oh. You've heard all that before, huh? Well, humor me dammit!
No silly. It's Superman!

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938 and his exploits first began appearing in Action Comics #1. He's over sixty-five years old, and doesn't look a day over twenty-five. Not bad for an illegal alien.

You probably already know his origin..

Born on the geologically unsound and all around doomed planet Krypton which had political boneheads that make the American Congress look intelligent, young Kal-El was placed into a cute little rocket ship by his doomed biological parents Jor-El and Lara, and rocketed into space just as the planet Krypton blew into a couple billion radioactive meteroites called Kryponite which all just happened to follow the baby Superman and land in Lex Luthor's backyard. Okay not really.

The baby landed on Earth and was discovered in a Smallville, Kansas corn field by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who adopted him as their own son, not knowing where he had come from and shocked at his amazing powers. Since Martha's maiden name was Clark, they named him Clark Kent, and somehow they survived parenting him. They instilled within Clark American family values, which means he probably votes republican, but nobody's perfect.

Superman's amazing powers!

Now I know some of this is gonna be hard to swallow but suspend disbelief and try to stay with me here. The basic explanation for why he's like he is goes like this. He comes from a planet that had a red sun, and was much larger than Earth is. So in this solar system, on Earth, Superman is.. well, SUPER. Otherwise they would have called him NOTALLTHATSUPERATALLMAN and I wouldn't have a node to write.

The molecules that comprise Superman's body work like itty bitty solar batteries. Since he was born normal under a red star, when he's under Earth's yellow star, he accumulates tremendous power. This makes him incredibly dense so bullets can't pass through him, and he can't even do drugs because he breaks all the hypodermic needles. So he doesn't get invited to raves very often.

Also, because Earth is much smaller than Krypton, he has comparatively greater strength to a normal Terran. It's like when the astronauts were on the moon, only it looks better on television and in the movies.

In the very beginning, his powers were very simple compared to today. He could only jump about an eighth of a mile, and while he could play star quarterback and be his own receiver, competing against an entire football team, he couldn't do more than pick up occasional cars and stuff. Anything more than that and he might get a hernia.

But as the years wore on, they kept adding more and more powers to him. Some of them got just silly. He wore glasses as Clark Kent, mildmannered reporter for the Daily Star and then later the Daily Planet and then later as an anchorman for the Galaxy Broadcasting System. However, as Superman he had better than 20/20 vision. He had telescopic vision and heat vision where he could shoot lasers out of his eyes and X-ray vision where he could undress women and they wouldn't know it and he had super ventriloquism which was pretty stupid and he had super breath where he could freeze stuff by just breathing on it and he didn't even need to eat ice cream.

He started actually flying in the early 1940s. He'd jump, and then glide on the air currents. I am NOT making this shit up. And then he got strong enough to help troubled passenger jets. Then later he could fly out into space without breathing or having his body implode for lack of air pressure. I mean originally he was just an above average humanoid but then they made him like a god which makes ya wonder why he didn't just go up to the United Nations and announce he was now king and make everybody bow to him, but remember those Christian American wholesome family values? The Kents brought their child up right. He was a nice guy. I mean exceedingly nice. People would be mean to him and he'd just put them in jail. What a guy.

Well okay. What exactly does he do?

Besides averting natural disasters and stopping very large things from blowing up or running into each other, Superman also occasionally beats up on bad guys like Lex Luthor and Braniac and ..well pretty much anybody mean.

The city of Metropolis erected statues in his honor and gave him the key to the city, which didn't open up anything really but Supes didn't seem to mind. And somehow he fooled everybody, walking around as a nerd until trouble erupted and he'd just go find a phone booth and change clothes and go save the day. You'd think someone woulda seen him, but he can move super fast too, so after awhile he just stopped bothering with the phone booths. That's just as well since they don't make phone booths big enough for you to change clothes in them anymore anyway.

Oh, and he has a girl named Lois Lane who I bet has a difficult time not leaving the bedroom with broken bones every night and it took him over fifty years but he finally proposed to her. And he's got a punk kid named Jimmy Olsen as a best friend, and his boss Perry White tells him what to do when he's Clark Kent.

