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The origin of Superman is the story that relates Superman's arrival on Earth and the beginnings of his career as a superhero. The story has been through many revisions through decades of publication in comic books and radio, television and film adaptations.

The original story was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and was published as a part of the character's first appearance in Action Comics #1. As more stories were published, more details about the origin story were established. These stories explored individual details, such as the planet Krypton, the source of Superman's powers and his relationship with supporting characters. Because continuity was looser during the Golden Age and the Silver Age, many of these stories would contradict each other.

As Superman was adapted into other media, his origin story has been frequently retold. These origin stories adhere to the basic framework created by Siegel and Shuster, with minor variations made to serve the plot or to appeal to contemporary audiences. Some of the details created for these adaptations would later influence the origin story in the mainstream comic series.

In more recent years, the origin story has been revamped in the comic books several times. In 1985, DC Comics published Crisis on Infinite Earths, which created the opportunity to definitively revise the history of the DC Universe. Superman's origin was subsequently retold in the limited series The Man of Steel written and drawn by John Byrne. The story would later be retconned and thus a new type of origin story was made in Superman For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. The origin would be redefined again in Superman: Birthright, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Leinil Francis Yu. After the limited series Infinite Crisis, the origin was revised yet again, unfolding throughout Superman's regular publications and the mini-series Superman: Secret Origin.

Basic StoryEdit

This basic origin is the one most people are familiar with. While the individual details vary, certain key elements have remained consistent in almost all retellings.

Superman is born Kal-El on the alien planet Krypton. His parents, Jor-El and Lara become aware of Krypton's impending destruction and Jor-El begins constructing a spacecraft that would carry Kal-El to Earth. During Krypton's last moments, Jor-El places young Kal-El in the spacecraft and launches it. Jor-El and Lara die as the spacecraft barely escapes Krypton's fate. The explosion transforms planetary debris into kryptonite, a radioactive substance that is lethal to superpowered (as by Earth's yellow sun) Kryptonians.

The spacecraft lands in the rural United States, where it is found by a passing motorist. Jonathan and Martha Kent adopt Kal-El and name him Clark Kent. As Clark grows up on Earth, he and his adoptive parents discover that he has superhuman powers. The Kents teach Clark to use these powers responsibly to help others and fight crime.

Clark keeps his powers secret in order to protect his family and friends, who might be endangered by his criminal enemies. In order to use his powers to help humanity, Clark creates the secret identity of Superman. A number of elements are added to each identity to keep them distinct enough to prevent the casual observer from matching them. Superman wears a characteristic red and blue costume with a letter "S" emblem and a cape. Clark Kent takes to wearing glasses, styling his hair differently, changing his body language, significantly altering his voice, and wearing looser clothing and suits that hide his physique.

Clark Kent moves to Metropolis and takes a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet, where he meets his friends and co-workers, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Editor Perry White. Superman becomes the subject of frequent headline stories written by Lois, and the two become romantically attracted to each other.

Common variationsEdit

Superman's public debut has differed throughout decades of publication. Originally, he first donned the costume and began fighting crime as an adult.[1] Later, he was shown to have begun his heroic career as Superboy,[2] changing his name to Superman after he grew up. The character's history as Superboy was retroactively erased from continuity in the The Man of Steel retelling of the origin.[3] In current continuity, Clark used his powers to aid others while still a youth,[4] operating as "a rarely-glimpsed American myth - the mysterious 'Super-Boy'".[5]


Because Siegel and Shuster were both Jewish, some religious commentators and pop-culture scholars such as Rabbi Simcha Weinstein and British novelist Howard Jacobson suggest that Superman's creation was partly influenced by Moses[6][7] and other Jewish elements. However, Siegel and Shuster claim that having Superman drop out of the sky just seemed like a good idea.[8]

Jack Williamson once remarked that Superman's origin had strong similarities to a story he had written and published early in his career, where a Martian scientist sent his infant daughter into space to save her from their planet's destruction.[9]

