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Version of the Superman comics logo

Superman is the name of a cartoon character who was created in the 1930s by the two Americans Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and made its first appearance in the form we know today in 1938.

The figure is the first superhero in comic history , founded a comic genre and is one of the group of fictional characters with the world's highest recognition value , which also makes him one of the most popular heroes.

Character history


Idea and first publications

The idea and original concept for Superman was developed in the early 1930s by two American teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster . In 1932 Siegel and Shuster - two avid science fiction fans who met while they were at school together in Cleveland , Ohio - began publishing a self-designed amateur magazine in their spare time. In this organ, which they briefly called Science Fiction, they published stories they had written in their favorite genre. While Siegel was acting as a writer, Shuster switched to drawing visuals to illustrate Siegel's stories.

In 1933 they created the first edition of Science Fiction . Among other things, they placed a short story written by Siegel in 1932 entitled The Reign of the Super-Man . It was about a bald villain who plans to use his superhuman mental abilities (telepathy, telekinesis, etc.) to gain control over humanity.

In the following years Siegel and Shuster subjected their idea to a general overhaul: on the one hand, they decided to transform their figure from a villain to a "fighter for good", and on the other hand they replaced his mental "superpowers" with physical abilities in which Assumption that these would have a greater narrative potential and would also be visually more impressive. The American comic artist Tony Strobl , whom Siegel and Shuster had met while studying together, was involved in developing the new character . Strobl, however, doubted the success of this character.

With their changed concept, Siegel and Shuster tried in the years 1934 to 1938 to get various newspaper houses to publish the figure as a comic strip in their newspapers. After these attempts were unsuccessful, the two tried to convince various publishers who were beginning to establish the new medium of the comic book on the market in America at that time . Their efforts were initially only a failure for years: one publisher after the other refused to publish stories about the Superman figure, because it was "immature", "adolescent" and "childish" and had no prospect of success. It was not until the spring of 1938 that National Publications was ready to give Siegel and Shusters Superman a chance. After the publisher had rejected the idea several times in the previous years, two reasons prompted it to test the concept: On the one hand, there were other concepts for comic series from the workshop of Siegel and Shuster, which National Publications had included in its program - so the adventures about the mysterious Doctor Occult appearing in the Detective Comics - were reasonably successful. An even more important reason for the publisher to fall back on the Superman concept may have been the time pressure they were exposed to in the preparation of the first issues of Action Comics : Although the start of the series was imminent, there was not enough material to to be able to fill all pages of the booklet. According to estimates, 100 copies of the 200,000 printed comics in this edition still exist. In 1938 the magazine cost 10 cents. In 2014, one of these first editions was auctioned for $ 3.2 million on eBay.

After Action Comics # 1 became a phenomenal sales success, National Publications conducted market research to determine the reasons for the magazine's success. To the surprise of all involved, it was found that the new character Superman, who had graced the cover picture of the magazine, was the main reason for the huge sales of the magazine. National Publications then made the Superman stories an integral part of the Action Comics , in which they appeared in every issue and as a "main series", that is, as a priority row over the other rows with other characters printed in the back of the booklet.

Siegel and Shuster continued to co-create the Superman stories with a growing staff well into the 1940s. They gave the rights to their creation to the publisher for a check for $ 130  . This later became the occasion for a long-standing legal battle through which Siegel and Shuster tried to regain the rights to their character. It wasn't until 1978 that Time Warner, the owner of DC Comics, the publisher that later absorbed the National Publications, granted the two an annual pension of $ 24,000 and named the names of the two as the creators of the character in each Superman’s initial credits -History.

In the United States, Action Comics had a circulation of 800,000 copies in 1940, while the three-monthly Superman magazines sold more than a million and a quarter copies with each new issue. Among the GIs fighting overseas, the various Superman comic series were the most widely read periodicals during the war years. There were also Superman comic strips in more than 250 Sunday newspapers, a Superman radio show broadcast three times a week and, from 1941, a series of cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios .

