Posted: Oct 02 2014
by: Neal Haworth

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Origins of Superman

The Man of Steel is an iconic part of American history that remains relevant welll over 70 years after his inception. And with Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice currently in filming, there's no signs of this trend slowing down. However, most people are unfamiliar with Superman's true origins and how he came to be the Man of Steel.

The Beginning...

Superman is the brainchild of writer Jerry Siegel and sketch artist Joe Shuster. While attending Glenville High School school in Cleveland, Ohio in 1933, the duo came up with the idea of a telepathic villain named Superman (yes, he was first a villain at first). Siegel later published a short story titled “The Reign of the Superman,” in which the villainous bald anti-hero Superman first appeared.

Later that same year, Siegel and Shuster reinvisioned Superman as being a hero rather than a villain. In various interviews, the two students claimed to have modeled Superman's physical appearance after the famous actor, screenwriter and director Douglas Fairbanks, who was best known for his roles in Robin Hood and The Mark of Zorro. Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent, was modeled after American actor, comedian, screen writer and stuntman Harold Clayton Lloyd, Sr., as well as both Siegel and Shuster. The name “Clark Kent” was created by combining the names of actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor, both of whom were role models of Siegel and Shuster.

Siegel opened up about the creation of Clark Kent in an interview with Comics Values Monthly, confirming Kent was partially envisioned from both his and Shuster's lives.

You see, Clark Kent grew not only out of my private life, but also out of Joe's. As a high school student, I thought that some day I might become a reporter, and I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn't know I existed or didn't care I existed. As a matter of fact, some of them looked like they hoped I didn't exist. It occurred to me: What if I was real terrific? What if I had something special going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that? Then maybe they would notice me,” said Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel in an interview with Comics Values Monthly back in the early 1990s.

Siegel and Shuster had a long journey ahead of them before the Man of Steel became an integral part of the the DC Comics universe. With the general concept no perceived, the duo began contacting various publishers in hopes of turning their vision into a reality. During their 6-year quest to find a publisher, Siegel and Shuster improved on Superman's design and story, giving him Hercules-like strength, a costume with an S on the front, a cape, and creating the story in which Superman is sent back in time and raised by Sam and Molly Kent.

It wasn't until 1939, however, when the first Superman self-titled series was published. The comic book series was an instant success, with people from across the country expressing interest in the Man of Steel. Shuster's eyesight was deteriorating at this time, so he was forced to offload the work to professional design studios. Even with his failing eyesight, though, Shuster remained adamant on hand-drawing each and every face of Superman before sending it was published.

Superman The Movie

Due to its enormous success, Shuster and Siegel were able to convince various film producers to create a Superman movie. With a budget of just $55 million and criticism growing across the board, there were real doubts whether or not the movie would even be made. Superman the movie was released in 1979, earning more than $300 million during its run in U.S. theaters. It was nominated for several Academy Awards, some of which included Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Music, and it also received a special nomination for its outstanding visual effects.

Superman the movie was praised for its all-star cast, some of whom included:

  • Marlon Brando as Jor-El
  • Gene Hackman as the villanious Lex Luthor
  • Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent and Superman
  • Ned Beatty at the Otis, Lex Luthor's henchman
  • Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent, Clark's adoptive father
  • Trevor Howard as the First Elder
  • Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
  • Jack O'Halloran as Non
  • Valerie Perinne as Eve Teschmaster
  • Maria Schell as Vond-Ah
  • Terrance Stamp as General Zod
  • Phyllis Thaxter as Martha Kent
  • Jeff East as the younger Clark Kent
  • Susannah York as Lara

Several follow-up films were release in the wake of Superman, including Superman II in 1980, Superman III in 1983, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987, Superman Returns in 2006, and Man of Steel in 2013. Both Superman Returns and Man of Steel took a different approach than its predecessors, ignoring the events which took place in previous films. Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice is also currently in production, with a scheduled release date for 2016.

Man of Steel Comics Continue

Several small comic book publishers purchased Superman material, including Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's National Allied Publishing, an affiliate predecessor of the now-famous DC Comics. Superman appeared in the publishing company's first edition of Action Comics on April 18, 1983 (edition cover date June 1983). While several comics before Action Comics had depicted Superman, this was the first time the true Man of Steel and all of his distinguishable characteristics was published.

In 1986, DC Comics hired writer and design artist John Byrne to produce a weekly series titled The Man of Steel, which ran for just over a month. Later than same year, DC Comics published Superman volume 2, which ran until 2006 before being canceled.

Of course, this was only the beginning of Superman's story, as DC Comics released several follow-up comics featuring the Man of Steel. After the cancellation of volume 2, two separate series – Superman and Superman: The Man of Tomorrow – was subsequently released. The latter of the two, Superman: The Man of Tomorrow,

Superman's Story

Superman's story has gone through numerous changes since he was first envisioned by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the 1930s. However, the most widely known version centers around the son of Krypton inhabitants Jor-El and Lara. The couple sent their son, Kal-El, into space, fearing for his safety. Kal-El landed in the rural town of Smallville, KS, where he was taken in and cared for by a farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent. The Kents named their adopted son Clark and raised him throughout his adolescence.

As a teenager, Clark began to realize that he was different; he possessed remarkable powers that could only be described as out of this world. Clark took on the role of Superman after his mother Martha made him a costume with a large S on front. Wearing this costume, Clark Kent would protect the innocent by fending off (never killing) villains.

Like most superheroes, Superman possesses some incredible powers. Traditionally, he was described as being “Faster than a speeding bullet; more powerful than a locomotive; able to leap tall building in a single bound.” Jay Morton first coined this phrase, using it in the Superman animated shorts during the mid-to-late 1940s. Superman's powers vary depending on the time frame and media in which he is portrayed, but it typically consists of flight, X-ray vision, super strength, speed, heat-laser vision and microscope vision. Some comics and films have also portrayed Superman as blowing intensely cold air.

Superman developed his special powers after landing on Earth. Once here, his cells absorbed the sun's energy, stimulating his generic code and giving him various powers. His former planet of Krypton has a red sun, which did not offer these same superhuman powers. Earth's yellow sun, however, triggered a reaction to Superman's genetic makeup that gave him superhuman powers.

Superman is a symbol for Truth, Justice and the American Way, all of which he aims to protect by fighting off villains. Some of the different villains Superman has faced throughout the course of his story include Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Darkseid, Bizarro, Metallo and Parasite.

Although his name would suggest otherwise, the Man of Steel can die. In one series, Doomsday killed Superman, although the Man of Steel was later brought back to life. Superman has one weakness, however, that's worth noting: Kryptonite. Taken from his home planet of Krypton, Kryptonite weakens Superman while simultaneously disabling his powers for a brief period of time. Kryptonite has been featured in all Superman films with the exception of Man of Steel.

It's important to note that Superman is a member of the Justice League – a group of superheroes consisting of the Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Batman and Aquaman. The Justice League first appeared in the February-March edition of The Brave and the Bold #28, and it soon had its own comic book series later that same year.

Are you a fan of the Man of Steel? Let us know in the comments section below!

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