Sixty six years ago in Cleveland, Ohio two teenagers named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster came up with this idea of a hero. This hero is now world renowned as a staple in the world of comic books. He was the first of his kind and has a long list of followers. This hero was Superman.
Ever since that summer night in 1934 when Superman crept into the mind of Jerry Siegel, he has been changing ever so slightly into the masterpiece of a hero he is today. The history of Superman as he appears in comic books tends to prove one thing, that each decade has one substantially different version of the Man of Steel.
Superman was the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Siegel, a writer, and Shuster, an artist, were both very big science fiction fans. Siegel would invest much of the money he earned buying comic books such as The Adventures of Tarzan, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon. Siegel and Shuster were both classic nerds: unathletic and shy around girls, that led Siegel to invision a man of unlimited might and power. This is where he first got the idea for Superman. One of Jerry Seigel’s hobbies was writing short science-fiction stories. One of these stories was, The Reign of the Superman. Which features The Superman in an evil scientist role, who receives super powers from a red headed scientist similar to the character of Lex Luthor.
Then in 1933, after Siegel saw the comic Detective Dan, he decided to make the Superman a hero. He and Shuster wrote and illustrated a comic book entitled The Superman. The comic though was turned down by Detective Dan’s publisher. Determined to write a successful comic, one summer night in 1934, Siegel came up with the Superman as we recognize him today. By morning he had written weeks worth of comic strips, and had them drawn by Shuster the following day. The characters Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and the classic blue, red, and yellow costume of today were all created that night.
The comic strip was hard to sell. United Feature called it, “A rather immature piece of work.” “Crude and hurried,” is what Esquire Features thought of it. Even DC Comics, who would later put the comic into print, put it down calling it, “Ridicullous!”
Then after three years of being turned down, Siegel and Shuster finally caught a break when Sheldon Mayer, the editor at the McClure Syndicate, loved the comic. Mayer’s boss, M.C. Gaines, however, would not publish the comic. But when DC Comics publisher Harry Donefeld contacted Gaines looking for a comic for his new title Action Comics, Gaines sent him Superman.
The first issue of Superman was made by cutting, pasting, and redrawing, the original daily strips into thirteen comic book pages. By 1939, Superman became a comic book success. McClure Syndicate finally brought it to newspapers, and Siegel and Shuster’s first edition of Superman finally made print. The Superman comic strip featured in newspapers by the McClure Syndicate had an estimated 20 million readers.
Superman has gone through many changes since 1939. A major factor in these changes is the Earth-1/Earth-2 theory. This theory states that there are actually two Supermans each living on a world parallel to the other. With the Earth-2 Superman being the Superman from the era around the 1940’s, and the Earth-1 Superman being the one from 1985 to the present.
With the Superman of the Golden Age (1938-1948) many inconsistencies exist. He is supposed to be known as the Superman of the Earth-2 theory, but many differences exist. Such as Perry White appearing as Clark Kent’s boss in Superman #7, even though the Earth-2 Superman never met Perry White until Clark Kent became the editor of the Daily Star in the 1950’s. As an adult Clark Kent moved to Metropolis and worked as a reporter for the Daily Star, under editor George Taylor. But the some inconsistency happens in Action Comics #2 when Clark is portrayed working for the Cleveland Evening News. Other differences include the Earth-2 Lex Luthor, who is supposed to be a red head, being portrayed as a bald Luthor in Superman #10. Yet another inconsistency is the use of Superman’s “super muscular control” to change his facial figures into any disguise he wishes, used in Superman #18 and on through the end of 1947, but this is a power that the Earth-2 Superman lacks.
The 1940’s Superman spent most of his time saving people from natural disasters and corrupt businessmen. He would level slums to force the city to build decent housing, and he would use his powers to terrorize munitions makers. All while his powers grew rapidly to give readers bigger thrills.
The Earth-2 Superman first appeared in Justice League of America #73 and was introduced carrying on the adventures of the Golden Age Superman into what was then the present. The Earth-2 Superman’s powers and costume were based on those of the early 1940’s. His career as Clark Kent and Superman were taken from what they were in 1939. Clark Kent worked for the Daily Star rather than the Daily Planet, and he and his father had the original forms of their names: Kal-L and Jor-L instead of the later versions Kal-El and Jor-El. Also his adoptive mother was known as Mary Kent rather than Martha Kent, and like the Golden Age Superman, he had a secret mountain citadel.
Since the Earth-2 Superman was supposed to be the “original” Superman as first seen in 1938, by 1966 he was in his late 50’s, thus there are accompanying career and life changes that come with the maturity. Foremost among theses changes are was his marriage to Lois Lane, which happens in the 1950’s after he reveals his secret identity to her. There were many Mr. and Mrs. Superman stories told, but the wedding did not occur until September of 1978.