Outside of America, too, Superman quickly became a bestseller: starting out in English-speaking countries, the Superman comics soon found audiences all over the world. Superman comics were even available in distant Japan in the early 1940s, where the Japanese Emperor Hirohito was one of the avid readers of the adventures of the All American Heroes .

In Germany, the publication of the Superman comics was initially prohibited by the National Socialist regime . Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels , who was responsible for controlling which printed matter was allowed to appear in Germany at that time, expressed what the regime thought of the American superhero with the exclamation “Superman is a Jew!” In a session of the Reichstag in 1942. After a Superman series that was discontinued after only three issues in the 1950s, which was called Superman n , the stories about Superman in this country have been appearing almost without interruption since 1966.

During the Cold War, Superman again became a symbol of American values ​​and way of life. This time as an exponent of the “free world” of the American sphere of influence in contrast to the “unfree world” of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Although the Superman comics were not officially allowed to appear in the Warsaw Pact area - the general secretary of the CPSU , Nikita Khrushchev , told Superman editor-in-chief Mort Weisinger during a visit to Weisinger in Moscow, "Even the man of steel is not able to to break through the Iron Curtain "- the Superman comics circulated in large numbers in the" East "through private dissemination in secret.

Influences and role models

For the appearance and character of their hero, Siegel and Shuster resorted to a variety of fictional characters and real people.

Influences for the actual Superman were Hugo Danner, the hero from Philip Wylie's 1930 novel Gladiator , who is endowed with tremendous physical abilities , and the actor Douglas Fairbanks , whose dynamic and acrobatic screen appearances as buccaneer, musketeer and the like, Shuster is more involved in the design oriented by Superman's "heavenly tournaments".

Other inspirations that flowed less directly into Superman included the main characters of adventurous dime books like Edgar Rice Burroughs ' Tarzan and Johnston McCulley's Zorro , from whom the idea of ​​dual identity was borrowed: Like the young hero of the Zorro stories by day meek Don Diego and at night becomes Zorro, the fiery fighter for good, Siegel and Shuster let Superman lead a double life as an introverted newspaper reporter Clark Kent on the one hand and as a daring champion for law and justice in the form of Superman. The appearance of Superman's alter ego as a bespectacled softie reporter was perceived by Siegel and Shuster - both wearers of glasses - on the one hand by themselves and on the other hand by appearances by Harold Lloyd in some of his films from the 1920s, in which he was lanky and with thick glasses frames Overly soft mimes. The two put the name Clark Kent together from the first names of the actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor .

"Superman" is the common English translation of the German word " Übermensch ". It is not clear whether the creators of the Superman figure were aware of Nietzsche's ideas about the superman and how far they were influenced by them - directly or indirectly.

The name of the city in which Clark Kent lives and works comes from one of their favorite films: Metropolis by Fritz Lang .


Following the huge success of the first Superman story in Action Comics # 1, the stories about the “Man of Steel” became the main content of the series. Other features such as the DC universe Zatara or Congo Bill took a back seat, which is reflected, among other things, in the fact that Superman was able to collect almost all of the series’s cover images for himself. Since the 1950s, the Superman stories have been the only permanent content of the series, apart from occasional "backup series" around other characters that are briefly built into the series at irregular intervals. With a history of more than seventy years of publication, the Action Comics are now the longest continuously published comic series worldwide. With an issue number approaching issue # 900, the series also has the second highest number of any comic series. However, the second series has been running since 2011 as a result of The New 52 .

In 1939 National Publications / DC also began to continuously expand its Superman program. With the start of the series of the same name, Superman , a long series of other publications and publication formats began around Siegel and Shuster's superheroes. Later series were and are, among others, World's Finest Comics (shared stories of Superman with his dark comrade Batman ), Superman: Man of Steel , Adventure Comics (with stories about Superman's youthful self, Superboy ) as well as the spin-off series Steel , Supergirl and Superboy , which focuses on characters who were originally introduced as supporting characters in Superman’s comics.

