Rest in peace, Christopher Reeve.

"Quite simply, the recognition of Superman as a myth immediately negates his direct effects upon society. Does he embody an ideal? Indeed he does. Does he provide a redundant escape from a constantly changing world? Most assuredly, as do many other myths. Does the reader immediately believe and apply all aspects of Superman's mythical world to the one in which the reader exists? Only if he/she needs very special mental treatment. Still, even if someone were to submerse themselves in the myth of Superman, if they are intelligent enough to recognize and define the peculiarities of time (and its lack of progression) that exist in the story, then the chances are that they possess an intellect that is keen enough to signal the myth's impracticalities in our present-day world." - from Michael Colpo's essay, "Superman The Destroyer of Time," in response to "Why We Need (the imperfect) Superman", by Umberto Eco

Imagine the world prior to Superman. The 1930s. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president of the United States. The stock market had crashed and America was at one of the lowest points in its history. Though African Americans had achieved freedom against slavery, they still had yet to make strides in terms of equality. Women too were fighting for equality and had only recently achieved the right to vote. The Hoover Dam was a marvel and a spectacle which provided much needed jobs, and it wasn't taken for granted. In Europe, the ramifications of World War One were still being felt, and the Nazi movement was gaining strength in Germany. We had not touched the moon. The russians had not accomplished Sputnik. The World's Fair in New York hadn't happened yet, where people began to look towards the future and try to make dreams realized. Until the tragedy of Hindenberg in 1937, hydrogen filled blimps were seen as a potentially effective means of transport, beyond just showing floating bulletin boards during Super Bowls. Pearl Harbor hadn't happened yet.

This is the world in which two little-known creative dreamers lived and breathed and told their tales to whoever might dare listen. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, writer and artist respectively, were high school students in Cleveland, Ohio. They were fans of science fiction. Back then it wasn't called speculative fiction as it is dubbed now. They worked together on many projects but none clutched at their heartstrings like the idea of a single man who could change the world for the better. Their efforts took them five years in the 1930s, and it seemed early on this tale would fall into obscurity, but eventually from humble beginnings their inciting tales would have far reaching consequences.

In the years since, this seemingly simple tale has been retold in many different mediums. Originally it was intended as a daily comic strip, but converted into a montly comic book called Action Comics, where it has existed in one form or another for over sixty years. The story of Superman was then put on the silver screen in the form of serials, along with stories like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Captain Marvel. These were episodic tales told in approximately twenty minute long installments, that when put together made the equivalent of a modern day full-length motion picture. Back in the 1940s, color hadn't yet made it to film, so these original tales were told in black and white.

Then came the radio shows, and in the 1950s the television series. In the 1980s there were a series of movies retelling the tale again, starring Christopher Reeve. There have been stage plays, novels, video games, and musicals, animated cartoons, the 1990s television romantic comedy adventure series The Adventures of Lois and Clark and most recently the tv series Smallville depicting the years before Clark Kent donned the cape. Superman has appeared everywhere from lunchboxes to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a larger than life hot air balloon flying through the streets of New York. He is without doubt an American cultural icon of the twentieth century, representing the best that humanity can hope to achieve. Ironic for a guy who is an adopted son of this planet.

But what is the actual story? This tale has been told so many times, it's difficult to determine which elements of the story are accurate, and which are apocryphal, if that's even possible for a fictional story such as this. Within the context of the fictional tale, what are the concrete facts and what are the more elusive elements which writers of the past present and future utilize to keep the story exciting for all generations? It is possible to break it down. Within the confines of the comic book appearances themselves, there is a wealth of material to pour through, but is it possible to summarize the actual story, and then compare the changes that have happened over the years?

Comic Books

Practically every comic book writer and artist combination ever in the history of Superman has tackled the origins of the character in their own unique way, each bringing to the story their own style and contemplations. Within the confines of the original medium for the Superman Myth, there are roughly five predominant versions of the tale, each having many variants within. The five main versions coincide with the comic book ages: the Pre-Golden Age, the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age and the Modern Age.

Platinum Age

The very impetus of the Superman Mythology was written by Seigel and drawn by Shuster. The first version of this tale was called The Reign of the Superman and it involved a bald mad scientist who took a normal human male from Earth and gave him incredible god-like powers. Once given, this human being immediately took this power and used it to become ruler of the Earth. This story was short-lived however and became the inspiration for a tale more akin to the one most people know as the origin of Superman. It's interesting to note that this mad scientist looked very much like a character who would later be known as Superman's arch nemesis, Lex Luthor. Since many comic book historians use the first publication of Superman in Action Comics as a mile marker for the birth of the Golden Age, I'll detail the more commonly known Seigel/Shuster origin story there.