Siegel and Shuster have themselves discussed a number of influences that impacted upon the character. Both were avid readers, and their mutual love of science fiction helped to drive their friendship. Siegel cited John Carter stories as an influence: "Carter was able to leap great distances because the planet Mars was smaller that the planet Earth; and he had great strength. I visualized the planet Krypton as a huge planet, much larger than Earth"

Publication historyEdit

Superman's origin took more than twenty years to unfold into the narrative we are familiar with today. During the Golden Age of Comics (1935-1953), Krypton and the Kents were almost incidental, seldom being referred to in the comic book stories. The Superman mythology expanded during the Silver Age of Comics (1953-1970) and was refined during the Bronze Age (1970-1986).[10]

Golden AgeEdit

Siegel and Shuster created the character Superman in 1934 and intended to sell the character as a daily newspaper comic strip. They told Superman's origin over the course of twelve strips, ten of which detailed the planet Krypton.[8]

File:Action Comics 1.jpg

In 1938, DC Comics published Superman's debut in Action Comics #1, Siegel and Shuster were required to cut the story down to thirteen pages, and so the origin story was reduced to two pages. The story described a scientist on an unnamed doomed planet placing his infant son into a hastily designed spaceship and launching it toward Earth. When the spaceship lands, a passing motorist finds it and turns the child over to a local orphanage, where the staff is astounded by the child's feats of strength. As the child matures, he discovers more of his abilities and decides to use them for the benefit of mankind as Superman.[1]

Starting on January 16, 1939, Siegel and Shuster's original stories appeared in a daily newspaper comic strip. The first days of the Superman daily newspaper strip retold the origin in greater detail, focusing on his departure from Krypton. It is revealed that Kryptonians had evolved to the ultimate peak of human perfection.There are images showing Kryptonians jumping through air as Superman does on Earth and it can assumed by early depictions of Superman's parents all have his powers of super leaping on Krypton. In this retelling, the planet Krypton and Superman's biological parents, Jor-L and Lara, are called by name for the first time. While living on Krypton, or any planet under a red star,later versions show Kryptonians seem relatively just as physically powerful as normal humans, but have highly advanced technology which allows them to control their world. However, on Earth, which has both lesser gravity and a yellow star, Kryptonians gain superpowers. It should be noted, however, that in the Golden Age Comics, Kryptonians were depicted as having evolved to have superpowers on their own planet, but these powers were hightened by living on Earth's reduced gravity.Originally,before Superman gained so many other powers,he was presented as having the same super strenth,speed and invulnerabilty as all Kryptonians-even on their homeplanet Krypton. Starting on January 16, 1939, Siegel and Shuster's original stories appeared in a daily newspaper comic strip. The first days of the Superman daily newspaper strip retold the origin in greater detail, focusing on his departure from Krypton. It is revealed that Kryptonians had evolved to the ultimate peak of human perfection.There are images showing Kryptonian jumping through air as Superman does on Earth and it can assumed by early depictions of Superman's parents all have his powers of super leaping on Krypton. In this retelling, the planet Krypton and Superman's biological parents, Jor-L and Lara, are called by name for the first time

When DC Comics decided to publish Superman #1 in 1939, Max Gaines asked Siegel and Shuster to expand the origin to six pages, including four pages that detailed how Clark Kent became a journalist.[8] In this issue, the passing motorists are revealed to be the Kents, who leave him at the local orphan asylum but later return to adopt him. The Kents teach Clark that he must keep his powers a secret but that he will someday use them to assist humanity. After the Kents pass away, Clark becomes Superman.[11] A feature on Superman's powers in the same issue again asserts that Kryptonians had evolved to physical perfection, but also reveals that because Earth is a smaller planet than Krypton, the lighter gravitational pull further enhanced Superman's strength.[12]

In 1945, More Fun Comics #101 introduced the concept of Superboy, establishing that Superman began his superhero career as a child. This issue shows Krypton in much greater detail than before, as a scientifically advanced world. Kryptonians do not appear to possess superhuman strength on Krypton,as previously shown but are aware that a Kryptonian on Earth would. In this story, Superman's biological parents are named Jor-El and Lara. Jor-El attempts to convince the Supreme Council that their world is doomed and that they must take action. The Council scoffs at Jor-El's warnings, so he returns home to save his family, if nobody else. But Jor-El is only able to save his son.[2]

