DEATHS, REBIRTHS, REBOOTS1 of 13
Superman’s been through the wringer in his career. In 80 years, he’s changed love interests, teams, power sets, and histories. He’s been de-aged and re-aged. Hell, he can’t even keep his trunks consistent.
This week, Action Comics #1000 brought Superman into a new era, closing the book on his first 80 years and bringing writer Brian Michael Bendis into the fold to take over both Action Comics and Superman.
That got us thinking about all the other times Superman’s life got turned upside down in his eight decade history (it's more than a few). So with that in mind, take a look back on the biggest status quo changes in Superman’s history.
FIRST A VILLAIN...2 of 13
In 1933, in the pages of Science Fiction #3, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster published their story "Reign of the Super-Man." The title character is a bald homeless man named Bill Dunn who gains telepathic powers from a mad scientist's experiment and attempts to take over Earth.
Later on, after seeing the success of pulp heroes and comic strip adventurers, Siegel decides to turn his title character into a hero. He writes up a new version of Superman who is secretly named Clark Kent and is, in fact, an alien named Kal-L, last survivor of the dead planet Krypton. Superman's powers are now physical rather than mental. Shuster does artwork for the comic strip and they begin to submit it.
The story is rejected repeatedly and so Shuster rewrites it again, this time with art from Russell Keaton. The new origin is that Kal-L is actually the last survivor of Earth in the far future and is sent backwards in time to the present day where he is found and raised by the Kents. This story is also rejected and Siegel resumes a partnership with Shuster, reverting to the Krypton origin.
... THEN A HERO3 of 13
After being rejected by no less than 17 publishers, the heroic alien Superman is finally published in the pages of Action Comics #1 because the issue had space that needed to be filled. Although Siegel has plotted out the name of Superman's parents and planet, none of these are actually named in this issue's origin story.
Superman is said to have great strength, resistance to conventional injury, and is able to leap 1/8th of a mile. His costume has no origin beyond it being something he seemed to put together for when he is operating as a champion of the oppressed. Eventually, it is revealed that he takes on a job at a newspaper so that he can be among the first to know when certain crimes or disasters are occurring elsewhere.
This Superman is very involved in social problems, fighting corrupt landlords and ending wars by forcing the leaders of the fighting nations to face each other one-on-one. The Man of Steel could be described as more of a rebel, openly forcing the federal government to improve an area of slums by asking the residents to leave and then demolishing it so that it's declared a disaster area. Wanted by both the police and the U.S., Superman is someone who is concerned about what's right rather than what's legal.
TAKING FLIGHT4 of 13
Superman is adapted into a radio show and later a number of cartoon serials. In both of these, the character is voiced by actor/singer Bud Collyer who is praised for his ability to actually give Clark and Superman two distinct voices (a quality mentioned in the comic books as part of the disguise). The radio show strongly implies that Superman can fly and the cartoon serials visually confirm it.
This ability finally makes its way into the Superman comic books in Superman #10 in 1941. From then on, the Man of Tomorrow is able to completely defy gravity, not just leap really far.
By this time, other abilities are being mentioned and soon Superman's power levels are greatly increased. He gains powers such as X-ray vision, arctic breath, telescopic/microscopic vision, increased hearing, heat-vision. In some stories, he even displays super-ventriloquism, time travel, and the ability to compress his own muscles and alter their shape (giving Clark Kent and Superman different faces and builds). Whereas a tank could have seriously injured him before, the 1940s show us a Superman who can survive an atomic explosion.
Superman also gets a special base for the first time, the Secret Citadel, located in a mountain outside of Metropolis.
It is during this time that Superman becomes more of a patriotic icon. As the US enters World War II, the hero's former catchphrase of truth and justice becomes truth, justice and the American Way. It's a noticeable difference from the rabble-rouser he used to be.
ENTER: SUPERBOY5 of 13
In 1945, the character of Superboy (an adolescent version of Superman) and his hometown of Smallville are introduced in More Fun Comics #101.