Golden Age

The Golden Age of comic books is largely assumed to be around the time of World War Two. Roughly between 1938 and 1948. In the first issue of Action Comics, only a brief four panel, one page effort was made regarding the origin of Superman, just enough to get the ball rolling. This was expanded months later for the first issue of Superman's self-titled comic book. Believe it or not, back in these days the outfit Superman wore would have actually appeared perfectly acceptable out on a beach. It's loosely designed on the male swimsuits of the era, complete with what today appears to be a silly looking belt over a pair of long underwear. The following is based on the original tale told by Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster in the 1934 as a comic strip, and then later edited and converted for comic book publication in the 1940s.

"Krypton, a distant planet so far advanced in evolution that it bears a civilization of supermen -- beings which represent the human race at its ultimate peak of perfect development! Mile after mile streaks by as Jor-L, Krypton's foremost scientist, races along at a terrific speed that would out-distance the fastest express train! A great leap carries Jor-L hundreds of yards into the air, to a balcony near the top of his home." - From the Superman Dailies by Seigel and Shuster

The tale has always begun on the doomed planet Krypton. Here the dominating humanoid-like race of the planet were already super-powered and took it as normal, not knowing that much weaker humanoids existed on a planet several hundred light years from their own. Here we see the biological father of Superman as powerful as his offspring. Jor-L rushes home to be with his wife Lora and their only child, Kal-L. Interesting to note here that in this earliest version of the story, Shuster drew life on Krypton as a little different, with exagerrated architecture and a curious fashion sense, but otherwise he naturally assumed that life on Krypton, though more of a paradise than Earth, would have relatively normal people on it who slept in beds and had nightstands with lamps on them. Almost as soon as he arrives, their Kryptonian home is decimated by a sudden earthquake - or rather Krypton-quake. Jor-L cleans a path through the fallen debris after he recovers from the quake, and rescues his family. Lora asks her husband why there have been so many quakes lately. The family rush to "Jor-L's other residence" where he works in a laboratory, and he undertakes the mission to find out why. He works for the equivalent of five Earth days of time, ignoring food and sleep and insisting he not be disturbed, then after all his calculations, he comes to a painful conclusion.

"...And then on the fifth day," reads the narration, "Jor-L learns the terrible truth!" Jor-L says, "NO! I must be wrong! I must!" He checks and rechecks his findings hundreds of times, but he finally resigns to the facts laid before him. Reluctantly, he first gives his wife the bad news. "Krypton is doomed! It's going to crumble and die! And as it does, all its inhabitants will perish!" He cites the earthquakes and "recent volcanic eruptions" as harbingers of a pending greater disaster, which he refers to only as an "internal cataclysm," and predicts that the planet Krypton "will explode into fragments!" Lora looks at her innocent son, then to the stars, and marvels if only they could be up there, out of harm's way. From her words, Jor-L comes to a grandiose solution. He'll build a starship large enough to carry his planet's entire population. "An ark of space!"

He goes to his planet's "council," the ruling body of the planet, and asks its chairman ReToz for their support. However, despite his facts and figures, the council believes his fears to be unfounded, and recommends he forgets any such notion that their planet is doomed. They scoffed at Jor-L and questioned his sanity. With only his wife and son believing in him, he spends months constructing a model ship. We are to surmise from this that though Krypton's people are more advanced than Earth's, they had not yet conceived of space travel in more than a theoretical sense. With limited funding and no government to back his efforts, Jor-L feverishly works alone for months. He builds a toy-like model with his bare hands, efforts a concrete method of space travel, and makes "telescopic observations" in which he discovers Earth, the closest planet to his own capable of supporting life. He reaches for the controls of his creation in order to make a test, with no one on board the ship. Just then (and ain't it always the way though?) the planet Krypton is shaken by another "earthquake" (Lora's words not mine, I still think it should say KryptonQuake). The end comes sooner than Jor-L expected. Jor-L and Lora rush to the spaceship, but Jor-L explains it's only large enough to hold one of them. Lora demands that it be their child. The ship rockets away as an instant later Jor-L and Lora perish in the quake, and seconds later the planet too is consumed by an internal explosion as Jor-L predicted. Though rocked by the force of the explosion, the rocket continues undaunted towards its destination, seemingly on some form of auto-pilot. It's only cargo, the single survivor of a once proud civilization.

