily Planet. Clark did not become a superhero until just before starting work at the Daily Planet, when he prevented an experimental spacecraft from crashing in Metropolis. The Kents were kept alive during Clark's transition to Superman.

In the post-Crisis comics, Clark Kent is presented more as the "real" person, with Superman the secret identity that he presents to the world to prevent his enemies from harming his family or friends. In this vein, people do not suspect that Superman is hiding his real identity, because he wears no mask. The concept that Clark is the real man, and the greater emphasis on his earthly upbringing, is a deliberate reversal of the earlier, pre-Crisis version. Another significant aspect of the post-Crisis Superman's reinvention was a reduced level of powers compared to his previous incarnation, with abilities such as travelling through time under his own power removed outright and other powers, notably his invulnerability and super-strength, vastly reduced.

Another change made in Byrne's Man of Steel miniseries was the reduced emphasis on Superman's Kryptonian heritage. In past exploits, it was often shown that Superman was not only fully aware of his heritage, but had become completely versed in its language, culture, and other elements. In John Byrne's revamp, Superman only first learned of his Kryptonian heritage as an adult, upon being exposed to a memory implant generated by his birthing matrix in Man of Steel #6. While such Kryptonian technology (demonstrated by such beings as the Eradicator) was able to help bolster his knowledge, Superman was no longer a completely Kryptonian-educated man.

As in the original continuity, Lois Lane is Clark Kent/Superman's love interest. In the early 1990s, Lois and Clark fell in love. Clark soon told her he was Superman, which caused a brief strain in their relationship, but they eventually married, in the mid-1990s special Superman: The Wedding Album.

Superman: Birthright[edit]

In 2004 DC published an updated version of Superman's origin in the 12-issue limited series Birthright. Written by Mark Waid, the limited series brings back some of the pre-Crisis elements eliminated by John Byrne, including an emphasis on alien heritage over human upbringing. The series was planned as an origin story not meant to negate material published between Man Of Steel and Birthright. It introduced various elements from Superman adaptations such as Superman: The Animated Series and the Smallville television series, as well as bringing several Silver Age (and some Golden Age) concepts back into continuity.

Among the changes made, the "birthing matrix" explanation was replaced by the more well-known rocket ship explanation, with Kal-El sent from Krypton as an infant, not a fetus. Clark Kent now possesses the ability to see a living being's "aura," which in turn led him to become a vegetarian. Clark Kent is portrayed as representing different sides of his personality in this version, offering perhaps one of the more complex yet realistic portrayals of the character's struggle for identity. "Smallville Clark" is the "true" Clark Kent, the one most comfortable with who he is and who he is with his parents. "Metropolis Clark" is quiet, somewhat secluded, and fairly shy, better to blend into the background and not draw attention to himself. As such, he finds himself often being the odd man out; i.e. childishly being left alone at a restaurant by his fellow reporters due to his seeming lack of social graces. "Superman" is also quiet, but rather than the seemingly harmless Clark, he is quite obviously a force to be reckoned with, whether tearing robot assault helicopters from the sky or dropping a drug lord's private yacht into the drug lord's pool. However, there is not one "true" Clark Kent; rather, they are all different sides of his personality which he expresses differently.

Unlike the previous Man of Steel origin story, this origin doesn't eliminate most of the previous post-Crisis Superman stories told (as evidenced on a few scattered references to Man of Steel), though the full impact that it will have on future stories (and some previous post-Crisis stories' status) remains to be seen. A time travel adventure in Superman (volume 2) #200 implied Superman himself saw history being re-written as he travelled through time.

A good critical analysis of this series including the continuity issues it raises can be found at. The Superman Homepage (by Neal Bailey)

Infinite Crisis[edit]


Infinite Crisis Secret Files & Origins 2006 revealed that Superboy-Prime is the cause for most continuity errors in the DC Universe. In his attempts to escape reality, his assault on the border between worlds created ripples that rewrote history, causing various revisions of events to occur; one such major revision is the Birthright origin. Because of the ripples, the universe "corrected itself" and rewrote Superman's origin to be more similar to the Silver Age origin.

