Superman is one of the most well known, notable superheroes of all time. He became an archetype for generations of heroes to follow, an inspirational character who has remained apart of history for over 75 years.
Writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster created Superman in the early 1930’s. “Joe and I were high school classmates in Cleveland,” Siegel stated. “Like me, he was a science fiction fan; we published a fanzine called Science Fiction, with Joe as an art director and myself as editor.” In January 1933, Siegel and Shuster had created ‘The Super-Man’ in their fanzine, was a bald, telepathic villain after being granted super-powers by scientist Lex Luthor. He finally became a superhero after Siegel saw Detective Dan. “It occurred to me that a Superman who was a hero might make a great comic character.” The comic they created was rejected by publishers and was destroyed by Shuster later that year.
Siegel created weeks worth of comic material one summer’s night of 1934, which Shuster illustrated the next day. “I suggested to Joe he put an ‘S’ in the triangle,” said Siegel. They added a cape for the effect of motion, and chose primary colours for Superman’s costume as they were the brightest colours they could think of. Thus, Kal-El had been created. On Earth he would live under the identity of his alter ego, Clark Kent.
In June 1938, after many years being turned down by every comic syndicate editor they approached, they finally sell their character to DC Comic’s publisher Harry Donenfeld and editor Vince Sullivan. To meet the comic deadline, Shuster recreated their daily comic strips into 13 pages worth of material. In June 1938, Superman makes his first appearance in Action Comics #1.
He was integrated into war propaganda by the 1940s. In a feature for Look Magazine, Superman ends World War II by gathering Hitler and Stalin. As he was a symbol of truth, justice and the American way, kids dreamed, like any other who tucked bath towels into their shirts and pretended to fly, that Superman was real and, if he appeared before them then, he would be able to put an end to WWII.
It took two years until Superman’s lifelong nemesis, Lex Luthor, was introduced, bringing a science-fiction aspect to the comic. This evil genius menaced the world from his dirigible headquarters, using high-tech laser weaponry to try and take over the world. “ He had red hair in those days,” recounted Dan DiDio. “Luthor’s chrome dome came later.” According to the later DC Superboy spin-offs, Clark Kent and Luthor were childhood friends. When Superboy saves him from a lab fire in 1960’s Adventure Comics #271, he accidentally knocks over a chemical that causes Luthor’s hair loss.
This strong vigilante with superhuman abilities managed to become an almost untouchable character until the appearance of kryptonite in the comics in 1949; green, radioactive fragments of Superman’s home planet that happen to be deadly to him. Not only did it cause him to lose his powers, but it would kill him if exposed to kryptonite for much more than an hour.
After DC’s release of their ‘The New 52’ campaign, in the new continuity of Superman, he had never married Lois Lane and was orphaned by the death of the Kents, his adoptive parents.