The preeminent hero of the DC Universe, Superman's adventures have been continuously published since 1938. DC later assigned his Golden Age appearances (from 1938 through the early '50s) to the "Earth-Two" version of the character while his Silver Age counterpart existed on "Earth-One." The Earth-Two Superman was exiled from continuity after Crisis on Infinite Earths, seemingly forever, but he later returned and played a significant part in Infinite Crisis, when he finally perished.
The Superman that made it to Action Comics bore little resemblance to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's first Superman. In their 1933 self-published pulp "Reign of the Superman," one Professor Smalley used trace bits of a meteor to concoct a formula. It transformed Bill Dunn into a super-man with powers of telepathy and precognition. The power drove Dunn mad, and into a life of crime. After Dunn killed the professor, his powers wore off. He lamented, "If I had worked for the good of humanity, my name would have gone down in history with a blessing — instead of a curse."
The Baby from Krypton
Kal-L was born to Jor-L and Lora on Krypton-Two around 1918. Recognizing that Krypton would soon be destroyed by internal pressures, Jor-L tried to develop a spacecraft to carry his family to safety on Earth, but only a small model was complete by the time the end came. Lora chose to stay with her husband, but they rocketed Kal-L to Earth just moments before Krypton exploded. (Secret Origins v.2 #1)
The rocket landed on Earth outside the small town of Smallville, where he was found and later adopted by an elderly couple, John and Mary Kent, who named the boy Clark. Note: Unlike his Earth-One counterpart, the original Clark Kent had no costumed career as Superboy, although as a teenager, he met the time-traveling Earth-One Superboy, who helped him master the use of his Kryptonian powers. (New Adventures of Superboy #15–16)
The Kents died a few years later and Clark moved to Metropolis, where he managed to secure a job as a reporter with the Daily Star and began his heroic career as Superman. At the Daily Star, he would meet editor George Taylor, copy boy Jimmy Olsen, and "girl reporter" Lois Lane, who would become the love of his life. Early on, Lois had great contempt for Clark, who feigned timidity and even outright cowardice as a way of concealing his true identity, but her feelings for him softened as she began to suspect he was secretly Superman. Notes: Taylor and Lane appeared along with Superman in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). Jimmy Olsen was introduced in Superman #13 (Nov./Dec. 1941).
Early in his career, Superman was remarkably ruthless in his pursuit of justice, sometimes clashing with police and even the National Guard. While he was not a killer, he shed few tears when his opponents died at their own hands or from their own misfiring super-weapons. His adversaries were even more ruthless, particularly the power-mad Alexei Luthor (Action Comics #23) and the body-swapping Ultra-Humanite. (Action #13)
Superman did not learn his true origins for many years. It happened unexpectedly when he followed Lois Lane on an investigation into Swami Riva. When the Swami moved to make a 'fake' hex, Superman was legitimately weakened. He traced the effect to the Swami's stone, which was a meteorite discovered by Harry Peters. Superman raced past the speed of light to follow the rock back to its origin — the planet Krypton! As an invisible phantom, Superman witnessed his parents Jor-El and Lara as they launched their infant son to Earth. The meteorites — later called "kryptonite" — were pieces of the dead planet, fused into a deadly compound. When he returned to Earth, Superman buried the two meteorites at sea. (Superman #61) NOTE: The stone in the swami's turban was red, not green.
Joining the Heroic Community
In 1940, Superman joined a group of other costumed heroes in thwarting a Nazi attack on Washington, D.C., and stopped the attempted assassination of President Franklin Roosevelt. Afterwards, Superman suggested the assembled heroes form a permanent alliance called the Justice Society of America, although until the late '60s, Superman had only occasional involvement with the group. (DC Special #29)
Superman and Batman were mentioned at the group's first meeting (but not as being members); the Flash cited them as "too busy." (All-Star Comics #3) They pitched in to raise money to benefit war orphans, (#7) and participated in their first full case as stand-ins for other members, Johnny Thunder and the Atom. They helped the JSA conquer the evil influence of the so-called "Stream of Ruthlessness." (#36) Note: All-Star Comics #36 (1947) specifically referenced Superman and Batman as honorary members of the group.