"One Year Later"[edit]

Like Batman and Wonder Woman, Superman is out of the public eye for the year following the events in Infinite Crisis. One Year Later, he no longer has his powers and his cousin Supergirl is now the defender of Metropolis. In addition, a new superhero known only as Supernova appears to be present in Metropolis, though his or her presence remains enigmatic. Recent artist sketches of Supernova have shown him or her to have a Superman-like pentagram emblem on his or her chest, raising questions about wheteher Supernova is somehow connected to Superman.

Unburdened of his powers and protecting the world, Clark Kent has solidified his professional reputation as a star reporter. A new addition has been made to the Superman memorial: a statue for Superboy, who sacrificed his life during Infinite Crisis. Lex Luthor has successfully defended himself on a multitude of charges, but his reputation has finally been irreparably damaged, in part because of Clark's reports.

During one of his investigations, he solicits the help of Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Hawkgirl. At the end of the adventure, Hal says he thinks Clark's been out of the game too long and offers him a power ring with the Superman insignia on it. Since Clark Kent doesn't see himself as Superman anymore, the ring does not manifest a green Superman costume, like Hal expects. Clark turns down the ring. {{endspoiler}}

Clark Kent[edit]

Clark Kent is the secret identity of Superman. Kent, as opposed to Superman, 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 revamp of Superman's 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 miniseries, young Clark Kent studied the Meisner technique so that he could seamlessly move between his Clark and Superman personas. Various other excuses have been used over the years, such as Superman using a kind of super-hypnosis which causes people to subliminally not make the connection, or Superman compressing his spine as Clark Kent to make him shorter.

Personality and character[edit]

Originally, Superman's personality could be rough and destructive. Although nowhere near as cold-blooded as the early Batman, the early Superman did not have a "no-kill" policy and evildoers would occasionally meet fatal ends when dealing with the hero.

By the end of the 1940s, the writers had moved toward Superman's better known "Boy Scout" persona. Even so, Superman's capacity for anger is a key element to many of the most dramatic moments in his appearances. That allows readers to see that Superman's goodness is inherent to his being, as he was imbued from a young age with a strong sense of purpose, morality, selflessness, incorruptibility, modesty, fairness, compassion, and hope by his adopted parents the Kents. Superman was raised to believe that his abilities are gifts, and are not to be abused. In many ways, he is the perfect hero, as he embodies all the best traits that people would believe to see in themselves.

Recent writers have attempted to deepen Superman's persona and provide a rationale for his goodness. Far from a perfect individual, Superman is often pictured with a sense of unbounded idealism mixed with restraint provided by his sense of fairness and compassion for others - this selfless compassion that he feels for all life was further explained in the Birthright series thanks to the fact that he can see/sense a sort of aura around all living things, once something dies its aura disappears, leaving Superman feeling "empty". He is also a man with an incredible depth of feeling, often struggling with the differences between the right answer and the practical one. In many ways, Superman is truly one of the most "human" heroes conceived, since he responds to emotional grief in stark contrast to the way he shrugs off bullets, bombs, and death-rays. On several recent occasions, Batman has faced Superman, serving as a foil to Superman's goodness; Batman, in his more recent incarnations, won't hesitate to use guile or underhanded tactics to gain an advantage, while Superman will be hesitant to use his natural gifts as an unfair edge. The tension between the modern Batman (morally hazy, paranoid loner, always pushing the limits) and the modern Superman (sometimes naively optimisitic, respectful of the law and wary of abusing his power) has become one of the defining relationships of the current DC Universe.

