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Happy Birthday to Superman, the Leap Day Baby!

Superman by John Byrne and Jerry Ordway

 

February 29 is a day that has a little bit of magic to it, if only because it’s the one date on the calendar that won’t show up next year. It’s literally an extra day, a hiccup in the order of months, and that makes it feel like it comes with infinite possibilities. It’s a day for something special, something unique, full of strange promises that show us that even the calendar isn’t immutable and unchanging.

And that, more than anything else, is what makes it perfect for Superman‘s birthday.

 

World's Finest Comics #164

 

Of course, unlike the rest of us, Superman has a whole lot of birthdays, There are the dates given in various comics, the actual June 1938 cover date for his first appearance in Action Comics #1 (and its actual publication date a month or two earlier), but in 1967, editors Mort Weisinger and E. Nelson Bridwell decided to give the Man of Steel a canonical birthday on February 29. Oddly enough, though it didn’t happen in a story. Instead, as seen above, it came in the letter column of World’s Finest Comics #164 — handily provided to ComicsAlliance by Mark Waid, because honestly, who else are you going to ask when you need to find out when they decided what Superman’s birthday was?

For years, it was a strange little piece of Superman trivia that never quite made it into the stories themselves, instead only showing up occasionally in letter columns like 1974’s Superman #267 — also provided by Mark Waid, because who else are you going to ask when you want to know the second appearance of Superman’s birthday?

 

Superman letter column

 

But that all changed in 1985, when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — two creators who, at the time, had a pretty keen interest in the more obscure corners of superhero comics — decided to do a story about Superman’s birthday in the pages of Superman Annual #11. The result was, of course, “For the Man Who Has Everything,” and while it might have been a pretty rough time for the character — what with being nearly murdered by Mongul and the Black Mercy flower — readers certainly enjoyed what has long been considered one of the best Superman stories of the era.

And right at the start of it, just after a one-page prologue set on a hallucinatory Krypton, is a panel that shows you exactly when Superman celebrates his birthday:

 

Art by Dave Gibbons

 

And that, as they say, was that.

Even though Superman and Clark Kent initially had different birthdays — Clark’s being the day that the Kents discovered the rocketship that carried him to Earth, and Superman’s being the “Kryptonian equivalent” of February 29, whatever that means — the rebooted DC Universe that resulted from Crisis On Infinite Earths combined them into a single date. The new explanation for no one being suspicious of Jonathan and Martha Kent suddenly having a baby hanging around was that he was “born” on the farm during a long winter, after a blizzard that snowed in the Kent home. February 29 — or “on or around February 28,” according to Action Comics #655 — was a date that fit the bill and still kept a little bit of that Silver Age magic.

So what does that mean for Superman? Well, aside from the fact that you can accurately refer to him as a “leapling” — a very strange and woefully underused word for folks born on Leap Day — and that he shares his birthday with Ja Rule, not much. But it is one of those perfect examples of the world of superheroes doing something that exists purely to make itself a little more magical. For all the sense that it would make for Superman to mark his birthday as the anniversary of Action Comics, marking it on Leap Day makes it seem like something special.

And for all of us, it is. Happy (Canonical, In-Universe) Birthday, Superman!

 

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