Superman is a fictional character and superhero, created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, who first appeared in comic books in 1938, and eventually became the most popular comic book hero of all time. He subsequently appeared in various television series and in movies. Superman was born on the planet Krypton and was sent to Earth moments before the planet exploded. While growing up on Earth in the guise of Clark Kent, he discovered that he possessed superhuman powers. Superman returns to his alter-ego between episodes of using his powers to combat evil.
The story of Superman's origin parallels that of other cultural heroes and religious figures who were spirited away as infants from places where they were in danger.
In the legend extant in the early 1960s, Superman was born on Krypton as Kal-el. Moments before the planet exploded, his father Jor-El and mother Lara launched baby Kal-el in a spacecraft which eventually landed on Earth. He was adopted by the kindly Kent family in Smallville, and was raised there until he moved as an adult to Metropolis.
In the original Superman comics (1940s to 1985), Superman disguised himself as mild mannered Clark Kent. As Kent, a reporter at the Daily Planet, Superman learned quickly of ongoing events where he could be of help. Largely working on his own, his real identity was easily kept secret. Fellow reporter Lois Lane is the target of Kent's/Superman's romantic affections. Lane's affection for Superman and her rejections of Kent's advances are a recurring theme in Superman comics, television, and movies.
When crises arise, Kent quickly changes into Superman. In the television series, he often ducked into a telephone booth to make the transformation. In the comic books he rarely did so, due to the booths' transparent windows. Kent often changed in a storeroom in the Daily Planet building, often having to quickly improvise to find a way to change unnoticed. In the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie, Kent entered a revolving door, and changed clothes while spinning within it at superspeed. Thus made invisible, he appeared to enter the building as Kent and exit seconds later as Superman.
In 1986, after the Crisis on Infinite Earths series, DC Comics hired writer/artist John Byrne to recreate the Superman character and offer a fresh retelling of the Superman mythos. In this version, starting with the mini-series, The Man of Steel, Superman - like all Kryptonians - was created through in-vitro fertilization on Krypton. While a fetus, he escaped Krypton's destruction in a spacecraft, and landed months later in Smallville. Effectively this Superman was "born" on Earth, and is a son of Earth as much as Krypton. He was adopted by the Kents and raised like a normal human. Clark's powers in this retelling developed gradually, beginning with his near-invulnerability, and he didn't fly until he was a teenager. After leaving Smallville, he travelled the world before settling in Metropolis, where this more worldly Clark went to work at the Daily Planet.
In this post-1986 series, and in the Lois and Clark television series, Clark Kent is more the real person, and Superman the secret identity that he presents to the world. He adopts the secret identity to prevent his enemies from harming his family or 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, shaped more by his parent's ethics than by his alien power, is a deliberate reversal of the earlier version. As in the original, Lois Lane is Kent/Superman/s love interest. The post 1986 Lois and Clark fall in love. Clark eventually tells her he is Superman, causing a strain in their relationship, but they eventually marry.
Superman possesses extraordinary powers which render him , in the lead-in to the 1950s television series, "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound". His powers were relatively limited in the 1940s and '50s stories, but grew to god-like powers from then through the 1980s. With the 1986 re-creation, his powers were again somewhat diminished.
His powers include:
From the 1950s through the early 1980s, Superman's powers were unlimited: he could travel millions of light-years in brief periods of time; he could dive into stars unharmed; he could travel through time by moving at speeds faster than light; and he could move planets and lift any weight. When Superman was re-created in 1986, he became more "vulnerable" and was no longer omnipotent. As in the original series, writers again gradually increased his powers. Since "coming back to life" (See The Death of Superman) Superman can again survive nuclear blasts, though they leave him wounded and weakened, and he no longer flies faster than light. His strength too has increased since 1986. He again can move mountains, but he can no longer alter the orbit of a planet.
How it works
Superman's powers derive from his Kryptonian biology and Earth's yellow sun, and are likely increased by Earth's lesser gravity.
Kryptonian mitochondria absorb certain wavelengths of the radiation emitted by solar fusion. Under a red sun, this yields increased abilities, which are multiplied a thousand-fold by a yellow sun. The solar energy supplements respiration, such that when cellular materials (perhaps Kryptonian ATP) combine with glucose, they produce abilities beyond those of humans – far beyond under a yellow sun.
