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!
Comic, TV, Movies, and beyond - see all the places the Man of Tomorrow has been in part one of our Superman timeline!
Stop by next week for Part Two!
June, 1938 - Superman debuts in Action Comics #1
It can not be overstated how important is comic was. Not only was it a defining moment for pop culture but it may be the defining moment for comic books period. Before Action Comics and Superman, comic books were primarily about pulpy detectives, westerns, or were cartoony gag strips. Superman was the first character in a brightly colored costume who used super powers to fight crime and protect the downtrodden. In essence, this was not only the first Superman comic, it was the first superhero comic.
Created by two Cleveland kids, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, at the tail end of the depression Superman and Action Comics would be published by National Allied Publications. National would later change their name to DC Comics, named after one of Action Comics sister series Detective Comics.
When Action Comics #1 was first published it cost ten cents. On August 24, 2014, a copy graded 9.0 by CGC was sold on eBay for $3,207,852.
February, 1940 - The Adventures of Superman radio show debuts
The Adventures of Superman radio show was a place of many firsts. It was the Man of Steel’s first introduction to the world outside of comics readers. It was where we were first introduced to Perry White and Jimmy Olsen. It also gave Superman his first and biggest weakness, Kryptonite.
It was also the first time Superman would not only affect pop culture, but American society at large. In 1946 an activist named Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan and gave information on the group to the writers of the show, who then created a story arc featuring Superman doing battle with the Klan. It brought the KKK into the national spotlight and was a huge blow to its image.
September, 1941 - The Fleischer Studios shorts begin
Superman’s fantastical exploits could not be contained to audio only though. Following the success of The Adventures of Superman, Fleischer Studios brought Superman to full color life with animated shorts that would play before feature films.
The shorts were created using a process called rotoscoping. This animation technique used footage of live actors who were then animated over creating, for the time, incredibly lifelike movements that weren't seen in cartoons yet.
Comic artists, writers, and film directors still consider this a milestone for the character, and its influence can be seen in the work of writers and artists like Mark Waid and Darwyn Cooke, as well as in movies like The Rocketeer and Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow.
January, 1948 - The Superman Serials
Comics, cartoons, and radio shows are all great but there’s something to be said for seeing your favorite hero realized in flesh in blood. Thus the first Superman serials were born!
Serials would tell a multipart story told in chapters before a screening of a movie. It’s what inspired the episodic format for the Star Wars series for example. The first run of serials told Superman’s origin story and his struggle against the nefarious Spider Lady over fifteen chapters. Superman was played by Kirk Alyn and Lois Lane was played by Noel Neill.
The wild success of the original serials lead to a second series in 1950 called Atom Men vs. Superman. This was also told in fifteen parts and featured the first live action lex Luthor, played by Lyle Talbot.
November, 1951 - Superman on the Silver Screen!
Both of the serial series were successful enough that Superman’s first feature film was released a year later. Superman and the Mole Men, concerns reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane arriving in the small town of Silsby to witness the drilling of the world's deepest oil well. The drill, however, has penetrated the underground home of a race of small, bald humanoids who, out of curiosity, climb to the surface at night. They glow in the dark, which scares the local townsfolk, who form a mob intent on killing the strange visitors. Only Superman can intervene to prevent a tragedy.
The film portrayed America's fear of those who are different and unknown. This was echoing a lot of the racial tensions in American society at the time, further cementing Superman as the moral center for the American identity. Superman and the Mole Men’s major contribution to the Superman legacy however was the casting of George Reeves as the titular hero.
September 1952 - The Adventures of Superman begins on the small screen
Superman found his way into every home in America when The Adventures of Superman started broadcasting in 1952. George Reeves reprises the dual role of Clark Kent/Superman after portraying him in Superman and the Mole Men the year before.
The Adventures of Superman spanned 104 episodes over six years, defining the character for an entire generation of fans. The series revolved around Superman fighting gangsters, thugs, mad scientists and non-human dangers like asteroids, robots, and malfunctioning radioactive machines. This was because none of Superman's established foes like Lex Luthor or super villains appeared in the TV series.
Unfortunately, the success of the show became more of a burden than a blessing to Reeves, who took his own life a year after it went off the air. Thus, this show was the beginning of what has become known as “The Superman Curse.”
September 1973 - The Super Friends begins
Superman brought all his friends from the Justice League comics with him to ABC for the iconic cartoon, The Super Friends! The show saw many of the popular DC comics characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman join forces to combat crime and villainy.
The show was made for young children and was very campy. It’s remembered fondly by those who grew up with it but is usually the subject of mockery by modern fans. However the show was wildly successful and lasted for thirteen years through various iterations.
December 1978 - Superman: The Movie
Not his first time on the big screen but possibly his most iconic and remembered; Superman: The Movie debuted on December 10th 1978. Christopher Reeve took up the mantle of Superman and alongside him were Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and Margot Kidder as the reporter Lois Lane.
“You’ll believe a man can fly”, was the movie’s tagline and is is difficult to argue with that. The effects for this movie were cutting edge for the time and still look great today! Combine this with Christopher Reeve’s lovable and heroic portrayal of Clark Kent/Superman and it was like the comics come to life!
Superman: The Movie went on to gross $134.21 million in North America and $166 million internationally, totaling $300.21 million worldwide. Superman was the second-highest-grossing film of 1978, and became the sixth-highest-grossing film of all time after its theatrical run. It spawned three sequels: Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987).
October 1986 - Superman Reinvented
In the 1980’s DC Comics characters were getting a little long in the tooth and in need of some revitalization. Many characters, including Superman had fifty years of history and were a little too set in their increasingly outdated ways. This led to DC streamlining and rebooting their line with Crisis on Infinite Earths, which brought all their various characters and universe together for a new unified and modern continuity.
This unprecedented event was followed up by John Byrne’s The Man of Steel miniseries. This removed many of the campier elements of Superman’s past like Krypto the Superdog, Superboy, and the atomic age super threats. Lex Luthor was also changed from a mad scientist to a malicious business, a much more credible threat to audiences of the day. The whole series took on a more relatable and serious tone.
This set the template for Superman in the following years. In fact, other than some deviations, it’s effects are still being felt today.