Humanity’s Greatest Idea: A Celebration Of Superman
Superman made his big debut on this day way back in 1939 in the pages of Action Comics #1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The archetype, the standard bearer for all superheroes who came after him, Superman has endured the changing face of the world throughout the decades, and the ideals he stood for are just as vital and relevant today as they were then.
The original Superman stories by Siegel and Shuster portrayed him as a man of the people, and he didn’t take on supervillains; he took on slumlords and wife-beaters. Inspired by circus strongmen as much as pulp characters such as Doc Savage, Superman was strong, tough, and could leap tall buildings in a single bound --- but he wasn’t quite the untouchable hero he became as the years went on.
Superman was one of the few superheroes to survive the near-collapse of the genre in the 1950s, aided by the previous decade’s radio serials and the live-action adaptation Adventures of Superman, where he was portrayed by George Reeves. As the legend of Superman grew, so did his world, with the introduction of recurring villains, a supporting cast at The Daily Planet, and a rich history from Krypton to Smallville and beyond.
The Silver Age saw things get weird for Superman, as they did for most DC Comics characters at the time, but some of the character's best stories come from this time, especially anything from the mind of Otto Binder, who not only gave Superman a lion’s head and turned him into an old man, but gave us the likes of Supergirl, The Legion of Super-Heroes and Krypto The Superdog.
John Byrne revamped the entire Superman mythos with his 1986 miniseries Man of Steel, before taking over the ongoing titles and bringing Superman back down to earth somewhat. Once again a hero of the people, fighting against corrupt businessman Lex Luthor, Byrne’s Superman felt human in a way the character hadn’t seemed for some time.
The 90s saw the infamous Death and Return of Superman, which introduced several new candidates for the role but ultimately was about why only Superman can be Superman. There’s something perfect about the recipe that made the characte, so that if you alter any one component, you can throw off the whole thing. While some look down on this era for not being true to the character, in many ways it was all about remembering what makes him work.
As Superman entered the 21st century, DC published perhaps his definitive story, the twelve-issue All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Over the course of the series, the pair delved into everything that makes the character great, from titanic clashes with a Tyrant Sun to a quiet moment assuring a scared girl that there was someone who cared about her.
Morrison once described Superman as humanity’s greatest-ever idea as a species; we created someone who would save us, who would never let us down. Some see that as a weakness of the character --- that he’s too perfect to be relatable --- but that’s the strongest thing about him.
Superman is someone to look up to, a role model to aspire to and emulate, and a hero to many regardless of his status as a fictional character. That’s the message of Superman, summed up way back in 1962:
50 Iconic And Inspiring Superman Images