In December 1941, Superman was among the heroes captured and imprisoned on a volcanic island by the agents of the time-traveling villain Per Degaton. (Justice League of America #193) As a result, the Man of Steel was unable to intervene when the Japanese attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. However, he and his comrades were soon freed and defeated Degaton and his allies. (All-Star Squadron #1–3)
Superman and the other heroes then attempted to attack the Japanese fleet only to encounter the mystic "Sphere of Influence" created by the Spear of Destiny and Holy Grail, then in the possession of Axis leaders. For the rest of World War II, the Man of Steel and other heroes vulnerable to magical energy were unable to enter Axis-held territory without immediately falling under a mental compulsion to fight for the Axis cause. (All-Star Squadron #4) That limitation would cause great anguish for Superman, who could see the atrocities taking place in Nazi Germany, but was unable to intervene. (Superman v.2 #226)
Superman nonetheless served as a charter member of the wartime All-Star Squadron, helping to defend the U.S. from spies, saboteurs, and the Axis metahumans who ventured onto Allied soil. He also constructed his remote Secret Citadel (Superman #17) and had his first encounter with Captain Marvel, who was transported to Earth-Two from his native Earth-S and fell victim to the Sphere of Influence. (All-Star Squadron #36-37) Later, Superman became friends with Batman and Robin, whom he had met several times through the JSA and All-Star Squadron. (World's Finest Comics #271)
Mr. and Mrs. Superman
Like Batman and Wonder Woman, Superman remained active after the JSA was forced into retirement in 1951. Soon afterwards, however, Metropolis gang leader Colonel Future hired the JSA's old nemesis, the Wizard, to use his magical powers to destroy the Man of Steel. The Wizard's spell instead robbed Superman of all memory of his costumed career and even his Kryptonian powers, causing Superman to disappear from public view for a full year.
In the process, the Wizard's spell revitalized Clark Kent. Since Clark was no longer aware of having a secret identity to protect, he soon demonstrated a newfound confidence, courage, and assertiveness, both as a reporter and in his relationship with Lois Lane. In this state, Clark actively pursued and finally married Lois Lane.
After Clark survived an assassination attempt by Colonel Future's gang during the couple's honeymoon, Lois realized that her husband was invulnerable and concluded that she had been correct in her earlier suspicions that Clark was secretly Superman. She tracked down the Wizard, who had become the laughingstock of the underworld after claiming credit for Superman's disappearance a year earlier, and convinced the villain to return Superman to normal.
When Superman's memory was restored, Lois offered to annul their marriage. Clark declined and the two reaffirmed their vows in Superman's Secret Sanctuary. (Action #484) Afterward, Lois regularly aided her husband in his heroic exploits and occasionally helped him protect his secret identity.
Colonel Future returned for vengeance on Clark Kent, who was publishing a series of exposes on the C-F Gang. Thugs attacked the Kents in their new apartment and Lois responded by opening her husband's shirt to reveal his secret identity! She then rushed to the intercom and pretended to call down to "Clark," which gave Superman time to make his switch and play along with her ruse. The crooks thus believed that Superman had only been disguised as Kent. (Superman #327)
Superman Family Adventures
While Clark and Lois Lane Kent settled into their new apartment, they were at no loss for adventure. Before long it was gangster-throws-Lois-from-a-buildling all over again and of course, she was saved by Superman. Women on the street noted the spectacle and gossiped about the new bride's intimate connection with the Man of Steel. Note: The story references Lois' solo adventures in Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #28–42 (1961–63). (Superman Family #195)
At this time, George Taylor retired as editor of the Daily Star and Clark Kent succeeded him. He "won" the position after a contest with Perry White who, ironically, Taylor deemed the better reporter and so concluded White should remain in that role. (#197) Taylor later revisited Clark at the office and coyly revealed that he knew Superman's secret identity! This was overheard by reporter Rod Pilgrim, who killed Taylor and stole his proof. Superman quickly caught up with Pilgrim and staged a quick ruse to confuse Rod. He and Lois also doctored the film. It showed Clark changing into Superman and they doctored it to look like he flew out the window as a gag, from a wire. (#209)
The Kents were fraught with attacks during family time, too. When Lois' mother Ella came to stay, Colonel Future triggered an earthquake. (#198) And they recruited Lois' niece Susie Thompkins to telepathically communicate with non-corporeal aliens. (#212)
When Dan Rivers, aka Swami Riva, was released from prison, he went to retrieve the kryptonite stone from the riverbed where he'd discarded it. He sent Lois an anonymous gift of a brooch made of kryptonite, but the Kents were wary and turned the tables. Back in prison, Rivers told his story to Alexei Luthor, whose interest in the mineral was piqued. (#202) Luthor invented a telescope to track a kryptonite meteor falling to Earth, then escaped from prison to acquire it. He disguised himself as a statue made of kryptonite and disabled Superman but Lois recognized him and helped bring Luthor down. (#205)