Did I mention the Fortress of Solitude? He built this big place under the ice near the north pole. Yeah, his closest neighbor is Santa Claus. You gettin' all this? He is allergic to Kryptonite, and magic has been known to affect him easily. Other than that he's nigh-invincible. Just like The Tick. Awhile back Superman died. Some guy named Doomsday or somebody kicked his ass, but he came back to life which just goes to show you, you can't keep a good wholesome Christian Family values running around the world in his blue and red pajamas and security blanket for a cape man down.

There've been several movies, television shows, lunch boxes, ballpoint pens, T-shirts, and pretty much everything one could think of with his face or insignia on it. He's quite a cash cow for DC Comics incorporated. Oh, and by now probably close to a couple thousand comic books. And he didn't even break a sweat.

Superman went through significant changes during the "Silver Age" of comic book publishing (the late 1950's thru early 1970's). Most of these changes involved publishing stunts to make more interesting writing for the character and his friends.

Most notably were the introduction of variations of the "super" theme. For a time, there was a super-dog (Krypto), super-baby (Superbaby), not to mention a super-ape, super-horse, and even a super-something-or-other (Proty, a shape-changing glob that hung out with the League of Super-Pets in the 31st century). Yes, the League of Super-Pets, too!

Also were variations on the 'kryptonite' concept. There were the following variations (other than Green-K, which just poisoned and eventually killed anything Kryptonian--especially Superman):

  • Blue Kryptonite: the opposite of green, only affected Bizarro-Supermen (made them stronger)

  • Red Kryptonite: unpredictable, never the same effects twice--made Superman into a giant ant, made him into twin duplicates of himself, etc.

  • White Kryptonite: killed any form of plant life

  • Gold Kryptonite: Could permanently take away a Kryptonian's super-powers (such as General Zod and his fellow cohorts)

  • Jewel Kryptonite: reinforced the psychic/telekinetic powers of Kryptonians incarcerated in The Phantom Zone

  • Purple Kryptonite: (only seen once) Could temporarily give normal humans Kryptonian-like powers (turned Lois Lane into a "Superwoman" for a day)
America has changed a lot over the years, and its images of masculinity have changed with it. Superman was created sixty-four years ago, and continues to evolve even today. He is a prime example of the fluid nature of masculinity. Masculinity is all in the eye of the beholder. No two people define masculinity in the same way, and men across America are considered masculine sometimes for very different reasons. Between the many incarnations of Superman, there is one concept that remains central to his story. Superman is the epitome of American masculinity.

The character began in Action Comics #1 as just a man from another planet who was abnormally strong because of the environment he was born in. As time went on, his ability to jump large distances has evolved into the ability to fly, and he can now breathe cold air, shoot lasers from his eyes, and see through anything that isn't made of lead. He has enormous strength and is nearly invulnerable. He knows no boundaries; he can fly into space, not needing to breathe for hours at a time. He is America's ideal man. Every man wishes he could be Superman. Superman's only weakness, Kryptonite, is well defined. It is a physical object, and easy to fight. Unlike real men, where their weaknesses are many and ambiguous, we like Superman because his weakness is so simple and so easy to overcome. Men everywhere are jealous of his Fortress of Solitude. Superman has an entire place all to himself where he knows no one may disturb him, because he's just that powerful.

Superman could easily take over the world, but he doesn't. Herein lies part of the paradox of masculinity. While Superman's incredible power is essential to his masculinity, so also is his desire to use it to protect innocent people. Superman is an icon of American and Christian virtue. He does not willingly kill humans, because to do so would violate his code of ethics. He insists upon protecting life whenever he can. He does not steal even though he could obviously get away with it, and he does not use his X-Ray vision to see through women's clothing as he could. To be an acceptable idol of American masculinity, Superman must have both the power to exert his will and the morality to have his will match the will of the people. Superman is such an important image of American masculinity that in one of the episodes featuring George Reeves, the episode was funded by the United States Treasury department and was aimed to advocate saving stamps and bonds. The villain in the episode admitted that he was robbing a jewelry store because he was never good at saving money.