Superman's success drew a number of other superheroes: 1939 Batman , 1940 The Flash and Green Lantern , 1941 Wonder Woman . The competing publisher Timely (later Marvel ) created the superheroes Captain America , Human Torch and Namor (in the original: Namor the Sub-Mariner ). During World War II there were a total of 160 different superhero titles from more than two dozen publishers, with a total circulation of 300 million issues and annual sales of $ 30 million.

History of the figure

Timing of the comics

Superman logo since the 1960s

Over the years, the figure of Superman has undergone various changes. In addition to adaptations to contemporary developments, these also included changes to the appearance, skills and weaknesses, the background story and the opponents and the like. The main changes were American along the different periods of development mainstream - comics instead. In this respect, a distinction is made today between the Superman representation of the Golden Age (1935–1953), the Silver Age (1953–1970), the Bronze Age (1970–1986) and the Modern Age (since 1986).

At the beginning of the 1940s the comic World's Finest Comics was published, which initially provided for separate stories of the various superheroes - always also stories of Superman and Batman , the two main characters of the DC Comics publishing company. During the 1950s, superhero comics became increasingly popular. As a result, spending was cut and the stories of Superman and Batman were merged into a single, shared story. From then on, DC began to believe that all of their superheroes exist in a common universe. At the same time, the course was set for the later Justice League (also: League of the Righteous ; Original: Justice League of America ) - a superhero association that Superman and Batman also joined over time and of which popular figures such as Green Lantern , The Flash and Aquaman are owned.

With the beginning of the Modern Age in the mid-1980s, the figure of Superman - among many others - underwent a fundamental change. The trigger was a rethinking of the publishing house DC Comics , which manifested itself in a miniseries or an event called Crisis on Infinite Earths ("Crisis of the Parallel Earths "). Up to this point in time there had been several different parallel universes in the DC world , which were intended to explain the differences between the older and the then current version of Superman, but also the versions of other characters. Although for years practically all stories took place in a single universe (the so-called Earth-1 ) and there were only occasional trips to Earth-2 ( golden-age versions of superheroes) or Earth-3 (moral inversion: known superheroes are evil there, Super enemies like Lex Luthor, on the other hand, gave it, this construct was felt to be too complicated for the readers and cleaned up. With the Crisis , the origin of many figures, such as Green Lantern (also: Green Lamp ) or Aquaman , was rewritten and merged. Other characters, like Supergirl , were left to die. Many changes, however, had reckless effects that were to be corrected in several series spanning stories. This process has not yet been completed; at the moment, Superman, including associated characters and titles, is approaching its earlier version.

History of origin

Superman's history of origin has been changed again and again over the years, but the essence remains the following:

The scientist Jor-El , who lives on the distant planet Krypton, discovers that the Kryptonian civilization is doomed by an approaching catastrophe. To save his three-year-old son Kal-El , he sends him to Earth in a spaceship. The spaceship lands there in the American state of Kansas , on the outskirts of Smallville . The boy is found as an orphan by the childless farm couple Kent, who give him the name Clark and raise him as their own son.

He soon realizes his special powers. After finishing school, he travels the world and decides to fight crime. This creates his second identity: Superman, the man of steel . Superman can fly (until 1950 he only jumped particularly high and far), is as strong as a locomotive, faster than a pistol bullet and almost invulnerable.

In everyday life he works for the Daily Planet , the most important newspaper in his hometown Metropolis (synonym for "the big city"), which gives him the opportunity to be there when he is needed. Just as famous as the man of steel himself is his colleague at the Daily Planet , Lois Lane , who adores him but doesn't want to know anything about his supposedly clumsy alter ego Clark Kent .

