2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Cartoons


Cover to Superman (2nd series) #204 (April 2004).
Pencils by Jim Lee, inks by Scott Williams.

Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Historical:
Action Comics #1
(June 1938)
The Man of Steel #1
(July 1986)
Created by Jerry Siegel
Joe Shuster
Alter ego Kal-El , adopted as
Clark Joseph Kent
Species Kryptonian, from Krypton
Affiliations Batman, The Daily Planet, Justice League, Team Superman
Notable aliases Gangbuster, Nightwing, Jordan Elliot, Nova, Superboy, Superman Blue, Superman Red, Superman Prime
Abilities Superhuman strength, super speed, stamina and invulnerability, freezing breath, super hearing, multiple extrasensory and vision powers, longevity, flight, and regeneration.

Superman is a fictional character and one of the most famous and popular comic book superheroes of all time. Created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born artist Joe Shuster in 1932 while both were growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, and sold to Detective Comics Inc. the same year Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), the character has since appeared in radio serials, television programs, films, comic books, newspaper strips and video games, contributing to his long-standing ubiquity.

Superman is born Kal-El on an alien planet — later named Krypton — and is rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father moments before the planet's destruction. The rocket lands on Earth, where he is found by passing motorists who adopt him and give him the name Clark Kent. As Clark reaches maturity, he learns he has superhuman abilities, which he resolves to use to help others, fighting anything from petty crime to universal threats. After adopting a costume consisting of a blue shirt with a stylized "S" on the chest, a pair of red briefs over blue pants, a pair of red boots, and a red cape, he becomes Earth's champion, with the media giving him several nicknames including "The Man of Steel", "The Man of Tomorrow", and "The Last Son of Krypton". To keep his identity secret when not fighting evil as Superman, Clark lives among humanity as a "mild-mannered" reporter for the Metropolis newspaper The Daily Planet (originally called the Daily Star). Clark works alongside reporter Lois Lane, with whom he is romantically involved (and whom he marries in the mainstream current comics' continuity).

Character history

The details of Superman's origin, relationships and abilities changed significantly during the course of the character's publication, from what is considered the Golden Age of comic books through the Modern Age.

Golden Age

As shown in the original Golden Age comics — including Action Comics #1 (1938), Superman (Vol. 1) #1 (1939), and Superman (Vol. 1) #61 (1949), as well as in later stories such as Secret Origins (Vol. 2) #1 ( 1986) — noted scientist Jor-L discovers that Krypton is about to explode, yet he cannot convince his fellow Kryptonians to save themselves. However, he manages to construct a spaceship to save his infant son, Kal-L. The ship launches just as the planet explodes, with Kal-L landing on Earth in a farm country town (later identified as Smallville) around the time of World War I. In this version, John and Mary Kent (passing motorists who witness the spaceship landing) take the infant to an orphanage and soon return to adopt the child, naming him Clark. In his 1942 novel, George Lowther changes the names Jor-L, Kal-L and Lora (Superman's birth mother) to the more modern Jor-El and Lara. According to an interview with Joe Shuster shortly before his death, the name "Clark Kent" was chosen as a combination of the names of two movie stars, Clark Gable and Kent Taylor

Clark grows up on the Kent family farm, slowly discovering that he possesses various superpowers but unaware of his Kryptonian origins. After the deaths of his adoptive parents, Clark decides to use his powers for the benefit of humanity, constructing a stylized costume and moving to the nearby city of Metropolis. Clark begins work as a reporter at the Daily Star newspaper and soon makes his debut as the world's first superhero, Superman.

