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Superman, by Alex Ross

Superman is a fictional character created in the mid-1930s by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and currently published by DC Comics under a variety of titles. The first comic book superhero, Superman spawed a pantheon of other similar characters, and a comics industry in which Superman alone was selling at well over a million copies as early as 1942[1]; he would later star in books, radio, animation, television, and film. Superman is seen as a symbol of America, reflected in his red and blue costume and marketing material describing his mission as the protector of "truth, justice, and the American way".

Comics lore

Superman is the last son of Krypton, a distant planet much larger than Earth with a red sun. Raised by two Methodist Kansas farmers, Superman was blessed by his alien heritage with great powers. In his initial appearances, his power set consisted of being "faster than a speeding bullet", "more powerful than a locomotive", and "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound". Since then, his powers have been expanded to include incredible strength, super speed, flight, invulnerability, super breath, super intelligence, heat-ray eyes, freezing breath, passing through matter, unaided interstellar travel, and various forms of superhuman senses (super-hearing; x-ray, heat, telescopic, and microscopic vision) - Superman's excessive and ever-changing powers are often the subject of criticism or parody. He is severely weakened by green kryptonite, can be reduced to normal human levels of power by light from a red sun, and is vulnerable to magic.

He lives a secret double life, posing as the "mild-mannered reporter" Clark Kent. He specifically works in the news media so he can more easily hear about and attend the scenes of crimes. In most continuities, Superman is romantically involved with Lois Lane, a fellow reporter, and his best friend is teenage cub reporter, later photographer, Jimmy Olsen.


Superman is the creation of two teenagers from Cleveland, Ohio. Jerry Siegel, the son of a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, was the writer, collaborating with his friend Joseph Shuster, a recent immigrant from Canada, who did the artwork. According to typical accounts, both boys had created Superman as a result of shyness in school; both were awkward and unpopular, and the creation of Clark Kent and his super alter-ego was meant as a way to correct the deficiencies. However, recent authors had made a case for a more profound reason for Superman's creation: on June 2, 1932, Jerry's father died as a result of an armed robbery in Cleveland, either from gunshot wounds or a heart attack; Superman was the creation of a young man who wanted to have someone powerful enough to right all wrongs. [2] The boys' first attempt at publishing their character would occur a year later, with a boast of "the most astounding fiction character of all time" on the cover, as Superman comes to the rescue of someone at the mercy of an armed robber.

During that period of time comics were simply several-panel drawings presented in "strips", with such well-known titles as Blondie by Chic Young and Thimble Theater starring Popeye by Elzie Segar. In addition to light-hearted "funnies", as most of them were called, there existed a genre called the adventure comic: Phillip Nolan's Buck Rogers, Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan were among the well-known and most popular of the titles which appeared daily in newspapers and pulp magazines, and Siegel and Shuster read them voraciously, getting inspiration for their own character. Eventually, they decided on an alien from a doomed planet, who appeared on earth "Moses-like", with fantastic strength and abilities, who would fight for the common man. With the name "Superman" bestowed on him, they intended to follow in the same direction that other comic artists have done: do a daily and Sunday strip for syndication in newspapers. Their efforts at soliciting the syndicates, however, met with rejection at every turn.

But one medium held some promise. In the news stands at the time, alongside the papers and the magazines, was a new format: the comic book. In it's original form, the comic was simply reprints of the daily and Sunday strips, and at 10 cents it was a cheap way for newspapers to gain additional money. Among the early entrepreneurs who saw a potential was Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who had by 1935 published New Fun, a comic book with original material in it - possibly the first one of its kind - and had founded National Allied Publications, the precursor to D.C. Comics. His intention was to continue creating original works, but wanted people who could work cheap, or were young and rather naive. Siegel and Shuster were hired as storyboard artists, and the pair would create several characters for the company, among them "Slam Bradley", a private eye and the first star of Detective Comics #1 in 1937.

A year later, new management took control of National Allied Publications; Detective Comics was a hit and they wanted another one, and they decided to take a chance on Siegel and Shuster's creation. Action Comics, the company's fourth title and intended to be an anthology of multiple stories within one issue, was sent to the stands in April, 1938; on the cover was Superman, appearing before the public for the first time brandishing an automobile over his head, despite having been placed there by accident as a result of a publishing deadline.[3] The initial printing of 200,000 had quickly sold out; the number sold would quickly rise into the millions within months.

Today's comic value

Due to the requirements of World War II, scrap paper was among the things needed for the war effort, which resulted in many comic books being recycled; as a result, only 100 examples of Action Comics No. 1 are known to exist. "It's the Holy Grail of comic books," said comic expert Stephen Fishler, referring to the recent placing of one on the auction block. "This is the one that started it all. There was no such thing as a super hero before it. No flying man. Comics weren't even that popular. It's the single most important event in comic book history." [4][5] The first example of Superman in comic form - indeed, the first comic superhero ever printed - Action Comics No. 1 in "fine" condition can fetch upwards of $125,000 at auction [1]; several examples have fetched more than $1,000,000. [6]

Liberal Multicultural Superman

In 2011, DC Comics have stated that Superman intends to renounce his U.S. citizenship before the United Nations in Action Comics No. 900, “I’m tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy … ‘truth, justice and the American way’ - it’s not enough anymore.” DC Comics issued a statement saying "Superman announces his intention to put a global focus on his never-ending battle, but he remains, as always, committed to his adopted home..." [7] Superman, a symbol of American exceptionalism, now leads moral relativism by joining the “blame America first” league, however, since Superman is an alien from the planet krypton. The Superman series, along with every other ongoing DC series, has been relaunched as part of "The New 52" reboot, thus eliminating all previous DC canon, including the renunciation of Superman's American identity.