Powers and abilities[edit]

Superman possesses extraordinary powers, traditionally described with the phrase, "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound", which was first used in the Superman radio serials of the 1940s. However, though that phrase is still referenced in contemporary media, the limits implied by it were surpassed by the character decades ago. For most of his existence, Superman's famous arsenal of powers have included flight, vast super strength and invulnerability, super speed, vision powers (including x-ray, heat, telescopic, infra-red, and microscopic vision), super photographic memory, super hearing and super breath, which enables him to freeze objects by blowing on them. Various Comics have also suggested that Superman is a True Immortal. (Most notably, Where is Thy Sting?, a miniseries where Superman confronted his immortality and the mental struggle with his own personal Death. In the comic, he was flung forward in time a couple of times and aged appropriately, the final time, being thrown forward to the end of the Universe and being sucked into a gigantic black-hole.)

As originally conceived and presented in his early stories, Superman's powers were relatively limited, consisting of stupendous strength which allowed him to lift a car over his head, run at amazing speeds and leap one-eighth of a mile, and incredibly tough skin which could be pierced by nothing less than an exploding artillery shell. Writers slowly increased his powers over time until, by the Silver Age, he was effectively omnipotent. However, it became increasingly difficult to write stories in which such a hero was believably challenged, given that by then he could demolish entire planets, fly fast enough to travel through time, required neither food nor sleep, was superhumanly intelligent and could see and hear from one side of the universe to the other. A series of attempts to reel in the character were made, the most significant being in Byrne's 1986 rewrite, which established several hard limits on his abilities (for instance, surviving a nuclear blast nearly exceeded his invulnerability, and his flights into space were limited by how long he could hold his breath). Inevitably, Superman's powers have grown again since then, with Superman possessing enough strength to hurl mountains and, with effort, stop entire planets in their orbits.

The source of Superman's powers subtly changed over the course of his early years. At first, it was said that his abilities derived from his Kryptonian heritage, the race having been eons more evolved than Earthmen. Soon it was also established that the gravity on Krypton had been much higher than Earth's (presenting a situation similar to that of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter character). However, as Superman became increasingly godlike, the implication that all Kryptonians possessed the same abilities became problematic, since it became 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, it was established that Kryptonians only enjoyed powers under the light of a yellow sun (and that Krypton's native star had been red, rendering the natives all mere mortals beneath it).

Besides the requirement for yellow sun radiation, Superman's greatest vulnerability is to kryptonite, debris left over from Krypton which were transformed into radioactive material by the forces which destroyed the planet. Exposure to kryptonite radiation immediately nullifies Superman's powers and immobilizes him with pain. Prolonged exposure will eventually kill him. Kryptonite made its first notional appearance in the comics as "K-metal", but the concept wasn't refined until the radio serial needed an excuse to let the voice actor for Superman take some time off; for several shows Superman was represented only by anonymous groaning noises while he was kept trapped by a chunk of kryptonite. Green kryptonite is the default form, but other forms with varying effects were introduced over the years.

Superman also has a vulnerability to magic. However, this is not as commonly used in his stories, and what this particular vulnerability actually entails has been at best hazily defined.

For various dramatic reasons, Superman's default abilities have occasionally been removed or altered. The most significant recent one was a short period of time in the late 1990s, when Superman lost his traditional powers and then transformed into a being made up of electromagnetic energy. In this form Superman could now phase through solid objects, see different frequencies of energy (like photons and radiation) and draw power from electrical sources. However, in order to maintain physical cohesion in this form, he needed to wear a blue and white containment suit (this costume change being a heavily promoted event, during which Superman was nicknamed "Superman Blue" and "Electric Superman"). During this time, he was able to willingly transform back into the corporeal form of Clark Kent, but in his human guise he had no special powers.

Recently, it has been implied by some authors that Superman's powers can reach unlimited levels, based on solar energy absorption and withdrawal of mental blocks. In Our Worlds at War, Superman dove into the sun to gain sufficient energy to overpower Brainiac 13, whose power had nearly reached omnipotence after absorbing the essence of Imperiex.

In an interview with Joe Casey on Alvaro's ComicBoards, he stated that Superman under his penmanship could re-arrange the Solar System and tear a star apart. "I've always seen Superman as this completely over-the-top, fantastic character who has *no* limits whatsoever," said Casey. In Superman's probe-busting mode, "Superman is unbeatable."

Publication history[edit]

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 Gladiator. 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".