The earliest Superman stories were written by Siegel, and drawn by Shuster in a style heavily influenced by comic strip artist Roy Crane. According to Jules Feiffer, "Shuster represented the best of old-style comic book drawing. His work was direct, unprettied - crude and vigorous; as easy to read as a diagram.... Slickness, thank God, was beyond his means" (Feiffer,The Great Comic Book Heroes, 1965). In the last interview Shuster gave before his death, he explained that he had modelled the visual appearance of Clark Kent on himself and movie star Harold Lloyd, and that of Superman on Douglas Fairbanks Senior. Lois Lane was modeled after Joanne Carter, who would later marry Jerry Siegel. The skyscape of Metropolis was inspired by that of the City of Toronto, where Shuster had spent most of his childhood, and the newspaper employing Clark Kent, originally the Daily Star, was named after the Toronto Star for which Shuster had been a paperboy. (Mietkewicz, above)

With Superman's quick success, the demand for Superman stories exceeded the creator's ability to produce them. Although the stories continued to carry the Siegel and Shuster byline, progressively more of the work was done by assistants in the Siegel and Shuster studio (Les Daniels, Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, 1971). But the use of assistants was not always successful. According to Jules Feiffer, Shuster "could not draw well, but he drew single-mindedly -- no one could ghost that style. It was the man. When assistants began 'improving' the appearance of the strip it went downhill. It looked as though it was being drawn in a bank" (Feiffer, above). One story in which Superman encountered a fictional cartoonist provided a tongue-in-cheek look at how such work was delegated. The story, which purported on the title page to tell "how comic strips are written and drawn", showed a studio filled with "artists -- stacks of them -- figure men, background specialists, inkers, letterers" as well as script-writers, all devoted to the production of stories about a Superman-like character, while the original creator of the strip was to Superman's consternation kept busy answering his fan mail ("King of the Comic Books", Superman no. 25, 1943).

In the early stories, Superman is the only science-fiction element. He is described as the champion of the helpless and the oppressed, and he combats real-world social evils: munitions manufacturers, dangerous conditions in mines and a hit-and-run drunk driver (in Superman #1), rigged prize fights and corrupt businessmen (in Superman #2), child abusers and wife beaters (in Superman #3) and crooked cops and politicians (in Superman #7). By 1940, more extraordinary antagonists began to appear in the stories, including giants, mad scientists and dinosaurs.

Superman's powers also developed during the 1940s, including vast increases in strength and acquiring the ability to fly — the earliest comics depict Superman able to leap only an eighth of a mile at a time. In Superman (Vol. 1) #61 (1949), Superman finally learns of the existence of Krypton. Superman becomes an honorary member of the Justice Society of America, though he only participates in two capers in the original Golden Age stories (All-Star Comics #8 and #36).

Beginning in the 1940s, Superman's life as a boy is gradually fleshed out. The first Superboy story appears in More Fun Comics #101 (February 1945) but the locale is still not clearly specified though it appears to be a Metropolis neighbourhood, and the Kents still do not have names. Superboy is not established as a Smallville resident until Superboy (Vol. 1) #2 (May 1949) and his parents' names, Jonathan and Martha Kent, are not mentioned until Superboy (Vol. 1) #12 in January 1951, twelve years after his debut in Action Comics #1.

Other developments in the Superman mythos appear as a result of appearances in other media, including radio and newspaper strips. The Daily Star becomes the Daily Planet — possibly because newspapers called The Daily Star already existed — and Perry White replaces original editor George Taylor in the first episode of the radio serial; an office boy named Jimmy Olsen joins the cast soon afterward.

Silver Age

During the 1940s and 1950s, the Superman mythos gradually added familiar elements firmly established by the late 1950s, such as greater emphasis on the science fiction elements of Superman's world, including his Kryptonian origins as well as an updated version of his origins.

In the version that became extant by the early 1960s (and memorably summarized at the start of each episode of the 1950s Adventures of Superman television series), Superman is born on Krypton as Kal-El, the son of Jor-El (a leader-scientist) and Lara. When Kal-El is two or three years-old, Jor-El learns that Krypton is doomed to explode. He brings this warning to the Science Council, Krypton's rulers. The Science Council refuses to warn their fellow Kryptonians and forbids Jor-El to do so. Jor-El immediately begins work on a rocket that will allow the whole family to escape the coming disaster; however, events move too quickly, and only a small model is completed by the time of the final quakes. Lara stays by her husband's side rather than accompany Kal-El to Earth so that his ship will have a better chance of surviving the trip. Knowing that Earth's lower gravity and yellow sun will give the boy extraordinary powers, Jor-El launches Kal-El's rocketship toward Earth moments before Krypton explodes.

