A History of Superman

The evolution of a comic-book hero. (Photos from DC Entertainment)
  1. The Superman we all know, created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, first bounded upon the scene in 1938 with the publication of Action Comics #1.
    Right off the bat, we get several familiar aspects of the character: he's sent to Earth as an infant while his home planet collapses, his alter ego is a meek newspaper reporter named Clark Kent, and he becomes associated with fellow journalist Lois Lane.
  2. Superman is also billed as a champion of the oppressed.
    "I think of him, since it was two Jewish kids who created him, as the ultimate diaspora Jew," says Larry Tye, author of a history of Superman. "He came in from another planet. Looked at one way, his story was the Moses story: parents trying to save their first-born son, floating him out to outer space."
  3. While Superman and Batman come to blows in the new movie, DC Comics' two biggest stars are more often depicted as allies in comics through the years.
    In 1954, World's Best Comics became a showcase for stories about Batman and Superman teaming up as good buddies.
  4. This incarnation ran from 1941 until 1986, when the DC universe was essentially rebooted with the Crisis on Infinite Earths series.
    After that, the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader shared a more contentious relationship.
  5. The battle between Superman and Batman in Frank Miller's revolutionary 1986 series "The Dark Knight Returns" provides the basis for how the heroes battle in "Batman v Superman."
    In the comic, a middle-aged Batman, clearly outmatched in the physical sense, dons an armored super suit to better help him fight Superman, who is sent by the U.S. government to bring down the Dark Knight because of his vigilantism.
  6. When Superman perished in the January 1993 issue, it came after weeks of hype and provided the comic-book world what was then a rare huge crossover into wider pop culture.
    Fans and non-fans alike lined up to buy copies of the comic, many of which were sealed in a black plastic covering emblazoned with a bloody red version of Superman's insignia.
  7. While Superman eventually returned from the grave, the sensation created by his death had a lasting impact.
    "It is a mortal lock guarantee that over the course of a [convention], three people are going to come up to me and say, you know, 'The Death of Superman' is what got me interested in reading comics," says story line co-writer Dan Jurgens.
  8. The story arc also introduced the monstrous villain Doomsday, who appears in "Batman v Superman."
  9. "Batman v Superman" director Zack Snyder and co-writer Chris Terrio both like to speak about Superman and superheroes in general as gods or mythological figures.
  10. No comic-book artist, likewise, is more responsible for supporting this concept than Alex Ross, who co-wrote the 1996 miniseries "Kingdom Come."
    Superman comes across as the most iconic of all in a story line about how the Last Son of Krypton attempts to make a new generation of superheroes follow the ethics and ideals of his generation.
  11. Gene Luen Yang, a National Book Award-nominated writer, started his run on Superman in the summer of 2015 with #41.
  12. Since then, the world has learned the truth about the Man of Steel's secret identity, Clark Kent, which has enabled the writer to explore another aspect of the character's origin as the ultimate immigrant.
    "Something that children of immigrants have to do when they get older is learn to integrate those two identities into a single whole," said Yang, who, like Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, is a child of immigrants. "By exposing his identity, we forced [Superman] to do that, as well."
  13. Read more about how filmmakers are managing Henry Cavill’s more complicated Man of Steel: http://on.wsj.com/1P4dPTK