Use in political propaganda

Due to its great popularity, Superman was instrumentalized for propaganda purposes already during the Second World War, especially after the American entry into the war in December 1941. In the years 1942 to 1945 numerous stories were written in which he fought on the side of the Allies against German and Japanese troops. The hero was allowed to disavow leading hostile politicians like Hitler , Tojo or Mussolini , especially on the cover pictures of his comics, for example by throwing cakes in their faces together with Batman on the cover of an edition of the World's Finest Comics at a fair. In a comic strip from 1940, he even convicts Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin of the League of Nations, which condemns the two dictators for attacking defenseless countries. With the American troops, who often received the comics from their relatives as part of food packages, such stories and caricatures enjoyed great popularity, despite their trivialization of the war.

During the Cold War there was no direct confrontation between Superman and communism as the ideological opponent. Instead, the makers of the comics used more subtle means to express their stance. So they had Superman appear on the covers of his comics in nationally proud fashion with the American flag or with the bald eagle , the national symbol of the United States, on his shoulder or arm. The attitude of the West's superiority in terms of values ​​over the Eastern Bloc was also underscored with the self-confident formula that Superman was fighting for “Truth, Justice and the American Way”, a slogan that emerged in the late 1940s and was popularized in the 1950s by the television series starring George Reeves .

The opposite interpretation was pursued by the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham , who, in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, viewed Superman as harmful to minors.

In contrast, newer interpretations of the Superman material avoid an ideological appropriation of Superman's: In the comics since the 1980s he has increasingly appeared as a protector of the whole world, instead of a decidedly American hero. Superman has always rejected some - at least politically - majority positions in the United States: he persistently refuses to kill even his worst adversaries, which is in contrast to the death penalty that exists in numerous US states .

Superhuman qualities

Powers and abilities

His superhuman powers are explained by the fact that his body is charged with energy under our yellow sun (as opposed to Krypton's red sun). This is said to be due to its extremely dense molecular structure. The gravity on krypton is also much higher than on earth. Every Kryptonian has the same (or similar) skills on earth.

These have often been changed, but essentially remain as follows:

  • enormous speed ("Faster than a speeding bullet")
  • superhuman strength ("More powerful than a locomotive")
  • the ability to fly (originally he could only jump very far or high: "Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound")
  • Invulnerability (almost invulnerable)
  • Great hearing - even very distant or very quiet noises are perceived, as are particularly high and low frequencies
  • Heat Vision - with laser beams from the Science Fiction comparable
  • X-ray vision that allows him to see through anything but lead
  • Scanned Eye - Superman is able to see through clothing and other objects
  • Infrared vision (Superman can also see heat signatures e.g. from buried subjects or otherwise invisible objects such as infrared stars)
  • Microscope view - even individual atoms can be seen by Superman
  • Telescopic view - extreme visibility, in some versions up to the interstellar range
  • Super breath - extremely high lung volume
  • photographic super memory (Superman can read extremely quickly and process the information gained from it just as quickly - but he has no actual super intelligence)
  • Hypnosis skills (in some comics and the films Superman has the ability to involuntarily or deliberately hypnotize other people. This was to explain why no one recognizes him as Clark Kent in his everyday life, even though he only wears glasses. Through this subliminal hypnosis ability it does not occur to his fellow men at all that he could look like Superman. In the theatrical version of Superman II - Alone Against All , Clark Kent kisses Lois Lane, who now knows about his secret, so she loses any memory about the secret)

Combining different properties results in additional superpowers, such as a “super puff”, in which huge amounts of air are inhaled, compressed and then exhaled in a controlled manner so that the resulting air flow can be used for cooling down to extremely low temperatures. In addition, this compressed air serves as a reserve for breathing air, since Superman cannot live without oxygen in all versions.

Depending on the version / medium, the forces are designed to be different. The strength fluctuates from “can lift skyscrapers” to “can push planets off course” and the airspeed varies from supersonic to superluminal. In some stories, Superman becomes weaker at night and first has to let the sun “recharge” him.


In 1945, the mysterious substance kryptonite first appeared on the Superman radio show. It was invented to explain the brief change in voice of the main character, as the original speaker had dropped out due to an illness.

