The Creation of Superman

The classic superman suit.

Superman is undoubtedly one of the most popular superheroes. (Image: Gareth Simpson via Flickr)

Superman is undoubtedly one of the most popular superheroes. From comic books, Hollywood movies, and even action figures, the ‘Man from the Planet Krypton’ is one of the most preferred characters. In the film versions, several actors donned the red and blue costume for which “The Man of Steel” is known. 

How did one of the most famous superheroes become a name in comic books, television, and Hollywood? In this article, we look at how Superman was created. 

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Action Comics #1 (June 1938), the debut of Superman.
Action Comics #1 (June 1938), the debut of Superman. (Image: via Public Domain)

Searching for a hero

It was the year 1938, at the height of The Great Depression, when Americans were starting to lose hope. In addition, the situation was getting tense in Europe as Austria was annexed into Germany. It was April of that year when Cleveland natives Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created a character that became the most iconic superhero of all time. 

Siegel and Shuster released the maiden issue of Action Comics featuring a superhero named Superman. The publishing company, National Publications, was also looking for a companion serial to partner with Detective Comics (popularly known as DC today). His character was featured along with a magician named Zatara. 

The idea of creating Superman may have been influenced by the death of Siegel’s father in 1932. Siegel’s dad died of a heart attack during a robbery at the family clothing store. Reports revealed that the earliest sketches of the superhero depicted him saving a man at gunpoint who resembled his father.

It was also Siegel’s childhood dream to be a reporter, which is why Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego, was one. 

The inspiration behind Superman 

Contributing to the success of Superman was that it depicted real issues affecting everyday people during that period. The stories revolved around different things, such as the mine accident in Athens, Ohio, on November 5, 1930. Some reports had “The Man of Steel” fighting off anti-Semitic people. This was understandable as Siegel and Shuster were both of Jewish descent. 

One of the reasons for Siegel and Shuster to create Superman was to portray him as the defender of the weak and the oppressed. With World War II beginning in Europe, the world needed a hero. One of the most popular stories was the confrontation between the superhero and Hitler. 

This story exposed the difficulties that the Jewish people were experiencing with the Germans, led by Hitler. Siegel and Shuster inspired other Jewish artists to stand up against persecution. In 1941, Jack Kirby and his partner Joe Simon created another popular superhero, Captain America.  

Christopher Reeve in 'Superman' (1978).
Christopher Reeve in ‘Superman’ (1978). (Image: via Warner Brothers Pictures)

The origins of Superman over the years

Since its debut in Action Comics, the origin of Superman has evolved over the years. One story tells us that he came from a doomed planet, was found by passing motorists, and eventually developed superhuman strength. In 1939, another report says he was sent to an orphan asylum.

During the so-called Golden Age of comics from 1938 to 1956, more original stories of “The Man of Steel” were created. For instance, superpowered pets and different varieties of Kryptonians came into the picture. During this era, the concept of a Super Boy was also created. However, as more stories of how Superman came to be, they became chaotic, and accounts contradicted each other. 

It was John Bryne who restored order in the Superman story. His story depicts the early days of Superman as a hero. He focused on his humanity, so he introduced the Kents and how they played a big part in grounding the superhero. 

Then, he told of the Kryptonian’s early encounters with Lex Luthor and his first team-up with another iconic DC character Batman. This story of Superman’s creation was accepted until 2003, when DC decided to give it a 21st-century touch. 

Mark Waid expanded his version of the Superman story. He tried to fill the gaps in Bryne’s story. He focused on Superman’s years as journalist Kent Clark, traveling worldwide. Clark found his purpose through this, and his experiences inspired him to become a hero. 

Waid gave a different angle to the origin story. He took a page out of the popular Smallville television series and established the friendship between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor during their teenage years. 

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