Superman Comic Books
Five Anniversaries Converge In 2003 For SupermanBy: Ian Anthony (email@example.com) - November, 2003
Amazing tales about fantastic heroes embroiled in epic struggles against seemingly insurmountable odds have long found a broad appeal in audiences. There exists a certain strong, undeniable attraction to these stories. Every age and society has developed its own mythology in one form or another, for a combined sense of entertaining and educating. The twentieth century is no exception, for it is here where a red-caped visitor from another planet performed super-heroic deeds and launched an exciting new mythology and began a perpetual universe populated by the most incredible of heroes. Before Batman, Spider-Man or Wonder Woman, there was Superman.
"When I speak to people and ask about Superman's influence in their own personal lives, the most common response I get is Superman's moral fortitude and how they lead their lives using the Superman's sense of morality with of course no ability to fly or see through walls," remarked Gareb Shamus, an aficionado of the superhero realm and Publisher of 'Wizard: The Guide to Comics' magazine.
As five anniversaries unite in 2003 for Superman, the time has arrived to celebrate all that the Man of Steel has to offer.
In The Beginning...
It all began in September 1932 when high school classmates Jerome "Jerry" Siegel and Joe Shuster who shared an interest in science fiction partnered to publish their own fanzine, "Science Fiction", bearing the intriguing subtitle 'The Advance Guard of Future Civilization'. Joe Shuster was born on July 10, 1914 in Toronto, while Jerry Siegel was born on October 17 the same year. The Shuster Family relocated to Cleveland when Joe was nine, and Joe and Jerry became fast friends while attending Glenville High School, where they worked together for the school newspaper, "The Glenville Torch". At 18 years of age, Siegel acted as Editor for "Science Fiction", while Shuster served as Art Director. Their original stories emulated the tales they read in pulp magazines, and the fledgling fanzine was produced on the mimeograph machine at their school for their small circulation. The fanzine lasted six issues, but issue Number 3, produced in January 1933, carried Siegel's eight page story "The Reign Of The Superman". The byline actually reads as "Herbert S. Fine", which was a pseudonym Siegel used incorporating his mother's maiden name. Shuster illustrated the story, as he did for all the stories of the magazine. "Reign" was inspired by tales of strongmen such Samson and Hercules, as well as the dual identity aspect of Doc Savage. The title character is actually an anti-hero, one who uses his abilities for ill-gotten pursuits after being granted extraordinary powers by a bald-headed mad scientist...
That summer, the first comic book in the United States was produced when Max C. Gaines, a salesman with Eastern Color Printing in New York, develops a promotion idea for Procter and Gamble. Gaines created "Funnies On Parade", a 32-page book featuring colour reprints of newspaper strip comics, which were offered free with the purchase of Procter and Gamble products. The venture was a success, and 10,000 copies were given out. In July 1934, Eastern expands this idea and publishes Issue 1 of "Famous Funnies". This 64 page book again featured color comic strip reprints as well as games and puzzles and stands as the first American comic book sold at a newsstand. In late 1934, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson founded National Allied Publications. A former cavalry officer and pulps writer, Wheeler-Nicholson was unable to secure enough contracts for his weekly syndication comic strip offerings, so he opted to assemble his material into a comic magazine. "New Fun Comics" published by National Allied appeared in February 1935, and has the distinction of being the first comic to have all-original stories rather than newspaper strip reprints. In June 1935, Wheeler-Nicholson accepted a Siegel and Shuster story, 'Henri Duval of France, Famed Soldier of Fortune'. This appeared in the National Allied title "New Fun Comics", Issue 6 in October 1935, and was the first comic publication for Siegel and Shuster. The two also penned 'Dr. Occult: The Ghost Detective' in the same issue, though under their pseudonyms 'Leger and Reuths'.
During 1936, Wheeler-Nicholson partnered with his printer and distributor, Harry Donenfeld, and in March 1937 the first issue of "Detective Comics" appeared as a National magazine, a sister title to "More Fun Comics" and "New Adventure Comics". In late 1937, Wheeler-Nicholson planned to launch another publication, to be titled "Thrilling Comics", "Action Funnies" or "Action Comics", however Donenfeld and his business partner Jack Liebowitz bought out Wheeler-Nicholson before he could see this idea to fruition. National Allied was renamed as DC-National Periodical Publications Inc., and the plans for Action Comics progressed.