During a multimedia career spanning over sixty 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 during the latter half of the 1960s and the 1970s, a period during which Marvel Comics brought a new level of character development to mainstream comic books. 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 was asked to revamp and revise Superman's continuity with his The Man of Steel retelling of his origin. This 1986 reboot brought substantial changes to the character and met huge success at the time, becoming one of the top-selling books. The relaunch of Superman comic books returned the character to the mainstream, again in the forefront of DC's titles. Superman's sales declined again after Byrne left the Superman titles after almost two years, with only sporadic sales spikes since then (notably in "The Death of Superman" storyline).

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.


Superman, both the character and his various comic series, have received various awards over the years.

The Reign of the Supermen storyline received the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Comic Book Story in 1993.

Cultural influences[edit]

Some people incorrectly believe that Superman is partly based on philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's Übermensch, which literally translates to "overman" but could also mean "superman". It is also believed that Superman may in fact have been partly inspired by the Jewish legends of the Golem, a mythical being created to protect and serve the persecuted Jews of 16th century Prague and later revived in popular culture in reference to their suffering at the hands of Nazis during WWII. Another major influence is Hugo Danner, the main character of the novel Gladiator by Philip Wylie. Danner has the same powers of the early Superman. Doc Savage is another influence; from sharing the first name of Clark to both having an arctic Fortress of Solitude and the similarity between the 'Man of Bronze' and 'Man of Steel' monikers.


Supporting characters[edit]

Lois Lane is perhaps the character most commonly associated with Superman, as his colleague, love interest, and later confidante of his dual identities, and now wife to Clark Kent.

Main supporting characters include Daily Planet coworkers Jimmy Olsen and Clark Kent's boss 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. Incarnations of Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, and Superboy have also been major characters in the mythos, as well as Batman and the Justice League of America (of which Superman is usually a member).

Minor supporting characters over the years have included Superman's technologial aid and eccentric inventors Professor Emil Hamilton and Professor Phineas Potter, Metropolis police officers Inspector William Henderson, Maggie Sawyer and Dan Turpin, and former sailor-turned-bartender Bibbo Bibbowski.


Superman also has a rogues gallery of supervillain enemies, including his most well-known enemy, 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.

The alien android (in most incarnations) known as Brainiac is considered by some as the second worst nemesis of Superman. In one way, 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, has also proven a formidable nemesis in the past.

Other enemies of note include the fifth-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, the imperfect Superman clone Bizarro, criminal cyborg Metallo, Kryptonian criminal General Zod (and other Kryptonians imprisoned in the Phantom Zone), the Parasite, the Prankster, Terra-Man, the Toyman, Gog, and the Metropolis gang known as Intergang (which includes mad scientists such as Dabney Donovan and Dr. Killgrave).

Superman in popular culture[edit]

In addition to comic books, Superman has made the transition to radio, television, movies, Broadway and video games each on multiple occasions. Among the actors who have played the role are Kirk Alyn (1948 15-episode serial), Tim Daly, George Newbern, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, John Haymes-Newton, Gerard Christopher, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, and Brandon Routh. There have also been numerous animated cartoon series starring the Man of Steel.

Superman has also long been a popular subject for music, inspiring songs by artists ranging from The Kinks and Barbra Streisand to R.E.M., Our Lady Peace, Spin Doctors, Crash Test Dummies, Five For Fighting, The Flaming Lips, 3 Doors Down, Frank Black, Sufjan Stevens, Laurie Anderson, Lazlo Bane, Dave Matthews, Donovan and Robyn Hitchcock.

