The story of Superman — where he came from, how he evolved, and what he stands for — is a fascinating one. He has truly made his mark on popular culture and changed the face of comic book history. But how much do you really know about this iconic superhero? Here are 10 facts only superfans will know about Superman.
- Superman Was Born as Bill Dunn in 1932
Superman’s evolution isn’t a simple one. He was first conceived by writer Jerry Seigel and illustrator Joe Shuster in 1933 as Bill Dunn, in a short story titled The Reign of the Superman. In this story, Bill Dunn was a vagrant who was tricked by an evil scientist into drinking an experimental drug. The drug gives Dunn a number of superpowers, including mind-control, mind-reading, and clairvoyance. This character was far from the benevolent hero we know today. Dunn used his powers for personal gain and amusement. The drug eventually wears off, leaving him a vagrant, as he was before.
- How Superman Evolved
Siegel and Shuster eventually transitioned into making comics and decided to revisit their Superman character. They knew that Superman had to change — he needed to be bigger, better, and altogether more sensational. The creative pair began by changing the character’s story and background, making him a hero rather than a villain. They also changed his powers, giving him super strength and bullet-proof skin — powers that persist today.
The team didn’t have immediate luck selling Superman. Siegel believed this was due to their youth and inexperience, so he began looking for a replacement artist. Though Siegel tried to make it work with a few other artists, ultimately nothing worked out and Siegel and Shuster reconciled. They took another look at the character and decided to make him an alien from a planet called Krypton. Shuster designed the famous costume of tights and a cape, with the notable ‘S’ on the chest. They also created his alter-ego, Clark Kent, a mild-mannered journalist.
- Superman (as We Know Him Now) First Appeared in 1938
Superman, as we now know him, first appeared in Action Comics #1, an anthology magazine, in 1938. Today, a well-preserved copy of this issue could be worth up to $10 million. This issue changed the face of popular culture, introducing Superman as the ‘Last Son of Krypton’ and ultimately selling millions of copies per year.
- Superman Has Sold More Comics Than Any Other American Superhero
Superman has sold more comics than any other American superhero, followed by Batman and Spider-Man. However, DC Comics has carefully concealed sales data over the years, so exact figures are hard to pinpoint. Although the popularity of the television shows and movies have taken over, it remains true that Superman’s popularity far surpasses any other comic book character in terms of sales.
- Superman Was Initially Much Darker in Personality
Even in his new, comic-friendly guise, Superman’s personality was far from the amiable one we know today. He was darker — more willing to use force and aggression against his adversaries, even going so far as to kill them. However, this side of his character didn’t last long. In 1940, editor Whitney Ellsworth instituted a code of conduct for comic book characters (not to be confused with The Comics Code, established in 1954). Ellsworth’s new code banned Superman from killing, which led to Superman developing a sense of humanitarianism and becoming a more traditional ‘good hero’.
- Superman’s Powers Have Changed over Time
Since his first appearance in 1938, Superman’s powers have changed and evolved. In Action Comics #1, Superman possessed superhuman strength (the cover depicted him lifting a car over his head). He also had bullet-proof skin. However, in 1938, Superman was unable to fly, instead traveling by running and jumping large distances. He wouldn’t gain the ability to fly until 1940, during the Superman radio series. Eventually, it was revealed that not only can Superman fly, but he can also surpass the speed of light.
In Action Comics #11, (1939) he first uses X-ray vision and demonstrates an ability to hear frequencies outside the average human hearing range. In Superman #59 (1949), Superman reveals his ‘heat vision’.
- Superman’s First Foe was Ultra-Humanite
Before Lex Luthor, there was mad scientist Ultra-Humanite, introduced in Action Comics #13 (1939). Ultra-Humanite was a criminal mastermind and Superman’s first recurring foe. But he was retired when Lex Luthor was introduced in Action Comics #23 (1940).
- Superman Is Sometimes Considered to Be the First Superhero
Although there are superheroes that predate Superman, many consider him to be the first superhero — firstly, because his introduction is generally accepted to be the advent of the Golden Age of Comics, and secondly, because Superman quickly became the iconic superhero that inspired the creation of numerous other comic book superheroes.
- Nazi Germany Denounced Superman
Many say that there are Judaic themes in the story of Superman. As an example, we can look to parallels with Moses. Both Moses and Superman were sent away as babies by parents eager to save them — they were adopted and raised by foreign cultures. The ‘El’ of Superman’s Kryptonian name, ‘Kal-El’ is also a suffix meaning ‘of God’, and found in the names of angels (for example, Abeel, Azrael, and Barachiel). The Third Reich was not impressed (although Seigel never stated his Judaism influenced the creation of Superman) and Joseph Goebbels officially denounced Superman in 1940.
- Superman Can Withstand the Force of Two Atomic Bombs
Superman is bullet-proof — but the extent of his invulnerability isn’t always acknowledged. In 1946, it was revealed he could withstand two atomic bombs. Despite this, when it comes to magic, Superman is just as vulnerable as the rest of us — demonstrating that even superheroes are not immortal.
About the Author: Brent Moeshlin is a comic book guru and owner of Quality Comix, the premier buyer and seller of vintage comic books online.