For the tenth anniversary in 1948 of Superman's debut, Superman #53 retold the origin story, compiling and expanding upon previous versions, though the story does not acknowledge the adventures of Superboy. This story establishes the Kents as farmers and that "Clark" is a family name. Before Clark's adopted father dies, he tells Clark that he must use his powers to become a force for good. Clark's father calls Clark a "Super-Man," inspiring Clark to use the name.[13] Superman discovered his alien origins for the first time in Superman #61.[14] Action Comics #158 retold the origin again, this time acknowledging the adventures of Superboy.[15]

Silver AgeEdit

After Mort Weisinger took over as editor of the Superboy comics in 1953, the mythology of Superman began growing, starting with the introduction of Superboy's pet superdog Krypto, the first survivor of Krypton in comics other than Kal-El himself.[16] When Weisinger became editor of the entire Superman line in 1958, the Superman mythology began expanding even more rapidly.[17] Producing over a hundred Superman stories a year, Weisinger aimed to introduce a new element to the character's mythology every six months.[18] By this time, the basic elements of Superman's origin were in place, and Weisinger capitalized on it. Weisinger and his writers gave Superman history and family and constructed a world for readers to explore.[19]

Through flashbacks, imaginary stories and time travel, Superman comics in the Silver Age examined the implicit themes of Superman's origin as an orphan from another planet[19], while also providing explanations for many key story elements. In 1961, Superman #146 told the most complete version of the origin story to date, this time inserting references to other elements of the expanding Superman mythos, including Jor-El's warning to his brother Zor-El, father of Supergirl, about Krypton's fate and Krypto the Superdog's launch into space.[20]

Bronze AgeEdit

The stories published under Weisinger would remain the basis for Superman's origin throughout the Bronze Age.[10] But by the time Julius Schwartz took over as the editor of the Superman in 1970, continuity had strayed from the broader outline established in the 1960s.[21] Schwartz relied on writer E. Nelson Bridwell, an expert in the fine details of the Superman mythology, to help refine the character's history.[10] Bridwell explained to readers that many stories were no longer in continuity because they contradicted others, stating that, "It was decided that the only thing to do was to throw out part of the tales and work the rest into a consistent whole."[22] Superman's origin was retold during this time in The Amazing World of Superman (Metropolis Edition), which adhered to the origin previously established in the Silver Age.[23]

Jor-El's life[24], the destruction of Krypton[25], and the launch of the rocket that carried Kal-El to Earth[26] are documented in the limited series The World of Krypton (vol. 1). Superman: The Secret Years tells the story of Clark Kent's college career in which Superboy leaves Smallville to attend college[27] and copes with problems that force his outlook to mature[28][29], ending with Superboy changing his heroic identity to Superman after defeating Lex Luthor's plot to destroy the world.[30]

Modern AgeEdit

In the 1980s, editors at DC Comics felt that its characters and their history had become convoluted and confusing to casual readers.[31] In 1985, DC published Crisis on Infinite Earths, which rewrote the history of the DC Universe.[32] DC had been planning to revamp Superman for some time,[33] and Crisis gave the company the freedom to reset the character from the very beginning.[34]

The Man of SteelEdit

Main article: The Man of Steel (comics)

In 1986, DC Comics hired writer and artist John Byrne, who had gained a reputation for re-energizing several Marvel Comics series[8], to write the relaunched Superman series and Action Comics. In addition to Byrne, managing editor and inker Dick Giordano, writer Marv Wolfman, artist Jerry Ordway and editor Andy Helfer, recreated the Superman mythology from the ground up to appeal to modern audiences.[35] This revamped origin was published in the six issue limited series The Man of Steel, written and pencilled by Byrne and inked by Giordano.