Kal-El's ship lands in a field near the town of Smallville and is discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent. They name the child Clark after Martha's maiden name. After formally adopting him, the Kents raise him. The Kents discover his amazing powers and train their adopted son to use his powers constructively. At the age of eight, Clark adopts the superhero identity " Superboy" and fights crime, both in the present and in the far future as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. After his graduation from high school and the death of his adoptive parents, Clark moves to Metropolis to attend Metropolis University. During his junior year, Clark changes his superhero name to "Superman". After graduating with a degree in journalism, Clark is hired by the Daily Planet.

In 1971, the Galaxy Broadcasting Station and its president, Morgan Edge, purchase the Daily Planet, Edge subsequently naming Clark as the lead anchorman for its Metropolis television station, WGBS-TV. Later in the 1970s, childhood friend Lana Lang joins Clark in his newscasts as co-anchor.

After the establishment of DC Comics' Multiverse in the 1960s, it is established retroactively that the Golden Age version of Superman lives on the parallel world of Earth-Two and is named "Kal-L", while his Silver Age counterpart lives on Earth-One and is named "Kal-El."

While the Multiverse allowed for DC Comics to bring Golden Age stories back into continuity, it also created problems. There had been no break in Superman stories between the Golden and Silver Ages; the character had been published in one ongoing story since his debut. Additionally, DC had dropped the name "Kal-L" in favour of "Kal-El" before the end of the Golden Age. A series of stories in the 1970s establish that the Earth-Two Superman had married his version of Lois Lane in the 1950s ( Action Comics #484 ( 1978)) and had become the editor-in-chief of The Daily Star. In the early 1970s, Kal-L discovers a Kryptonian rocket that contains his cousin, Kara Zor-L. After acclimating to Earth, Kara becomes the superheroine Power Girl. Kal-L also continues to serve with the revived Justice Society; he is revealed as a founding member of the group in the team's origin story in DC Special #29. In the early 1980s, Kal-L is also shown as a member of the All-Star Squadron during World War II.

During the 1985 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, the various parallel Earths are combined into one, retroactively eliminating some of Earth-Two's heroes from existence. Kal-L, the Earth-Two Superman, his wife Lois Lane of Earth-Two, the Superboy of Earth-Prime and Alexander Luthor, Jr. of Earth-Three, have no reality to call their own, and they enter a "paradise dimension" at the end of the series. Kal-L isn't seen again until the limited series The Kingdom, in which it is revealed that he has found a means of exiting his dimension, but chooses not to do so yet.

DC Comics retired the Silver Age version of Superman in 1986, after the publication of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Just before the character's revamp, the Silver Age Superman was given a sendoff in the two-part story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? published in Superman (Vol. 1) #423 and Action Comics #583, written by Alan Moore with art by Curt Swan. Although the new Modern Age version of Superman is said to have already been active for many years, most previous Superman appearances and elements were rendered out of continuity by John Byrne's Man of Steel. Later stories such as Superman: Birthright bring many of the Silver Age elements back into continuity.

Modern Age

Man of Steel

In 1986, after the Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series, DC Comics hired writer/artist John Byrne to re-create the Superman character, reshaping the previous 48 years of stories by putting new twists on the established mythos.

In Byrne's re-introductory six issue limited series, Superman, like all post- Crisis Kryptonians, is conceived through in-vitro fertilization on Krypton. While still a fetus, he escapes Krypton's destruction in a spacecraft (his "birthing matrix" with a warp engine attached to it), and lands more than 50 years later on Earth, just outside of Smallville, Kansas. Superman is effectively born on Earth and is as much a son of Earth as of Krypton. As in the original version, the Kents find and adopt him and raise him like a normal human being.

In Byrne's retelling, Clark's powers develop gradually, beginning with his invulnerability, and he doesn't fly until he is a teenager. After leaving Smallville, he travels the world before settling in Metropolis, completing his education, and going to work at the Daily Planet. Although he spends years helping people and averting disasters in secret during his travels, Clark does not become Superman until just before starting work at the Daily Planet when he prevents an experimental spacecraft from crashing in Metropolis. The Kents remain alive and continue to be important supporting characters in the franchise to this day. In this version, the Superman costume is designed by the Kents and made by Clark's adoptive mother.