"K–ATP" is produced rapidly, enabling a Kryptonian to build up reserves that permit days of super-powered activity in the absence of sunlight. In addition, Krypton's gravity is 50-100 times stronger than Earth's, so Kryptonian cells are also much stronger and denser than a human's.
Under a yellow sun, other factors contribute to invulnerability. First, cell membranes and organelles become more resistant to harm; secondly, a bioelectric field surrounds the cells, making them thousands of times tougher. This "aura" surrounds Superman’s epidermis and teeth, and possibly his nails as well. His hair is invulnerable too, but Superman does not need to have it cut, since Kryptonian hairs are pushed out when still short by new hairs. When his cells become "supercharged" under a yellow sun, a Kryptonian becomes super-powered as well. He is invulnerable to forces under 1 kt., and is harmed only by repeated blows of over 1 mt.. His brain and nervous system keep up with his enhanced speed, as they too are amplified by K-ATP.
Superman's other senses are less linked to solar energy than his strength and speed, Due to Krypton's thinner air, his hearing is more acute than a human's, and solar energy magnifies its accuracy, allowing him to fine-tune it better than humans. His taste, smell, and touch are equally acute. He sees all wavelengths, from radio waves to X-rays, allowing him to detect thermal trails and other "invisible" things.
Superman's cells store vast amounts of yellow solar energy. He replenishes his supply even on cloudy days, and weakens only after a week without sunlight. Near a red sun, his powers would fail faster. Red solar radiation creates a chemical which does not lead to the super energy produced by K-ATP. Kryptonite exposure also stops the process that converts yellow sunlight into superpowers, leaving Superman immediately weakened. His powers return quickly once the kryptonite is removed. He seems to be building up immunity to kryptonite, and it is possible that its effect is as part psychological.
Earlier in his life, as in his battle with Doomsday, Superman's solar energy supply was depleted by exertion. More recent exertions caused less of a power drain, suggesting that he is now either storing more energy, or growing stronger under the yellow sun. It is unknown whether higher energy stars might increase his powers even more.
Krypton's remains spread throughout the universe as kryptonite, a green crystalline substance which is harmful to Superman and robs him of his powers. The "red kryptonite" variant has unpredictable effects on his psyche and powers. Gold Kryptonite removes Superman's powers under Earth's yellow sun, but fortunately is rare. Other variants of kryptonite were introduced sporadically, but in the 1986 reinvention of the Superman story these have been retconned out of existence. Kryptonite was invented specifically for the Superman radio serial, to permit the star to take a vacation.
Superman and other Kryptonians are vulnerable to magic, including wizards, magic-based monsters, or an ordinary person with a magic object. (In DC comics, "magic" is a type of energy that can be harnessed and controlled, as opposed to the more familiar meaning.)
Given his abilities, personal equipment plays less of a role for Superman than for other superheroes.
The Fortress of Solitude, in the Arctic in the Pre-Crisis version and in Antarctica Post-Crisis, acts as Superman's getaway, although it has communications equipment for urgent messages. Originally the Fortress included laboratories, a private zoo of alien animals, a room for communication with the Phantom Zone with a projector to place or remove people from it, a Krypton Memorial, a trophy room, and a gym with custom exercise equipment. It also had tribute rooms to personal friends like Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Batman, and Clark Kent (to throw off suspicion) where Superman prepared special gifts in the event of his death.
Most importantly, the Fortress was where Superman stored the bottle city of Kandor, a Kryptonian city shrunken and stolen by Brainiac prior to the planet's destruction. For years, he worked to reverse the city's condition, while also enjoying the opportunity to visit a native community where he was an honoured guest. The Post-Crisis version was created by the Kryptonian artifact, the Eradicator, when Superman tried to dispose of it in Antarctica. The device created the Fortress which contains much of Krypton's technology, including artificially intelligent robots. Superman and fellow superhero Steel encased the Fortress in a tesseract, permitting the Man of Steel to carry the Fortress wherever he travels.
The early Superman had androids that could impersonate himself and his companions. He largely abandoned them when pollution began to interfere with their functions.
For situations involving kryptonite, Superman had a collection of lead lined suits for protection. If his powers were disabled or he needed stronger protection, he had his Supermobile, which could fly anywhere and use its powerful waldo arms to handle outside objects. The Post-Crisis Superman has access to various equipment, weapons, and vehicles of Kryptonian design, including a large fighting mecha called a battlesuit.