The Man of Steel opened on Krypton, vastly different from the planet developed in the Weisinger era, just before its destruction. Byrne felt that Krypton had been "'stuck' in a 1930s Buck Rogers-like art style for decades" and Giordano and publisher Jenette Kahn agreed that he should redesign it.[33] The people of Krypton were portrayed as living in a cold and heartless society. Though they were masters of science, they had repressed their emotions and passion for life.[36] Superman learned of his alien heritage several years into his heroic career, but marginalized it in favor of his upbringing on Earth.[37]

Byrne's goal was to "pare away some of the barnacles that have attached themselves to the company's flagship title,"[38] and take Superman back to the basics. In this new continuity, the character was re-established as the last survivor of Krypton's destruction.[33]

Man of Steel also illustrated significant events in Superman's relationships, such as his first interview with Lois Lane[39] and his first encounter with Gotham City's Batman.[40] Lex Luthor was reinvented by Wolfman[41] and portrayed as a corrupt business tycoon who hated Superman for exposing his unethical business practices.[42] Superman's adoptive parents lived into his adulthood, providing hooks that Byrne felt made the character more human.[33]

Superman For All SeasonsEdit

Main article: Superman For All Seasons

Following their success with Batman: The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale did a four-issue mini-series in 1998 called Superman For All Seasons. Not an origin per se; the series was a Superman: Year One type of story, as it explored Superman's beginnings using seasons as a theme. It parallels John Byrne's The Man of Steel, though it can be read on its own. The series was also inspirational for the Smallville television series[43].

Superman: BirthrightEdit

Main article: Superman: Birthright

In 2002, DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio asked writer Mark Waid to reimagine Superman's origin, making the character relevant for the 21st century. After taking the assignment, Waid's goal was to present a definitive volume on Superman's origin that was familiar to hard-core fans, as well as casual readers who may be more familiar with Superman through television and film adaptations than through comics.[44] Starting in 2003, the new origin story was published in the 12 issue limited series Superman: Birthright, written by Waid and drawn by Leinil Francis Yu.

During the early issues of the series, it was unclear if the story was intended to be the new origin of the mainstream Superman or the beginnings of a new universe, similar to Marvel's Ultimate line.[45] DC later confirmed that Birthright was the new official origin of Superman, and it was embedded into the Superman fiction in Superman (vol. 2) #200.[46]

Krypton was redesigned again in Birthright, portrayed as a society that used its advanced science and technology to make its planet into a paradise.[47] Clark Kent respected his alien heritage and designed his Superman costume based on images of Kryptonian culture that were sent along with him in his spacecraft to Earth.[48]

Birthright establishes that Lex Luthor grew up in Smallville and was good friends with Clark Kent.[49] Inspired by the television series Smallville, Clark Kent's parents were portrayed as being similar to their television counterparts, John Schneider and Annette O'Toole.[45]

Superman: Secret OriginEdit

Main article: Superman: Secret Origin

Following the events of the Infinite Crisis limited series, DC Universe continuity was revamped in a way that both kept and altered previous elements in canon. Superman's origin was no exception. The first revelations of this revised origin came only in bits and pieces. In Action Comics Annual #10 (2007), Krypton is shown to have characteristics that resemble the version that appears in the Richard Donner Superman films. In Action Comics #850, a more complete recap was presented: Krypto appears on Krypton, Jor-El's frustrations with the Council, Clark's awareness about being adopted during grade school, a friendship with Lex Luthor when they are both teenagers, Clark wearing glasses in his teens, using his powers to help people while not in costume, and showing Lois Lane trying to secure interview(s) with Superman and being friends with Clark. Finally, the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes arc revealed that Clark's membership in the Legion of Super Heroes when he is a teenager is now back in canon.

A complete tale of Superman's new origin is being told starting in the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank six-issue limited series entitled Superman: Secret Origin. Described as the "definitive" telling of the origin story of Superman, it features his life in Smallville, his first adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes as Superboy, and his arrival in Metropolis all told from Clark Kent's point of view.[50]


Alternate versionsEdit

Main article: Alternate versions of Superman

In the DC Comics Multiverse, there are several versions of Superman originating from different parallel Earths. Most of these counterparts have subtle differences in their origins. Alterations to Superman's origin are also frequently used as the premises for Elseworlds and imaginary stories published by DC Comics.