The popularity of this image of excessive manhood has led to several television series and movies. These images are always different, however, and they reflect America's ideas of masculinity at the time. Kirk Alyn and George Reeves, the first two men to play Superman in the late 1940s-1950s, are outdated images of masculinity. Kirk Alyn's hat, a popular example of masculine attire at the time, would be seen as bizarre in modern television. In the picture where George Reeves is staring off into the sky, he seems to have a John Wayne look about him. These two images are very outdated, and while they are surely very masculine for the time, they would not be accepted in mainstream American television and cinema today.

Between these two stars and the modern image of Superman lies Christopher Reeve, star of the Superman movies of the '70s and '80s. Christopher Reeve is perhaps the most interesting of all of the incarnations of Superman. The primary thing that sets him apart from the others is his portrayal of Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent. Reeve portrays Clark Kent as the polar opposite of Superman. Superman is our idea of masculinity, while Clark Kent is dorky and shy. The only thing that the two have in common is their love for Lois Lane. Lois Lane takes an important role in this version, which is a diversion from the older episodes, and Superman changes accordingly to be a romantic man.

Beyond his representation of Superman, though, Reeve has persisted as an example of masculinity. Reeve was paralyzed in 1995 by an equestrian accident. Doctors said that he probably would not be able to move ever again. However, because of his persistent physical therapy, he now has limited control over his body. This has created a very mixed attitude towards Reeve's masculinity. He is masculine because of his persistence, but on the other hand his body is severely inhibited and he's more physically vulnerable than a woman. There is a large dissonance Reeve's vulnerability and the image of Superman, and this sets Reeve apart as an example of the impossibility of truly being able to achieve the supreme masculinity that Superman entails.

Much more recently, the popular "Lois and Clark" was created. As can be seen by the name, the image of Superman shifted drastically here. Where Superman was a lone hero before with Lois' role seriously underplayed, Lois now becomes a very important character. This is a reflection of the shifting attitude towards women in American society. Lois becomes just as important as Superman, and on many occasions she is the one saving him. Superman is still very much a man with his super strength and speed, and now he has the added pressure of being a breadwinner when he marries Lois, which he also fills more than adequately.

Finally, it should be noted that there are three more series that are designed for children. "Superfriends" is radically different from all the other interpretations of Superman. In this, Superman teams up with many other superheroes, and it's not at all about action. "Superfriends" is designed for very young children, and I feel that its use as a moral guide is inadequate in discussing Superman as an image of masculinity.

The next animated version of Superman by the WB network is vastly different and targeted towards a slightly older audience. Superman here is once again the excessively masculine hero from former incarnations. Now, however, because of the miracle of animation, he is ridiculously masculine. He wears expensive suits, so now he fits not only the bodybuilder image, but also the successful businessman image. His broad shoulders resting above his skinny legs create a body type even more impossible than Barbie. Superman achieves the true incarnation of his excessively masculine image only in a world that isn't based on real people. It should also be noted that, as this is a show for kids, the romantic aspects of Superman were removed. At the same time, though, Lois Lane is portrayed as important and aggressive, the current popular image of women in America.

The final series, "Smallville", chronicles Superman's life as a teenager. Once again Clark Kent (having not yet developed the Superman persona) is very masculine, and his romantic side is stressed. The series is targeted towards teenagers and the image is focused more on the sexual side of things as such. He has become slightly rebellious and is no longer the symbol of great morality. He is now subject to temptation. This radical departure from the older images of the great moral hero suggests a current and future image of masculinity that is likely to arise.

Masculinity is becoming a diverse image that has no single clear-cut definition, and the changing images of Superman seem to be changing with masculinity. This trend will likely continue into the future, and Superman will continue to represent society's ideals of masculinity for years to come.

Attempting a precise definition of Friedrich Nietzsche's Superman is a daunting task, as Nietzsche was not a philosopher in the traditional sense - he did not build all-encompassing philosophical systems, nor did he feel the need to explain himself in detail. He was more of a poet, applying metaphor and painting grand visions, and often expressed himself in paradoxes. Thus, a variety of interpretations of the Superman can be put forward, but perhaps they can all be summed up into this quote from Zarathustra: "Man is something to be overcome."

