Earth-One / Pre-Crisis
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Written by Aaron Severson
NAME + ALIASES:
Kal-El, Clark Kent, alias Superbaby, Superboy, Nightwing I, Reflecto
Jor-El II and Lara Lor-Van (parents, deceased), Jonathan and Martha Kent (adoptive parents, deceased), Zor-El and Alura (uncle and aunt), Kara Zor-El (cousin, deceased), Nim-El (uncle), Kru-El (cousin), Don-El (cousin), Van-Zee (distant cousin), Jor-El I and Nimda An-Dor (grandparents, deceased)
Legion of Super-Heroes (as Superboy), Justice League of America
Action Comics #1 (June 1938)
Superman has been continuously published since 1938, but after the creation of the multiverse in the sixties, DC retroactively established that the character's Golden Age adventures took place on the parallel world of Earth-Two, while the modern (Silver Age) Superman existed on Earth-One. As with most of DC's continuously published characters, there is no precise dividing line between Earth-Two and Earth-One adventures, but the Earth-One Superman's history spanned all Superboy and most "modern" Superman appearances published between about 1955 and 1986 (and some earlier stories). This was for many years the best-known version of the character, embodied with brilliant fidelity by actor Christopher Reeve in four feature films between 1978 and 1987.
In sharp contrast to Batman and Wonder Woman, who remained substantially the same from their inception through the Silver Age, Superman and his mythos had evolved so much by the fifties that the Silver Age character resembled his Golden Age counterpart only in general details. The Earth-One Superman was not the sole survivor of Krypton (whose history and culture were very different from those of Krypton-Two or the post-Crisis Krypton) and even his personality was distinctly different from the post-Crisis Superman's. The Silver Age Superman had a youthful career as Superboy, was a longtime member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and later became a charter member of the Justice League of America. He eventually earned acclaim across the galaxy, not just on Earth.
The Boy of Steel
Note: Read more details about Superman's life as a boy in the Superboy Profile.
Like his Earth-Two and post-Crisis counterparts, the boy who would become Earth-One's greatest hero was born Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van of the planet Krypton and heir to a proud lineage dating back almost to the beginnings of Kryptonian civilization. He was named after an ancestor, "Kal-El" meaning "star child." (Krypton Chronicles #1–3)
Although Jor-El was one of Krypton's leading scientists and had made many significant contributions to Kryptonian society, his warnings of the planet's imminent demise were received with scorn by Krypton's governing Science Council. Unable to save his world or even convince most of his colleagues of their danger, Jor-El began working on a starship to carry his family to safety, defying a Science Council edict prohibiting space travel. The family dog, Krypto, was lost in space during a flight test of an early prototype ship. (Adventure Comics #210)
By the time Krypton's end arrived, only a scale model of Jor-El's interstellar rocket was flight-ready. In desperation, Jor-El and Lara placed Kal-El, then only a toddler, in the ship and launched him to Earth just moments before Krypton was blown to radioactive fragments. (World of Krypton #1–3)
Kal-El arrived on Earth in a field outside the rural American town of Smallville, where he was found by two middle-age farmers, Jonathan and Martha Kent. The Kents, who had no children of their own, took the boy to an orphanage — without revealing the unusual nature of his arrival — and then adopted him, naming him Clark Kent. Clark grew up on the Kents' Smallville farm, attending local schools and working in the general store Jonathan Kent established in town. Even as a toddler, Clark displayed superhuman powers, which his adoptive parents quickly taught him to conceal along with his extraterrestrial origins. (Action Comics #500)
Nonetheless, Clark began his superheroic career while still a child, wearing an indestructible costume Martha Kent fashioned from the Kryptonian blankets in which Kal-El had made his journey to Earth. (Superboy v.1 #8) By the time Clark was a teenager, Superboy was a familiar figure around the world. (More Fun Comics #101)Few knew his secret identity other than his adoptive parents and, unbeknownst to Clark, his friend Pete Ross. (#90) Clark's neighbor Lana Lang also suspected that Clark was secretly Superboy (#10), but was never able to prove it.
As a teenager, Superboy met and became friends with the boy who would become his greatest enemy: Lex Luthor, a gifted young scientist and inventor. Superboy built a lab for Luthor, who used it to search for a way to immunize Superboy from Kryptonite. In the process, Luthor inadvertently created a primitive protoplasmic life form. As he marveled at his creation, he accidentally triggered a chemical fire. When Superboy attempted to extinguish the fire with his super-breath, the blowing fumes killed Luthor's protoplasmic creation and left Luthor himself permanently bald, an inescapable reminder of the accident. (Adventure Comics #271) Enraged, Luthor vowed to destroy Superboy and became a twisted criminal mastermind whose own family changed its name to disown him. (Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #23)
Luthor's parents died in a car accident soon afterward. His younger sister, Lena Thorul, who as a young girl had gained psychic powers after a freak accident in Luthor's lab, grew up with no idea she was related to the notorious villain. (Action Comics #295) Luthor went to great lengths to prevent her from finding out.