Over the course of the summer of 1934, Siegel and Shuster had re-invented their Superman character as a hero, with an entirely new, more dramatic, background. The character boasted new, eye-catching inkwork by Shuster who created an instantly recognizable and distinctive red-and-yellow "S" shield. The costume involved a blue bodysuit, red boots, and a flowing bright red cape. They submitted their comic strip to various newspaper syndicates, but were routinely rejected. During one such bout of submissions, the strip was delivered to Sheldon Mayer at the McClure Syndicate. Mayer was immediately attracted by the larger-than-life heroics, and believed the story contained all the popular elements that were currently the rage in movies and novels. An enthusiastic Mayer passed it on to his boss, Max Gaines (the very same who almost single-handedly launched the industry four years earlier), who was less than enthusiastic but nonetheless forwarded it on to Vin Sullivan, the editor for the soon-to-be Action Comics which was in dire need of material. Gaines believed the story would work better in a comic book rather than a syndicated strip, being motivated in part by the hope of winning the printing contract for Action. Sullivan shared Mayer's love for the piece, and not only was it accepted, but a modified graphic from page 9 of the strip would grace the cover of the new book.
"Action Comics" #1 appeared in April 1938 with a June cover date. Superman is shown to the public for the first time. The Man of Steel appears on the cover in full colour, hoisting a green sedan over his head, and also provides the lead story consisting of 13 colour pages within a 64-page anthology of assorted stories. Page 1 provides a brief origin of the character, while Lois Lane and the 'Daily Star' newspaper are introduced. An original Action Comics 1 is worth in excess of $50,000 US, in addition to being a priceless element of popular culture. "It is the most valuable comic book," remarked author Robert M. Overstreet in a 1999 interview when speaking about Action 1 with Amy Worden of APB News. "It is the most sought after, the one to have over all others." Overstreet publishes 'The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide', which first appeared in 1970 and is revered as a "bible" of comic book collecting.
Superman became a mainstay of Action Comics, and appeared again on the covers of issues 7, 10, 13, 15, 17 and 19, then continuously onward. On January 16 1939, Siegel and Shuster were finally granted their original wish - Superman was a daily newspaper strip, first appearing in the Houston Chronicle newspaper with the story "Superman Comes To Earth". The daily strip runs until 1966. "Superman #1" as a stand-alone comic appears on the shelves in the Summer of 1939. This was due to sales success, and a great promotion for the character. This also introduced an innovation in the industry - having an entire comic book devoted to a single character. Superman 1 was groundbreaking. Superman now also had the distinction of being the first hero-character featured in more than one comic magazine. By issue number 7, Superman was being hailed on the covers as the "World's Greatest Adventure Strip Character". Other titles related to Superman are "The Adventures of Superman", "Superman: The Man of Steel", Key spin-off titles include Superboy, Supergirl, "Man of Steel", Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane, Superman's Family, Superman In Action Comics, and "Superman: The Secret Years". The "World of Krypton" three-issue special from July to September of 1979 stands as the first comic mini-series.
Superman teams with Batman and Robin on the covers of "World's Best Comics" in the spring of 1940. Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, May 1939, while Robin came in to the picture in April 1940, bursting on to the cover of Detective Comics #38. "World's Best" was renamed as "World's Finest" for issue 2 and continued with that title for the remainder of its run. "World's Finest" printed distinct Superman and Batman stories in the same issue. In "World's Finest" #71 of July 1954, they actually team-up for a single, common adventure. Although they both appeared in the pages of "All Star Comics" #7 in October 1941, Batman's involvement is purely as a cameo.
In 1976, DC and Marvel partnered in a 'crossover' titled: "Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century". Spider-Man was launched by Marvel in Amazing Fantasy #15 in August 1962, and while he was not the first Marvel super hero (that distinction falls to Prince Namor: The Submariner who was introduced in April 1939), he remains one of the most popular. DC Publisher Carmine Infantino and Marvel Publisher Stan Lee joined forces for this blockbuster issue, which was oversized at 10 by 13.5 inches, and went into a second printing.
Key artists who have leant their drawing talents to Superman are Joe Shuster, Curt Swan, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, John Bryne, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, George Perez, Dan Jurgens and the redoubtable Alex Ross.
