Created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Schuster
NAME + ALIASES:
Kal-El, Clark Joseph Kent, Superman Red/Superman Blue, Superman Prime
Lois Lane (wife), Jor-El (father, deceased), Lara (mother, deceased), Jonathan Kent (adoptive father, deceased), Martha Clark Kent (adoptive mother), Zor-El (uncle, deceased), Alura (aunt), Kara Zor-El (Supergirl, cousin), Samuel Lane (father-in-law), Lucy Lane (Superwoman, sister-in-law), Bertram Clark (uncle, deceased), Kem-L (ancestor)
Legion of Super-Heroes, Justice League of America
Historical: Action Comics #1 (June 1938).
Current: Man of Steel #1 (June 1986).
Superman is the son of Jor-El and Lara of the distant planet Krypton. Soon after his birth, Jor-El discovered that the entire planet Krypton was geologically unstable and about to explode. Baby Kal-El's parents made plans to save their son, and built a rocket ship to carry him to the planet Earth, where he would be raised in safety and benefit from life under a yellow sun.
On Earth, the rocket was discovered in Smallville, Kansas, by Jonathan and Martha Kent, a kindly Midwestern couple. The Kents had been unable to conceive themselves, and adopted the child, naming him Clark Kent (after her maiden name, Clark). Winter soon came to Kansas and the couple used their relative isolation to create a story — that Clark had been conceived and carried over the winter months. Clark grew up an honest midwestern boy, but soon discovered his great powers, most notably flght and super strength. (Action Comics #1, Superman: Birthright #1)
To hide his growing powers, Clark led a relatively isolated childhood on the farm. The Kents quickly discovered that he also posed a potential danger to other children if his powers could not be controlled. For this reason, he was forbidden to engage in sports, which further isolated him from his classmates.
Though Kal-El's rocket contained artifacts from Krypton, the Kents were unable to glean much useful information from it, or the crystals therein. In time, Clark learned at the very least the name of his home planet, and that the crystal held secrets he could not yet unlock. For this reason, he was elated the day another rocket landed in Smallville. It bore a youth from the planet Daxam, who landed with amnesia, and speaking in Kryptonese. Clark believed that this boy was his long-lost brother, and the boy named himself Mon-El. But when Mon-El was exposed to lead, his memory returned and told Clark that he'd followed his rocket's trail from Krypton after its destruction. Clark had no choice but to place Mon-El into the Phantom Zone, where his lead poisoning would be halted until a cure could be found. (Sueprboy #89, Action Annual #10)
Indeed, strange visitors became Clark's very best childhood friends. A few years later, he was visited by three youths from 1,000 years in the future: the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legionnaires had broken the codes of time travel, but could not resist the temptation to meet their greatest inspiration and hero, Superman. When they arrived they were surprised to find only a boy who barely knew of his own powers. As they departed, the lonely Clark begged them to take him with them into the future. They agreed, paving the way for Clark's membership and numerous adventures in the Legion. (Adventure #247, Action #858) NOTE: Superman's identity as "Superboy" and his membership in the Legion were originally removed from continuity following Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was reinstated after Infinite Crisis (though the name "Superboy" remained questionable).
As Clark neared graduation, he met an unlikely friend, another transplant to Smallville. Young Lex Luthor was also a loner, and they became good friends. The two of them shared an interest in astronomy, and as fate would have it, Lex had also found a sample of the crystals and kryptonite from Clark's arrival on Earth. Later, Lex was able to use the crystal to open a portal allowing him to veiw events on the planet Krypton — until his device exploded. In the resulting conflagaration, his house burnt and he permanently lost his hair. (Superman: Birthright #8, 5.04)
After he graduated from high school, and in his downtime during college, Clark embarked upon a worldwide tour. (#2) When he returned to Smallville, he was determined to learn more about his alien heritage and convinced his mother to unearth his spaceship. They used an alien tablet to access Kryptonian historical records and he learned of his family's "S" insignia. Martha used this symbol on a costume designed for Clark's super-powered adventures. Martha also encouraged him to dress — while in civilian attire — in a professional but nondescript way, complete with faux glasses. Clark then mastered different body languages for both his "identities." (#3)
After college, Clark interviewed for a job at the Metropolis newspaper, The Daily Planet. There he met Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane. The editor, Perry White was unsure of Clark's ability to aggressively pursue a story. When a terrorist robot opened fire on the Planet building, Clark ducked out to don his costume and confront it. (#4) After his public debut in costume, the Daily Planet's web site dubbed him "Superman" — and Clark was hired as a reporter. (#5)
When Clark went with Lois to visit Lex Luthor at his Lexcorp headquarters, Luthor pretended not to know Clark. He also guessed correctly that Superman was not from Earth. (#6) Eventually Clark uncovered Luthor's evil machinations and, as Superman, he burst in on Luthor. In that visit, Lex revealed things gleaned from the sunstone crystals, things that not even Clark had known about his homeworld, Krypton. (#9) Luthor proceeded to stir public distaste for Superman and engineered an attack to look like a Kryptonian invasion, with warships bearing Superman's insignia. (#10) It was Lois who exposed Lex's attack as a hoax. But before his plans were snuffed out, Lex used the sunstone portal to communicate with Kryptonians of the past. Superman, Lex and Lois bore witness to the planet's destruction in this way. Jor-El and Lara also appeared, seconds after launching their son. Clark was able to send them a message through the portal; just before their deaths, his parents heard him say "Mother... Father... I made it." (#12)
Losing the Never-Ending Battle
Superman's success against impossible odds leads most people to believe that he is truly undefeatable. For so long, the Man of Steel managed to overcome a variety of weaknesses and triumph no matter how dire the odds. But one foe would prove his equal in strength, and surpass him in ferocity. This creature, called Doomsday, was the product of Kryptonian bio-engineering.