As a young man, Superboy encountered many people who would later become his close friends. Some, like Bruce Wayne (World's Finest Comics #84), Oliver Queen (Adventure Comics #258), and Hal Jordan (New Adventures of Superboy #13), he met as teenagers; others he encountered via time travel, including Robin (Adventure Comics #253) and Jimmy Olsen. (Superboy #55). Time travel also allowed Superboy to become a member of the 30th Century Legion of Super-Heroes (Adventure Comics #247), which his youthful exploits would one day inspire. A time-lost Superboy also met and actually trained his Earth-Two counterpart as a boy. (New Adventures of Superboy #15–16)
Superboy suffered another tragedy a few years later when his adoptive parents succumbed to a rare tropical plague. Their fate was a particularly harsh blow for the Boy of Steel because they contracted the disease after he transported them back in time to investigate an old pirate's diary they had found while vacationing in the Caribbean. Superboy went to extraordinary lengths to find a cure, but it was to no avail. Just before his death, Jonathan Kent made Clark promise to use his abilities only for good. (Superman #161)
With his adoptive parents dead, Clark Kent left Smallville for Metropolis University, where he studied journalism. Superman: The Secret Years #1–4 He also met and fell in love with an exchange student named Lori Lemaris, who he discovered was actually a mermaid and a noblewoman of Tritonis, one of the sunken kingdoms of Atlantis. (Superman #129) Lori reciprocated Clark's feelings, but eventually severed their relationship to return to her own people. She later married Ronal (#138), an alien merman to whom Superman had introduced her (#135), but she remained friends with Superman until her death during the Crisis. (Crisis #10)
After college, Clark secured a job on the Metropolis Daily Planet while continuing his heroic career as Superman. At the Planet, he befriended editor Perry White, copy boy Jimmy Olsen, and fellow reporter Lois Lane, who would become Superman's greatest love. Her principal rival in that regard was Clark's old friend Lana Lang, who also moved to Metropolis to pursue a career as a reporter and later a TV newscaster. After the Daily Planet was purchased by Morgan Edge's Galaxy Communications, Clark became the anchor of the WGBS evening news, although he continued to write for the Planet. (Superman #233)
As an adult, Superman met and befriended Batman and Robin (World's Finest Comics #94), who were among the few people in the 20th century to know his secret identity. (Superman #76) Superman was also a founding member of the Justice League of America (Justice League of America #9) and at one time or another worked with nearly every other hero in the pre-Crisis universe.
Needing a retreat from his life in Metropolis, Superman built a secret sanctuary in the Arctic called the Fortress of Solitude, filled with advanced equipment, personal mementos, and alien animals from throughout the galaxy. (Action Comics #241)
In Kandor: Alias Nightwing and Flamebird
The Fortress of Solitude later became home to a most unusual artifact: the lost Kryptonian city of Kandor. It had been stolen decades earlier by the Coluan android called Brainiac, reduced to tiny size, and stored in a life-sustaining bottle with a red sun generator. (Action Comics #242)
The Kandorian scientist Van-Ol invented his own method of enlarging himself, and used the process to explore Earth. He searched for elements he needed to make a ray that could restore the entire city to full size. Superman knew about Van-Ol's technology— and that it was unstable and would destroy the city. Van-Ol turned public sentiment against Superman and continued his raids on Earth.
Superman ventured into Kandor to stop him, taking Jimmy Olsen with him. They were greeted by scientist Nor-Kann (a friend of Kal-El's parents), who helped Superman disguise himself. Taking a page from Batman's book, he and Jimmy used names inspired by Kryptonian birds: Superman and Jimmy became Nightwing and Flamebird. As the "Dynamic Duo of Kandor," they wore utility belts and jet packs to go investigating. Back at their "Nightcave," they recruited help from Van-Zee to penetrate Ol's compound.
Superman dressed as Zee and went undercover, but he was found out. Van-Zee and Jimmy rescued him with the help of the Superman Emergency Squad, a group of men loyal to their hero, who wore Superman-like uniforms. Van-Zee donned the Nightwing costume to help Jimmy rescue Superman.
