The Man of Steel himself, Superman, turns 80 years old this year and on April 18th, his 1000th issue will be released. Clark Kent has gone through a lot in 80 years, so before issue #1000 of Action Comics hits the shelves, we want to take you through Superman's varied past!
As we move into the modern era, we start off this half of the timeline with the Death of Superman. What would be an end for many heores is only the beginning in Superman's story. New movies, critically alclaimed TV-shows, and a new universe for the comics, this was an exciting time for the Man of Steel.
Stop by next week for Level Up Entertainment's take on Superman!
October 1992 - The Death of Superman
“Let's just kill him.” was the feeling in the Superman writers room in the early 1990’s. They had planned for a big build up to the marriage between Lois and Clark but that was quickly scuttled so that storyline could be used in an upcoming TV show (See next entry). Their frustration led to one of the most monumental moments in comic book history.
For six issues, running through all of the Superman titles at the time, the hulking alien monster Doomsday laid waste to everything in his path - leading up to their final confrontation in Superman (Vol. 2) #75. Each issue used less and less panels, leading to the fatal clash being told entirely in full page spreads. Ultimately audiences were left with the image of a distraught Lois Lane cradling the dead body of Superman amidst massive destruction.
This comic became a major event. It was reported about on all national news outlets. People lined up in comic stores in record breaking numbers, leading to it becoming best selling comic book of all time, with 2.5 - 3 Million issues being shipped to stores. It would be a long time before this comics was surpassed in sales. The first printing came in a black polybag emblazoned with a bloody version of Superman’s iconic shield. In addition to the comic it also contained a black mourning armband.
The fallout in the story lead to the creation of four fan favorite replacements for Superman: Steel, Superboy, The Eradicator, and Cyborg SUperman. However the fallout of this event is partially what lead to the near collapse of the comic book market in the mid-90’s. Everyone tried to replicate the massive sales numbers leading to an oversaturation of purposefully shocking stories, gimmicky covers, and bloated crossover events.
September 1993 - Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
Taking its cues from John Byrne’s updated origin for Superman, the show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman focused more on the drama between its title characters than fighting villains.
Starring Dean Cain as Clark Kent/Superman and Terri Hatcher as Lois Lane, the series ran for 87 episodes over four seasons. It was nominated for five Emmy Awards, one Director’s Guild Award, one Viewers for Quality Television Award, and it won the Saturn Award for Best Genre Television Series (1994).
September 1996 - Superman: The Animated Series
After the critical and commercial success they achieved with Batman: The Animated Series Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett turned their sights on doing the same with the Man of Steel.
Again following suit with John Byrne’s modern origin for the character, the series had a more proactive Clark, a more capable Lois, and a Luthor who was a corrupt businessman. Being a cartoon, the animated series brought in a lot of the of the Sci-Fi elements of Superman’s story, with characters like Brainiac, Mr. Mxyzptlk, General Zod, Lobo and Titano challenging our hero on a regular basis. Most important of all, was bringing Jack kirby’s The New Gods and Darkseid into the show, permanently linking Superman with their eternal struggle.
But perhaps the most exciting thing about the series was it’s connection to the other DC heroes. Not only did Superman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series, frequently crossover but Superman also met Aquaman, Raced against the Flash, and had a two part episode about Green Lantern, blending Hal Jordan’s origin tale with the then modern Lantern, Kyle Rayner.
October 2001 - Smallville
Once again Superman was brought to the small screen in a live action show focused more on his personal drama than action. The twist however was Smallville focusing on Clark when he was teenager before he became Superman.
Starring Tom Welling as Clark Kent, Michael Rosenbaum as his childhood friend, turned rival, Lex Luthor, and Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang, Clark’s boyhood crush from the comics, Smallville introduced this colorful mythology to a younger generation.
With its combination of drama and heartfelt (if not hokey) super heroic antics, Smallville laid the groundwork for DC’s currently running successful TV shows like Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Superman’s cousin Supergirl.
November 2001 - Justice League
After wildly popular adaptations of Superman, Batman, and even Batman’s future successor, the only place Bruce Timm had left to go was the entire DC Universe. Thus Justice League was born!
Justice League was focused on bringing blockbuster action, deep plots, and dynamic character interactions. This lead the show to have it’s stories told over two or three episode arcs to allow room for the characters to be featured.
Justice League focused on mostly the “Big Seven” members: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern (John Stewart, not the previously established Kyle Rayner), and one swap-out being Hawkgirl, replacing the traditional inclusion of Aquaman.
The series would draw inspiration from the over sixty years of DC Comics history with many, many characters and concepts previously not seen in Batman and Superman, while still building on the established worlds from those shows.
Eventually the show was remade as Justice League Unlimited, changing it’s format to one episode plots but with a focus on more intimate episodes about various other heroes. That’s not to say they lost any of the sophisticated storytelling; there were still season long plots that would escalated into bombastic climaxes.
June 2006 - Superman Returns
Superman returned to the big screen in Superman Returns. The movie served as a sequel to Superman II from 1980 with Brandon Routh filling the red boots of Christopher Reeves. This was the first of many controversial decisions made in this movie.
The story picks up after Superman has left Earth for a few years to search for the remains of Krypton. When he returns we discover that Lois Lane has moved on romantically and has a son, who is later revealed to be Superman’s child. The movie’s focus on melancholic drama over action gave it a mixed reception with audiences.
August 2011 - New 52
After the story Flashpoint the whole DC comics universe changed. This is where the New 52 started, with all of DC’s stories beginning at a #1. Superman started with a brand new story, similar to his original but with a few changes.
The New 52 line ran from 2011 until DC’s Rebirth in 2016. In that time New 52 Superman would go on many adventures, ending in his death in the storyline Darkseid War, allowing for a new but old Superman to take his place.
June 2013 - Man of Steel and the DCEU
Scott Snyder would take on Superman with the DC Extended Universe debut in Man of Steel. With Henry Cavill as the lead, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, and Michael Shannon as the main villain, General Zod.
This movie had split audience reviews, like many before it. The movie’s darker, more realistic tone and controversial ending angered some fans while coming off as a much-needed update to others. Like it or not this movie would kick off the DCEU, leading to Batman vs Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League, and the upcoming Aquaman movie.
May 2016 - DC Rebirth
Superman faces his biggest challenge yet: Fatherhood!
As DC prepared to refresh their line after The New 52, they decided to bring back the Superman people knew and loved. Literally!
Superman and Lois Lane from the timeline before Flashpoint have been living in secret during The New 52 era, content to let these new younger heroes protect the world. With their seeming retirement they finally were able to live a peaceful farmlife and started a family. This was short lived however, because once the New 52 version of Superman died, the classic Man of Steel had to come out of retirement.
WIth his son Jonathan Kent as a burgeoning super hero, Superman is once again proactive in the DC Universe, bringing in a new era as the hopeful, optimistic force for good he’s known as.
April 2018 - Action Comics #1000
And here we are, soon upon the day of the unprecedented thousandth issue of Action Comics.
The Man of Steel has been through quite a bit over these past 80 years. He’s battled the KKK, Nazis, extraterrestrial threats, mad men, Batman, and even death itself. He’s become has much of an american icon as baseball and apple pie.
If Superman has proven anything to us over these one thousand issues, it’s that he’ll be fighting for truth, justice, and the American way for many more years to come!