Overtime, the Earth-2 Superman begins to feel lonely being the only remaining survivor of a dead world. In 1970 a spaceship arrived from the planet Krypton sent by his uncle Zor-L. It contained his cousin Kara. She had taken a longer route to Earth, but had matured much slower being only 20 years old. Superman trained Kara in the use of her powers and she eventually took on the role of Power Girl, becoming the Earth-2 equivalent to Supergirl of Earth-1.
Superman went into a bit of a semi-retirement after Power Girl’s arrival, but continued to be active when he was needed by the Justice Society. Then in 1981, he returned to full time activity with the Justice League of America, when it presented a major epic involving the Ultra-Humanite, the Justice League of America, and the Justice Society which resulted in the formation of a new super team of heroes. This team was composed of the younger generation of heroes many related to the original Justice Society members.
During the Earth-2 era, there was a decade known as The Flux Years of Superman. This decade was most noted for the introduction of Superboy, a new explanation of Superman’s powers, and a new preoccupation with Krypton and its people. Critics referred to this period as one where silly stories turned Superman into a laughing stock rather than a hero. But, basically this period was known as the science fictionalization of Superman. For example, the writers began to frequently use aliens, including surviving Kryptonians, in their comics.
The main reason for the changes to the comic over this period was the departure of Siegel and Shuster from the Superman crew. They began to concern themselves with litigations concerning the ownership of the character. The main force behind Superman became editor Mort Weisinger.
In Febuary of 1945, Superboy made his first appearance. In this the idea that Kryptonians do not have super powers on Krypton was first expressed. Superboy is said to receive his powers from Earth’s lesser gravity. The notion that Superman grew up in a small town is also mentioned in this story. In Superman #53 the full origin of Superman was printed for the first time in a comic book, but there was no mention of Superboy even though that feature had been running for about three years. Kryptonians are once again mentioned as being super powerful with no mention of Earth’s gravity.
In Superman #61, Superman encounters Kryptonite for the first time. It first appears as a red glowing substance, which Superman uses his powers on to trace its origin. Superman then pays for his discovery of Kryptonite when Luthor learns to synthesize it, causing it to remain green forever on.
In 1951, the legend of Superman’s origins are retold. This time the legend contains Superboy, Jonathan and Martha Kent, and the fact that Kryptonian’s powers are attributed to Earth’s gravity. But once again in a later issue of the comic Krypton is described as a planet of super-powered beings. In Action Comics #182 Superman is said to receive his X-ray vision due to Krypton’s vastly greater atmospheric density, and on throughout the 1950’s Superman continues to learn more about his powers and Krypton.
Beginning in the late 1950’s today’s version of Superman began to take form. This Superman, the Silver Age Superman, and the Bronze Age Superman of later on are referred to as the Earth-1 Superman. Two events occurred at DC Comics over this period to lead into the changes. Mort Weisinger received sole control over the character and Jerry Siegel returned to DC Comics and worked with Weisinger. They set out to clearly define the personality of the characters in the Superman legends.
Aspects of Superman’s adult life were now shown to have ties to his childhood. In Adventure #271 it states that the enmity between Superman and Lex Luthor goes back to when they where teenagers. Under Weisinger and Siegel, Luthor began to evolve into a truly three dimensional character. At times proving to be capable of the most self serving cruelyy imaginable, and at other times capable of the most noble sacrifice, depending mostly on whether or not Superman is involved. Luthor strives on wanting to prove that he has superiority of Superman.
The new era of Superman brought many other changes to the Superman saga as well. These changes delivered a more fan oriented version of the Superman chronicles to newsstands and comic shops everywhere. The writers added a letters page which invited readers to ask questions demanding of logical explanations for the things that have been taken for granted in the earlier eras. Under this new scrutiny, a new explanation of Superman’s powers developed. In this explanation they decided that the gravity of Earth did not prove to be a good enough reason for his Superman’s powers, thus they attributed his super-senses to the yellow sun radiation, and his muscular strength, speed, and flight due to the Earth’s gravity.
Due to the new explanation of his powers, Superman no longer had super powers on a world without a yellow sun. Even though he had never visited such a world in the past, he now began to frequently make trips to these worlds. And also Lex Luthor and other villains began to create weapons that used “red sun radiation” which made Superman’s life miserable, but the writer’s much easier.
The Silver Age came to an end when Jerry Siegel and Mort Weisinger left DC Comic in 1970. Control of the comic was given to a group of editors, that was headed by Julius Schwartz. New Superman scripter Denny O’Neil began an eight part story to change the life of the man of steel forever. By the end of this saga Superman’s powers had been reduced to one third their size. O’Neil’s reasoning behind this was that Superman had just become to powerful to be interesting. O’Neil left the comic shortly afterwards and Superman’s powers increased immediately.
This new era was known as the Bronze Age. This is the period where the Earth-1 theory is used. During the Bronze Age the entire finalized version of Superman’s origin was published.