Van-Ol was able to return to Earth and successfully enlarge Kandor. His men overpowered Superman and prepared to cast him into the Phantom Zone. But the city began to disintegrate (as Superman had predicted), and at the last minute Superman used Brainiac's ray to once again shrink (and restabilize) Kandor. The Kandorians realized their error and renewed their faith in Superman. (Superman #158)
In their next outing as Nighwing and Flamebird, they were summoned to Kandor when a super-villain began terrorizing the city. This "Thief of Kandor" was actually Nor-Kann himself! He was hypnotized by the Superman Revenge Squad to dress like Superman, and gained super-powers with a ring that collected yellow sun energy. When Superman came down Scarlet Jungle Fever, it was down to Flamebird (Jimmy) to try to catch the thief. During this tale, Nor-Kann set a Kryptonian telepathic hound on Jimmy; it befriended him instead, and Jimmy dubbed him the "Nighthound." When he recovered, Superman rode with Jimmy on the back of a dragonlike being called a Winged One to solve the mystery. (Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #69)
Their final time in costume involved an adventure with Batman and Robin. It began when Batman was injured by a bullet that had richoeted off Superman. This made the Dark Knight feel inferior and he fell into a depression. Jimmy and Superman concocted a plan to help restore his self-confidence — with a trip to Kandor. They showed the Dynamic Duo their Kandorian costumes and the Nightcave.
Superman arranged for their friend Than-Ar to pose as a menacing "Metalloid" threat and attack them, but when everything went wrong. First, Batman learned about the plot and was enraged; then the Metalloid technology fell into criminal hands and a gange terrorized the city. Superman (powerless in Kandor) fell to the Metalloid gang, and Jimmy managed to rally Batman and Robin to disable the Metalloids. Naturally, Batman forgave his patronizing friend. (World's Finest Comics #143)
After this handful of adventures, Van-Zee and his friend Ak-Var became Nightwing and Flamebird on a regular basis. (Superman Family #183–194)
Note: All three of the Nightwing and Flamebird tales were by Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan. Flashbacks to these cases also appeared in World's Finest Comics #141 (May 1964) and Action Comics #365 (July 1968). Another was an "Imaginary Story" from Superman #166 (Jan. 1964), in which Superman's sons, Jor-El II and Kal-El II became Nightwing and Flamebird, respectively.
It was many years before the Man of Steel successfully and permanently enlarged Kandor by harnessing the energy of a supernova. They chose an uninhabited world under a red sun and the Kandorians named it Rokyn, which meant "the gift of god." This was a so-called "phase-world" which existed in another dimension which came into sync with the mainstream universe at regular intervals. (Action Comics #338)
Not long after the discovery of Kandor, Superman learned that his uncle and aunt, Zor-El and Alura In-Ze, and their teenage daughter, Kara Zor-El, had survived the destruction of Krypton in the domed Argo City, which had been propelled into space by the force of the explosion. Most of Argo City's residents later perished of Kryptonite poisoning, but Zor-El was able to send Kara to Earth, where the girl was reunited with her cousin and became Supergirl. (Action Comics #252)
Surprisingly, Superman refused to adopt Kara, instead consigning her to an orphanage in the small town of Midvale under the name Linda Lee and insisting that she keep her existence carefully hidden, ostensibly so she could serve as his "secret emergency weapon" while learning to master her powers. Supergirl did join the Legion of Super-Heroes (#276), but it was not until after her adoption by Fred and Edna Danvers (#279) that Superman allowed her existence to become publicly known in the 20th century. (#285)
The Man of Steel's patronizing, overprotective relationship with his cousin exemplified a curious aspect of the Earth-One Superman's personality: a deep-seated insecurity made worse, not better, by his incredible power. Although he could be cocky and sometimes overconfident about his powers, he also remained painfully aware of their limitations and of his own past failures, particularly his inability to save his foster parents. He often viewed his powers — and the responsibility they entailed — as a great burden, leading him to fits of depression and self-pity and making him question whether even his heroic successes did more harm than good for the people of Earth. (Superman #247, #408) Some of his happiest moments came during a period when, temporarily stripped of both powers and memory, he established a new identity without Clark Kent's neurotic tics and fell in love with a girl named Sally Selwyn, who had no idea he was really Superman. (#165)
Superman's adult life continued to be marked by misfortune and heartbreaks, the bitterest of which were his visits to Krypton before its destruction. There, he met his own parents (who did not know who he was) and fell in love with Kryptonian actress Lyla Lerrol, who perished along with their world. (#141) Another painful blow was the disintegration of Superman's relationship with his old friend Pete Ross, who went mad after Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes allowed Pete's young son Jon to be abducted by an alien race the boy was destined to one day rule. (DC Comics Presents #13–14) Superman later returned Jon to his father, who recovered his sanity after receiving psychiatric care and reconciled with the Man of Steel. (#25)
There was no lasting reconciliation between Superman and Lex Luthor, whose enmity only escalated in adulthood. Although Luthor was capable of moments of nobility and heroism — when Lena Thorul finally learned she was his sister (Superman Family #214), he expressed genuine remorse over the pain he'd caused their family — they were inevitably undone by his manic hatred of the Man of Steel. The most tragic example was a distant planet the inhabitants later renamed Lexor, where Luthor was acclaimed as a savior. Although Luthor settled on Lexor for a time, his desire to destroy Superman eventually led to Lexor's destruction and the deaths of Luthor's wife and infant son. (Action Comics #544)
In several of Earth-One's possible futures, Superman eventually married Lois Lane. However, by the time of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman and Lois had at least temporarily ended their relationship (#542), which had been strained by years of childish behavior on both sides and Superman's persistent refusal to admit that he was Clark Kent, which Lois had long suspected.