The rocket blasts ever forward, narrowly being struck by a giant meteor, almost being destroyed by the gravimetric pull of a giant sun. After an unspecified time, it enters Earth's atmosphere, but as it does it catches on fire, risking the life of its young passenger just as it crash lands on terra firma. The burning ship happens to catch the attention of "a passing motorist" who goes unnamed, and the child is first rescued, then turned over to an orphan asylum. "Attendants, unaware the child's physical structure is millions of years advanced of their own, are astonished at his feats of strength!" However, it was not until maturity that Clark Kent achieved his peak of prowess, able to "leap an eighth of a mile, hurdle a twenty story building, raise tremendous weights, run faster than an express train, and that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!" Though it's not explained why, it is pointed out that early in his life, Clark realized he must use his skills and powers to benefit mankind, swearing to champion the oppressed, and "devote his existence to helping those in need!"

Yeah I know. Corny, eh? Still, it's a fun story.

Though the tale of his infancy is covered in this version of the story, the actual childhood of Superman is left in obscurity for several years. The story continues forward to his adulthood. By this time he already has an apartment in a big city, but is not yet working for the newspaper, "The Daily Star." After learning about a disaster too late to save all those involved, the deaths of two victims works on his conscience. He decides if he works for a newspaper he can learn about disasters more quickly, thus improving his ability to thwart evil and save people's lives. This early on we first meet Lois Lane, who had been a lovelorn columnist but was trying to prove her mettle as an ace reporter. While in the offices of the newspaper, Clark Kent eavesdrops on Lois Lane's conversation with a two bit thug, learning that she's on the trail of a major crime boss but is not taking many security precautions. Lane leaves to work on a dangerous looking story involving organized crime, but Clark Kent appears in the lobby of the Daily Star offices, waiting for a chance to speak with the editor. This early on, Perry White's name is not mentioned. We see that Clark Kent has purposefully put on the airs of a meek gentleman wearing a suit and glasses, to hide his more powerful abilities. The editor sees Clark Kent and instantly assumes him to be like a number of other reporter wannabes who cross his path. He gives Kent an impossible mission -- an interview with the man rumored to be running around the city with great strength who people have been calling Superman. Clark takes the challenge with a poorly disguised confidence, "Listen pal! If I can't find out anything about Superman, No one can!" However, after leaving the Daily Star, Kent decides to follow his own lead based on Lois Lane's story, and interrogate a thug for information.

Back in the early days, Superman's habitual way of dealing with thugs was to grapple with them, occasionally allow their bullets to bounce off his chest, then grab a guy and fly him up to a nearby building or telephone wire, where he'd interrogate the guy, who almost invariably had a case of acrophobia. Also interesting to point out that although Superman beat up on wife beaters, occasionally he'd be found taking a woman who'd been exceptionally devious or cocky and giving her a spanking. This incongruency wasn't noticed as an issue back in the 1940s, but it'd be a bit daunting today, and would no doubt cause quite an uproar among women who fought for equal rights in the 20th century.

Seigel would occasionally interrupt the narration of a given story to explain to the reader how they could rationalize a normal looking guy like Superman having such tremendous strength. They'd compare his situation to that of insects and other animals. Ants which could carry hundreds of times their own weight. A grasshopper who could leap several times its own length through the air. Hawks can spy on their prey from several hundred feet in the air, utilizing the equivalent of telescopic vision. According to the narration, if the human race existed for millions of years, they too would eventually evolve into having such amazing abilities. Superman's only assumed advantage then was being from a planet with humanoids that had been around longer. In later versions of this tale, that summation would change.

Later in the 1940s, other characters would be added to Superman's roster and other events would define who he was and of what he was capable. Lex Luthor first appeared around 1940. Another of Superman's most famous enemies, Brainiac made his first appearance in 1958. It was during the Golden Age that the newspaper where Lane and Clark worked was renamed The Daily Planet. This early on the editor was rarely ever mentioned by name, but he had the makings of Perry White. Jimmy Olsen also didn't show up until many years later. As the tales of Superman continued to be woven throughout the 40s and 50s, things got a mite confusing. With the invention of the concept of a multiverse in the Flash comics, the editorial staff at DC began to separate these incongruencies by saying what didn't make sense in one reality must have happened in the other. This original Superman, according to DC Continuity, is believed to have lived, aged gracefully (starting around the late 1970s) with a little grey hair on his temples, and died on what the DC Comics editorial staff would later dub Earth 2. His actual death is on 1985 in the comic book maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths. However he doesn't so much die, as just sorta disappears by going into a portal with his wife (!!!) Lois Lane, a Superboy from yet another alternate reality, and... well we're just supposed to assume he went into some pocket dimension and had a happy retirement. Queasy, I know, but whatcha gonna do?

