Superman, the epitome of superheroes turned 86 on Paul Revere Day! On April 18, 1938, the first issue of Action Comics appeared.

superman number one goes to auction

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound! “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane. It’s Superman Yes, it’s Superman!” Strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands,and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

Since 1938, Superman has appeared in comic books, in books, in movies, on radio, and on television, and on Broadway. Superman was created by writer Jerry Siegal and artist Joe Schuster whilst they were both still in their teens. Even people who have never read a comic book know who Superman is.

Born Kal-El, on the dying planet Krypton, he was sent by his desperate parents in an experimental rocket ship to the planet Earth on the hopes of saving his life. The resemblance to Moses in the bulrushes was probably deliberate: both Siegel and Schuster were Jewish. The rocket was found by a childless farm couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent, who decided to keep the baby and raise him as their as their own rather than informing the authorities that a rocket landed on their farm or turning the baby over to the nearest orphanage.

{image via Max Fleischer}

The Kents named the boy Clark (after Martha’s maiden name) and brought him up with good old-fashioned American values: compassion, a respect for honest work, patriotism, honesty, obedience, etc., giving him a strong moral background so that as he grew and discovered his powers he was not tempted to misuse them.

Because Earth has a yellow sun, and Krypton had a red sun before its destruction, Clark grew up to develop” powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men.”: strength, speed, invulnerability, flight. Also, Earth has lower gravity than Krypton.

As DC Comics’ most popular character, Superman appeared in multiple comic books, simultaneously: The Adventures of Superman, World’s Finest, which teamed up Superman with a different hero every month, The Brave and the Bold, which teamed up Superman and Batman every month, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, which focused on the misadventures of photographer Jimmy Olsen, and Justice League, a team book where Superman was first among equals. In the Sixties and Seventies, he was a supporting character in Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane. In 1974, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane lost their own books and merged with Supergirl in Superman Family. A younger version of Clark Kent/Kal-El appeared in Superboy. Some of these were about his adventures as a youngster in Smallville, but he soon became a sidekick in his own book. He time-travelled to the 30th century where he met up with the Legion of Super-Heroes. The name of the book was changed to Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes, to reflect the fact it was principally the Legion’s book.

I/n 1952, as the women’s liberation movement was beginning to gain steam, Superman was given a cousin, Supergirl.

Superman even had a whole heard of super-pets. Krypto, the Superdog was first and foremost of these, although Krypto was soon joined by Beppo, the SuperMonkey, and Comet the Superhorse. Krypto was originally the -El family dog on Krypton. Bedore risking his son’s life in an experimental rocket, Jor-El first tested it on the dog.

Every superhero who came after Superman has been at least partially influenced by Superman. DC Comics has objected when the influence appeared too strong. In 1983, DC sued ABC because they thought The Greatest American Hero was too close to Superman. The court ruled The Greatest American Hero  is not sufficiently similar to the fictional character Superman, the hero of comic books, television, and more recently films, so that claims of copyright infringement and unfair competition may be dismissed without consideration by a jury.” In 1940, DC sued Bruns Publications over their superhero WonderMan. Bruns was found guilty of copyright infringement, but appealed. On appeal the court found “We think it plain that the defendants have used more than general types and ideas and have appropriated the pictorial and literary details embodied in the complainant’s copyrights.”

National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Publications191 F.2d 594 (2d Cir. 1951). ended a12-year legal battle between DC Comics and Fawcett over Captain Marvel’s alleged similarity to Superman. Ironically, DC later bought up Fawcett, and Superman made a cameo in the 2019 Shazam movie.

In his novel, Superman, the Last Son of Krypton, author Eliot S. Maggin explained that Jor-El, as a member of the Science Council that ruled (or misruled) Krypton had tried to send his son to Albert Einstein, but Einstein realized on Earth wisdom and kindness were more important than raw intelligence, and arranged to have Kal-El’s rocket placed where Jonathan and Martha Kent would find it, knowing they would be better parents to the boy than he could.

For eighty-six years, longer than the average human lifespan, Superman has been part of American pop culture. Whether as Superman or as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, he has worked for truth, justice, and the American way. May his adventures and ideals continue!

{image via DC Comics}


Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress ”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.