The Origin of Superman is a well-known tale. The distant planet Krypton is experiencing devastating earthquakes. Jor-El, the leading scientist of this world, believes the planet will likely explode soon due to building atomic pressures at its uranium core. He reports his findings to the Governing Council of Krypton, advising them the planet is doomed, but they remain firm in the belief that Krypton will ultimately be safe. His fellow scientists likewise dismiss his claim. Jor-El returns to his home in Kryptonopolis, the capital city, where he and his wife Lara make the decision to send their infant son Kal-El to Earth, a planet Jor-El had been studying intently for some time. When the day of the explosion arrives, Kal-El is wrapped in red, yellow and blue blankets and placed in a small rocket. He is launched into the void of space as the planet erupts in a cataclysmic explosion. On February 29 (leap year), the rocket lands on Earth, outside of Smallville, Kansas. Jonathan and Martha Kent discover the spaceship, and with its lone passenger. The childless couple adopts the baby as their own, and name him Clark.
As Clark grows and develops, he becomes aware of certain specialized powers. He fashions a costume from the blankets of his rocket, and becomes 'Superboy'. Superboy derives special abilities from Earth's yellow sun (the Krypton sun was red). These superpowers are: endurance (including being impervious to bullets), flight, super-strength, heat vision, x-ray vision (though he cannot see through lead), telescopic vision, super hearing, super breath, and super speed. Superboy joins the Legion of Super Heroes, a group of super beings from other worlds. Superboy also becomes reunited with Krypto, a white dog with a gold collar and red cape, who was his puppy while on Krypton. Krypto was launched in a prototype rocket from Krypton during Jor-El's early flight experiments. While in orbit, Krypto's rocket was knocked off course by a stray meteor, and the rocket drifted through space before finding itself on Earth.
The adult Clark Kent ultimately becomes "Superman". Superman has black hair and blue eyes, stands at six feet three inches and weighs in at 233 pounds. Clark moves to Metropolis where he becomes a reporter for The Daily Planet. He is a mild-mannered man in glasses, who outwardly appears timid. However, when a job for Superman arises, he can change from his alter ego into his hero form in a moment's notice. It is at the Planet where he meets fellow journalist Lois Lane, and a relationship develops, culminating in their wedding. Superman becomes a member of the Justice League of America, and maintains a secret hideaway in the arctic, "The Fortress of Solitude". The one element which can render Superman virtually powerless is Kryptonite, a green radioactive mineral that is a remnant from the shattered planet Krypton. The first-cousin of Superman, Supergirl, found her way to Earth as well. Kara Zor-El resided in Argo City which was hurled into space in-tact when Krypton erupted. Supergirl was rocketed to earth as a teenager when the city was dying from Kryptonite poisoning. Her alter identity is that of Linda Lee Davners.
Superman opposes a multitude of villains, but key among these is his arch-enemy Lex Luthor, a diabolical genius who is intent on world domination. One particular 'battle royale' for Superman occurred when he faced off against a gargantuan seven foot 615-pound monster named "Doomsday" in a fight to save the Earth from virtual destruction. The battle was long and drawn out, but in the end Superman felled Doomsday with a final, devastating hit. However, Superman used all his considerable might for that powerful punch - resulting in his own death. A funeral follows, and with Superman gone, four imposters suddenly appear to fill his role. However, with the help of Pa Kent, Supergirl and the Green Lantern, Superman ultimately returned from the after-life, set things right, and resumed his adventures...
I have utilized the most widely accepted version of the story. The actual origin and successive story have naturally become modified over the years. For example, in Action Comics 1, Superman's home world is simply described as "a distant planet" and the name of the city where he resides is not given. It is not until the newspaper strip appears that the planet is named (Krypton is derived from the Greek word 'kryptos' meaning 'hidden'), and his city is identified as Metropolis - a sprawling urban center inspired by Shuster's memories of Toronto. Other aspects likewise became more precisely defined or renamed as the story progressed. For example, the master scientist on Krypton was initially named Jor-L. Kryptonite began as 'K-Metal'. 'Ma Kent' was originally Mary, but renamed Martha, just as the Daily Star became the Daily Planet. Lex Luthor was first drawn with shock of red hair before becoming completely bald.
