Superman is a fictional character, a superhero that appears in comic books published by DC Comics, and is considered an American cultural icon. Superman was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, high school students living in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1933; the character was sold to Detective Comics, Inc. (later DC Comics) in 1938. Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) and subsequently appeared in various radio serials, television programs, films, newspaper strips, and video games. With the success of his adventures, Superman helped to create the superhero genre and establish its primacy within the American comic book.
Superman's appearance is distinctive and iconic. He usually wears a blue costume, red cape, and stylized red-and-yellow "S" shield on his chest. This shield is used in a myriad of media to symbolize the character.
The origin story of Superman relates that he was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, before being rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father Jor-El, moments before Krypton's destruction. Discovered and adopted by a Kansas farmer and his wife, the child is raised as Clark Kent and imbued with a strong moral compass. Very early on he started to display superhuman abilities, which upon reaching maturity, he resolved to use for the benefit of humanity. Superman resides and operates in the fictional American city of Metropolis. As Clark Kent, he is a journalist for the Daily Planet, a Metropolis newspaper. Superman's primary love interest is Lois Lane and his archenemy is supervillain Lex Luthor. Superman has fascinated scholars, with cultural theorists, commentators, and critics alike exploring the character's impact and role in the United States and worldwide. The character's ownership has often been the subject of dispute, with Siegel and Shuster twice suing for the return of legal ownership. Superman has been labeled as the greatest comic book hero of all time by IGN.
Superman's first appearance was in Action Comics #1, published by National Allied Publications, a corporate predecessor of DC Comics, on April 18, 1938 (cover-dated June 1938). In 1939, aself-titled series was launched. The first issue mainly reprinted adventures published in Action Comics, but despite this the book achieved greater sales. The year 1939 also saw Superman appear in New York World's Fair Comics. Superman would eventually appear throughout a host of titles, including World's Finest Comics.
Initially Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster provided the story and art for all the strips published. However, Shuster's eyesight began to deteriorate, and the increasing appearances of the character meant an increase in the workload. This led Shuster to establish a studio to assist in the production of the art, although he insisted on drawing the face of every Superman the studio produced. Outside the studio, Jack Burnley began supplying covers and stories in 1940, and in 1941 artist Fred Ray began contributing a stream of Superman covers, some of which, such as that of Superman #14 (February 1942), became iconic and much reproduced. Wayne Boring, initially employed in Shuster's studio, began working for DC in his own right in 1942 providing pages for both Superman and Action Comics. Al Plastino was hired initially to mimic Boring but was eventually allowed to create his own style and became one of the most prolific Superman artists during the Gold and Silver Ages of comics.
In late 1939 a new editorial team assumed control of the character's adventures. Whitney Ellsworth, Mort Weisinger, and Jack Schiff were brought in following Vin Sullivan's departure. This new editorial team brought in established science-fiction writers Edmond Hamilton, Manly Wade Wellman, and Alfred Bester to script. By 1943, Siegel was drafted into the U.S. Army and as a result his contributions diminished. Don Cameron and Alvin Schwartz joined the writing team, Schwartz teaming up with Boring to work on the Superman comic strip, which Siegel and Shuster launched in 1939.
In 1945, Superboy — the teen Superman in flashback stories — debuted in More Fun Comics #101. The character moved to Adventure Comics in 1946, and his own title, Superboy, in 1949. The 1950s saw the launching of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen (1954) and Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane (1958). By the 1970s, Superman was appearing in numerous DC Comics.
In 1986, DC Comics restructured its universe with other DC characters in the 12-issue miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, resulting in the publication of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow", a two-part story written by Alan Moore, with art by Curt Swan, George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger. The story was published in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 and presented what Les Daniels notes as "the sense of loss the fans might have experienced if this had really been the last Superman tale."
In 1986, DC relaunched Superman under writer and artist John Byrne, initially in a six-issue weekly series The Man of Steel (1986). A special "direct-sale-only" cover of #1 featured the iconic chest "S" symbol of Superman's costume. Superman vol. 2 debuted hat year, running through 2006. After it was canceled, The Adventures of Superman was retitled Superman, as Adventures had maintained the issue numbering of the first volume of Superman. Another series, Superman: The Man of Steel, had been launched in 1991, running until 2003, while the quarterly book Superman: The Man of Tomorrow ran from 1995 to 1999. Superman as appeared in numerous other titles throughout the early 21st century.
Superman, given the serial nature of comic publishing and the length of the character's existence, has evolved as a character as his adventures have increased. The details of Superman's origin, relationships and abilities changed significantly during the course of the character's publication, from what is considered the Golden Age of Comic Books through the Modern Age. The powers and villains were developed through the 1940s, with Superman developing the ability to fly, and costumed villains introduced from 1941. The character was shown as learning of the existence of Krypton in 1949. The concept itself had originally been established to the reader in 1939 in the Superman comic strip.