"We believe in superheroes because we believe in ourselves." - Jack Kirby "

The Silver Age

So the original Superman whose origin was told around 1938 existed on Earth 2. Twenty years later his tales were still being told but his appearance obviously hadn't changed. This could be explained away perhaps as his being an alien, but how come Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen never aged either? As explained above, it was later surmised that the tales told about the Superman of the 60s and 70s had to have been a different guy altogether, from another reality. So his origin was probably different too.

Some of the tales of The Silver Age of comic books are assumed to have happened to the Earth 2 equivalent of Superman. However, others happened to Earth 1's Superman. The majority of stories may have happened to both characters. This is where the whole apocryphal thing kicks in and it can get really kinda weird. I mean when you tell the exploits of any hero for sixty years, there's bound to be continuity errors and things you wish you could take back. So as the decades came and went and as writers, editors, and illustrators of Action and Superman comics came and went, so too did a lot of ideas. All were fun and exciting. Some were also pretty stupid. Many of these elements will not be discussed here cuz this thing's already pretty darn long, but would include the many different flavors and varieties of kryptonite, the Bizarro World and its inhabitants, Superman's marriage to Lois Lane which was later just sorta made into a dream sequence a la Dallas the tv series, Krypto the dog wonder, the bottled Kryptonian city of Kandor, Supergirl and many others. Entertaining for sure, but much of which causes apocryphal rifts in the original origins of the tale, and plays games with The Superman Myth.

Superman's powers though, cannot be ignored. As early as the latter part of the Golden Age, the idea of a Superman being able to just be "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound" well it just didn't seem to thrill readers as much as years before. So little by little Superman discovered his powers improving. In the mid 40s he went from just hopping around like a gigantic grasshopper, to literally gliding on air currents like a bird. His keen eyesight went from mere telescopic to the equivalent of X-ray vision. As the Silver Age developed, his powers continued even further, to include such absurdities as super ventriloquism, breath that could freeze dry anything, and the ability to run faster than the speed of sound, then later faster than the speed of light. Think that last one's not absurd? Ask a sprint runner, or a physics professor. Years before the Americans and the Russians in the real world entered the Space Race, it became commonplace in comic book's reality that Superman could fly out past the Earth's atmosphere without the need to breathe oxygen or the concerns of his body exploding from the lack of air pressure. He'd become so god-like, that the assumption he came from a race of people who were equally god-like put a major goof-up in the continuity of his origin. If everyone on Krypton was as powerful as Superman, why couldn't they just fly off the planet before it exploded? We also can't ignore the introduction of Superboy. I mean if he was a SuperMAN now, he must have been a SuperBOY at some time, right? And even a Superbaby. Then there's his weaknesses. Prior to the late 1940s, he didn't really have any, but a guy who can do anything without obstacles can get boring after awhile. So Kryptonite was introduced in issue #61 of Superman, circa 1949. This later became known as radioactive shards of Superman's home planet, which were supercharged with energy to which normal humans were immune but which weakened Superman from several meters away.

So a massive revamp of the Superman Myth was required, to coincide with newly known sciences since 1938, and to coincide with all the other weird stuff writers had come up with, or wanted to explore. They had to re-explain the Superman myth, so many of the assumptions of the original story were retooled or ignored completely. Between the years of 1948 and 1958 (before the historically accepted Silver Age), this retooling began. The original tale of Krypton's explosion has been kept intact, as has the basic requirements for storytelling in Clark Kent's adulthood. He's still a reporter for the Daily Planet. He still has a love interest as Superman and a competitive coworker as Clark in the guise of Lois Lane. He still wore glasses... But there was a lot not known about his origins, and a number of things that could be explored in more detail to flesh the myth out a bit and explain the discrepancies, beyond the silliness of the middle 80s which solidified the whole multiple Supermen on multiple Earths thing.