The post- Crisis comics present Clark Kent as the "real" person, with Superman as the secret identity that he uses to prevent his enemies from harming family and friends. People do not suspect that Superman is hiding his real identity because he wears no mask. The concept that Clark is the real man, as well as greater emphasis on his earthly upbringing, is a deliberate reversal of the pre- Crisis version.

Another significant aspect of Superman's reinvention is a reduced level of abilities, with powers such as time travel removed completely and other powers — notably his invulnerability and super-strength — vastly reduced. The series also introduces the idea that Superman's invulnerability stems from his body's creating an "energy field" when exposed to solar radiation from Earth's yellow sun.

Man of Steel #3 depicts the first meeting between Superman and Batman. Superman attempts to take Batman into custody but realizes that Batman must operate outside the law. Other post- Crisis comics show that the relationship between the two is a trusting one, despite the unease each feels due to the differences in their methods: Superman relies on trust and strength to achieve his goals in cooperation with the law, while Batman operates outside the law, relying on fear and his intellect.

Man of Steel also reduces the emphasis on Superman's Kryptonian heritage. Previous comic books depicted a Superman not only aware of his heritage but also as versed in its language, culture, and other elements. In Man of Steel #6, Superman first learns of his Kryptonian heritage as an adult when his birthing matrix generates a memory implant. While such Kryptonian technology is able to help bolster his knowledge, the revamped Superman is no longer a completely Kryptonian-educated man.


In 1992, DC Comics published the storyline The Death of Superman, in which Superman battles a monster of then-unknown origins called Doomsday. Both Superman and Doomsday are killed, taking each other down with their final blows. Funeral for a Friend follows The Death of Superman, chronicling Superman's funeral and examines other characters' reactions to the death of the hero.

Next, DC published the Reign of the Supermen storyline, during which four different characters — a new Superboy, the cyborg Man of Tomorrow, the brutal Last Son of Krypton and Steel — are introduced as Superman, although none of them actually are. A de-powered Kal-El later surfaces in a Kryptonian battle-suit near the end of Reign of the Supermen. After Steel and Linda Danvers destroy the battle-suit, Kal-El is revealed as the pilot, wearing a black costume with a silver 'S' shield and long hair. The cyborg allies with Mongul and destroys Coast City. Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Steel, Hal Jordan and the Eradicator attack the "Engine City" built on top of Coast City, and the united Supermen defeat the Man of Tomorrow, who is exposed as scientist Hank Henshaw.

As in the original continuity, Lois Lane is Clark Kent/Superman's love interest, but this was the first time they were presented as a couple in any medium. After the Reign of the Supermen storyline, Lois and Clark are reunited. The television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman took its cues from this incarnation of Superman. When they eventually marry in the mid-1990s special Superman: The Wedding Album, it coincided with the marriage of the two characters in the television show.


In 2004, DC published an updated version of Superman's origin in the 12-issue limited series Birthright. Written by Mark Waid, Birthright restores some of the pre- Crisis elements eliminated by John Byrne, including an emphasis on alien heritage.

The series was planned as an origin story meant to reconcile material published between Man of Steel and Birthright. It introduces elements from Superman adaptations such as Superman: The Animated Series and the Smallville television series and brings several Silver Age and some Golden Age concepts back into continuity. Unlike the previous Man of Steel origin, Birthright doesn't eliminate most of the previous Superman stories told, even making references to Man of Steel itself.

In Birthright, the "birthing matrix" is replaced by the more well-known rocketship, with Kal-El leaving Krypton as an infant rather than a fetus. Clark now possesses the ability to see a living being's " aura", Superman's identity has more facets than just Clark vs. Superman, instead his identities represent different aspects of his personality. "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, fairly isolated, and shy, blending into the background and not drawing attention to himself. He often finds himself being the odd man out. Superman is also quiet, but rather than being seemingly harmless like Clark, he is a formidable force, tearing robot assault helicopters from the sky and dropping a drug lord's private yacht into his pool.