Shortly before the Crisis, philosophical differences also led Superman and Batman to end their longstanding association. (World's Finest Comics #323)
Superman survived the Crisis, but it cost him his cousin Supergirl (Crisis on Infinite Earths #7) and several friends, including his Earth-Two counterpart and Earth-One's Wonder Woman. (#12).
Shortly after the final battle with the Anti-Monitor, Superman's history was overwritten by that of his post-Crisis counterpart (established in Man of Steel #1–6). At that point, the Earth-One Superman ceased to exist, although much of his early history was replicated in the Pocket Universe created by the Time Trapper to ensure the continued existence of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Like all natives of Krypton-One, Superman was essentially a normal human in an environment like Krypton's, with a red sun and heavier-than-terrestrial gravity. Under the light of a yellow sun and in Earth-like or lesser gravity, he gained flight and incredible super-human strength, near-total invulnerability, speed rivaling that of the Flash, and the power to defy gravity. He also had superhuman calculating abilities (although he was not the detective his friend Batman was), a perfect photographic memory, super-senses (including x-ray vision), super-breath, and heat vision. Under a yellow sun, he did not need to breathe, eat, or sleep and his hair, beard, and fingernails ceased to grow.
Earth-One Superman was significantly more powerful than either his Earth-Two counterpart or the post-Crisis Superman. At his adult peak, the Earth-One Superman was almost completely indestructible and was strong enough to move or even throw a planet. (Superman #110) He once threw Titano the Super-Ape so hard that the gigantic mutant chimpanzee exceeded the speed of light and was catapulted backward in time. (Superman #127) Superman himself could fly at superluminal speeds and travel through time at will, but he was not capable of meaningfully altering history no matter how hard he tried. (Superboy #85)
Shortly after going to work for WGBS, Superman lost a portion of his powers to an extra-dimensional creature called the Quarrmer. (Superman #234–243), but his conversation with Wonder Woman's mentor I Ching afterward suggests that any lasting impairment was psychological rather than physical. (Superman's later clashes with other Kryptonians gave no indication that he was now less powerful than they.)
Superman's weaknesses included red solar radiation like that of Krypton's primary, Rao, which would quickly remove his powers. Like all Kryptonian survivors, he was also vulnerable to some forms of Kryptonite, a radioactive mineral formed by the explosive destruction of his homeworld. Green Kryptonite would immediately sap his powers and eventually kill him; Gold Kryptonite would permanently strip him of the ability to gain superhuman powers under a yellow sun; and Red Kryptonite would have bizarre (albeit temporary) transformative effects.
Although for many years he denied the existence of the supernatural, Superman eventually realized, to his occasional chagrin, that he was particularly vulnerable to magic. His powers offered no protection from magical creatures, artifacts, spells, or attacks such as curses.
Superman's costume and the glasses he wore as Clark Kent were made of Kryptonian materials. Under a yellow sun, they could only be damaged or destroyed by Kryptonians or other Kryptonian artifacts and could protect even a non-super-powered person from many physical attacks.
Superman used his powers to design and build a variety of sophisticated devices, including a series of robots that possessed most of his powers and could imitate him convincingly enough to fool even his closest friends. He mothballed the robots when Earth's rampant pollution began causing serious malfunctions. (World's Finest Comics #202)
» FEATURED APPEARANCES:
Too numerous to list.
» SEE: The Superman Homepage: Comics Index Lists
- Action Comics, #166(?)–583 (1952–1986)
- Superman, #76(?)–423 (1952–86)
- Superboy, #1–230 (1949–1977) becomes…
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, #231–258 (1977–79)
- World's Finest Comics, #71-214, 217-220, 223, 225-227, 232, 234-241, 243-323 (1954–86)
- Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, #1–163 (1954–74) becomes …
Superman Family, #164–222 (1974–82)
- Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane, 137 issues (1958–74)
- Justice League of America, #1–232 (1960–84)
- DC Comics Presents, 97 issues (1978–86)
- World of Krypton v.1, 3-issue mini-series (1979)
- The New Adventures of Superboy, 54 issues (1980–84)
- Krypton Chronicles, 3-issue mini-series (1981)
- Superman: The Secret Years, 4-issue mini-series (1985)