There are many different forms of kryptonite:

The most common and at the same time probably best known variant is green kryptonite . It acts like a radioactive poison. It weakens Superman and his body aura, and can even kill him if exposed to it for long periods of time.

The also relatively well-known red kryptonite has very different consequences in the comics. Since the Lois & Clark series at the latest , it has gradually made him angry (depending on the duration of the exposure) and makes him lose all inhibitions . It equates to the artificial green kryptonite from the movie Superman III . In the television series Superman - The Adventures of Lois and Clark (episode 2.20 The Red Kryptonite ), Superman becomes indifferent to depressive. Due to the proximity to red kryptonite, it becomes uncontrollable and also loses its other restraint towards women.

There are other forms in the TV series Smallville , including a. the blue kryptonite , in the vicinity of which Kryptonians lose their powers and take on human characteristics.

The classic pre- crisis superman also lost his superpowers under red solar radiation . Under the orange sun, his strength halved. In more recent times, too, Superman has been weakened by red sunlight.

Superman is also vulnerable to magic . In addition, his pity can be exploited or his psyche attacked. Like every living being, Superman also has to struggle with not being able to be everywhere at the same time or not being able to live permanently without breathing , sleep and food .

The costume through the ages

Superman costume

In Superman's 80-year history, his costume, which is derived from acrobatic costumes, has been drawn by many - but the most important elements of his costume have remained intact. Superman wears a blue costume complete with red overpants, red boots, a yellow belt and a long red cape. There is also a highly stylized Superman insignia - consisting of a large red "S" enclosed by a yellow shield with a red border - which is attached to his chest. The Superman symbol, which in early adventures looked like a medieval family crest, steadily developed into something we are familiar with and grew over the years until it spanned almost the entire chest at the end of the 1990s.

According to Superman # 146 (Vol. 1), Martha Kent invented the costume when she was developing a super onesie for the growing Superman because the clothes she bought in the store were repeatedly destroyed while playing. Fortunately, the Kents had the foresight to pick up the three blankets - one red, one blue, and one yellow - with which Superman reached Earth in his rocket. Years later, Martha Kent changed the costume and it became what is now known as the Superman costume.

Superman's costume is often described as indestructible because, like the Man of Steel himself, it comes from the planet Krypton. This enables it to withstand fire, pistol bullets, and even explosions. However, some incarnations show a variety of costumes in Clark Kent's wardrobe, which he tailored together with his mother. Since this material comes from the earth, it is subject to high wear due to its work.

This change was established in the comic series Man of Steel by John Byrne and explains that Superman's body produces a protective aura that not only makes him invulnerable, but also extends a few millimeters and thus protects tight-fitting clothing. This variant is also used in the television series Superman - The Adventures of Lois & Clark .

In 1998 there was a complete change in his costume in Superman # 123 (Vol. 2). Superman was transformed into a being of energy and had to be tucked into a blue and white specially designed suit that held his new form of existence together. Later he was split into a blue and a red energy being by the cyborg Superman , but these were brought together again by the Millennium Giants and who also restored his original kryptonian shape.

For Superman Returns (2006) a more modern costume was designed with a darker red and a modified logo. There was also a change in the comics when, for the restart of the DC universe ( The New 52 , 2011), Superman was given a completely new costume, which was not from his parents, but from Brainiac .

The final change then followed for Man of Steel (2013). The costume was changed in such a way that the red "underpants" lying over the dress were completely removed and the belt was no longer pungent yellow, but mostly matched in and to the darker blue of the costume. The Superman logo on the chest has also been changed slightly.

Other media

The cartoon character of Superman was already published in other media in early times. In addition to television series, films and video games, the music industry is one of them.


As one of the most important superheroes, Superman has always offered many opportunities for parodies . So the figure appeared from 1962 Wonder Wart-Hog (Wonder Wart-Hog) of the American cartoonist Gilbert Shelton .