Milestone comics in the Superman lore: Action Comics #1 (1938) - Superman, Lois Lane and Daily Star newspaper introduced. Action Comics #6 (1938) - Jimmy Olsen introduced. Action Comics #23 (1940) - Lex Luthor introduced. More Fun Comics #101 (1944) - Superboy introduced. Superman #61 (1949) - Kryptonite introduced (in comic). Action Comics #241 (1958) - Fortress of Solitude introduced. Adventure Comics #210 (1955) - Krypto the Super-Dog introduced. Adventure Comics #247 (1958) - Legion of Super-Heroes introduced; Superboy joins the Legion. Action Comics #252 (1959) - Supergirl arrives. The Brave and the Bold #28 (1960) - Justice League of America introduced; Superman a core member. Justice League of America #10 (1962) - Superman first appears on a JLA cover. Superboy #100 (1962) - has 2-page Krypton map. Superman #50 version 2 (1990) - Clark Kent proposes to Lois Lane. Action Comics #662 (1991) - Superman reveals his Clark Kent secret identity to Lois Lane. Superman: The Man of Steel #17 (1992) - Doomsday introduced. Superman #75 (1993) - Death of Superman (*this is one of the highest-selling comics of the century). Adventures of Superman #499 (1993) - Superman Funeral. Adventures of Superman #500 (1993) - beginning of 'Reign of the Supermen' four imposters story. Adventures of Superman #505 (1993) - Return of Superman (with long hair). The Wedding Album (1996) - Superman and Lois Lane wed.
On Monday evening, February 12 1940, Superman took flight. Over the radio airwaves, that is. "The Adventures of Superman" was a syndicated program originating at WOR, New York. The introduction was spellbinding... "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locamotive, able to leap tall buildngs in 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 the planet Krypton who came to Earth with amazing physical powers far beyond those of mortal men. And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, wages a never ending battle for truth and justice." The first instalment was titled "The Baby From Krypton". The vocal talents of Clayton "Bud" Collyer served as the dual role of Clark Kent and Superman. In the supporting roles were Joan Alexander as Lois Lane, Julian Noa as Perry White, and Jackie Kelk as Jimmy Olsen. The proceedings were narrated by Jackson Beck. The series ran 3 times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays as multi-part installments until its final broadcast on March 9, 1942. Six months later on August 31, 1942, Superman returned daily run on the Mutual Broadcasting Network, lasting until June 17, 1949. The series ran on ABC from November 5, 1949 through March 1, 1951. The radio series created several important and imaginative contributions to the Superman mythos, many of which were later incorporated into the comic book. The radio show coined the phrases "Up, up and Away!" and "This looks like a job for... Superman!" It is on the radio where in June 1943 Superman first encounters his Achilles' heel: Kryptonite, and later where he teams up with Batman and Robin in September 1945. Also, Daily Planet Editor Perry White debuts in the radio series.
The first animated Superman was introduced on September 26, 1941 by Fleischer Studios in association with Paramount Pictures. The lead episode was titled "Superman", though it is also known as "The Mad Scientist". This went on to be nominated for an Academy Award. Each cartoon was done in glorious Technicolor and a high attention to detail, lasting on average ten minutes. Bud Collyer reprised his role as Clark Kent and Superman, while Joan Alexander was again Lois Lane. Seventeen stories were produced overall, the last eight being done by "Famous Studios", the new name for Fleischer Studios after the Paramount acquisition in 1942. The last segment was presented on July 30 1943. The Max and Dave Fleischer Superman Cartoons are highly regarded as classics of the medium, and at the time cost some $100,000 each to produce. Much like the radio version, this animated series provided new aspects to the Superman story. The second chapter, "The Mechanical Monsters", marked the introduction of Superman's X-ray vision, as well as the first time that Clark Kent used a telephone booth for his transformation into Superman.
An animated Superman came to television on September 10 1966 with "The New Adventures of Superman". This was produced by Filmation, and the voices of Collyer and Alexander appear yet again in the title roles. "The Adventures of Superboy" cartoons were inserted between the two main Superman stories of each "New Adventure" episode. This series was renamed for its second season the following year as "Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure", then again as "Batman-Superman Hour of Adventure" a year later, with the series ending in September 1969. Each of these programs lasted one season. Superman headed up "The Superfriends" on Saturday Mornings in 1973 as voiced by Danny Dark, and appeared continuously in the other incarnations of the program, "All New Super Friends Hour" (1977), "Challenge of the Super Friends" (1978), "The World's Greatest Super Friends" (1979), "Super Friends - The Legendary Super Powers Show" (1984), "The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1985)" and "Justice League" (2001).
