The History Of Superman

Here is the history of Superman. Explore Superman's beginnings and his long career across multiple mediums.

"˜Look, up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superman!' The blue tighted, red caped superhero may be the most famous comic book character ever and yet who is he really? Sure everyone knows that he is the last son of Krypton, sent to Earth before his planet exploded. Living under the alias of Clark Kent he fights for "˜Truth, Justice and the American Way'. But how did he come to be such a popular and well known superhero, what really is The Story of Superman?

Jerry Siegel was an aspiring writer living in Cleveland, Ohio and best friend to Joe Shuster, himself an aspiring artist. With dreams of breaking into newspaper comics or perhaps even pulp magazines, they worked together creating characters and stories on private projects as well as on their high school paper. In 1933 they conjured up the first incarnation of Superman for a self-created magazine. In this early version, entitled Reign of the Superman, Superman was a bald villain. Although the story was not an overly exciting one, there was something they liked about the character, which they thought might work better if he was on the side of good. So they created a second version of Superman. Although no publisher was interested, Siegel and Shuster knew they were onto something and set about to revamp the character for a third time with the goal of a newspaper comic strip. It's comic book legend that during one fitfully hot summer night in 1934, Joe Siegel had a "˜vision'. It was on this night that he conceived of the Superman character as we know him. By morning, when Shuster came over, Siegel had week's worth of comic strip stories and characters, all awaiting Shuster's pen and ink.

It was by accident that Superman ended up in the comics. Siegel and Shuster carried their creation all over but could not find a newspaper interested enough to publish it. Luckily publisher M.C. Gaines (later to run E.C. Comics) saw enough promise in the strip to recommend it to D.C. Comics Publisher Harry Donenfeld when he called looking for fresh ideas. Donenfeld was not particularly enthusiastic about the strips but found them "˜colorful"¦different"¦and full of action' so he decided to use them as a part of a new title he was launching. Siegel and Shuster excitedly re-purposed their newspaper strips into comic book form and in June of 1938 Action Comics #1 was issued, introducing the world to Superman. (Superman was not, as is often believed, the first costumed superhero. That distinction belongs to The Phantom who appeared a few months earlier in 1938. Superman was though the first hero with such incredible "˜super' powers.)

Superman quickly swept the country and by 1939, while still appearing in Action Comics, he made the unprecedented move to star in a second comic, titled Superman. He also did what Siegel and Shuster set out to do: he began appearing in his own newspaper strip.

In these early stories, Superman's "˜super' acts included, saving a man from a lynch mob, rescuing people from a fire and stopping robbers. It wasn't until April 1940 (Action Comics #23) that he met his first formidable foe: "˜super-genius' Lex Luthor.

During that year, Superman also became the star of an enormously popular radio show. It was on the radio that Jimmy Olsen and Kryptonite first appeared in the Superman vernacular. They were such popular additions to the Superman story that they soon crossed over into the comic books.



In 1941 Superman became a movie star appearing in the first of 17 cartoons for the Fleischer Studios who garnered critical and commercial successes for their work. He made the move to live action films in 1948 when he appeared in the serial: Superman. This was followed in 1950 by the forgettable Atom Man vs. Superman. Superman would next conquer the silver screen in 1978's "˜Superman' which starred Christopher Reeve. The film was followed by 3 interesting sequels.

The 50's were an interesting period for Superman as his legend grew and also started to become complicated by the inclusion of too many "˜super' elements:

November 1958 - Bizarro appears

June 1958 - The Fortress of Solitude is revealed

May 1959 - Superman's cousin, Supergirl enters the action

Streaky the Super Cat and Comet the Super Horse also made brief introductions during this period. In 1958 a pilot of "˜The Adventures of Superpup' starring midgets in costumes was filmed. Thankfully, the networks passed.

Perhaps the most important super-element to come out of this time were the 104 episodes of the Superman television show which aired between 1951 and 1957. It was this show which re-introduced Superman to a whole new generation while allowing the generation that grew up with him to stay in contact with his exploits.

For a number of reasons, the 1960's saw Superman in a flux. Many things were attempted to keep the character moving including a Broadway musical "˜It's a Bird, it's a Plane, It's Superman' which opened (and closed) in 1966. Things stayed stagnet for the Man of Steel into the 70's. In 1978 Superman found himself in a one-shot comic: Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.

In 1986 comic artist John Byrne attempted to streamline and re-excite Superman. His limited run title "˜The Man of Steel' took the 50+ years of the Superman story, reprocessed and reinvented it with enough tweaking done to make Superman exciting again. This "˜new' excitement reached a peak in January 1993 with "˜The Death of Superman'. Thankfully, in October 1993 Superman was "˜resurrected', better than ever. It also launched a rebirth of Superman's popularity, television cartoons and series (Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), video games, books, toys and more all helped cement Superman's place in history proving again that he is the only one capable of being "˜Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.' He is, was and forever shall be"¦Superman.

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