Superman's friends in the Justice Society popped up from time-to-time. When the Kents received a visit from Bruce Wayne, the Batman was kidnapped by the Ultra-Humanite (in Delores Winters's body)! It turned out that Ultra had escaped her death by volcano (All-Star Squadron Annual #2) by leaping into a special heat-proof cylinder. (Superman Family #201) Soon thereafter, Clark and Lois had the pleasure of attending the wedding of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (the former Catwoman). At the reception, they saved the life of Harvey Kent (formerly Earth-Two's Two-Face, who'd had corrective plastic surgery). Afterwards Superman revealed his secret identity to Selina. (#211) Batman returned a third time as a stand-in for Superman when Perry White invited all the heroes to appear at Clark and Lois' anniversary party. The guests also included Wilbur Wolfingham, now reformed; and Dick Grayson, who came from college to stand in as Batman. (#216)
Superman was called to the aid of JSA member Johnny Thunder by his magical Thunderbolt. His "master" had been kidnapped by a shaman and made to serve as the King of Badhnisia. Since Superman was vulnerable to magic, Lois went in undercover and together they staged a ruse to trick the shaman into giving up his power. (#204)
When Lois was captured by the Harlequin's gang, she found the villainess had been set up by her former cohort in the Injustice Society, the Sportsmaster (he was still angry about her betrayal [All-Star Comics #41]). Superman saved his wife but the Harlequin slipped away. His friend the Green Lantern arrived to explain that she actually worked undercover for the police. (#206)
Lois prepares for Valentine's Day and finds she has Superman's powers. She rescues a window washer before he can act. He's lost his powers. They remember the Superboy of Earth-One. He dubs her Superwoman. She dons a costume and they leap to investigate. Afterwards he gives her a plant, a gift from another planet which had siphoned the powers from one to the other. 207
On Earth-Two, Lana Lang was a new figure on the Superman scene. Clark hired as TV critic for Star. She was a Metropolis native; her father, Prof. Lewis Lang, was born in Smallville went to school with Clark's father. (On Earth-Two, Smallville remained a tiny town since there was no Superboy, and the associated fanfare). (#203) Lana was given a scarab by her father, from Egypt's Valley of the Kings. It was allegedly made by a Son of Ra, Pharaoh's wizard to ward off insect plagues. Superman's high speed vibrations awakened the scarab's power and took over Lana's mind. She was compelled transform a fly into giant-size, upon which she rode as Queen of the Insects. After her magical attack on Superman, she returned to normal and remembered nothing. But back at the office, Clark recognized Lana's brooch as the Queen's. (#213)
During her next attack, agents of the Ultra-Humanite collected her enlarged ants as specimens to house their master's brain; he then communicated telepathically via the antennae. Ultra visited Lana at her home and took control of her. (#214) With the help of Lana's father, Superman cleared her mind by reciting an ancient spell. She was then able to use the scarab with discretion. Ultra escaped again. (#215) The Insect Queen became Superman's ally then, and helped to repel an invasion of super-strong insectoid aliens. (#222)
Comic nuisances from his past returned to plague him, including Myxyztplk (Note: The name of the Earth-Two character is spelled slightly different [#208]); and Hocus and Pocus (Doc and Flannelhead, from Action Comics #83 (1945). (#210)
Stronger threats reappeared in the form of Metalo (first appearance World's Finest #6, 1942), who forced Superman to rebuild his strength from its original levels (#217); and the avenging Archer (from Superman #13, 1941) kidnapped Lois. Jimmy Olsen helped take down this villain when Superman's powers were sapped once again. (#221)
With Swami Riva's return, Kryptonite became more well-known and even common street thugs began using it against Superman. He and Lois outfitted themselves in radiation suits as the Flying Tiger and Kitty and went undercover to find the source (a nameless tycoon once imprisoned by Superman). (#218) This case inspired Funny Face (from Superman #19, 1942) to try to acquire Kryptonite. He used a magical machine to bring the Flying Tiger from drawings into life. (#219)
One day the Kents received a visitor from a young blond alien girl named Liandly (a take on Supergirl's alias). She was from the planet Rolez, could fly, and used telepathy. Her father Groa Tyic (Argo City) invented a teleporter that brought her to Earth by accident. She stayed with them briefly, taking the alias "Linda Lee," until the rays wore off and she faded back to her home. (#220)
Supermen of Two Earths
Superman first met his counterpart, the Superman of Earth-One during an annual team-up between the Justice Society and the Justice League of America. The JSA members were under hypnotic possession by the evil Aquarius and when they arrived, they attacked the JLA. (Justice League of America #73-74) NOTE: This was also the "first appearance of the "Earth-Two" Superman, as such.