Infinite Crisis

In the 2005-2006 Infinite Crisis limited series (the sequel to the 1985-'86 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths), the Earth-Two Superman (Kal-L) escapes from the "paradise" dimension with Alexander Luthor, Jr. and Superboy-Prime . Kal-L wants to recreate the universe, which he believes is corrupt, making aspects of Earth-Two predominant, rather than those of Earth-One. He believes this will also save the dying Lois Lane of Earth-2. Alexander Luthor builds a machine which re-creates Earth-2, transporting Kal-L and Lois there where Lois revives briefly before collapsing and dying. In grief, Kal-L lashes out at the Earth-One Superman, and the two fight until Wonder Woman arrives and ends their battle.

The two Supermen team up to confront Luthor and Superboy-Prime, whose plan to restore the Multiverse will kill billions of people. The pair willingly deplete their powers as they drag Superboy-Prime into Rao, Krypton's red sun, and use the last of their strength to defeat him on Mogo, the sentient Green Lantern planet. Fatally wounded in the battle, Kal-L dies in his cousin Power Girl's arms. He and Lois are buried next to the deceased Superboy.

Infinite Crisis Secret Files & Origins 2006 shows that Superboy-Prime is to blame for many continuity errors in the DC Universe. In his attempt to escape reality, his assault on the barrier wall of the paradise dimension alters history, causing revisions of events to occur, including the Birthright origin. Alexander Luthor, Jr.'s attempts to manipulate the Multiverse result in New Earth, affecting Superman's history further. Alexander indicates that Superman's early years are once more similar to the Silver Age and Birthright origins.

During the publication of the Infinite Crisis limited series, the majority of DC Comics' superhero line advanced one year. One year later, Superman remains powerless, and Supergirl defends Metropolis. Unburdened by his responsibility to the world, Clark Kent has re-solidified his reputation as a star reporter. Lex Luthor's reputation is damaged irreparably, partially due to Clark's writing, and his fortune and power dwindle. Under attack, Clark's powers gradually return, and he returns to action. He finds that his sensory powers are enhanced, as are his computational abilities and memory.

Clark Kent

Clark Kent is the secret identity of Superman. Kent, as opposed to Superman, is traditionally presented as behaving in a more introverted or mild manner compared to his superheroic self. John Byrne's Man of Steel revamp drops many traditional aspects of Clark Kent in favour of giving him a more aggressive and extroverted personality, including making Kent a top football player in high school and a successful author. Subsequent revamps have restored the more mild-mannered Clark Kent that is traditionally associated with the character.

Clark is a reporter at the Metropolis newspaper the Daily Planet, which allows him to keep track of events in which he might be able to help. Fellow reporter Lois Lane is often the object of Clark's affection; Lois's affection for Superman and rejection of Clark are a recurring theme in Superman comics, television, and movies. Unlike Batman, Superman considers himself Clark Kent first and Superman second. In an episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Clark says, "Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am."

Clark keeps his Superman identity a secret to protect his loved ones. Various methods for keeping his Superman's identity secret over the years include his using "super-hypnosis", subliminally causing people to not make the connection, compressing his spine as Clark Kent to become shorter, and studying the Meisner acting technique to switch seamlessly between personas. Furthermore, since Superman goes into public unmasked, most people assume that he has no other identity. As long as he does not let on that he has another life, there is no real reason to look for a secret identity. Even Batman commended him on this disguise.

Modern comic book stories show that to the average observer, Superman is the greatest hero in the world and a larger-than-life figure. When first confronted by evidence that Clark Kent is Superman, Lex Luthor dismisses it, saying, "No one with the power of Superman would be living as a normal man."

Personality and character

In the Golden Age stories, Superman's personality is rough and destructive. Although nowhere near as cold-blooded as the early Batman, the Superman featured in the comics of the 1930s and 1940s is not squeamish about tossing evildoers around in such a manner that fatalities would logically be almost inevitable (although seldom or never shown on the page). His actions were more socially conscious, such as declaring war on reckless drivers, fighting against the mistreatment of prisoners or tearing down insufficient housing so that the government would be forced to build new homes. By the end of 1940, however, editor Whitney Ellsworth instituted a code of conduct for his characters to follow, and the writers moved toward Superman's better known "Boy Scout" persona.