"Superman" by Ruby-Spears premiered over CBS on September 17, 1988 as part of the celebrations of the character's 50th Anniversary. This program had Beau Weaver in the title role, and lasted one season. "Superman: The Animated Series" was produced by WB Network from September 1996 until February 2000. It began as a 90-minute primetime special on September 6 involving the first 3 episodes, which was later released as a videotape title "Superman: The Last Son of Krypton". The series also inspired a comic book spinoff, "Superman Adventures" which debuted in November 1996 and actually outlasted the series, to end in April 2002 after 66 issues. Tim Daly voiced Superman while Dana Delany provided Lois Lane. "The All New Batman & Superman Adventures" began on September 1, 1997.
In 1942, George Lowther, a scripter for the radio show, wrote the first graphic novel about Superman - a 215 page book titled "The Adventures of Superman" and published by Random House. This was reprinted in 1979 by Kessel Books, and again in 1995 by Appelwood books.
"The Adventures of Superman", a live-action Superman television series premiered on September 19, 1952 with 'Superman on Earth'. This had an opening essentially comparable to the radio program, though states "...powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men..." as well as "Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands..." and ends with "a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way!" George Reeves starred as Clark Kent / Superman, with Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane (though Noel Neill portrayed her for a time) and Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen. This program airs its final episode until April 28, 1958.
A syndicated show called "Superboy" began on October 8, 1988 lasting until 1992 with John Haymes Newton beginning as the boy of steel, and Gerard Cristopher assumes the role from Season Two until Four. "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" brought a new sex appeal to the stories with Dean Cain in the cape and Teri Hatcher as Lois from 1993 until 1997. In October 2001, "Smallville" came to television, with Tom Welling playing Clark Kent in this program which chronicles the early years of the hero.
A musical comedy titled "It's A Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!" opened on at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway in March 1966. Bob Holiday starred as Superman, and the most memorable song from this play is "You've Got Possibilities". The play closed on July 17, 1966 though a two-hour television version aired on ABC on February 21, 1975.
Superman has also been mentioned in a number of songs, including "Superman" by R.E.M., a remake of a Clique song on their album "Life's Rich Pageant" to "Superman's Song" by Crash Test Dummies on their album "The Ghosts That Haunt Me" and "Superman Inside" by Eric Clapton on "Reptile" and even The Kinks' "Superman" on their album of the same name. A six-part "Metropolis Symphony" is completed by American composer Michael Daughtery in 1993 and a performance by David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is released in 1997.
From Comic Page to Silver Screen...
The first film portrayal of Superman debuts in July 1948 with the serial "Superman". Kirk Alyn portrays the Man of Steel and Noel Neill plays Lois Lane in this fifteen chapter serial produced by Columbia. "Superman Comes To Earth" is the first offering with the origin being adapted from the George Lowther novel. The series is credited as "Adapted from the Superman Radio Program broadcast on the Mutual Network." and had radio-show inventions as the Daily Planet, kryptonite, and the character of Perry White. A sequel debuts in 1950, "Atom Man vs. Superman", also consisting of fifteen chapters, where Alyn and Neill reprise their roles. Notably, it is here where Lex Luthor is first seen on screen - as portrayed by Lyle Talbot.
"Superman and the Mole Men" is released in December 1951. Starring George Reeves, this is the first full-length Superman feature film, running at sixty minutes. This film serves as the theatrical pilot for the "Adventures of Superman" television series, and is later telecast as a two-part segment, Episodes 25 and 26 titled "Unknown People", in March 1953 to end the first season.
On December 15, 1978, the feature film "SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE" was released by Warner Brothers. Richard Donner directed the stunning epic, which was filmed at Pinewood Studios in London, England and starred newcomer Christopher Reeve in the lead role, and featured a stellar cast including Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, Trevor Howard, Susannah York and Terence Stamp. At 6'.4" and 225 pounds, Reeve literally "fit" the role. Best Selling author Mario Puzo adapted the comic strip in to a screenplay with Leslie Newman and Richard Benton, while famed composer John Williams provided the dramatic, driving soundtrack. Interestingly, Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill, who were Superman and Lois Lane in the Columbia serials, play parents of Lois Lane in this film. Also, keep an eye on the hair: when Reeve makes his "transformations", the part in his hair moves from the right side (Kent) to the left (Superman).