In the '70s, he was shocked to discover a long-lost relative: cousin Kara Zor-L, the daughter of his aunt and uncle, Zor-L and Allura. Kara had also been launched to Earth prior to Krypton's destruction, but had not arrived until decades after Kal-L. She was physically a young adult and had false memories of growing up on Krypton. (Showcase #97) Under Kal-L's tutelage, Kara adopted her own heroic identity as Power Girl. (All-Star Comics #58)
Several years later, Superman was saddened by the death of his old friend Batman, who was killed in action in 1979. (Adventure Comics #462) However, Superman befriended the Earth-One Superman, becoming a confidant for his younger counterpart.
By this time, Superman was graying visibly and was less active than he once was, although he still shared occasional adventures with the JSA. His reputation suffered several blows in the 1980s, first after he was temporarily corrupted by the Stream of Ruthlessness, (Infinity, Inc. #2–10) and shortly after that when a diary left by Batman accused the JSA of having been secret Nazi collaborators during the war. The JSA was exonerated after Dick Grayson (Robin) discovered that the diary was actually a convoluted attempt to warn the JSA of a renewed plot by Per Degaton. (America vs. the JSA #1–4)
Crisis on Infinite Earths
During the first "Crisis," the Anti-Monitor began consuming all worlds in the multiverse. Superman joined the heroes of the other surviving Earths to battle this destroyer from the antimatter universe, and he was among those present during the climactic confrontation at the Dawn of Time. (Crisis on Infinite Earths #10) Superman awoke on the unified, "post-Crisis" Earth to discover that his entire history no longer existed; he and his wife's lives had been erased in this recreated universe. (#11)
During the final battle with the Anti-Monitor, the Earth-Two Superman joined his Earth-One counterpart and a small army of the most powerful surviving heroes in a direct assault on their mutual enemy. Superman then forcibly sent most of his comrades back to the positive-matter universe, intending to sacrifice himself to ensure the defeat of the Anti-Monitor. The Man of Steel finally destroyed the villain's now-disembodied form with the help of the Superboy of Earth-Prime .
Superman and Superboy expected to perish in the cataclysmic aftershocks of the Anti-Monitor's demise, but Alexander Luthor of Earth-Three instead helped them to escape to an idyllic pocket dimension between universes. Alex had saved Earth-Two's Lois Lane from the reality-altering effects of the merging of Earths. They had no way to return to the "mainstream" universe, but Superman and Lois were reunited and the teenage Superboy became the surrogate son they'd never had. It seemed they had finally found their happy ending. (#12)
Superman, Lois, Superboy, and Alex Luthor were happy for a time, but were frustrated by their ability to see but not intervene in the events unfolding on the reformed Earth. Superman tried repeatedly to breach the barrier separating Alex's pocket dimension from the positive matter universe, but without success. (The Kingdom #2)
Superboy of Earth-Prime secretly developed the strength to break the barrier. With his newfound strength, he became increasingly bitter about being robbed of his own life. He was angered by perceived injustices that he witnessed transpire on the new Earth.
Alex Luthor worked with Superboy to achieve certain ends on Earth and in time, Alex convinced Kal-L that they must all intervene to save the new Earth from destroying itself. Together, they believed they could create a better world — one more like Earth-Two. Although Superboy had been venturing out for some time, Alex led Kal to believe that it was his own efforts that breached the barrier.