His adoptive human parents, the Kents, imbue young Clark Kent with a strong sense of purpose, morality and compassion. Superman was raised to believe that his abilities are gifts 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. Unlike the Golden Age Superman, this Superman dislikes killing, and vows to "never take a life", and to retire if he ever does. All the same, when General Zod taunts Superman in the Phantom Zone miniseries for his resolve, Superman responds "My code doesn't say a damned thing about not battering you to within an inch of yours!"

Recent writers have attempted to deepen Superman's persona and provide a rationale for his goodness. Superman is often depicted with a mix of idealism, restraint, fairness and compassion. The Birthright limited series attributes Superman's compassion for living things to his ability to see their " auras". He also struggles with the differences between what is right and what is practical.

In Superman/Batman #3, Batman thinks, "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." In the modern age of comics, the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent has at times been strained by their differing ideologies, which results from their different backgrounds and upbringing. However, they have come to recognize each other as not only the most trusted of allies, but great friends, with Batman being the one person Superman trusted with Lex Luthor's kryptonite ring in order for someone to be able to stop Superman should he ever go rogue. Although a heavy burden to bear, Batman has proven worthy of doing so.

Powers and abilities

Superman possesses extraordinary powers, 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 first used in the Superman radio serials and Max Fleischer animated shorts of the 1940s as well as the TV series of the 1950s. Although contemporary media still reference Superman that way, the character's powers are much more vast and complex. For most of his existence, Superman's famous arsenal of powers include flight, super-strength, 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, 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. 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 earth in advance or sometimes just to get his mind off things. Writers found it increasingly difficult to write Superman stories in which the character was believably challenged, so DC Comics 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 a mountain and withstand nuclear blasts with ease.

Unlike humans, Superman cannot give blood as his skin is impenetrable. He cannot donate organs due to his alien physiology. It is uncertain whether Superman can go without food or drink or for how long; some writers have portrayed him as obtaining all the energy he needs from Earth's yellow sun, much like photosynthesis.

The source of Superman's powers changes subtly over the course of his history. It is originally said that Superman's abilities derive from his Kryptonian heritage, making him eons more evolved than humans. Soon it is established that Krypton's gravity had been stronger than Earth's, a situation similar to that of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter. As Superman becomes increasingly godlike, 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 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 Kryptonite, mineral debris from Krypton transformed into radioactive material by the forces that destroyed the planet. Exposure to Kryptonite radiation nullifies Superman's powers and immobilizes him with pain; prolonged exposure will eventually kill him. The only mineral on Earth that can protect him from Kryptonite is lead, which blocks the radiation. 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; for several shows, Superman was represented by groaning noises while he was trapped by a chunk of Kryptonite. Green Kryptonite is the most commonly seen form but writers introduced other forms over the years, such as red, gold, blue and black, each with its own effect. Red, for example, could split Superman into two people, creating Superman Red and Superman Blue. But, a lead suit will prevent him from being affected at all, and he becomes invincible.

Superman is also vulnerable to magic; however, this is not used in his stories as commonly as Kryptonite, and the vulnerability has been at best hazily defined. The most common implication is that, like any other person, Superman has no special protection against it via his powers.

Superman's abilities have occasionally been removed or altered for dramatic reasons. In the Superman comics of the late 1990s, Superman loses his traditional powers and transforms into a being of electromagnetic energy. In this form, Superman can phase through solid objects, see frequencies of energy, and draw power from electrical sources. In order to maintain physical cohesion in this form, he needs to wear a containment suit. During this time, he is able to transform into the corporeal form of Clark Kent but has no special powers in his human guise.

Superman's powers also dwindle (or usually, disappear) under the light of a red sun. In some canonical accounts, Superman's powers are proportionally reduced under an orange sun (midway in the spectrum between yellow and red), and actually increase under a white or blue sun (beyond yellow on the spectrum).