Additional reading[edit]

  • Last Son of Krypton - a novel by Elliot S! Maggin: Superman's "life story" is told and he faces a mysterious alien ruler.
  • What makes Superman so darned American? - an Essay by Gary Engle about the Identity of Superman
  • Miracle Monday - a novel by Elliot S! Maggin: tells the story of Superman trying to stop an entity of pure evil from causing universal chaos.
  • "It's Superman!" - A novel by Tom De Haven: A new interpretation of Superman's origins, taking place in 1935, and going more into Superman's motivations.
  • "For the Man Who Has Everything" - written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons: Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman journey to Superman's Fortress of Solitude to celebrate his birthday only to find their friend rendered comatose by an alien parasite that grants its host the illusion of their heart's desire. Originally published in Superman Annual #11 and recently adapted for the animated series Justice League Unlimited by J.M. DeMatteis. Reprinted in Across the Universe: The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore (ISBN 1401200877)
  • Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? - written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Curt Swan and George Pérez: The final chapter on the pre-Crisis Silver/Bronze Age Superman. Originally published in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583.
  • The Man of Steel - written and illustrated by John Byrne: The revamp of Superman's origins following the Crisis.
  • The Death of Superman, World Without a Superman, and The Return of Superman - written by various artists, notably Dan Jurgens: the story of Superman's death, the world's (and his loved ones') reaction, and his eventual return. A novelization of the trilogy, entitled The Death and Life of Superman, was written by Roger Stern.
  • Kingdom Come - written by Mark Waid, illustrated by Alex Ross: A painted epic, in which Superman has temporarily retired, giving way to a new breed of reckless, morally ambiguous superheroes. The story was novelized by Elliot S! Maggin.
  • Superman For All Seasons - written by Jeph Loeb, illustrated by Tim Sale: Superman as a young man in a timeless, Rockwellian America, from confused lad to superpowered metropolite.
  • "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter" - written and illustrated by Kyle Baker: Letitia babysits the superpowered baby Clark, who rampages around the Kent's farm and ends up in a microwave oven. The story won the Eisner Award for Best Short Story in 2000.
  • Superman: Red Son - written by Mark Millar, illustrated by Dave Johnson: Elseworlds story asks "What if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union?" Superman now stands for workers' rights and the struggle for global equality, and sets out to promote world communism.
  • Superman: Birthright - a twelve issue limited series written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Leinil F. Yu: A "re-imagining" of Superman which brings back some old, pre-Crisis concepts and adds new modern ones.
  • Superman: Secret Identity - written by Kurt Busiek, with watercolor illustrations by Stuart Immonen, this presents the story of a man in the real world named Clark Kent who discovers as a teenager that he possesses the powers of the fictional Man of Steel. This poignant story uses Superman as a metaphor for each major stage of human life (youth, adult, parent, old age).
  • "Übermensch!" - Kim Newman's 1991 short story that, à la Superman: Red Son, examines a Superman raised not in Kansas, but in Bavaria during the rise of Nazism. Several decades after fighting for "Strength, purity, the Aryan way," Superman is a prisoner in Spandau Prison who receives a visit from an aging Nazi hunter.
  • "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" - Frank Miller's gritty four-part mini-series is technically a Batman storyline, but Superman plays a very important, unique, and different role here, facing off against his traditional ally.



  1. ^ Such as Moses, Gilgamesh or Krishna.
  2. ^ 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 neverending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way."
  3. ^ The use of the name 'Clark' came from actor Clark Gable while 'Kent' was borrowed from Kent Taylor.
  4. ^ The prospect of Superman and Wonder Woman (who often addresses him by his Kryptonian name of Kal-El rather than by his Earth name of Clark Kent or even his alias Superman) as a couple has been an ongoing debate among fans, given their status as two of DC's three most iconic characters (the other being Batman). 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. In the Kingdom Come storyline, Superman and Wonder Woman became a couple and were expecting a child together.
  5. 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.
  6. According to the interview by Lois Lane in Superman: The Movie, Superman is 6'4", 225lbs, has black hair, blue eyes, "and tells the truth." Later, Lex Luthor (portrayed by Gene Hackman) states (as he read in the interview) that Superman was born in 1948. Clark finds the green "memory crystal" when he is 18 and spends 12 years in the Fortress of Solitude, making his age 30, just the correct age for the movie, which premiered in 1978 (1948 + 18 + 12 = 1978).
  7. In the television show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Superman's ship crashed into Earth in 1966, but an actual year of birth is never revealed.

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