The film goes on to earn eighty million dollars worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film in Warner history up until that time, and also inspires three sequels. "SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE" garners four Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Editing, and Best Visual Effects, winning a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects. The tag-line for the film is "You Will Believe A Man Can Fly" while associated movie tie-in novel is titled "SUPERMAN: THE LAST SON OF KRYPTON". In a related event, the feature film "Supergirl" is released on November 23 1984 starring Helen Slater and co-starring Peter O'Toole and Faye Dunaway.
Be The First Kid On Your Block To Have One...
Superman inspired a wide array of collectibles, from toys to action figures, costumes, lunchboxes, books, stickers, calendars, pins, kites, games, watches, flashlights, cards, jewelry, clothing - almost anything you can imagine. The first toy was an action figure made by the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company in 1939. This is a thirteen inch painted wooden doll with working joints. In 1940, the Louis Marx Toy Company created a tin wind-up Superman Mechanical Turnover Tank, and Daisy produced a Krypto-Ray Gun as part of their Picture Pistols line in 1940 which comes with seven film strips and projects an image of Superman on the wall. In 1972, Mego created a five inch Superman figure, then followed-up with a gigantic eight inch version. In March 2003, DC Direct released a 6.5 inch incredibly detailed Superman figure boasting 21 points of articulation, an "S" shield base on which he can be posed, and four-colour packaging featuring the explosion of Krypton. Corgi Toys produces a silver metal-flake Superman van in 1978, featuring a bold decal of superman in flight over a city skyline on the sides of the van.
In May 1999, to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Superman in his own title, the Superman Masterpiece Box Set was released. This ultra-deluxe tribute has an exclusive 8-inch polyresin Superman statue circa 1938, a reprint of Superman 1, and a lavishly illustrated, hardcover book chronicling Superman's Golden Age - all within a beautiful, sturdy, velcro-close cardboard display box. There is also a "Comic Book Champions" figure of Superman in pewter as he is portrayed on the cover of Superman 1, and an interesting companion statue series from 2002-03 depicting "Departure From Krypton" and "Arrival In Smallville". These two are hand-painted cold-cast porcelain statues depicting Jor-El and Lara bidding farewell to the infant Kal-El in the Rocket, and later Ma and Pa Kent discovering baby Clark after the spacecraft has landed.
On September 10, 1998, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative Superman stamp as part of their "Celebrate the Century" Education Series program. The stamp is titled "Superman Arrives", and is introduced in Cleveland, Ohio, the home town of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The Superman Arrives design is a reproduction of cover art from SUPERMAN #2 released in the Fall of 1939. Dignitaries at the Unveiling Ceremony include Jack Larsen who portrayed Jimmy Olsen in "The Adventures of Superman" television series, and Tim Daly and Dana Delany from "Superman Adventures" as well as Deputy Postmaster General Michael Coughlin, and Cleveland Mayor Michael White.
Life Imitating Art...
The Superman daily comic strip story "The Most Deadly Weapon" of May 1939 established Clark Kent as residing in Metropolis, U.S.A. In January 1957, Superman #110 contains a story titled "The Secret of the Superman Trophy". This mentions the famous Superman Museum in Metropolis which contains "sensational trophies of his amazing deeds! All of these exhibits are symbols of the Man of Steel's victories over crime!" This Museum was founded in January 1952 by explorer Stefan Andriessen, and located in the center of Metropolis Park in Metropolis. The Museum contains an archive of Superman news articles, as well as statues, murals, and a life-sized diamond Superman Statue, sculpted by Supergirl in commemoration of Superman Day of November 1962.
The real town of Metropolis, Illinois itself was founded in 1839 on the Ohio River at the southern tip of the state - and is the only Metropolis listed in the United States Postal Directory. In the early 1970's, Metropolis began making overtures about their connection to Superman. On January 21, 1972, Metropolis was officially declared as "The Hometown of Superman" by DC Comics, and the Illinois State Legislature passed Resolution 572 which granted the town the same distinction. The town proclaims the day "Superman Day", and Superman was designated a "distinguished Son of Metropolis". Carmine Infantino, President of National Periodical Publications, and Illinois Governor Richard Ogilve are among those dignitaries on hand to celebrate the event - as is "Superman" himself, portrayed by Man of Steel look-alike Reverend Charles Chandler of the First Baptist Church of Metropolis, who is presented the Key to the City by Mayor J.P. Williams.
