2008 Comic Book News Archives

Happy Birthday Superman!

February 29, 2008: Happy Birthday Superman!

By Barry Freiman

Today, February 29, 2008, is Superman's birthday -- depending on who you ask anyway. Superman's creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster designed the Man of Tomorrow around 1932 but it took six years of rejections for the pair to sell the character. Finally, in Action Comics #1, Superman debuted. The comic magazine, an anthology which included other stories including DC mage Zatara, was cover-dated June 1938. As anyone who reads comics today knows, comic books -- like magazines -- are post-dated several months so Action Comics #1 actually hit newsstands (remember there weren't any comic book stores back then) in April 1938. So naturally, with a first appearance in April of a comic dated June, we celebrate Superman's anniversary in February. Wait a second, that doesn't seem right.

The idea that Superman's birthday is February 29 initially began as a lark. DC editors explained tongue in cheek in comic book letter columns that Superman remained eternally youthful because he was born on Leap Day, February 29, which occurs only once every four years.

When DC celebrated Superman's 50th anniversary in 1988, they treated February 29 as the Man of Steel's birth date. Even a "TIME" magazine cover-story (March 14, 1988 cover dated magazine) commemorating the 50th anniversary (with a cover by John Byrne) declared for all of America that Superman's birthday is February 29.

DC even held a Leap Day birthday party for Superman's 50th in 1988 which I attended (and I cannot believe that was 20 years ago). The party was held at the Puck Building in downtown Manhattan. There were cheerleaders clad in Superman sweaters. Superman artist Curt Swan was there signing autographs. There was a Superman cake. Party goers got to walk through a room made of Kryptonite (actually green lights and cellophane). And of course there were truckloads of Superman merchandise for sale to those in attendance. I remember it well.

Except it was all a lie if comic book continuity had anything to say about it.

In 1950, Action Comics #149 claimed Superman was born on Krypton in October. However, in 1958's Action Comics #241, it's revealed that Superman celebrates both the date of his birth on Krypton and the date his rocket landed on Earth. The birth date given in this 1958 comic was June 10. Then in Superman #263, Clark Kent's birthday is revealed to be June 18 and it's explained that this is the day his rocket landed on Earth. Notwithstanding these stories, a 1976 calendar published by DC Comics listed February 29 as Superman's birthday.

None of these previous revelations mattered anymore after 1986. Writers John Byrne and Marv Wolfman rebooted Superman's continuity from scratch in the comics. In Byrne's "Man of Steel" miniseries, which introduced the rebooted Man of Tomorrow, Superman isn't born until he reaches Earth. His Kryptonian parents, Jor-El and Lara, grew baby Kal-El in a genetic incubator of sorts. The Kryptonian escape rocket was essentially built around the matrix. When the rocket landed on Earth, the matrix opened up and the infant Kal-El was technically born on Earth when the Kents removed the baby from the ship.

In this post-"Crisis on Infinite Earths" rebooted DC Universe, Clark Kent's birthday is in November. Shortly after the Kents brought the baby back to their Smallville farm, there was an early snow storm which kept them isolated from their rural neighbors for several months. When Spring came, the Kents told the neighbors that Clark was their natural born son.

To confuse matters more, on episodes of TV's "Smallville", Clark celebrated several birthdays in episodes that aired in early May (and a season five episode declared Clark's birthday to be May 3). Except the first meteor shower which brought Clark's rocket to Earth in the first episode of Smallville" took place on October 16, 1989. This makes sense as Smallville High School was celebrating its homecoming the day of the meteor shower. Kal-El emerged from his rocket looking like a three-year old toddler. He even walked from the rocket to the Kents' truck which was overturned by the meteor shower. This is consistent with the origin story as it was told in 1978's "Superman: The Movie" where it was revealed the trip from Krypton to Earth took three years. In "Superman", Kal-El is an infant when he leaves Krypton and a toddler able to walk on his own on his arrival. This continuity is also embraced by 2006's "Superman Returns".

Whenever Clark Kent and/or Superman were "born", Superman the fictional character celebrates 70 years of fictional existence in 2008. DC Comics has not made any official pronouncement of Supes' birthday being February 29 this year as they did back in 1988. The city of Cleveland, Ohio -- hometown to Superman's creators Siegel and Shuster -- plans to celebrate the 70th anniversary in June.

Absent any consensus on when Superman and/or Clark Kent were born, the Superman Homepage honors the Leap Day tradition. Happy Birthday Superman!

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