On Earth, the mindless beast awoke and continued on its singular mission — to kill the Kryptonian (Superman) on that world. Their epic battle left the Justice League shattered and the Clark himself eventually fell at the same time as Doomsday, from simultaneous punches. Superman died that day in Lois' arms. (Superman v.2 #75)
He was buried in Metropolis, but his body did not remain there for long. The public did realize that his body was taken by the sentient Kryptonian artifact called the Eradicator. The Eradicator was designed to preserve Kryptonian life, and latched onto the faintest glimmer of life left in Kal-El's body. In the Fortress of Solitude, Superman was restored to full health over the course of several months. In his absence, an army of Supermen arose to take his place, including the Eradicator itself, who took human form. Another pretend-Superman was the new Superboy, a clone created from a mixture — of all things — of Superman and Lex Luthor's DNA.
Doomsday returned as well, but Superman was unable to respond to the JLA's calls for help immediately. (Doomsday Wars #1) They soon discovered that it was Brainiac's conscience that inhabited Doomsday's body, and that the villain had released Doomsday from the End of Time. (#2) Superman managed to separate Brainiac from Doomsday's body and Doomsday was coerced into a transporter tube to the moon. Afterwards, he and the JLA devised a new prison for Doomsday: he would bounce between transporter tubes, never allowed to become whole. (#3)
Doomsday remained in the transporter prison until President Lex Luthor demanded his release to aid in the war against Imperiex. He ordered the Suicide Squad to free Doomsday and Manchester Black "reprogrammed" the monster to attack Imperiex instead of Superman. Doomsday and Superman destroyed many of Imperiex's probes before Doomsday was vaporized. (Adventures of Superman #594) Lex later, re-cloned Doomsday and the monster was transformed by the Joker's gas into Doomsday Rex. Superman again defeated him, and Luthor handed Rex over to Darkseid.
A League of His Own
Not long after his debut as Superman, Clark joined new super-heroic friends to form the Justice League of America. This team first came together to fight an alien invastion by the Appellaxians. (JLofA #9, 200)
After several incarnations of the League, Superman returned to full-time duty to lead the American branch of the Justice League International. (Justice League Spectacular #1) He served in this capacity until his death. (Superman #75) After his revival, he declined to rejoin the group (Justice League America #86) until the formation of the next JLA (JL: Midsummer's Nightmare #3) and has been a steadfast member ever since. He, Batman and Wonder Woman meet yearly in order to oversee the tradition of the JLA — regardless of whether they are not currently members. Superman is considered by most to be the default leader of the JLA, although he does not hesitate to defer to his comrades as needed.
Not the Last Son...
In post-Infinite Crisis continuity, Clark discovered that he was not the last free Kryptonian, as he grew up believing. For years, he wondered if the heroine called Power Girl was his long-lost cousin from Krypton. But Power Girl's memories were incoherent and Clark never truly believed her claims.