Parallel earthsEdit

Kal-L is the Superman of the pre-Crisis Earth-Two. His origin adheres to the basic origin, but he arrives on Earth early in the twentieth century and becomes active as a superhero in 1938. On his version of Krypton, all Kryptonians had superhuman abilities on their home planet due to the planet's greater gravitational pull. Kal-L never had a career as Superboy. The origin stories that appeared in Action Comics #1 and Superman #1 are attributed to Kal-L.[51]

Superboy-Prime comes from the pre-Crisis Earth-Prime. On this Earth, Kal-El is teleported to Earth moments before the planet Krypton is destroyed when its sun went supernova.[52] Because Earth-Prime's Krypton was consumed by its sun, Kryptonite never comes into existence in this universe.


In Superman: Red Son, Superman's ship lands on a Ukrainian collective farm rather than in Kansas. Instead of fighting for "... truth, justice, and the American Way," Superman is described in Soviet propaganda broadcasts "... as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact."

In Superman: Speeding Bullets, Kal-El is found by Thomas and Martha Wayne, who decide to adopt the baby and name him Bruce. After Thomas and Martha are gunned down by a mugger, Bruce reacts by burning the mugger with his heat vision and discovers his superpowers. Years later, he decides to create a secret identity for himself as the Batman and starts to brutally strike back at the criminals in Gotham City.

In JLA: The Nail, the Kents do not discover the spacecraft because their truck's tire was punctured by a nail. Kal-El is found and adopted by an Amish family and does not become Superman until much later.

In the Tangent Comics reality, Superman's origin is completely different as an ordinary man finds himself evolving into something millions of years beyond human.

Superman: True Brit is a humorous re-imagining of Superman in which the ship crashes in England.

In Superman: Secret Identity, a teenage boy named Clark Kent in the "real world" (where Superman is a just a comic book character) somehow develops superpowers like those of his namesake. After a brief career as a mysterious, non-costumed "Superboy", Clark dons the fictional character's colors and continues to work in secret as "Superman". Template:-

The origin in popular mediaEdit

Given Superman's cultural status as one of the most recognizable fictional characters ever created, he has been adapted into other forms numerous times. On first time outings, such as the premiere episode of a television series or a first feature film, the origin story is generally depicted.


His origin's first depiction outside of the source material was in the 1940 radio program. In this version, after being sent off in the rocket ship,from Krypton-a kind of Counter Earthon the other side of the Sun by his father,Jor El while still an infant[53], Superman emerges full-grown as an adult when he lands on Earth. He is greeted by a man and a boy who give him the idea of disguising himself as Clark Kent, after which he looks for a job at the Daily Planet.[54]

Fleischer Superman cartoonsEdit

The origin presented in these cartoons of the 1940s were of the origin seen in Action Comics1, rather than using the retcon origin that appeared in Superman1 a year later.

Serials and Adventures of SupermanEdit

The 1948 serial followed the original version of his origin closely. The 1950s TV series Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves (who first starred as Superman in the Superman and the Mole Men serial) followed suit with a similar retelling of the origin.

Superman: The MovieEdit

Main article: Superman (film)

The origin Richard Donner's 1978 Superman film was given a much more complete treatment, with the classic components remaining intact, but exploring more of Clark's boyhood in Smallville. Much of the film's groundwork is laid during the film's first sequences on planet Krypton, with actor Marlon Brando portraying Superman's Kryptonian father, Jor-El.

File:Jorel yahoo.jpg

The film also included the previously established component of Jonathan Kent's death prior to his son donning the costume. This became a staple of Superman's origin in most popular adaptations, as certain writersTemplate:Who feel it adds needed dimension to the character. Though Martha Kent had died alongside her husband in earlier versions of Superman's origin, in this film Martha survives to see her adopted son become Superman.

The film was followed by its sequels Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).

Lois & ClarkEdit

Main article: Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

For the story's depiction in Lois & Clark, more inspiration was taken from Byrne's work on Man of Steel. Feeling it was a more relatable version of the story, the show's producers and main developer also kept around Superman's adoptive parents as regular cast members, giving the main protagonist people to confide in. It also gave opportunity to more humorous angles, such as Superman calling his mother for advice to get out a stain in his uniform caused by a bomb.

