A hero created by Jerry Siegel
and Joe Shuster
and published by DC Comics
. Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1
in June 1938.
Ask someone to name a superhero and some of the answers you will get will likely be Spider-man, Batman, Wolverine, or Wonder Woman, but many will probably answer a hero whose name is nearly synonymous with superheroes, the Man of Steel - Superman. This character seems to sum up for many the attributes of a true hero - selfless, caring, and mighty with a strong morality. These characteristics have made Superman and many of the elements surrounding him elements ingrained in our culture.
The story of Superman begins on Krypton, a planet far from Earth, which is in its last days. The warnings of the planets impending destruction are ignored by the majority of the highly advanced society on this planet with the exception of one of their finest scientists, a man name Jor-El. His efforts to warn the people of his planet are stymied by the leadership of the planet, so Jor-El and his wife Lara make secret plans to insure the survival of their infant son Kal-El. Jor-El constructs a rocket that just prior to the destruction of Krypton, he launches on a course towards a distant habitable planet, Earth, trusting that their son will be safe there.
The rocket makes its way to Earth where it crashes in a corn field outside of Smallville, Kansas. The rocket is discovered by Jonathan Kent and his wife Martha. Upon discovering the child inside and being that the couple is childless, they decide to adopt the boy, naming him Clark. As the boy grows, they discover that he has incredible powers. The Kents ingrain in the young boy a deep sense of responsibility to use those powers for the betterment of other, something that lasts throughout the boys life.
After college, Clark Kent travels to Metropolis (in all appearances New York City) and gets a job as a reporter for the Daily Planet. Using a pair of glasses as a disguise and effecting a sort of bumbling hapless persona as Clark Kent, Superman soon becomes a force to be reckoned with as the forces of evil soon discover.
Superman's powers are varied and were originally attributed to the lower gravity of Earth than his native planet as well as the Earth's yellow sun (Krypton's sun was red). His powers manifest themselves in immense strength (that at one point was portrayed as being such as to allow the hero to move planets), invulnerability, and incredible speed. Originally, Superman did not fly as such but jumped from place to place. Later, this was revised and Superman had the ability to fly. Over the years other powers emerged, including x-ray vision, heat vision, super-hearing, and the like. Eventually, writers began to create odd powers like super-hypnotism and the like to introduce into stories.
Superman is not without his weaknesses, however. A number of things can cause harm to the hero. Primarily among them is a rock from his home planet called kryptonite. In its natural form, kryptonite is green and can cause Superman great pain, rob him of his abilities, and prolonged exposure will eventually kill him. Later, new and different kinds of krytonite were introduced, all of them different colors (red, white, gold, etc.) and all of them with differing effects. Superman is also vulnerable to solar rays like those from a red sun which rob him of his abilities, as well as anything magical.
Superman's villains have become some of the best known of all supervillains. These include Lex Luthor, criminal mastermind who originaly blamed Superman for his completely bald head which was the result of an experiment gone awry at a young age. Superman also battled the likes of the alien menace Braniac, the power-sucking villain the Parasite, the extra-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, and many others.
Not just the villains in Superman's life became famous along with their nemesis, but the supporting cast of characters in Superman comics are well-known and loved. These include fellow reporter and Clark Kent's love interest Lois Lane. Known for her incredible curiosity and her never ending quest to discover Superman's secret identity, Lois was in love with the Man of Steel, but he wanted her to love him as Clark Kent instead. Other characters included Jimmy Olsen, the cub reporter at the planet. Red-headed with freckles, Jimmy became known as Superman's Pal and ended up in many dangerous situations that he had to be rescued from by Superman. Jimmy would signal Superman with his signal watch. Also among the supporting cast is Perry White, Clark's boss and editor of the Daily Planet. Perry is probably best known for his favority exclamation "Great Caesar's Ghost!"
Over the years, new elements to the life of Superman were added. It was decided that Superman needed his own "home" as it were and so the Fortress of Solitude, a complex in the Arctic was introduced along with a giant key and keyhole. Stories appeared telling us of Superman's life in Smallville where we learned that prior to being Superman, he was Superboy. This added an entirely new cast including Pete Ross, his best friend, and Lana Lang, his girlfriend. Still later, it was decided that there were other survivors of Krypton including Kal-El's cousin Kara who became the heroine Supergirl. As well, Kal-El's dog Krypto survived and arrived on Earth as well as an experimental monkey named Beppo.
As the years progressed, Superman became more and more of a fixture in comics, and the writers sought new territory for the character, including having him team with other superheroes in the DC Universe as a member of the Justice League of America. His power slowly began to creep up until he was capable of incredible feats like juggling planets. With this increase in power, sales and interest in the character began to wane. Clark Kent went from being a reporter to a news anchor in Metropolis and some of his villains underwent a makeover, but sales continued to decline. Then in the mid-80's, DC Comics decided to revamp their titles and after a mini-series called Crisis on Infinite Earths, that attempted to tie up many of the loose plot lines over the years, the characters were reintroduced. Superman was reintroduced in 1986 in a six issue mini-series called Man of Steel written and drawn by John Byrne. Though many of the elements of the Superman legend were still the same, some things had changed including limiting his powers somewhat. Gone were the rest of the Superman family like Supergirl and Krypto and gone were the incredible power levels.
The new Superman was well received and many of the original characters and villains were reintroduced with slight changes. Lex Luthor went from being a mad scientist to an evil industrialist. Brainiac went from being an evil, emotionless alien to a circus mentalist who was taken over by an alien. Other changes included the continued survival of the Kents, who in the original stories had died while Clark was in college. Many of the things that were originally removed from the stories have been reintroduced over the years including Supergirl and Krypto.
In the early 90's, DC Comics introduced a storyline that shocked many long time fans of the Man of Steel. An alien being known as Doomsday began rampaging through Metropolis and after defeating many other heroes, engaged in a prolonged pitched battle with Superman. Superman was eventually able to defeat Doomsday, but at the cost of his own life. America was shocked to learn that Superman had been killed, but over the next months, the hero was brought back to life. In the intervening months a number of new heroes were introduced to the Superman family, including Superboy and Steel. The 90's also brought with it something that many fans had waited 60 years to see: the marriage of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It also brought a storyline in which Superman was split into two beings: Superman Red and Superman Blue. The two had energy based powers and differing personalities, but like most things in comics, the hero later returned to his original form.
Superman has not been simply been a fixture in comic books. From an early radio show in the 1940's (which first introduced us to "Look! Up in the Sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Superman!" and the phrase "truth, justice, and the American way") to the present television series Smallville, Superman has been part of nearly every media type. He had his own television show in the 1950's starring George Reeves and has been part of a number of cartoon series including the Superfriends. He was the star of four movies starring the late Christopher Reeve in the title role as well.
Some facts taken from: http://www.supermanhomepage.com/comics/comics.php?topic=comics-superman