Recently, some authors have implied that Superman's powers can reach nearly unlimited levels, based on solar energy absorption and withdrawal of mental blocks. In Our Worlds at War, Superman dives into the sun to gain sufficient energy to overpower Brainiac 13, who was imbued with the Imperiex Force. In Superman/Batman, when Kara Zor-El claims to be more powerful than Superman, he tells her that he put personal mental blocks on his powers as he grew up to keep from losing control and causing irreparable damage, blocks that Supergirl does not have. While Supergirl can appear to be stronger, Superman just has greater self-control.

In an interview with Joe Casey on Alvaro's ComicBoards, he states that Superman can 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," writes Casey. Unencumbered by mental blocks, "Superman is unbeatable."

It is implied in the One Year Later Superman story that Superman exerts an element of subconscious control over his powers; to be Superman truly, it appears that Clark Kent must, on some level, want to be Superman. This is evidenced by the one-year period following the Infinite Crisis during which he lives happily as the powerless Clark Kent, with no desire to return to his former lifestyle. This lasts until Intergang operatives attack him and his powers return as his life is imperiled. After this, his other skills return (including flight and super-speed).


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

Some people incorrectly believe that Superman is partly based on German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's Übermensch, which literally translates to "overman", but could also mean "superman." However, it is important to realize that in many ways Superman and the Übermensch are polar opposites. Nietzsche envisioned the Übermensch as a man who had transcended the limitations of society, religion, and conventional morality while still being fundamentally human. Superman, although an alien gifted with incredible powers, chooses to limit himself to conventional human moral codes and social mores. Nietzsche envisioned the perfect man as being beyond moral codes; Siegel and Shuster envisioned the perfect man as holding himself to a higher standard of adherence to them.

Because Siegel and Shuster were both Jewish, it is thought that their creation was partly influenced by the nativity tale of Moses, and also 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 the Nazis in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. (Superman's Kryptonian name, "Kal-El," resembles the Hebrew words קל-אל, which means "voice of God".)

Another influence could be Hugo Danner, the main character of the novel Gladiator by Philip Wylie. Danner has the same powers of the early Superman (as do many other pulp characters of the twenties and thirties).

Doc Savage may be 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. The Fortress of Solitude, however, was a very late addition to the Superman mythology, and both the "Man of Steel" and "Man of Bronze" nicknames were probably influenced by Howard Pyle's novel Men of Iron. However, the sources cited by Jerry Siegel himself were Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars and Tarzan, Johnston McCulley's Zorro, and E.C. Seegar's Popeye. Superman also appears to have been influenced by Jack Williamson's The Girl From Mars.

One sometimes overlooked early influence on early Superman stories is the context of the Great Depression. The left-leaning perspective of creators Shuster and Siegel is reflected in early storylines. Superman sometimes took on the role of social activist, fighting crooked businessmen and politicians and demolishing run-down tenements, for example.[ citations needed] In the earlier storylines Shuster and Siegal often had Superman champion a variety of social causes. In later Superman radio programs Superman continued to take on a social issues like prejudice. For example, Superman took on a version of the KKK in a 1946 broadcast of The Adventures of Superman (radio).


Supporting characters

Lois Lane is 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). 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).

Team-ups with fellow comics icon Batman are a fan-favorite, 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 Comics began to publish a new series featuring the two characters titled Superman/Batman.

Minor supporting characters over the years have included Superman's technological 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.

A feature shared by several supporting characters share is alliterative names, especially with the initials "LL", including Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Linda Lee, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris and Lucy Lane. Alliterative names were common in early comics.


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.

The alien android (in most incarnations) known as Brainiac is considered by some as 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 of note include the demon Satanus, the fifth-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, the Ultra-Humanite, the imperfect Superman clone or duplicate Bizarro, criminal cyborg Metallo, Kryptonian criminal General Zod (and other Kryptonians imprisoned in the Phantom Zone for their crimes), the Parasite, the Prankster, the Cyborg Superman, Terra-Man, the Toyman, Composite Superman, Gog, and the Metropolis gang known as Intergang (which includes mad scientists such as Dabney Donovan and Thaddeus Killgrave).