Paul Murry invented Goofy's superhero ego Supergoof in 1965 , the secret of which was peanuts, which in the American original were irradiated with the dust of a meteorite and which gave them superpowers after they were consumed. Supergoof has the same abilities and powers as Superman, but the nuts only work for a limited time and his mental abilities remain the same.

In Akira Toriyama's Dr. Slump (1980–1984) appears the figure of Suppaman , who turns into a "superhero" when he eats umeboshi . Suppaman wears a costume with the Japanese character for "su" and, like Superman, a curl falls in his face. His real name is Kenta Kuraaku ("Kent Clark").

Radioactive Man , Bart Simpson's favorite comic book character , is another parody of Superman, which also expresses his real name Claude Kane III (same initials as Clark Kent). Radioactive Man has made repeated appearances in the cartoon series The Simpsons and in theSimpsons comic books publishedby Panini Verlag since the first season.

In Monty Python's sketch Bicycle Repair Man , the bicycle mechanic is the superhero, while all "common people" wear Superman costumes.

The Drawn Together- -Figur Captain Hero parodies generally pro-American comic book superheroes, but especially Superman. This was clearly shown in an episode in which Captain Hero ruefully surrenders his powers in an ice crystal cave (like from the well-known Superman films ) and ends up in a wheelchair, which he can move by blowing. Due to the death of Christopher Reeve, who died shortly before the first airing of this episode, the episode was initially not broadcast, but it was later decided to make up for the episode in the following season.

The animated film Megamind also parodies Superman with the character of Metro Man . He is able to fly, has superhuman strength - and great hair, as his opponent notes. But already at the beginning of the film, Metro Man gave up his superhero career and faked his death because his job became too routine for him. Like Superman, Metro Man was sent to Earth and originally comes from another planet as an alien .

Also underdog , an animated series from 1964, is a Superman parody. The cartoon dog Shoeshine Boy is actually the superhero underdog. When bad guys appear, Shoeshine Boy retreats to a phone booth to transform into the superhero and fight evil. Underdog, in contrast to his alter ego Shoeshine Boy, always speaks in rhymes. In 2007 a feature film was made based on this series, except that Shoeshine is a real dog and not a mix of humans and animals like some animals in the series.

Companion figures and opponents

See also


Web links

Commons : Superman and his cast  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Don LoCicero: Superheroes and Gods , 2007 (English). According to LoCicero, Superman is next to Mickey Mouse , Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes one of four characters with the highest (optical) recognition value worldwide.
  2. Superheroes: Superman is more popular than God or Jesus. , July 11, 2008, accessed on November 28, 2019 .
  3. The most popular comic book in the world . ( [accessed April 11, 2018]).
  4. ( Page no longer available , search in web archives: Justice (Part 2): Real Life Inspiration for Superman's Greatest Challenges ) by Stuart Max Perelmuter, in:, March 15, 2006 (English).@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  5. ^ CBS radio broadcast of October 9, 1940 (English). Also included in the documentary Once Upon a Time… The Super Heroes from 2002 (English).
  6. Don LoCicero: Superheroes and Gods , 2007, p. 237 (English). As LoCicero notes at the same point, paradoxically, even Hirohito's enthusiasm for Superman did not detract from the fact that Superman often “targeted” Japanese troops, aviators and ships in wartime comics.
  7. Pierre Couperie: A History of Comic Strip , New York 1968, p. 83 (English). The statement was made in connection with a Superman story in which he attacks the German Atlantic Wall in preparation for an American invasion of "Fortress Europe".
  8. Michael Eury: The Krypton Companion , 2006, p. 14 (English). In the original it says "The Man of Steel cannot get through the Iron Curtain".
  9. a b Superman. The comic strip hero. BBC documentary, United Kingdom 1981 (English).
  10. One man, one word: "About" - a German word annoys many Americans - news. In: The world . October 20, 2013, accessed October 20, 2013 .
  11. How Superman would end the war. In: Look Magazine , 1940 (English).
  12. Akira Toriyama : Dr. Slump # 15, Carlsen Verlag , Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-551-74475-0 , p. 134.