The Superman is better than man. This characteristic, although very vague, must be included in any description of the Superman, as it would be absurd to assert that a being that is in some sense inferior to modern man were the Superman. The Superman is perhaps more human than the modern human being - his human characteristics are stronger, and he does not have the need to restrict them with the slave morality of Christianity. For Nietzsche, the most important of these characteristics is, of course, the Will to Power. The Superman strives to attain power, and does so without trying to hide his lust for power as the modern man. It must be pointed out, though this is subject to debate, that the power the Superman strives for is intellectual, philosophical power. Nietzsche sees the history of philosophy as a power-struggle, and the Superman takes this to a new level, as he understands and admits he is partaking in a philosophical battle for power.

This philosophical war, which Nietzsche often praises metaphorically, is a battle for values. The Superman defines his values and his whole reality as he pleases, freeing himself from the slave morality of Christianity. A hatred of Christianity is one of the key characteristics of Nietzsche's writing, and thus the Superman is the logical conclusion of his thought.

Nietzsche's spiritual home was antiquity and not 19th century Germany, and the Superman was also his rebellion against the modern world. He hated such modern phenomena as democracy, socialism and nationalism, for he was an individualist in the extreme, and felt that these "modern ideas" were an impediment to the flourishing of brilliant individuals. The Superman, utterly unmodern, is the ultimate Greek aristocrat, because he is an ethical and metaphysical ruler ("The real philosophers (Supermen) are commanders and lawgivers..").

On the other hand, the Superman is Nietzsche's attempt to save people from nihilism. It should be pointed out that, contrary to what many think, Nietzsche was not exactly a nihilist - he admitted that in a sense nothing mattered, that neither truth nor right or wrong existed, but he wanted humanity to rise up from the nihilistic darkness of the death of God, and create a good and bad, create a human meaning for existence (Nietzsche does not approve of the term 'evil' - the title "Beyond Good and Evil" refers to moving from the good and evil of Christian slave morality to the good and bad of an aristocratic master morality). The Superman's values are secular and human, and his highest value is the furtherance of human life. However, the Superman accepts the inherent tragedy of existence and the importance of suffering. "What does not kill me, only makes me stronger."

A hero created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and published by DC Comics. Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in June 1938.

Ask someone to name a superhero and some of the answers you will get will likely be Spider-man, Batman, Wolverine, or Wonder Woman, but many will probably answer a hero whose name is nearly synonymous with superheroes, the Man of Steel - Superman. This character seems to sum up for many the attributes of a true hero - selfless, caring, and mighty with a strong morality. These characteristics have made Superman and many of the elements surrounding him elements ingrained in our culture.

The story of Superman begins on Krypton, a planet far from Earth, which is in its last days. The warnings of the planets impending destruction are ignored by the majority of the highly advanced society on this planet with the exception of one of their finest scientists, a man name Jor-El. His efforts to warn the people of his planet are stymied by the leadership of the planet, so Jor-El and his wife Lara make secret plans to insure the survival of their infant son Kal-El. Jor-El constructs a rocket that just prior to the destruction of Krypton, he launches on a course towards a distant habitable planet, Earth, trusting that their son will be safe there.

The rocket makes its way to Earth where it crashes in a corn field outside of Smallville, Kansas. The rocket is discovered by Jonathan Kent and his wife Martha. Upon discovering the child inside and being that the couple is childless, they decide to adopt the boy, naming him Clark. As the boy grows, they discover that he has incredible powers. The Kents ingrain in the young boy a deep sense of responsibility to use those powers for the betterment of other, something that lasts throughout the boys life.

After college, Clark Kent travels to Metropolis (in all appearances New York City) and gets a job as a reporter for the Daily Planet. Using a pair of glasses as a disguise and effecting a sort of bumbling hapless persona as Clark Kent, Superman soon becomes a force to be reckoned with as the forces of evil soon discover.

Superman's powers are varied and were originally attributed to the lower gravity of Earth than his native planet as well as the Earth's yellow sun (Krypton's sun was red). His powers manifest themselves in immense strength (that at one point was portrayed as being such as to allow the hero to move planets), invulnerability, and incredible speed. Originally, Superman did not fly as such but jumped from place to place. Later, this was revised and Superman had the ability to fly. Over the years other powers emerged, including x-ray vision, heat vision, super-hearing, and the like. Eventually, writers began to create odd powers like super-hypnotism and the like to introduce into stories.