The show was also the first live action version of Superman to feature Lex Luthor not as a mad scientist or career criminal, but as a corporate mogul.

Superman: The Animated SeriesEdit

Superman: The Animated Series premiered with a three-part episode titled "The Last Son of Krypton". The series creators felt that focusing on the alien civilization of Krypton in the premiere episode would help differentiate the series from their earlier work Batman: The Animated Series.[55] They intended to mirror the structure of the origin presented in the 1978 film, but they felt that it would seem stale unless they added some new dimension to it.[56]

This version's major difference is Brainiac's role in Krypton's destruction. Brainiac is portrayed as the supercomputer that monitors Krypton and advises the planetary council on scientific matters. He senses the imminent destruction of the planet, but denies this fact so he can avoid the council's order to organize the planet's evacuation and instead focus on saving himself. Brainiac reasons that the loss of the planet itself and all its living inhabitants is part of the natural order, but his own survival would ensure the preservation of Krypton's history and achievements. Because he goes against Brainiac and the Kryptonian Council, Jor-El becomes an outlaw in their eyes as he works to save his son. After the destruction of Krypton and Kal-El's arrival on Earth, Brainiac eventually becomes an enemy of Superman.[57]


Main article: Smallville (TV series)
File:Smallville Baby Clark.jpg

The television series Smallville is a reimagining of the Superman mythology, starting from Clark Kent's teenage years.[58] The series is named after Clark Kent's home town and focuses on the challenges he faces growing up in the rural midwest, while also discovering his super powers and the details of his alien origins.[59] The series creators and cast have specified that the series is about Clark Kent and not Superman,[60] and that the character will not appear in costume or fly in the series.[61]

The series begins with the arrival of Kal-El's spacecraft in Smallville during a massive meteor shower that would affect the rural town for years to come. Jonathan and Martha Kent find the child and adopt him with the help of Lionel Luthor. The Kents raise Clark and instruct him that he must not reveal his powers to anyone. Clark initially becomes friends with Lex Luthor, but Lex's obsession with learning Clark's secret drives them to become enemies.

Clark is aware of his super speed, super strength and invulnerability in the series pilot. In subsequent episodes and seasons, he discovers other abilities, including x-ray vision, heat vision, super hearing and super breath. Clark has demonstrated his ability to fly while under Jor-El's control, but does not know how to use this ability at will.

Details about the planet Krypton are revealed slowly over the course of the series.[62] Clark learns of the planet and his alien origins from Dr. Virgil Swann. He later discovers that Jor-El had programmed his memory and will into the spacecraft that carried Clark to Earth. Through Jor-El, Clark learns that Zod's ambition to conquer Krypton led to the planet's destruction.

Superman ReturnsEdit

Main article: Superman Returns

Director Bryan Singer felt that most people were familiar with Superman's origin[63] and wanted to make Superman Returns as a semi-sequel to Richard Donner's Superman, with the two films sharing the same origin story.[64] The movie opens with a very brief summary of the origin story that reads, "On the doomed planet Krypton, a wise scientist placed his infant son into a spacecraft and launched him to Earth. Raised by a kind farmer and his wife, the boy grew up to become our greatest protector... Superman".

Superman Returns utilized footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El, and nearly identical set design for Kryptonian structures as the 1978 film. Subtle similarities were also purposefully created, such as modeling the "new" Kent farmhouse after the "old" one, and having Eva Marie Saint's Martha Kent drive the same make and color of pickup truck as driven by the Kents in the original film. Certain scenes in the Kent farm also showed pictures of Brandon Routh's Clark Kent inserted into photos with Glenn Ford's Jonathan Kent.[65][66][67]

Notes and referencesEdit

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  65. Making Superman Returns: From Script to Screen on the Superman Returns DVD
  66. Designing Superman: From Art and Costume Design to Set Construction on the Superman Returns DVD
  67. Resurrecting Jor-El featurette on the Superman Returns DVD

Template:Superman Template:1978-1987 Superman film series

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