Years later, his true cousin, Kara Zor-El, did indeed come to Earth. (Superman/Batman #8) Although Kara was born before Kal-El, her ship had been waylaid on its journey and arrived on Earth much later. Kara was tormented by suppressed memories that hid the truth — that she had in fact been sent by her father, Zor-El, to kill the infant Kal-El on Earth! Kara eventually conquered her "programming" and told Clark the truth. (Supergirl v.5 #17-19) She took the name Supergirl and began following in her cousin's footsteps. (#12)
After Kara's arrival, Clark and Lois also adopted another Kryptonian boy. This boy, Lor-Zod, was born to General Zod and Ursa — Kryptonian prisoners of the Phantom Zone. Lor-Zod's parents used him as a way to break free. After Superman defeated the prisoners of the Phantom Zone, Lor-Zod remained with he and Lois, as their adopted son, Christopher Kent. (Action #844-846, 851, Annual #11)
What's more, Superman discovered that another rogue Kryptonian was living on Earth, Karsta Wor-Ul aka "Kristen Wells." (Superman #668) Wor-Ul was a former officer of the Kryptonian Stellar Navy under Dru-Zod's command, hundreds of years before. These outlaws fled Krypton after Dru-Zod lost power and became wanted across the galaxy. Wor-Ul deserted her comrades and spent centuries in space. She found a second career as a mercenary and pirate before settling down with a fellow deserter named Ro-Kul. After he was killed by vengeful former enemies, she fled to Earth (this was after the destruction of Krypton), where she led a quiet life until Superman tracked her down a few years later. She eventually returned to space, where she intended to turn herself over to unspecified interstellar authorities for her past crimes. Instead she fled to Earth to follow the news of a Kryptonian there. Karsta took the guise of Superwoman and helped Superman defeat an alien invasion, but chose to leave Earth. She did not know of any other Kryptonians at large in the universe. (#669-670)
Notes: Wor-Ul had the same powers as Superman's, albeit dimmed somewhat by age (she was well over 100 years old when Superman first met her). Karsta's first appearance was in Adventures of Superman #668 (E. Dec. 2007) and her history was revealed in the following issue. Wor-Ul wouldn't necessarily preclude the (pre-Crisis) 28th Century Superwoman/Kristen Wells from also existing, though Superman did not recognize the name.
Post-Infinite Crisis Superman continuity is governed by Superman: Birthright maxi-series. This series took cues from both the "Smallville" television series, the Superman movie series, and the "Legion of Super-Heroes" cartoon series, all of which show a young Clark Kent gradually coming into his powers, but never taking the name "Superboy." Part of this trend was due to legal claims brought against DC Comics by the heirs of Superboy's creator, Jerry Siegel.
Birthright #12 asserted that Clark only learned his Kryptonian name, Kal-El, from Luthor's viewscreens as an adult. But in Action Comics Annual #10, Clark is a boy and already knows his name of Kal-El. Since Birthright was not necessarily meant to rewrite Superman's at the time of its publication, I defer to latter-day tales for definitive answers.
In post-Crisis continuity, Superman was removed from having been a founder of the Justice League of America. He was said to not have officially joined the League until Justice League Spectacular #1. He helped defeat the Appelaxians, but did not officially meet the JLA until their battle against Xotar, the weapons master. Although the JLA unanimously voted to admit the Man of Steel into their ranks, he declined, citing responsibilities that would prevent him from dedicating the amount of time necessary for League membership. (Brave & Bold #29, Action #650, JLA: Year One #7) He did promise to come to the League's aid if they needed him, a promise he kept.
In Justice League: Incarnations #3, this was changed again, as he was made the JLA's fifth non-charter member. But he quickly removed himself from full-time status in favor of reserves, citing doubts about his ability to work in a group. Some insight on this switch is gained by Phil Jimenez who said via e-mail:
"Folks behind the scenes decided they weren't happy with Superman's "helper" status to the JLA in the post-Crisis early days, so I believe they made him an official member at the end of the JLA's first year." (24 April 2001)
All of this JLA tinkering was undone by the Infinite Crisis. Superman is once again a founder of the JLA, per 52 #51 (April 2007).
In the DC/Marvel Amalgam universe cross-over (1996), Clark Kent was known as Super-Soldier, founder of the Judgment League Avengers (JLA). Also, Lois Lane married (and was murdered by) Lex Luthor, the Green Skull. They had a daughter, Selina who became Madame Cat.
Superman possesses the same powers as all Kryptonians under a yellow sun: flight, super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, x-ray vision, heat vision, and freezing breath.
Post-Birthright stories strongly suggests that Kryptonians were once again capable of interstellar travel under their own power, and did not need to breathe. Prior to this, post-Crisis continuity was fairly clear that Superman could survive unaided in space for only about two hours, and by holding his breath, and did require oxygen.
These powers can be negated primarily by red sunlight, kryptonite and magic.
» FEATURED APPEARANCES:
Too numerous to list
- Action Comics, #584– 904 (1987–2011)
- Adventures of Superman, #424–649 (1987–2006), resumes numbering of original Superman series…
Superman v.1, #650–714 (2006–11)
- Superman v.2, 230 issues (1987–2006)
- Superman: Man of Steel, 134 issues (1991–2003)
- Superman: Man of Tomorrow, 15 issues (1995–98)
- Superman/Batman, 87 issues (2003–11)
- ... and other mini-series too numerous to list.