Who's Who in the Superman comics (1950s - 1980s)
The decade of the 1950s proved to be a bountiful and definitive period of time for the Man of Steel. Core elements of the Superman Legend would see the light of day, while those concepts and ideas which were introduced in the 1940s, would be expanded upon. This is the decade that would produce the definitive Superman who would be in print for more than 30 years, and pave the way for the Superman storyline all fans follow today.
Let's begin with Superman himself. Introduced in 1938, Superman would usher in a Golden Age of comic books, and become the first super-hero in existence. But during his early years, his powers took time to be completely defined by the writers and artists working on him. His look was also in a state of flux, as the original Superman, as illustrated by co-creator Joe Shuster, was clearly a man of average height and build - but a man of superhuman might. Artist Wayne Boring would come along afterwards, and be the first to depict Superman as a big, brawny Man of Steel.
Other elements were in a state of change as well: originally starting as a reporter for the Daily Star, Clark Kent would ultimately work for the Daily Planet. The city of Metropolis, the main setting for Superman's adventures, was also slowly developed. And of course, there are the villains! While the Ultra-Humanite and later Lex Luthor emerged as super-villains, the bulk of Superman's enemies were less than super, and many of them were more comical than cunning.
The 1950s changed Superman forever! America and the world were shaped and improved by modern technology. Ironically, the science fiction elements which pioneered Superman - yet were minimally used under the stewardship of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, now became the core essence of Superman's storyline. Interplanetary escapades, futuristic adventures, and cosmic characters finally had a role in the Superman saga. Beginning in this decade, fans were introduced to true super-villains, whose origins stemmed from the greatest aspects of science fiction. Whether it was the imperfect imitation of life known as Bizarro, or the ultimate green-skinned, alien invader Brainiac, fans were finally given true super-villains for which Superman could prove his might. And then there was Krypton! Long gone as a planet, its impact upon Superman was expanded in ways never expected, but greatly appreciated. Chunks of kryptonite proved poisonous for Superman, and provided Lex Luthor with a new weapon with which to conquer the Ultimate Champion of Justice! And even though Superman was the Last Son of Krypton, he wasn't the only man to outlive Krypton's destruction, as General Zod, Jax-Ur, Mala, Quex-El, and several other villains would prove, and serve as evil counterparts of the Man of Steel. And Superman was not alone, as a hero from Krypton: Krypto the Superdog and Supergirl would join the Man of Tomorrow in the fight for truth, justice, and the American way!
Another part of Superman's legend was Superboy. Introduced during the 1940s as a younger, mischievous version of Superman, the 1950s would reveal Superboy as a champion in the making, a truly youthful incarnation of the Superman we would know and love. Instead of protecting the big city of Metropolis, Superboy defended the little town of Smallville. And fans would come to know how instrumental Jonathan and Martha Kent were as foster parents, instilling key virtues to their adoptive son, who upon their passing, became the Superman of legend. The Legion of Super-Heroes, which was introduced in the pages of Superboy, would become a franchise itself, yet still a vital portion of the Superman saga.
By the time the 1970s came along, the world of Superman was greatly established. The biggest change to come was that Clark Kent, always a prominent reporter for the Daily Planet, was moved to television, where he became a news anchor for the Galaxy Broadcasting System. Media mogul Morgan Edge was introduced, and he was characterized as an overbearing blowhard, constantly barking out orders to his employees - including Clark Kent. The Superman comics proved to be ahead of the times, as Edge was the first of fiction's most prominent media barons, as his Galaxy Communications owned both the GBS national television network, and the Daily Planet newspaper. Morgan Edge would predate the mainstream popularity of Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, and other multimedia moguls - men who would play a big part in the American entertainment industry throughout the modern era of communications. S.T.A.R. Labs, another part of Superman's world, was introduced during this period. Existing as an independent research laboratory, dedicated to mastering science and technology, S.T.A.R. Labs served as a major set piece, where Superman would always go to, if ever, he needed exta help and advice from scientists.
The villains of the 1970s and 1980s would be just as determined to challenged Superman, as well. Many of them were cut from the same cloth as the super baddies of the 1950s and 1960s, but these guys were good enough to leave a lasting impression on readers. The Parasite, Terra Man, Mongul, the Atomic Skull, Lord Satanis and his estranged wife Syrene, and even classic DC Comics foils Solomon Grundy and Vandal Savage would prove to be persistent pest for Superman to swat at. Even Lex Luthor and Brainiac would enhance their appearances by the 1980s, with Luthor now wearing an advanced suit of armor, and Brainiac becoming the ultimate form of cyberlife.
And let's not forget Batman. Superman #76 (May-June 1952), debuted the world's finest team-up, as DC Comics' two greatest super-heroes finally united to fight crime. From there, the duo would routinely unite in World's Finest Comics, and become lifelong friends - sharing secret identities and passes to the Fortress of Solitude and the Batcave. Together, Superman and Batman would battle classic menaces such as the Moonman and the Composite Superman. And between his team-ups with Batman and the formation of the Justice League of America, it was clear that Superman was the leading hero, as others looked onto him for helmsmanship and guidance. Superman was far more than the clean-up hitter for the Justice League of America, as 1970s and 1980s comics would illustrate. With his work in the JLA, Superman was exposed to more super criminals who would step up to the plate against the Man of Steel. Such villains as Amazo, Dr. Light, Kanjar-Ro, Hyathis, Brain Storm, and the Queen Bee would all spill over from the pages of Justice League of America, and into Superman and Action Comics, and become instant members of Superman's Rogues Gallery.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, this is the era which Superman Classic will cover. This period of time exposed generations of readers to prominent people, places, and things that mattered in the realm of Superman. Even today, as John Byrne served as the catalyst for 1986's relaunch of the Superman legend, the characters introduced - though slightly altered - have stayed with Superman's storyline. And as we move further into the 21st Century, writers and artists are reaching back into this era, to cull colorful storylines and characters now seen in Superman comics. With Superman Classic, the Superman Homepage wishes to immortalize the Man of Steel from a bygone era, whose popularity and fame inspired millions of readers, and served as the basis for several cartoons, live action television shows, and the reknowned Superman movies released between 1978 and 1987. We hope Superman Classic will recall fond memories for some, and introduce new fans to things that made Superman and his world so fun, so thrilling, and have had a lasting legacy on comic books to this day.
Many thanks to Derrick Lyle Coleman current writer and updater.
Please email me (Steve Younis) with any comments, corrections, omissions, praise :) or any questions you might have about Superman Classic.
The listings are displayed as follows:
- Surname, Firstname - Text describing the character, place, object, etc...