The 1960s saw the introduction of a second Superman. DC had established a multiverse within the fictional universe its characters shared. This allowed characters published in the 1940s to exist alongside updated counterparts published in the 1960s. This was explained to the reader through the notion that the two groups of characters inhabited parallel Earths. The second Superman was introduced to explain to the reader Superman's membership in both the 1940s superhero team the Justice Society of America and the 1960s superhero team the Justice League of America.
The 1980s saw radical revisions of the character. DC decided to remove the multiverse in a bid to simplify its comics line. This led to the rewriting of the back story of the characters DC published, Superman included. John Byrne rewrote Superman, removing many established conventions and characters from continuity, including Superboy and Supergirl. Byrne also re-established Superman's adoptive parents, The Kents, as characters. In the previous continuity, the characters had been written as having died early in Superman's life (about the time of Clark Kent's graduation from high school).
In 1992 Superman was killed by the villain Doomsday, although the character was soon resurrected the following year. Superman also marries Lois Lane in 1996. His origin is again revisited in 2004. In 2006 Superman is stripped of his powers, although these are restored within a fictional year.
After a confrontation with Brainiac that results in his father's death, Superman discovers the lost city of Kandor, which contains 10,000 Kryptonians. Their stay on Earth causes trouble, and the Kryptonians create their own planet, New Krypton. Eventually, New Krypton wages war against Earth. The two sides sustain major casualties and most of the Kryptonians are killed. Superman then starts a journey to reconnect with his adopted home world.
As an influential archetype of the superhero genre, Superman possesses extraordinary powers, with the character traditionally described as "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound", a phrase coined by Jay Morton and first used in the Superman radio serials and Max Fleischer animated shorts of the 1940s as well as the TV series of the 1950s. For most of his existence, Superman's famous arsenal of powers has included flight, super-strength, invulnerability to non-magical attacks, super-speed, vision powers (including x-ray, heat-emitting, telescopic, infra-red, and microscopic vision), super-hearing, super-intelligence, and super-breath, which enables him to blow out air at freezing temperatures, as well as exert the propulsive force of high-speed winds.
As originally conceived and presented in his early stories, Superman's powers were relatively limited, consisting of superhuman strength that allowed him to lift a car over his head, run at amazing speeds and leap one-eighth of a mile, as well as an incredibly dense body structure that could be pierced by nothing less than an exploding artillery shell. Siegel and Shuster compared his strength and leaping abilities to an ant and a grasshopper. When making the Superman cartoons in the early 1940s, the Fleischer Brothers found it difficult to keep animating him leaping and requested to DC to change his ability to flying; this was an especially convenient concept for short films, which would have otherwise had to waste precious running time moving earthbound Clark Kent from place to place. Writers gradually increased his powers to larger extents during the Silver Age, in which Superman could fly to other worlds and galaxies and even across universes with relative ease. He would often fly across the solar system to stop meteors from hitting the Earth or sometimes just to clear his head. Writers found it increasingly difficult to write Superman stories in which the character was believably challenged, so DC made a series of attempts to rein the character in. The most significant attempt, John Byrne's 1986 rewrite, established several hard limits on his abilities: He barely survives a nuclear blast, and his space flights are limited by how long he can hold his breath. Superman's power levels have again increased since then, with Superman currently possessing enough strength to hurl mountains, withstand nuclear blasts with ease, fly into the sun unharmed, and survive in the vacuum of outer space without oxygen.
The source of Superman's powers has changed subtly over the course of his history. It was originally stated that Superman's abilities derived from his Kryptonian heritage, which made him eons more evolved than humans. This was soon amended, with the source for the powers now based upon the establishment of Krypton's gravity as having been stronger than that of the Earth. This situation mirrors that of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter. As Superman's powers increased, the implication that all Kryptonians had possessed the same abilities became problematic for writers, making it doubtful that a race of such beings could have been wiped out by something as trifling as an exploding planet. In part to counter this, the Superman writers established that Kryptonians, whose native star Rao had been red, possessed superpowers only under the light of a yellow sun.
Superman is most vulnerable to green Kryptonite, mineral debris from Krypton transformed into radioactive material by the forces that destroyed the planet. Exposure to green Kryptonite radiation nullifies Superman's powers and immobilizes him with pain and nausea; prolonged exposure will eventually kill him. The only substance on Earth that can protect him from Kryptonite is lead, which blocks the radiation. Lead is also the only known substance that Superman cannot see through with his x-ray vision. Kryptonite was first introduced to the public in 1943 as a plot device to allow the radio serial voice actor, Bud Collyer, to take some time off. Although green Kryptonite is the most commonly seen form, writers have introduced other forms over the years: such as red, gold, blue, white, and black, each with its own effect.