By 1959, a lot of retooling had become relatively cemented. For the next 11 years, the Silver Age version of Superman was kept relatively consistent. Mort Weisinger was given sole editorial control over the Superman titles in 1959, and thus began the first serious attempt to keep a constantly developing continuity for the character harmonious. Original creator Jerry Seigel returned to DC Comics at this time to assist Weisinger in this effort. Together they fleshed out the characters into more three-dimensional concepts and gave them more believability. With this new teamwork came an attempt to completely rewrite Superman from the ground up. References to stories prior to 1958 were largely ignored. Few tales were acknowledged as canon for the efforts of this new Superman. Prior stories were either retold from scratch with dramatic differences or ignored altogether. Many of the characters who Superman had originally met in his adulthood suddenly were revealed to have first met Superman when he was a teenager, including Lori Lemaris, Lex Luthor, Bruce Wayne and Mister Mxyzptlk. The inception of more immediate fan response and the introduction of printing annuals and other publications to the mass market encouraged fans to pay more attention to the ongoing history of this revitalized Superman. They provided feedback which helped editors catch mistakes and caused them to develop a stronger sense of continuity, so it made the efforts of editors and writers alike more difficult, but also more rewarding. For telling a story that was more realistic to the fantasy of the reader was a reward in and of itself.

Jor-L was now Jor-El, and the political battle he waged with the rulers of Krypton was given more detail. Young Kal-El would no longer wonder about his origins, because in this new variant of the storyline he was not an infant when Krypton exploded. Kal-El was about three Earth years old when his parents put him in the spaceship and launched him from Krypton: he remembered his birthplace! It became a deep and sad emptiness in his heart which drove him forward. This gave more motivation for the character's need to defend his adopted home Earth. He could remember what a tragedy had befallen the place of his birth, so it was important to him the same thing not happen again to his new home.

It was during this time that Clark Kent's adopted parents began to emerge as the guiding force. Instead of some stranger having discovered the young baby off the side of the road and then leaving him at an orphanage to eventually find unnamed adopted parents, these parents were given details and personalities. The baby Kal-El was discovered by grey-haired Jonathan Kent and Martha Clark-Kent, who were the epitome of loving and doting parents. The underlying message here was that the family unit is what grounded young Clark, and gave him American Family Values which served to teach him the importance of good conquering evil. In the 1950s and early 1960s, this message was practically universal in American culture, but the fact Clark was different also served to attract those kinds of people who didn't have such a family unit, and may or may not have wanted such a thing. Clark Kent's tale said that no matter how different one was from the norm, they could still work within a community to make a difference. Unfortunately another underlying metaphor between the Syperman Myth and reality is that sometimes one has to hide their differences and conform with society, otherwise it's possible people would misinterpret you, think you a freak, or try to exploit you. In the Silver Age, most writers tended to focus more on the positives of Clark's situation, and glossed over the darker potential for story writing. In his adulthood, the stories focused more specifically on his supporting characters. Perry White and Jimmy Olsen were fleshed out more, and Jimmy Olsen grew to be Superman's sidekick, even getting a special panic button device which allowed Jimmy to call upon Superman whenever he was in trouble.

In March of 1960, Action Comics #262 included an explanation that Superman's powers came from the fact he was now under a yellow sun, which affected his physiology different from humans. The doomed planet Krypton had been under the radiation of a red sun, and those on that planet were just as normal there as humans were on Earth. Krypton was also depicted as a planet larger than Earth, which a slightly heavier gravity, so Clark Kent's kryptonian musculature could withstand the gravity of Earth much like Buzz Aldrin could hop about on the surface of the moon. However, that still didn't explain how Superman could fly, so this use of a different radiation from the yellow sun was introduced as an explanation of an internal power system in Superman's physiology, almost like he was a living solar battery. This theory was later extrapolated in the Bronze Age. In Superman #46 circa 1961, it was made more specific. His physical prowess was attributed to the differences in gravity, but his other powers stemmed from the differences in solar radiation. Flight was a combination of the two. His invulnerability was even referred to as a sort of "super sun tan." Believe it or not. Also introduced in these newer stories were attempts by Kal-El's parents to leave behind remnants of their civilization with Superman, and even (in Kryptonese) an attempt by his mother Lara to beg his new world to protect her son. Sometimes Superman would even write notes to himself in Kryptonese, because he was the only one so far as he knew who could read them.