A thrilling billboard with a soaring Superman welcomes visitors to the Metropolis, while a large mural featuring the cover of Action Comics #1 points the way downtown, where the Superman telephone booth awaits callers outside the Chamber of Commerce. There is a 16-foot tall colour painting of Superman on the watertower overlooking City Hall. Visitors can also drive down "Lois Lane" off of North Avenue, or see a slab of green rock identified as "Kryptonite" at the corner of Ferry and Third Streets. Also, the Harrah's Casino in Metropolis has been designed to resemble the Hall of Justice from the Superfriends cartoons. In 1973, the Metropolis News, a bi-weekly newspaper, renamed itself as "The Metropolis Planet". Metropolis boasts many Superman elements, but alas there is no 'Clark Kent' listed in the local telephone book.
In early 1973, DC Comics published a special oversized comic titled "The Amazing World of Superman - Official Metropolis Edition", and that spring, a gallery named "The Amazing World of Superman" opened, intended to be a cornerstone for a proposed theme park of the same name. However, the attraction closed in 1974 due in part to the economic recession, and reduction in sightseeing road travel caused by the oil crisis of the time.
An entirely new bold-as-life real "Superman Museum" opened in 1993. This institution is located in Superman Square, at 517 Market Street. With over 20,000 items related to the Superman saga exhibited, the Museum boasts the "absolute largest Superman collection on the planet" featuring life-size character figures, a wall mural depicting 'Superman Through The Ages', film props, antiques, memorabilia, and of course comics. The Museum is curated by Jim Hambrick, who also owns the Metropolis Comic and Collectibles store. Hambrick has been collecting Superman material since 1959, beginning with a Superman lunch box given to him by his mother for his fifth birthday, and has amassed a collection of over 100,000 pieces from around the globe valued at $3 Million. One of the more prized items is a brown and gray costume worn by George Reeves in "The Adventures of Superman" television series, worth in excess of $150,000. The exhibited items are rotated from Hambrick's main collection to keep the displays fresh and interesting. Hailing from California, Hambrick previously displayed some items at various county fairs across the United States, before his decision in 1985 to make the home town of Superman home to his artifacts.
In November 1986, a seven-foot tall colour fiberglass statue of Superman was unveiled in the town square. It became the target of those who were curious to see if Superman could in fact withstand speeding bullets, and the perforated effigy soon needed replacing. A new fifteen foot, four thousand pound projectile-proof bronze statue in full colour was unveiled on June 5 1993 to commemorate the fifteenth annual Superman Celebration. Inscribed on the pedestal which supports the statue are the words: TRUTH - JUSTICE - THE AMERICAN WAY. Funds for this $120,000 statue were raised when several community service groups sold personalized bricks that would form the walkway around the statue - one of these is dedicated to the memory of George Reeves. The Superman Statue stands tall and proud in front of the courthouse in Superman Square, located at 5th and Market Streets, across from the Superman Museum and overlooking the business district - which boasts three comic book stores.
It is a remarkable tribute to have the town of Metropolis commemorate the hero. And of course, much is to be said about the enthusiasts who bolster the legend...
In 1939, the original Superman Fan Club began, "The Supermen of America". This organization was operated by DC Comics, and ran for some twenty-five years. The Club motto was "Strength - Courage - Justice" and the Club crest featured an image of Superman with his shoulders thrown back and chest expanded, bursting a chain. Members were expected to "do everything possible to increase his or her strength and courage and to aid in the cause of justice." In March 1999, DC launched a special edition "Supermen of America" comic featuring six young new heroes for the next century of Metropolis and guest-starring Superman himself. This one-shot was expanded in 2000 to a six issue mini-series.
"Superman Day" occurred on July 3, 1940 at the New York World's Fair. Superman was featured at the World of Tomorrow exhibit as the "Man of Tomorrow", where Ray Middleton donned the costume and served as the first actor to portray Superman in public. Interestingly, the costume had "SUPERMAN" written over the chest shield emblem, and the original lace-style boots were worn. A live Superman radio broadcast was done from the fairgrounds. DC Comics in association with Macy's sponsored the event, and the admission price for that day was reduced from 50 cents to a dime for children. Notably, Max Gaines and Harry Donenfeld were among those who attended. DC also published a special edition "World's Fair Comics" for sale exclusively at the fair, a 15 cent 96-page issue which boasted Superman on the front cover, accompanied by Batman and Robin, standing in front of the famous trylon and perisphere.
