Superman. Artist: Fred Ray.


Original Medium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1938
Creators: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
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Superman was the creation of a pair of teenage science fiction fans living in Cleveland, Ohio. Writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster began their …

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… long-running collaboration in the early 1930s, with a series of self-published fanzines. A 1933 issue contained the story "Reign of the Superman" — their first use of the concept portrayed the superior man as a world-conquering villain.

A year later, they re-did him as a hero, in daily comic strip form, and tried selling it to newspaper syndicates. It was repeatedly rejected.

In 1938, they were working for the company that would eventually become DC Comics, doing such features as Dr. Occult, Federal Agents, and Slam Bradley. Publisher Jack Liebowitz was looking for material to fill a new monthly anthology, Action Comics, so Siegel and Shuster dusted off "Superman" and submitted it one more time. It became the lead feature with issue #1, dated June of that year, and was an instant hit — the very first hit character to emerge from the fledgling comic book medium. He shared the early Action Comics covers with other features, such as Tex Thompson and Zatara the Magician, but once the publisher realized who was actually selling the magazine, he had them all to himself. Within a couple of years, comic books were dominated by superheroes inspired by him.

In 1939, Superman became the first character originating in comic books to anchor his own title. In 1940, he joined Batman in headlining World's Finest Comics. Before long, he made it into newspaper comics after all, syndicated by McClure (King Aroo, School Days). He was also featured in a weekly radio series, a movie serial, and a novel by author George Lowther. By the mid-1940s, his boyhood adventures were being recounted in the Superboy comic book series.

By the 1950s he had a TV show, starring George Reeves, and even his main supporting characters, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, had comics of their own. Other survivors of his native planet, Krypton, were turning up — including his dog, Krypto; his cousin, Supergirl; and even an entire Kryptonian city, Kandor, shrunken by the villain Brainiac and confined to a bottle. By then, some of comics' top talents, including Otto Binder, Kurt Schaffenberger (both of whom had been prominently involved with Captain Marvel), Curt Swan, and Wayne Boring (the last two known mostly for their Superman work) had handled the character.

In 1941, the Fleischer Studio, where Betty Boop and Popeye were first animated, inaugurated a series of Superman cartoons. Lavish in their production values, those cartoons are still highly esteemed by animation aficionados. The series survived the conversion of the Fleischer Studio to Paramount's Famous Studios, ending in 1943 after a total of 18 cartoons.

Superman was again animated in 1966-67, when Filmation (Original Ghostbusters, Groovie Goolies) produced The New Adventures of Superman, a series of Saturday morning half-hours, for CBS. The series continued in 1968-69 as The Batman/Superman Hour, and in 1970 as The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. Incidentally, Clayton "Bud" Collyer, best remembered today as a game show host, was the voice of Superman in all animated versions up until this time, as well as on radio.

Since then, Superman has been featured in a series of major movies starring Christopher Reeve. He was a member, along with Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman, of Saturday morning's Super Friends. He was in a second live-action TV series, this one in prime time, with Dean Cain in the title role. In 1998, he was the subject of a U.S. postage stamp. Currently, he appears in new animated adventures on the Warner Bros. network.

All of this has earned untold millions for his publisher — but what about his creators?

In 1947, Siegel and Shuster attempted to regain legal control over their creation, failed, and were fired from their own character. That same year, they went to rival publisher Magazine Enterprises, where they created Funnyman, but neither of them ever had another hit like the first. In 1978 their cause was taken up by Neal Adams, a younger comics artist widely known as a champion of creators' rights. In response to Adams's publicity campaign, DC added a creators' byline to its Superman line, and granted Siegel and Shuster lifetime pensions. Shuster died in 1992 and Siegel in 1996.

In 1999, a change in the legal landscape seems to have given a portion of the Superman franchise to Siegel's heirs. What this means in terms of the character's future — as well as that of every other long-running character no longer owned by its creator — is something that only time will tell.

Today, new Superman comic books come out every week — and the character himself is one of a half-dozen or so that are known to the majority of this planet's inhabitants. Not bad, for a couple of kids from Cleveland.


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Text ©2000-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.