Superman in popular culture

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 (the 1948 15-episode serial), Bob Holiday ( It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman, a Broadway musical), George Reeves ( Adventures of Superman), Christopher Reeve (the 1970s–1980s films), John Haymes Newton and Gerard Christopher ( Superboy), Dean Cain ( Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), Tim Daly ( Superman: The Animated Series, Superman: Brainiac Attacks), Tom Welling ( Smallville), George Newbern ( Justice League and Justice League Unlimited), Brandon Routh ( Superman Returns), and Yuri Lowenthal ( Legion of Super Heroes).

As portrayed by Christopher Reeve in the 1978 film, Superman is ranked at no. 26 on The AFI's Top 50 Heroes list.

Superman has also long been a popular subject for music, inspiring songs by artists ranging from The Kinks to Barbra Streisand, including Eminem, Stereophonics, Our Lady Peace, Spin Doctors, Crash Test Dummies, Five For Fighting, The Flaming Lips, 3 Doors Down, 50 Cent, Frank Black, Sufjan Stevens, Bush, Laurie Anderson, Lazlo Bane, Dave Matthews, The Clique, Donovan and Robyn Hitchcock.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is known to be a very big Superman fan. In many episodes of Seinfeld, there are many references to Superman in addition to various memorabilia placed in Jerry's apartment.

Seinfeld himself later appeared alongside an animated Superman (voiced by Patrick Warburton, who played David Puddy in numerous episodes of Seinfeld) in a series of American Express commercials, most notably including the internet series " The Adventures of Seinfeld and Superman."

Shaquille O'Neal is also known for being a big fan of the Man of Steel, going so far as to imprint Superman's logo on his arm. O'Neal also portrayed the character Steel (John Henry Irons), in Steel. Steel first appeared in The Death of Superman storyline.

In addition to popular music, the Superman character has made his way into classical music. Superman is the inspiration for composer Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony. This symphony is in five movements, which are:

  1. "Lex"
  2. "Krypton"
  3. "Mxyzptlk"
  4. "Oh Lois!"
  5. "Red Cape Tango"

The fifth movement, "Red Cape Tango", is inspired by Superman's fight to the death with Doomsday. Also, Superman villain Bizarro inspired a jazzy Michael Daugherty piece of music of the same name.

Superman was named the number 2 pop culture icon in VH1's top pop culture icons in 2004.

Additional reading

  • Superman Returns: Over Superboy's Dead Body An analysis of the origins of Superman.
  • Last Son of Krypton - a novel by Elliot S! Maggin: Superman's "life story" is told and he faces a mysterious alien ruler.
  • Superfolks - a novel about a retired superhero who serves as a Superman analog.
  • What makes Superman so darned American? - an Essay by Gary Engle about the Identity of Superman. [Note: Mr. Engle mistranslates Malachim (angels) as 'sons of the Gods', more accurately it would be translated as 'messengers'. In fact, his entire use of Hebrew is questionable.]
  • 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 (1985) 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 1-4012-0087-7)
  • 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. Reprinted in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore ( ISBN 1-4012-0927-0).
  • The Man of Steel - written and illustrated by John Byrne: The revamp of Superman's origins following Crisis on Infinite Earths.
  • 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.
  • The Further Adventures of Superman - edited by Martin H. Greenberg. A collection of short stories written by talented authors presenting all-new adventures of the Man of Steel. (Bantam Books, November 1993, ISBN 0-553-28568-8)
  • 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, maturing from confused lad to superpowered Metropolite.
  • Superman's Metropolis - written by Jean-Marc Lofficier & Roy Thomas, illustrated by Ted McKeever revisits the character through the prism of German Expressionism cinema in a story patterned after Fritz Lang's original Metropolis.
  • " Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter" - written and illustrated by Kyle Baker: Letitia baby-sits 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 Francis 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 four-part 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 limited series is technically a Batman storyline, but Superman plays a very important and unique role here, facing off against his traditional ally.
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