The first Superman convention was sponsored by DC Comics, the "Super DC Con", held over February 27 - 29, 1976 at the Commodore Hotel in New York City. The first annual Superman convention was held in June 1978 in Metropolis, Illinois - named "The Metropolis Superman Celebration". In June 1988, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Superman, The International Superman Exposition was held in Cleveland. In August 2001, the Superman ExpoFAN is established in San Paulo Brazil, then in January 2002 the Superman Fan and Collectors Convention of Hawaii is established in Pearl City, Hawaii. The Metropolis Superman Celebration has attracted such notables as Kirk Alyn, Dean Cain, Phyllis Coates, Noel Neill and Jack Larson, and also includes a "Superman Drama" where the Man of Steel saves the day and triumphs over a bank-robbing culprit.
A "Superman Tribute Edition" was published by Wizard Magazine April 1993, and another by them in 1998.
There are also two awards associated with Superman. Illinois Governor Ogilve is granted the first "Superman of Metropolis Award" in 1972, and at the 1985 Metropolis Superman Celebration Banquet, the "George Award" makes its debut. The Superman of Metropolis Award is in recognition of individual achievement and a special and personal interest in the City of Metropolis. The George Award in honour of Superman actor George Reeves, and recognizes "the outstanding individual who has displayed selfless commitment to the promotion of Metropolis and the annual Superman Celebration". The Award itself is a golden statue in the likeness of George Reeves as Superman in a classic pose, and the first recipient is Kirk Alyn - the one who first portrayed Superman on film.
Want to feel like you're traveling faster than a speeding bullet? A Superman-themed roller coaster opened at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Venice California on March 15, 1997. Called 'Superman: The Escape' this is a 415-foot vertical ride which hurls two cars one hundred miles per hour in seven seconds. It is the tallest and fastest steel-tracked ride, with an L-shaped superstructure involving an angle of descent at 90 degrees and 4.5 G-forces. Overall, it has a length of 1,315 feet. There is a giant Superman statue at the apex of the tower, and the ride begins and ends at a Fortress of Solitude boasting a Superman shield. This was the first Superman roller coaster. Additional Superman coasters at other Six Flags parks across the United States are 'Superman: Ride of Steel', 'Superman: Ulitmate Escape', 'Superman: Krypton Coaster', 'Superman: Ultimate Flight', and 'Superman: Tower of Power'. Six Flags in the Netherlands also has 'Superman: The Ride'.
The internet hosts a variety of informative and exciting websites celebrating all aspects of Superman. The key ones include: www.dccomics.com, www.supermanhomepage.com, www.supermansupersite.com, www.capedwonder.com, theages.superman.ws, www.redboots.net/allmedia/allmedia_index.htm, www.supermancollectors.com, www.supermancinema.net, www.thesupermanmovie.com and dailyplanet.iwarp.com. Special mention must be given to a site which features full page scans of the grand-daddy of them all, Action Comics #1: xroads.virginia.edu/~UG02/yeung/actioncomics/cover.html And with a nod to the prototype story, a readable scan of "The Reign Of The Superman" may be found at: superman.ws/seventy/reign/
An Ongoing Saga...
Seventy years have passed since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first conceived of the Superman character. Sixty-five years have come and gone since Superman made his comic debut, and launched an entire industry. Superman first appeared on movie screens fifty five years ago. Both the release of his first feature film and the first annual convention held in his honour mark their silver anniversaries in 2003. Be assured more, and new, anniversaries will come as the character evolves and the story progresses. Superman is timeless. Enduring. Insipring. His story has evolved and his world has expanded thanks to spectacular contributions by imaginative storytellers and creative artists. This progress is sure to continue with the promise of new inspiration and aspects are to be introduced. He represents many different things to many different people; courage, honesty, fortitude, ability, acceptance, hope. His saga will continue, to enthrall those eager to be entertained by magnificent tales. Look, up to the sky! See with your mind's eye! It's SUPERMAN!
Ian Anthony is an award-winning novelist and screenwriter who has been known to appreciate good superhero exploits both in comics and animation. Visit his website at www.secretbookcase.com.