Superman's costume was made from blankets from his rocketship, and shared his resistance to damage in a yellow sun environment. His armour-like costume could also protect others. While carrying passengers in flight, he wrapped them in his cape to protect them from air friction. In the original version, Clark's spectacle lenses were made from two small pieces from his spaceship. Since they were of Kryptonian origin, Clark could fire his heat vision through them without melting them. The post-Crisis Clark has to lift his glasses off his eyes when he uses his heat vision. Superman sometimes carries spare change in his belt buckle. When he had Kandor in his possession, these improvisations were supplemented by the products of the professional tailors and lenscrafters available in the bottle city.
Personality and character
Originally, Superman's personality could be rough and destructive. In one early story in which the government would not help maintain low income areas unless a disaster occurred, Superman went on a rampage and created one. As superhero stories became more oriented toward young readers, the writers moved toward his better known, "boy scout" persona.
Despite the emphasis on Superman having powers "far beyond those of mortal men," his name referred also to his goodness. Superman has been willing to lay down his life or sacrifice his powers for good. He rescues cats from trees and participates in community fund-raisers. He often acts behind the scenes and lets others receive the credit. His modesty and humility catch his foes and critics off-guard, as they do not understand why he spends his life helping others and doing good.
Recent writers have attempted to deepen Superman's portrayal and provide a rationale for his goodness. They reveal Superman's self doubts, and his fears that he might abuse his powers and become a monster, subject to no one. He therefore makes a point of submitting to authority, helping him to feel a restraint on his actions. His boy scout behaviour adds a further layer of self restraint.
In addition to getting rapid access to breaking news, a further motivation for Superman's becoming a reporter is that his physical abilities give him no unfair advantage in a field where the critical skills are intellectual in nature (although he is known for being a fast typist). He has also written fiction in his spare time, including one published book, Under a Yellow Sun.
Superman's lily-white persona has been mocked, ridiculed, and spoofed, especially in recent comic book history, when "grim and gritty" comics dominated the market. Superman may seem old-fashioned and even quaint compared to the "dark avengers" who command the lion's share of the market, but his appeal lives on, and he continues to be a driving force in the medium after more than sixty years.
Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster not as a hero, but as a villain. Their short story "The Reign Of The Superman" concerned a bald-headed villain bent on dominating the world. The story did not sell, forcing the two to reposition their character on the right side of the law. In 1935, their Superman story was again rejected, but DC Comics printed another of their creations, Dr. Occult, who made his first appearance in New Fun #6, October 1935.
The revised Superman originally appeared in Action Comics on June 1, 1938. Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to the company for $130. DC copied the character without remuneration to the creators, while suing other companies for copying it. The Saturday Evening Post reported in 1941 that the pair was being paid $75,000 each per year, still a fraction of DC's Superman profits. In 1946, when Siegel and Shuster sued for more money, DC fired them, prompting a legal battle that ended in 1948, when they accepted $200,000 and signed away any further claim to Superman or any character created from him. DC soon took Siegel's and Shuster's names off the byline.
During a multimedia career spanning over sixty years, Superman has starred in every imaginable situation, throughout the universe, and in many eras of history. Facing a myriad of perils, his powers have increased to the point that he is nearly omnipotent. This poses a challenge for writers: "How does one write about a character who is nearly as powerful as God?" (Superman's Kryptonian name, Kal-El, resembles the Hebrew words for "all that God is") This problem contributed to a decline in Superman's popularity, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, when Marvel Comics brought a new level of character development to mainstream comic books. By the early 1980s, DC Comics had decided that a major change was needed to make Superman him more appealing to current audiences. Writer-artist John Byrne re-created Superman and re-started the series. This 1986 retcon brought substantial changes to the character and met with varying success. Nevertheless, the re-launch of Superman comic books returned the character to the mainstream, again in the forefront of DC's titles.
Fans debate whether the more drastic changes were necessary. Two alterations have had long-term effects. In the epic The Death of Superman storyline, the hero apparently died at the hands of supervillain Doomsday. He returned from the dead to defeat Doomsday, though his "death" gave rise to a number of new characters and storylines. In 1995, Superman (or rather, Clark Kent) finally married Lois Lane, and the two have had a happy marriage ... so far. Future editorial changes to the series may reverse some or all of these changes.