The Bronze Age

With the retirement of editor Mort Weisinger, Superman again began to fall into numerous continuity errors and incongruities throughout the 1970s. DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz allowed writer Denny O'Neil to rewrite Superman's origins yet again, and in the process the writer cut down Superman's powers by over half. He'd become so powerful the writer felt he had become boring. This change didn't last long, but it developed many inconsistencies which echoed throughout the decade. During Weisinger's reign, although there were occasional superhero team-ups, there was never an attempt to incorporate Superman into the stories of other superheroes with any attempt at consistency. Schwartz changed all that by having Superman make irregular but repeated appearances in most if not all the running comic book series of the time. This was partly due, again, to fan reaction. Everybody wanted to know which was faster, Superman or the Flash? Interactions between two popular characters was almost a certainty for selling more comic books. With this inciting incident, Superman became more than just a powerful character in his own comic title. He became the flagship for the entire comic book line, and with a moral imperative incorporated into his character, he grew into a god-like character upon which others could aspire. Rather than making him less powerful, writers after O'Neil went in the opposite direction, giving Superman more stories out in space, and accomplishing more and more grandiose feats of strength and bravery. He was like a modern-day Homeric Hercules. It wasn't enough that he be Earth's savior. He became a savior to the stars as well.

Although this version of the storyline attempted to remain true to the Silver Age variant of the Superman Myth, it also wanted to incorporate itself into the origins of many other DC line characters. At first this sounded like a great idea. Writers looked at what was already there and just filled in the cracks with elements from the Green Lantern storyline and others. Unfortunately, this caused things to get kinda screwy. It turned out that Krypton was doomed because it was an unnatural world, created by powerful beings. This race which created Krypton and its inhabitants were known as the Sun Thrivers and they even created Krypton's red sun. However their efforts were unstable. Still they managed to keep it together for ten millenia. While the barren planet Krypton remained, two explorers crash landed on the planet. Their names were Tonn and Krypp. They found one another and like Adam and Eve, started a race of humanoids together. They made the planet Krypton their own. However the planet was a harsh one to survive, and only the hardiest of their descendants lived to perpetuate their kind, so on the planet Krypton it was like a forced evolutionary experiment. Ten thousand years of evolution later, Jor-El and Lara concieved young Kal-El. The most hardy and resilient being the universe has ever known. It was later revealed that this race of people were subtly being manipulated by the powers of yet another near immortal race: the self proclaimed Guardians of the Universe who were the catalysts for the Green Lantern Corps. The intent was to create the perfect Green Lantern in young Kal-El. However, Krypton was falling apart prematurely for the Guardians' plans. They sent a Green Lantern named Tomar-Re to preserve Krypton long enough for Kal-El's father Jor-El to build a space ark for his people. The inability of the Sun Thrivers to keep Krypton together, coupled with the interruption of Brainiac who insisted on capturing the city of Kandor and miniaturize it for his own twisted ends, caused Krypton to explode prematurely before the Guardians could reap from the benefits of their evolutionary experimentation.

At the last possible instant, Jor-El managed to rocket his only son from the doomed planet seconds before it exploded. The spaceship warped to Earth, taking with it a lot of debris from the planet's explosion, including a thought-lost Kryptonian-made satelite containing a dog named Krypto used for space travel experiments and left for dead. Young Kal-El crash landed in Smallville (sometimes Kansas, sometimes Maryland. Yet another inconsistency). There, a scientist named Albert Einstein intervened so that the Kents would find the young lad. Krypto was later found too, and became Clark's pet. The Kents found Clark Kent wrapped in material that was as indestructible as he was. Martha Kent used it to fashion a costume for her son. Jonathan Kent has a strange dream where he saw a symbol of an S which they put on young Superboy's chest. Later it was learned this symbol was on a sword that had existed for millenia (you're getting all this right?) which was destined to be in the hands of Superman. Clark Kent had always had super powers from birth, and it was difficult for the Kents to raise him without raising suspicion or avoiding accidents, but raise him they did and they incorporated in him moral values and the desire to help the world beneficially with his abilities. First as Superboy, then later as Superman, Clark Kent did just that. Repeatedly Kal-El proved his worth in battle after battle and averted one disaster after another. Trouble seemed to be attracted to him, as super powered beings from all over the universe converged upon the small blue green planet as if it were a focal point of some kind. Then one day this sword showed up briefly and allowed Superman to wield it. From the sword Superman telepathically aquired all the knowledge of all the universe past present and future (you're still awake out there aren't you?) and told him he was truly worthy to carry the name "Superman."

