Many of you have heard of Superman. An American icon created in 1938 by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, many recognize Superman as the first American superhero.

Next April 2018, this American icon will be celebrating his 80th anniversary (since the publication of his first comic, Action Comics #1 in 1938).

The cover of Action Comics #1 (1938). On August 24, 2014, a copy graded 9.0 by CGC was sold in eBay for over 3 million dollars.

Superman has many superpowers: Superhuman strength, invulnerability, flight, x-ray vision, heat vision, superhearing, super breath (including freezing breath) to name a few.


But if we were to strip Superman to its core, his story remains the same:

1. Last Son of Krypton

He is a survivor, the last son of an advanced Kryptonian alien civilization who interestingly appears human-like. Unlike humans however, Kryptonians are born in green planet that orbits a red giant star.

There has been many variations in how the Kryptonian civilization was portrayed. The early 1940s stories portrayed Kryptonians as being utopian and technologically advanced and born with superpowers. Later stories revised them being similar to human beings with advanced technology, and a genetic trait that allow them to gain superpowers when exposed to the radiation of a yellow sun. More recent stories portrayed them as technologically advanced, but also culturally and emotionally stagnant making them a rather xenophobic culture. But essentially, now matter how advanced the Kryptonians were, one thing was constant: the destruction of their homeworld Kryton.

Krypton, about to be destroyed as portrayed in Man of Steel (2013) film.

How did Superman survive? Apparently Superman’s parents (Jor-El and Lara) were the only ones prepared for this cataclysm, but they only had resources to create one rocketpod for their infant son. They sent him away before Krypton’s destruction, and eventually his ship arrived on Earth.

2. Found by the Kents couple

Jonathan and Martha Kent with a young Clark, as drawn by Gary Frank for Superman: Secret Origin (2009)

When Superman’s ship crashed on the fields of Smallville, he was discovered and rescued by Jonathan and Martha Kent. With no one else witnessing the event, Jonathan and Martha adopted him and named him Clark after Martha’s maiden name. Clark Kent would later grew up in Smallville, become close friends (or fall in love) with Lana Lang, and after high school would eventually left the town and eventually resided in Metropolis, one of the largest (fictional) cities in America.

3. Mild-mannered reporter

Cover art from Superman: Secret Origin #3 (2009), as drawn by Gary Frank

By the time he is an adult, Clark Kent becomes a reporter in the metropolitan newspaper agency. He is often known to work at Daily Planet under the editorial guidance of Perry White, and often partnered with investigative reporter Lois Lane (who would eventually be his love interest) and best friends with the young Jimmy Olsen. Besides the Daily Planet, certain versions of Clark Kent also worked in the Daily Star (with George Taylor as his editor), and the Silver Age version of Clark Kent even became a news anchorman at WGBS Galaxy News (While it might be odd how the world’s best superhero has similar features to national news anchorman, thankfully this story is now no longer current). In the New 52 storyline (between 2011 and 2016), Clark Kent even quit his job on the Planet and became a news blogger with Cat Grant.

4. Truth, Justice and the American Way!

Cover art for Superman #24 by Jack Burnley (1943).

Besides having his many superpowers, Superman’s strongest strength is his uncanny sense of moral compass. He fights for truth and justice. The term ‘American way’ has been given less emphasis lately, but the American way is often synonymous with freedom and the pursuit of happiness. A reason why Superman is so iconic (not just in the United States, but in other countries including Indonesia) is because what he represents.

Superman is often constantly portrayed as an ideal of hope, The Man of Tomorrow, who can show what an ideal person. An ideal not in terms of superhuman strength, but his superhuman resolve to fight for truth, justice and peace. He is protector of innocent, he is the first person to arrive in disaster area, and in many stories there are instances where Superman laid down his life for humanity.

Well, these are four aspects of the Superman mythos that has been constant throughout his 80 years of history.

There are many amazing parallels between Superman and another real world icon: Jesus Christ. While it is not my intention to rub other people’s religion and faith, the selflessness of Superman often brings comparison to Christ. But another appropriate parallel will be with Moses: both were ‘refugees’ who were sent away by their parents, travelling in a pod through treacherous distances… (I know, comparing the vast cosmos with the Nile river is a stretch, but bear with me). But as they grow older, they became aware of their heritage and would eventually take a leadership role and perform miraculous feats.

How did Superman survived so long in 80 years? How did two Jewish boys name Joe and Jerry came up with the idea of Superman? We’ll explore more in the future.

Please comment below!


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