Initially, this is treated as a separate continuity from the mainstream Superman stories. The Superboy adventures finally let readers get to know Ma and Pa Kent. We also get introduced to Lana Lang in 1950, giving Clark Kent a high school love interest who is actually more interested in him than his colorful alter ego (and is convinced they are actually the same person).
In 1951, DC decides to alter continuity by merging the Superboy stories into the mainstream reality. As far as canon is now concerned, Clark Kent did begin his career in the Mid-Western town of Smallville under the name Superboy and then, years later, took on the name Superman when he moves to Metropolis on the East Coast.
As the years go on, the Superboy stories are used to introduce other elements into canon, such as Clark's dog Krypto, a super-powered canine with a cape (awesome).
THE SILVER AGE BEGINS6 of 13
In 1956, DC Comics began its first major relaunch by introducing an entirely new version of the Flash with a new secret identity and origin. This begins the Silver Age of Comics, with a wave of new heroes being introduced such as a newly re-imagined Green Lantern, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Atom and others. Characters such as Aquaman, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are retooled as younger characters in the modern-day with slightly different origins and back-stories.
Superman's birth name of Kal-El is printed for the first time in a comic book in Superman #113 in 1957. Starting the next year, many new elements are introduced into his history and world that will become staples of the character. By 1961, readers have met Bizarro, Brainiac, Lori Lemaris, General Zod, the Bottle City of Kandor, Pete Ross, Mon-El, several new types of Kryptonite, and Superman's cousin Kara Zor-El a.k.a. Supergirl.
The Silver Age also introduces Superman's new Fortress of Solitude, based in the Arctic, and the idea that Clark Kent and Lex Luthor knew each other as teenagers in Smallville. A story features teenage Clark meeting the Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of teens from various planets in the 30th century who say they were inspired by legends of Clark's exploits. This leads to Clark regularly engaging in time travel adventures and the LSH become popular enough to spin-off into their own title.
KRYPTONITE NEVERMORE!7 of 13
In 1971, Denny O'Neil is brought on as writer for the Superman title and makes efforts to shake up the status quo. All Kryptonite on Earth is transformed into harmless lead, but the same event that causes this also causes Superman's power to be halved. Clark Kent also switches jobs, leaving The Daily Planet to become an on-air television reporter, and later anchor, for the Galaxy Broadcasting Company.
Not too long afterward, DC shifted back to the old way, with Superman regaining his former power levels and new samples of Kryptonite falling to Earth. He kept the job as TV newsman though and gained Lana Lang as a co-anchor, creating a new love triangle since she and Lois were now part of his everyday life at the same time.
POST-CRISIS8 of 13
In 1985, DC published the 12-issue series Crisis on Infinite Earths. The story featured a villain who threatened the entire multiverse. To prevent everything in existence from being wiped away, the various DC superheroes needed to restart the Big Bang, even though their history would be altered in the process. This was used to explain DC Comics doing yet another relaunch, altering/modernizing the origins and histories of many characters and dismissing many stories that were now viewed as cluttering up continuity.
The Silver Age Pre-Crisis Superman was given a final story and a sense of closure in "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow."
Following this, John Byrne's miniseries The Man of Steel introduced a new version of Superman with a new history. Clark's powers didn't fully emerge until his late teens and he never knew Lex Luthor in Smallville. He never met the Legion of Super-Heroes as a kid. The Phantom Zone criminals, his cousin Supergirl, Krypto, and the Fortress no longer existed. He still had many of the same powers but they were not on the same level they had once been, making him more vulnerable.
Another major change was that the Kents were now still alive and well, whereas previous continuity had always had them die before Clark moved to Metropolis. And whereas Superman had been the first of Earth's superheroes Pre-Crisis, he was now only the first of the modern age crime-fighters, with the World War II heroes and the Justice Society preceding him by several decades.
Byrne's stories emphasized a new level of realism and darkness, such as a two-issue arc where Superman was seemingly forced to perform in a pornographic film and a three-issue arc where he executed three criminals in cold blood.
Following Byrne's departure, writers began slowly bringing back Pre-Crisis elements such as the Fortress of Solitude. And despite the success of The Man of Steel, live-action media and cartoon adaptations continued to reference the Pre-Crisis Superman mythos instead.