After the barrier was pierced, the normal flow of time was restored and Lois' health began to fail. Superman could scarcely be persuaded to leave the side of his ailing wife, and Alex and Superboy began secretly plotting a path of carnage to reshape the entire universe. (Infinite Crisis #1, 4)
When Kal returned to Earth, he contacted his cousin, Power Girl, whose memories of Earth-Two returned fully upon her reunion with him and Lois. Kal told Kara that that she'd been spared from the Crisis for a reason: to help them restore Earth-Two as the template for the new universe! (#2)
His prior friendship with Batman led Superman to try to enlist the help of the new Earth's Batman. He showed Batman glimpses of the Earth-Two Batman's life and offered him a chance to start over. Batman refused because the destruction of his own Earth was an acceptable trade-off. (#3)
Unknown to Kal, Alex imprisoned Power Girl in a tower along with others who were "multiversal anomalies." They served as power sources and helped Luthor rebirth the multiverse. Guided by his own quantum abilities, Luthor created a new Earth-Two, which he claimed would be perfect in every way. (#4)
None of this could save Lois' life, however, and she died on this new Earth, in her husband's arms. Meanwhile, Kal's new-Earth counterpart also found his way to Earth-Two. Kal-L was enraged by grief and attacked the younger Superman, resulting in a terrific battle. (#5) Eventually, Superman and Wonder Woman were able to calm Kal and convince him to help stop Alex. (#6)
Superboy Prime killed his own new Earth counterpart, and it became Kal's mission to stop the deranged Boy of Steel for good. It took the might of both Supermen and legions of Green Lanterns to finally bring Superboy Prime down. The three of them passed through Krypton's sun, Rao, then crash landed on the planet-Lantern, Mogo. His powers greatly depleted, Earth-Two's Superman died there after saying goodbye to Power Girl. (#7)
The transition between "Golden Age" (Earth-Two) and "Silver Age" (Earth-One) Superman stories is ambiguous and debatable. The first Silver Age appearance of the Earth-Two Superman as such was in Justice League of America #73 (1970).
What makes the Earth-Two/Earth-One split particularly challenging to sort out is that the history of Earth-Two was distinctly different in significant ways from Superman's published 1940s and 1950s adventures. For example, in Superman's earliest comic book and newspaper comic strip appearances, he worked for George Taylor of the Daily Star. But in 1940 the name of his paper had changed to the Daily Planet and his editor was Perry White; on Earth-Two, Clark and Lois continued working for the Daily Star for the rest of their careers. As a result, many '40s stories don't easily fit into Earth-Two continuity without at least some adjustments. (There was probably at least one alternate Earth or alternate timeline of Earth-Two that was closer to the published stories.)
A related problem stems from Roy Thomas' later attempt to incorporate the events of the 1940s Superman radio series into Earth-Two continuity. Some key elements of the radio series (discussed further below) contradict the equivalent comic book accounts (including the first meeting of Batman and Superman and Superman's first encounter with Kryptonite). In World's Finest Comics #271 (Sept. 1981), Thomas attempted to assign most of those comic book stories to Earth-One continuity, but other Earth-Two stories — including the "Mr. and Mrs. Superman" strip in Superman Family and the Golden Age Superman's entry in the first edition of Who's Who in the DC Universe — consistently favor the comic book versions.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Earth-Two and Earth-One continuity is Superboy. Superboy made his comic book debut in 1945 (More Fun Comics #101), comfortably in the Golden Age. But later stories consistently maintained that the Earth-Two Superman never became Superboy, so even those early stories belong to Earth-One or one of its alternate timelines.
The original Superman possessed the power of flight and had enormous superhuman strength, invulnerability, super-senses, super-speed, super-breath, x-ray vision, and heat vision (often described as a side effect of his x-ray vision rather than a distinct power).
He also possessed a number of unusual powers the Earth-One Superman did not share: the ability to vibrate through walls, reshape his facial features to disguise himself, and mesmerize others with super-hypnosis.
Unlike their counterparts from Krypton-One, all inhabitants of Krypton-Two possessed at least some measure of these abilities even on Krypton. Superman's powers were further enhanced by Earth's physical attributes, although unlike his Earth-One counterpart, his powers did not fully manifest until adulthood. For example, early in his career, the original Superman could not fly (but could leap tremendous distances), he was not completely invulnerable, and his enhanced senses were far less acute. Even in his prime, he was never quite as powerful as the Silver Age Superman and age eventually took its toll on his strength and endurance. Nonetheless, he was among the most powerful beings in the multiverse.
Superman was vulnerable to Kryptonite, the radioactive fragments of his homeworld, which would weaken and eventually kill him. There was apparently no Red or Gold Kryptonite on Earth-Two. It was explained that Kryptonite radiation would pass harmlessly through humans, but was trapped by Superman's denser body, and thus harmful. (Superman Family #205)
For reasons he never discovered, he was also unusually susceptible to magic and mystical artifacts or spells.