Superman: Who is the Original Superhero?

This Looks Like a Job For Superman!

Superman: “Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share… I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.

Superman vs. The Elite

A journalist looks up from his computer. He’s just finished an expose about a corrupt politician in time for tomorrow’s edition. He spots his wife returning from an interview and rises to greet her. The world shakes with an explosion, followed by a high pitched whine and peoples’ fearful screams. Through the window, he sees a plane on fire hurtling towards them.

Everyone runs except for the journalist, who slips away into an unused supply closet. His clothes are instantly replaced by a blue costume and a red cape. He flies through an open window and catches the plane. A familiar chorus of voices rises up.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman!

Superman wrote the superheroics book. He’s faced everything critics, movie studios, and DC Comics can throw at him and is still standing tall 84 years after his debut. So who is he? What can he do? How has he changed over almost a century? Let’s find out. Scroll down, down, and away!

The Last Son of Krypton: Superman’s Backstory

[Superman has saved Lois Lane for the first time]
Superman:You needn’t be afraid of me. I won’t harm you.

Action Comics #1

Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938. He was created by Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster. The duo blended many influences to create their hero, including John Carter of Mars, Popeye, Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, and circus strongmen. His alter ego was named for actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor.

A scientist named Jor-El discovered that the planet he lived on was dying although he couldn’t convince authorities of that. He built a spaceship to bring his son, Kal-El, from Krypton to another planet. The ship escaped just as Krypton exploded. Kal-El landed on Earth and was found by farmers John and Martha Kent, who adopted the infant and named him Clark.

Clark Kent slowly developed superhuman powers as he absorbed Earth’s yellow sunlight. He became a journalist attached to the Daily Star, (later renamed the Daily Planet). Clark chose to help others with his powers and disguised himself with a colorful costume and the alias Superman.

Superman was very different when he debuted. He was brash, anti-authority, and had no problem threatening people to get his way. He once destroyed a slum neighborhood to force the government to replace the run-down buildings with better ones. He transitioned to his more familiar temperament after America entered WWII.

Man of Steel: Superman’s History

Superman:I believe in second chances. I believe in redemption. But mostly, I believe in my friends.”

Justice League “Wake The Dead” (Season 1, Episode 11)

The end of WWII and scientific advancements brought about a new age for Superman. His already superhuman powers became godlike. Several major characters were introduced, including his boss Perry White and best friend, Jimmy Olsen. Aliens replaced gangsters as the threat du jour while a new menace was discovered: kryptonite.

With new characters came new allies. Superman frequently worked with Batman and Robin before joining the Justice League. Several Kryptonian survivors were found, such as his cousin Supergirl, his dog Krypto, and a menagerie of super-animals.

The stories grew darker over time. Superman encountered real world issues like racism, warfare, drug use, and other problems he was powerless to stop. Superman became a paragon who denounced the violent methods of newer, edgier heroes, even as he became their counterpart.

Clark was set to marry Lois Lane in the ’90s, but an editorial mandate prevented that. The writers chose instead to kill him and created the monster Doomsday to do the deed. His death made national news in the real world before he was brought back to life he following year. Clark and Lois finally married after a 58 year courtship and a resurrection.

Man of Tomorrow: Superman’s Modern Stories

Doctor Manhattan:No matter how many times Superman’s existence is attacked, he will survive. Even if change is constant. Because hope is the North Star of the Metaverse.

Doomsday Clock

The modern era has been a trial for Superman. Many writers and casual fans dismiss him as a big blue Boy Scout and a boring cliche. That view hasn’t been helped by popular deconstructions like The Boys’ Homelander, Invincible’s Omni-Man, the titular Brightburn, or any of these 6 Evil Supermen.

DC introduced a new incarnation of the character with their New 52 imprint. This version was more in line with the ’30’s original, a brash anti-authoritarian who let his fists do the talking. Due to multiversal shenanigans, the normal Superman and Lois Lane were living in a secret retirement until the New 52 version died.

Clark recently learned that a sibling-species to the Kryptonians had been enslaved on a planet called Warworld and has left Earth to free them. But don’t think Earth is bereft of its protector. While temporarily retired, he and Lois had a son named Jon Kent who was artificially aged to his teens. Clark has passed on the Superman title to his son.

A World of Cardboard: Superman’s Powers and Personality

[A young goth prays as she prepares to jump off a roof]
Superman: [appears behind her] “Your doctor really did get held up, Regan. It’s never as bad as it seems. You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.” [she steps away from the ledge]

All-Star Superman

They don’t call him Superman for nothing. He’s super strong, fast, durable, can fly, has heat vision and freeze breath, and those are just his common superpowers. He has dozens of other superpowers and we once counted down the ten best. Don’t worry, Super-Basket Weaving and Repair-The-Great-Wall-of-China Vision didn’t make the list.

Superpowers are fun, but Superman is still dangerous without them. He has trained under Batman so he can hold his own in a fight. He has mastered the Kryptonian martial art Torquasm Rao and its mental counterpart Torquasm Vo.

Despite his powers, Superman has more weaknesses than a stereotypical vampire. Kryptonite radiation is poisonous to him and there are several varieties that exist with their own perils. He is vulnerable to magic and can be overpowered by the few villains who are stronger than him. Superman also can’t gain power from red sunlight, which sometimes drains his reserves.

Superman is kind, courageous, and wise. He’s about as idealistic a hero as you can find. When not saving the day, he reports news as bumbling, mild-mannered Clark Kent. The real Superman is somewhere between the two, more assertive than Clark and more casual than his costumed alter ego.

The Actors Who Play The Hero: A Selection

Listing everyone who has played the character is a fool’s errand, so here are the best.

Bud Collyer – The Adventures of Superman, Fleischer Studios’ Superman
George Reeves – Adventures of Superman
Christopher Reeve – Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace
Brandon Routh – Superman Returns
Henry Cavill – Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, Justice League
Tom Welling – Smallville
Tyler Hiechilin – Supergirl, Superman and Lois
Danny Dark – Super Friends
Tim Daly – Superman: the Animated Series
George Newbern – Justice League, Justice League: Unlimited

Didya Get All That?

The first and greatest superhero.

Image: Pictured: Tyler Hoechlin as Superman — Photo: The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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