When creation began a piece of primal matter took the shape of a sword, and floated throughout space for eons. It was known for a symbol on it that meant in millions of languages, “Sword of Superman.” The sword was unable to be captured by anyone as it waited for the one being who was destined to hold it.
On a planet in the middle of the Milky Way Galaxy lives a race that has been in existence since the beginning of the universe. This race has assigned itself the duty of guarding the growth of intelligent life on the planets. First through a group of robots known as “Manhunters,” and then later with a galaxy spanning batallian of magic ring bearing warriors known as the “Guardians of the Universe.” The Guardians hope to turn this task over to the Green Lanterns if a warrior of notable proportion could be found to lead them.
In another unrelated event a race of gaseous beings known as the “Sun Thrivers” created a red sun from nearby parts of the galaxy. They used this star as a home for themselves as they traveled the universe. But this sun proved to be an unstable vehicle, therefore the Sun Thrivers created planets to rotate their sun to make up for this unbalance. On of these planets was made up of incredibly dense matter and was unstable as well. But the Sun Thrivers were able to hold the planet together for 10,000 years, long enough for another race to use it.
Soon after the creation of this planet, two space explorers seperately crash landed on this planet, both completely unaware of the others existence. But they managed to find each other on its gigantic continents, and unable to fix their crafts, the two made the best of life on this barren planet. Coincidentally, the two happened to be a male and a female of the same species, one named Kryp and the other named Tonn.
Kryp and Tonn turned a world so unfit for life that early generations slept more than half the day and felt more comfortable crawling than walking, into a bustling super scientific civilized world. This race’s physiology was altered, although outside appearance changed very little. But their muscle tissue became denser, motor reflexes became sharper, and their optic capacities widened.
Central to the history of this planet was a family known as “El.” This family of Kings, philosophers, scientists, and explorers all followed one another with bewildering rapidity. It seemed as if someone had been guiding this family to produce an evolutionary masterpiece, a Superman. That someone was the Guardians of the Universe. For 10,000 years the guardians have led the descendants of Kryp and Tonn until in Jor-El and Lara they had the perfect couple. The two would produce the one who would be heir to the Guardians, Kal-El the greatest Green Lantern of them all.
Unfortunately, the planet they had chosen for this experiment was doomed and would self-destruct. A green lantern named Tomar-Re was dispatched to preserve the planet until Jor-El could build a space ark and escape to a new colony. This plan came to disaster when a villain named Brainiac stole the completed arc when he shrunk the city of Kandor and placed it in a bottle. Krypton now could not be saved, therefore all perished except for Kal-El who was rocketed away desperately into space by Jor-El.
The rocket carrying the baby Kal-El landed in Smallville, Kansas where the foundling was adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Soon, the Kents realized this child had spectacular abilities. Clark learned to read English almost immediately, even though he failed to follow the rules of grammar.
The spacecraft which had brought Kal-El to Earth had opened up a space warp, which dragged along debris from inside of Krypton, including a large amount of Kryptonite, and a lost satellite containing his pet dog, Krypto. The presence of Kal-El and the space matter he dragged along with him, seemed to upset the balance of this planet. The planet became a cosmic crisis point, waiting for something of universal importance to take place.
Then one night in a dream, Jonathan Kent saw a symbol that caused him to awake and draw the symbol out onto paper. Mr. Kent knew that his foster son was destined to wear this symbol and bring it to the far ends of the universe. First as Superboy, then as Superman, he fought as a champion of justice, the first in a long line of super-beings to come to the planet Earth. It was as if Kal-El possessed so much super-energy that he radiated it to others.
During the course of the battle for Truth and Justice, man and sword came together at last. Holding the sword, Superman found himself expanding, spreading across the winds of the universe. The entire history of creation flooded his mind, and his consciousness expanded as he became and all-seeing and all knowing protector. He then released the sword. The sword told him of his greatness, and then headed back into space waiting for him to retrieve it and fulfill his destiny.
Superman has gone through many changes in his comic book life. He has gone from being just one of many super-beings from a super-planet, to being the ultimate pinnacle of the human race. Kal-El’s legend will grow on till the end of time and will never be surpassed by any other legend of its type.
There have been five different versions of the man of steel to grace the pages of comic books. The first being the Original Superman who came from a race of super-beings and grew up in Metropolis instead of Smallville. The second being the Golden Age Superman who was raised in Smallville, by Jonathan and Martha Kent. He first started to fight crime as Superboy, when he was a teenager.
The third version of Superman, the 1960’s Superman, was the Last Son of Krypton. He received his powers from the yellow sun as he carried the resposibility of a world on his shoulders. The fourth version of Superman was the Earth-2 Superman lived on a parallel world.
The fifth and final version of Superman, was the Bronze Age superman. I can not describe this Superman any better than Bob Hughes who said, “He is the ultimate. No further explanation of his abilities is possible. He is not only Earth’s champion, but the Universe’s. He patrols, not just Metropolis or the Earth, but the entire known galaxy!”