Ugh. Talk about epic. When this was all done, the editors looked back on the wake they'd left behind and decided they had to once again start all over. Not just for Superman, but for their entire comic book line. So in 1985 they did the Crisis on Infinite Earths which I detail elsewhere so I'm not gonna go into it again. Somewhere in all this mess, The Daily Planet gave way to Galaxy Broadcasting and Clark Kent was no longer a reporter for a newspaper. Now he was an anchorman for the evening news. I kid you not.

The Modern Age

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics decided to wipe the slate clean once again and start anew. The Golden Age Superman began his reign in 1938. The Silver Age/Bronze Age Superman(s) began roughly in 1960. So in 1986, a revamp was overdue. The job fell into the capable hands of John Byrne who wrote a four issue maxi-series called The Man of Steel which is held by some as a benchmark to how to tell Superman's story, and held by others as an abomination. Byrne took quite a few liberties. In his version of the story, Jor-el and Lara were descendants of a world much different from our own. It was almost antiseptic, and a desert with little hope for future survival. Superboy was gone under Byrne's tutelage. Lex Luthor became a much older man, easily twenty years Clark Kent's senior, and a formidable criminal mastermind as well as a wealthy philanthropist, and he had his eyes on young Lois Lane. Byrne penned the introduction of the new Superman with the new Batman. Now in this version of continuity, Batman had been around before Superman, whereas in the early days Superman preceded almost all other superheroes. This time around he was the new kid on the block. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen were reintroduced, with noticeably more modern variances. The concept of Lois Lane as a damsel in distress was completely gone, and Jimmy Olsen was not exactly Superman's sidekick so much as a friend and co-worker to Lois and Clark. Byrne also introduced Bizarro Superman early on. In some ways is was a fantastic story, but some argued it wasn't really Superman's story. Not the story fans had come to know. Within a year of its inception, John Byrne faced editor Dick Giordano who admitted to Byrne, "You have to realize there are now two Superman. The one you do, and the one we license." Byrne was upset, and after a short stint writing new exploits in the pages of Superman, he went on his way. Having first re-introduced Supergirl and Mister Mxyzptlk, before the lack of support by DC Comics and fan disapproval caused him to lose interest in the project altogether.

After he left, the floodgates were open. Although this was still a new Superman of sorts, the following writers re-introduced pretty much everything that had come up before, to sometimes startling and sometimes disturbing consequences. The writings of Superman post Crisis have been like watching a train wreck. Although, there are some notable exceptions. Clark revealed his secret identity to Lois in Action Comics #662. They got engaged to be married, but Lois broke off the engagement in issue #720. You've come a long way baby. Despite this, they eventually got married in the special publication "Superman: The Wedding Album" and have a honeymoon in The Adventures of Superman #541. Of course I can't forget the Doomsday crossovers which occurred in Action Comics #'s 683-684, Adventures of Superman #'s 496-497 and Superman #'s 73-74. This is known as The Death of Superman and again marks a point where many fans applauded and many others cringed, as the death of superman caused several other claimants of the Superman legacy to appear. Before they were through, the writers created a half dozen or so characters all of which claimed to be THE Superman. I've yet to be able to understand all that myself. It got real convoluted.

So maybe there is no real canonical version of this story. Future writers will look at all this, and in whatever medium they happen to be, they'll take what works for them and ignore the rest. I mean which is more important? Continuity or telling entertaining tales? Ideally it'd be best if both could be done, but the more continuity there is the less room there is for new and exciting stuff. It's like painting a room without keeping in mind an exit, and realizing one has painted oneself into a corner.

So then you have to start painting all over again.

The Video Media

Although if there is a canon version of The Superman Myth, it should be in the comic book format from where it originated, there is something to be said for the many various versions of the tale told both on the silver screen and television.

The earliest forms consisted of black and white movie serials which were filmed in the 1940s and 1950s. These tales rarely explored Superman's origins more than to briefly catch up the audience members who never read the stories. There's also been a number of animated cartoon versions of Superman, both for the silver screen and in more recent decades, in the form of Saturday morning cartoons. Again, explorations of the character's origin have been limited to retelling various versions of the comic books, with rare exceptions to apocryphal variants for The Superman Myth. At least worth noting. Oftentimes the comic book company would have at least peripheral input regarding the content of the films, and the original source material was always given at least lip service.