In 2003, DC Comics released a 12-issue maxiseries titled Superman: Birthright, written by Mark Waid and penciled by Lenil Francis Yu, which appears to be another retcon of Superman's origins. However, the series's status as "canon" and its effect on the continuity of the Superman titles remains to be seen.
Familiar characters in Superman include friends and coworkers like:
In Metropolis, Superman enjoys a close relationship with the Police Department. This especially applies to the Special Crimes Unit (SCU), a police unit that deals with superpowered threats, led by Captain Margaret Sawyer, with Dan "Terrible" Turpin as her second-in-command.
There have been a number of characters called Superboy. The original Superboy, introduced in 1944, represented "the adventures of Superman when he was a boy." This Superboy is no longer in publication, as it is now deemed that Clark Kent did not become a superhero until adulthood. A new Superboy character who is a clone of Superman was created in the early 1990s; adventures featuring this character continue to be published.
Superman has a cousin from Krypton, Supergirl. Though she is killed in the comic book series Crisis on Infinite Earths, Supergirl was re-introduced in the retcon, but her history is confusing and convoluted. One such Supergirl called herself Cir-El, and believed herself to be the daughter of Superman and Lois Lane.
Originally Superman's human parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, died when he reaches adulthood; the current version has them alive and well and regularly visited by Clark, who relies on them for advice in difficult times.
Superman has a pet dog, Krypto, who has powers and abilities like his master's. In the original, Krypto is Kal-El's pet on Krypton who is accidentally sent to Earth in a test run for Kal-El's trip. Krypto has all the physical abilities of a Kryptonian in a yellow sun environment, as well as the intelligence of a human child. John Byrne's post-Crisis reboot first eliminated Krypto, but re-introduced him after he followed Superman home from a false Krypton built as a trap by one of Superman's enemies. This Krypto has normal canine intelligence. This makes him too dangerous to keep outside the Fortress of Solitude without close supervision by a keeper like Superman.
Comics that regularly feature Superman
Current comics starring Superman:
Current comics in which Superman does not star, but appears regularly:
Adaptations in other media
The Superman character has made the transition to radio, television and movies, each on multiple occasions. Among the actors who have played the role are George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, and Dean Cain.
There have also been numerous animated cartoon series starring the Man of Steel:
Both Superman's name and the premise of his character owe a debt to the concept of the Übermensch, developed by the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and elaborated upon by George Bernard Shaw. Additionally, Superman is believed to have been inspired in part by Philip Wylie's 1930 science fiction novel Gladiator, about a man whose superhuman strength inspires him to help the human race, but who is instead spurned by humanity precisely because of his power. Other sources cited as inspirations include Doc Savage and The Shadow. Superman is a staple of American pop culture.
DC Comics has copyrighted variations on the "super" theme, such as "superdog" and "supergal", to circumvent parody or product confusion. Nevertheless, a great many imitations and parodies of Superman have appeared over the years. One of the first Superman imitations, Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel, sparked legal action because of its similarities to Superman. Well-known spoofs of Superman include Mighty Mouse, Underdog, and Super Goof.
In the 1990s, comic book artist and writer Rob Liefeld created a Superman pastiche and starred him in his own comic book series, Supreme. The series, published by Liefeld's Awesome Comics, sold moderately well at first, but sales dwindled until the series was taken over with issue #41 by writer Alan Moore. Moore produced 22 issues of Supreme that paid homage to the classic "Silver Age" Superman.
One of the few Superman-like characters that DC comics allowed to stand without litigation is Hyperion, from Marvel Comics's superhero team, Squadron Supreme. The Squadron Supreme was created to do unofficial JLA/Avengers crossovers; the "new" characters were thinly veiled versions of their DC JLA counterparts. Hyperion stood in for Superman, the Whizzer for The Flash, etc. DC in turn introduced the "Assemblers of Angar", a thinly-veiled Avengers pastiche. Hyperion has been revamped in a new Marvel series, Supreme Power, giving a new take on the Superman mythology.
In 2004, the government of Sweden refused to allow a child be named Stålmannen, which means Superman (literally: The Man of Steel). (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3701802.stm)
Superman in popular music
Superman has long been a popular subject for music, inspiring songs by artists ranging from The Kinks and Barbra Streisand of one generation through Genesis, R.E.M. and Spin Doctors to current performers like Eminem. See: Superman in popular music
See: Superdupont, Superlópez
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