Happy 75th Birthday, Superman!!!
by Chris Ventura
That's right, folks, 75 years ago today Superman made his dynamic first appearance in Action Comics #1. Since then he became one of the most well known superheroes in the entire world. Everyone knows who Superman is even if they never read a comic. In his 75 years in existence Superman has going through a ton of changes from costumes to even origins. His franchise reached out to TV, movies, and video games as time moved forward as well.
Superman was created by two men by the name of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster wrote and drew respectively the first several years' worth of tales from the man of steels life. What most people don't know is Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman as high school students living in Cleveland, Ohio. They initially created a bald telepathic villain bent on dominating the world, in the short story "The Reign of the Super-Man" in Science Fiction #3, a fanzine Siegel published in 1933. The pair re-envisioned the character, who became more of a hero in the mythic tradition, inspired by such characters as Samson and Hercules, who would right the wrongs of Siegel and Shuster's times, fighting for social justice and against tyranny. It was at this stage the costume was introduced, Siegel later recalling that they created a "kind of costume and let's give him a big S on his chest, and a cape, make him as colorful as we can and as distinctive as we can." The design was based in part on the costumes worn by characters in outer space settings published in pulp magazines, as well as comic strips such as Flash Gordon, and also partly suggested by the traditional circus strong-man outfit, which comprised a pair of shorts worn over a contrasting bodysuit. However, the cape has been noted as being markedly different from the Victorian tradition. Superman's first DC Comics appearance was in Action Comics #1, published on April 18, 1938 (cover dated set as June 1938). In 1939, Superman was launched. The first issue mainly reprinted adventures published in Action Comics.
Since then Superman went through many different changes as time moved forward. Superman faced his first origin reboot in 1986. The series was titled Superman: The Man of Steel written by John Byrne, we witness a complete retelling of the Superman origin where his parents were no longer dead and his powers didn't start to show until he got older as opposed to the 1938 telling where he had his powers at birth omitting anything Superboy related. Other major changes were Lex Luthor now being a business tycoon instead of a super villain mad scientist. Byrne said he powered Superman down a bit from where he was pre Infinite Crisis. The limited series soon became an ongoing series and was adding into the lineup of the other superman titles. By the 1990s there were 5 titles (one released each week, the fifth on the months that had 5 Wednesdays): Superman in Action Comics, Superman, The Adventures of Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel, and Superman: The Man of Tomorrow (this title only shipped on a month that had 5 Wednesdays). The titles were all joined in the same story as opposed to what we see today where each title tell a different story.
The biggest event that put Superman as well as comic in general high up in the early ';90s was The Death of Superman where DC killed who everyone believed was unkillable. After an almost year long story, the Reign of the Supermen, which introduced Steel, Superboy (as a clone of Superman), and Cyborg - who would become an ongoing villain and showed up from time to time - Superman returned. Throughout most of the ';90s Superman was a major force in most of the big events in DC. Another major event that happened in Superman's life was the day Superman or Clark Kent married Lois Lane. Throughout their lives together the couple has faced their fair share of ups, downs, ins, and outs...but no matter what their love for each other always pulled them through together. Then in 1997 DC completely changed Superman into a being of pure light. This caused a bit of an uproar for a time but then as most things Superman related in 1998 Superman split into 2 Superman (Red and Blue) and then in the issue titled Superman Forever he once again returned to his original self. Superman's origin would be retold 2 more times; in Superman: Birthright which many of the fans weren't too happy with, and then not even a few years later was redone again in Superman: Secret Origin. Recently with DC's New 52, Superman faced yet another reboot where his parents were once again died before he even became Superman, this time Clark embraced his Kryptonian side more which gave Superman more of an alien feel, a new costume which is now considered Kryptonian armor, and Clark is no longer married to Lois. Steel, Superboy's as well as Supergirl's origins have also been altered to fit into the DC New 52 Universe.
Throughout the history of television you could always find a show based off of Superman, whether it be cartoon or live action. The first to play Superman was Kirk Alyn who played in the first 2 two theatrical serials, but refused the TV series, The Adventures of Superman role for fear of typecasting. Enter George Reeves who played Superman. The series lasted six seasons, 104 episodes, which played through 1952 to 1958. TV wise we wouldn't see another Superman themed show until 1988 with the introduction of Superboy.