DEATH, MARRIAGE, NEW POWERS9 of 13
The 1990s was full of major events and long-term storylines meant to provoke interest in Superman and put the Last Son of Krypton into unfamiliar territory.
After dating Lois Lane as Clark Kent, the hero finally proposed to her and revealed his double identity. DC initially intended to then marry off the two, but were basically told to change their plans in order to not contradict the live-action series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which focused heavily on their romantic tension.
To forestall the wedding, DC Comics did the "Death of Superman" storyline, leading to the creation of new characters inspired by Superman, including the armored Steel and a new Superboy who was actually an attempted clone of the Man of Steel.
Later on, Clark and Lois split for a while and finally got married during a time that the hero was powerless. The wedding issue coincided with the television wedding in Lois & Clark.
Another major storyline that occurred after this was the Electric Superman arc, where the Man of Tomorrow was given a capeless bodysuit and new energy-based abilities for an entire year. This led into another story where Superman's mind was corrupted and he decided to become ruler of Earth.
Basically, readers never knew what to expect from Superman year-to-year.
SILVER AGE RENAISSANCE10 of 13
Starting in the 21st century, more and more classic ideas of the Silver Age started coming back. Krypto and Kara Zor-El came back, Superman started seeming more powerful and formidable, and old silly villains that hadn't been seen since before the Crisis began creeping back in.
Major new storylines also shook up the books, such as Lex Luthor becoming President of the United States of America.
In 2003, Mark Waid and Leinil Yu redefined the Superman mythos for the first time in nearly twenty years, bringing a new origin that brought back Pre-Crisis elements and reflected something that would be familiar to those who'd come to know Superman through the films or the new TV series
Smallville. Lex Luthor once again had a history with Clark back in Smallville and it was revealed that the Man of Steel's famous S-shield was not just a family crest, as had been detailed in movies and television, but was actually a Kryptonian symbol that meant hope.
Just as Waid explored Superman's beginnings, Grant Morrison explored Superman's end days in All-Star Superman, illustrated by Frank Quitely. This story embraced the atmosphere and ideas of the Silver Age while modernizing them.
Later still, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank brought back the classic Phantom Zone villains and Superman's connection to the Legion of Super-Heroes. They then took his origin much closer to its Silver Age roots in Superman: Secret Origin. It now seemed that most of the initial post-Crisis history and vision of Superman's world had been dismissed now.
THE NEW 5211 of 13
In Superman's case, his present day adventures were featured in the title Superman while his origins were detailed in the first months of the "New 52" in Action Comics.
As with Pre-Crisis continuity, the Kents were again deceased before he began his career as an adult superhero. He began adventuring in Metropolis in a proto-costume involving an S-shield T-shirt and blue jeans.
In the modern day, he had only been a hero for roughly five-seven years and was, in fact, the first public superhero of Earth (although Batman had been operating secretly for many years beforehand, and other superhumans have been around for decades if not centuries). He was also no longer with Lois Lane. There entire marriage was (seemingly) erased from continuity (but stay tuned).
Instead, it was Wonder Woman who caught Superman's eye (and heart), and the two even shared a title.
Superman also got a new solar flare power that weakened him with overuse, and public opinion split on whether or not Superman was good for the world, sending Clark on a journey to find himself.
The "New 52" also first introduced the mysterious figure Mr. Oz, who had a shocking connection to Superman, and it brought back a second version of Superman - from before the "New 52" - replete with his marriage to Lois Lane (and even a son!).
Two Supermen... Who'd think of that? Of course, it all led to...
REBIRTH12 of 13
At the onset of “Rebirth,” the “New 52” Superman seemingly died - with his Lois Lane soon joining him. In their stead, the post-Crisis Superman, Lois Lane, and Jon Kent took their place.
He also joins the Justice League, immediately replacing his younger counterpart and begins to forge a relationship with a Batman and Wonder Woman who knew and trusted (and loved) his doppelganger.
Superman just hit the milestone Action Comics #1,000 - the first mainstream comic book to hit 1,000 issues. The oversized special introduced writer Brian Michael Bendis to the Superman titles.
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