In the 1950s, there were a number of audio radio series called the Adventures of Superman, and in 1951 the first full length motion picture Superman and the Mole-Men which became the precursor to a television series which starred George Reeves. Originally Lois Lane was portrayed by Phyllis Coates, but after she left the series, the redhead Noel Neill won the role of Lois Lane, which was a slight departure from the comic books. Lois Lane has always been depicted as a brunette. However, Neill's performance offered a valiant quality to the character which made mere hair color irrelevant. In the early episodes the action was heavy-handed but in later seasons there was more of a focus of humor and the violence was understated, in an attempt to offer a flavor of more family entertainment and appeal to a wider audience. The tv series ran from 1953 to 1957, and is still loved by many. Tragically, the actor George Reeves died under mysterious circumstances soon after the series was cancelled. This began what some refer to as The Superman Curse.

In 1978, the Chrisopher Reeve motion pictures began to be released. Superman I was directed by Richard Donner, and produced by Alexander Salkind. Over the next decade this was followed by Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), and Superman IV (1987). In the first movie, Superman's origin was once again retold. In this variant, Jor-El was played by Marlon Brando who gave the embodiment of the character a presence of ominous stature. It also explained to a degree why he was unable to get the people of Krypton to take him seriously. It was almost impossible to understand him. In the Krypton of the movies, the world consisted of mostly ice and glass like shards. It's explosion was imminent, but not a lot of detail went into why. Jor-El just knew it was going to explode and no one else believed him. He put young Kal-El in a star shaped space ship, and with the soundstage, er I mean doomed planet falling around his feet, Jor-El rocketed his child to Earth. What followed was a summary of the Silver Age version of Superman's mythology, with one major exception. No Superboy. Although Clark Kent had special abilities from his crash landing, his parents convinced him to hide his abilities from other human beings, for his own safety. In Superman II there was some focus on the idea of some prisoners from Krypton having survived the explosion, due to their having been imprisoned during Krypton's destruction in a pocket dimension. Superman III took Superman back to his childhood home of Smallville but the plot didn't involve any massive rewrites of Superman's origins. It did however involve Lana Lang. Superman IV was... well it's not worth mentioning.

In 1993, Superman returned to the small screen with a romantic comedy series called Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. This program didn't go into a lot of detail about Superman's birth or childhood, though it did touch on it occasionally. Another aspect of the Superman Myth though is the romance between Superman and Lois. This is one of the areas where writers each take much liberty. In some versions Lois falls in love with Superman while simultaneously finding Clark Kent an annoying bore. Then eventually Superman would admit the truth to Lois, and she'd get married to Clark Kent. The writers of this tv series focused the most on that to the expense of pretty much everything else. The series was hokey and often insipid, but it was fun, and pretty much made Teri Hatcher a household name overnight. Even though nowadays all she can get are commercials with her real-life 'superhero' husband... some athlete guy. I forget his name. Anyway, this tv series is most notable for focusing on the romance between Lois and Clark on a level never before realized.

Most recently, Smallville has simultaneously taken leaps and bounds with tribute to the source material, and bastardized the concept as it wallows in curious soap opera like cannonfodder. It deals with a 21st century Clark Kent as a Generation Y teenager with super powers living in rural Smallville, Kansas. When Clark crashed on Earth, so did a lot of debris from Krypton, which has become kryptonite and unlike previous incarnations of the Superman Myth, in this variant on the myth, kryptonite can turn normal human beings into super powered crazy people. It also works in a strange way. If a person is hot-tempered, they'll aquire control over fire. If a person has a cold heart, they get cold-based powers. A combination of immediately surrounding environmental factors and the internal personality of the person concerned tend to influence how the kryptonite changes them. Like all other variants on the Superman Myth, green kryptonite turns Superman into a 98 pound weakling.

I like it. It's fun. It's also led me to question just how many times the Superman Myth can get retold before people start revolting in the streets. Regardless, it's clear that the Superman Myth is one of the most popular 20th century stories, which has grown, changed and evolved along with the times, to refresh its existence for each new generation while still paying tributes to the generations that came before. It's a popular cultural icon which helps to define the modern age. Like Santa Claus, Star Wars and the tales of vampires, werewolves and Frankenstein, its a personification of the best and worst humanity has to offer.

Superman the myth is a child from Krypton. Superman the reality is a child of humanity.

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