Superboy was played by two actors: John Haymes Newton (Season 1), and Gerard Christopher (Season 2-4). The series lasted 4 seasons and ran in continuity with the 1986 Man of Steel reboot of Superman. The series lasted 100 episodes and then ended.
A year later in 1993 we got another TV series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. This show also lasted 4 season, starring Dean Cain as Superman. The series ran from 1993 to 1997 with only 87 episodes. The series also adapted the marriage of Lois and Clark from the comics. This series unlike the other Superman series ended with a potential 5th season but was not picked up by the network, so the season 4 finale was never finished but was close enough to an ending that there was never a need to do "one more episode.
During this time there was an animated series on the WB called Superman: The Animated Series which ran only 3 seasons and had only 54 episodes, Tim Daly voiced Superman in this series. Which then leads us to the most recent Superman related TV show Smallville, which ran for 10 seasons starring Tom Welling as Clark Kent. The series ran from 2001 to 2011, and had a whopping 218 episodes. This series was all about Clark Kent BEFORE he became Superman, and how he developed into the iconic character we all know and love. The final episode of season 10 showed us a brief glimpse of Superman towards the end of the episode but that's all we Superman fans got as the series took its final bow. On a side note, however, DC Comics is producing a (digital first) comic series called Smallville Season 11 which picks up right where the TV show left off. So for those of you that are curious to see what happens next I would highly recommend you check out the comic series.
While all that was going on on the small screen on the BIG screen we had something completely different. Superman: The Movie released in 1978 starring Christopher Reeve as Superman. Directed by Richard Donner, this movie made the world "believe a man could fly." This movie would become a corner stone in the Superman franchise. Reeve soon after would become the most iconic of all the people to play Superman. In 1980 Superman II was released as a direct sequel to the first movie. Originally the movie was supposed to be directed by Richard Donner who shot 75% of the second film at the same time as the first. Production decided to have Donner only focus on the first movie and brought Richard Lester in as the director for the rest of the second movie. The second movie was as much as success as the first. When Superman III (also directed by Richard Lester) came out in 1983, even Richard Pryor could not save the movie as it did not produce nearly as much as the first two. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace released in 1989 (directed by Sidney J. Furie) the final movie that would star Christopher Reeve did the worst out of all four movies. Most people avoid the fourth movie due to how bad it was. Christopher Reeve actually was one of the three people that co-wrote this movie; it's funny how most people (in joking) deny the movie even exists to this day. Many years later in 2006 we got Superman Returns Starring Brandon Routh as Superman and Directed by Bryan Singer (director of the X-Men movies). The movie was supposed to take place after Superman II, omitting III and IV from the time line. In the end a sequel was never sought after. This year (2013) a New Superman Movie will be coming out, Superman: The Man of Steel! Starring Henry Cavill, Directed by Zack Snyder, and produced by Christopher Nolan (Recent Batman Trilogy). This movie is set to retell the origin of the Man of Steel. Time will tell where this movie will stand in all of the Superman franchise.
To be honest there is so much I can type and discuss about Superman. How his symbol of Hope inspired many people; His fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way; The DC VS Siegel/Shuster family ongoing legal fight. There are just so many aspects of the man of steel one cannot touch on in one single article. Superman has made his mark on the world from his debut in 1938 to life as we know it today in 2013. So Happy Birthday, Superman, I look forward to seeing where the next 75 years takes us.
[Related Story: Check out this brand new clip of Superman: Unbound, the new DC animated feature here.]
Chris Ventura/ Interviewer, Reviewer, Podcaster
Chris Ventura is the founder of Dark Avenger INC, a group of comic reviewers providing weekly reviews of mainstream and independent titles on YouTube. Learn more at www.youtube.com/user/DarkAvengerC86 and www.youtube.com/user/DarkAvengerINC. Also check out their latest venture, a written review blog site on both Blogger and Tumblr called Comic Frontline.
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