Superman is not without his weaknesses, however. A number of things can cause harm to the hero. Primarily among them is a rock from his home planet called kryptonite. In its natural form, kryptonite is green and can cause Superman great pain, rob him of his abilities, and prolonged exposure will eventually kill him. Later, new and different kinds of krytonite were introduced, all of them different colors (red, white, gold, etc.) and all of them with differing effects. Superman is also vulnerable to solar rays like those from a red sun which rob him of his abilities, as well as anything magical.

Superman's villains have become some of the best known of all supervillains. These include Lex Luthor, criminal mastermind who originaly blamed Superman for his completely bald head which was the result of an experiment gone awry at a young age. Superman also battled the likes of the alien menace Braniac, the power-sucking villain the Parasite, the extra-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, and many others.

Not just the villains in Superman's life became famous along with their nemesis, but the supporting cast of characters in Superman comics are well-known and loved. These include fellow reporter and Clark Kent's love interest Lois Lane. Known for her incredible curiosity and her never ending quest to discover Superman's secret identity, Lois was in love with the Man of Steel, but he wanted her to love him as Clark Kent instead. Other characters included Jimmy Olsen, the cub reporter at the planet. Red-headed with freckles, Jimmy became known as Superman's Pal and ended up in many dangerous situations that he had to be rescued from by Superman. Jimmy would signal Superman with his signal watch. Also among the supporting cast is Perry White, Clark's boss and editor of the Daily Planet. Perry is probably best known for his favority exclamation "Great Caesar's Ghost!"

Over the years, new elements to the life of Superman were added. It was decided that Superman needed his own "home" as it were and so the Fortress of Solitude, a complex in the Arctic was introduced along with a giant key and keyhole. Stories appeared telling us of Superman's life in Smallville where we learned that prior to being Superman, he was Superboy. This added an entirely new cast including Pete Ross, his best friend, and Lana Lang, his girlfriend. Still later, it was decided that there were other survivors of Krypton including Kal-El's cousin Kara who became the heroine Supergirl. As well, Kal-El's dog Krypto survived and arrived on Earth as well as an experimental monkey named Beppo.

As the years progressed, Superman became more and more of a fixture in comics, and the writers sought new territory for the character, including having him team with other superheroes in the DC Universe as a member of the Justice League of America. His power slowly began to creep up until he was capable of incredible feats like juggling planets. With this increase in power, sales and interest in the character began to wane. Clark Kent went from being a reporter to a news anchor in Metropolis and some of his villains underwent a makeover, but sales continued to decline. Then in the mid-80's, DC Comics decided to revamp their titles and after a mini-series called Crisis on Infinite Earths, that attempted to tie up many of the loose plot lines over the years, the characters were reintroduced. Superman was reintroduced in 1986 in a six issue mini-series called Man of Steel written and drawn by John Byrne. Though many of the elements of the Superman legend were still the same, some things had changed including limiting his powers somewhat. Gone were the rest of the Superman family like Supergirl and Krypto and gone were the incredible power levels.

The new Superman was well received and many of the original characters and villains were reintroduced with slight changes. Lex Luthor went from being a mad scientist to an evil industrialist. Brainiac went from being an evil, emotionless alien to a circus mentalist who was taken over by an alien. Other changes included the continued survival of the Kents, who in the original stories had died while Clark was in college. Many of the things that were originally removed from the stories have been reintroduced over the years including Supergirl and Krypto.

In the early 90's, DC Comics introduced a storyline that shocked many long time fans of the Man of Steel. An alien being known as Doomsday began rampaging through Metropolis and after defeating many other heroes, engaged in a prolonged pitched battle with Superman. Superman was eventually able to defeat Doomsday, but at the cost of his own life. America was shocked to learn that Superman had been killed, but over the next months, the hero was brought back to life. In the intervening months a number of new heroes were introduced to the Superman family, including Superboy and Steel. The 90's also brought with it something that many fans had waited 60 years to see: the marriage of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It also brought a storyline in which Superman was split into two beings: Superman Red and Superman Blue. The two had energy based powers and differing personalities, but like most things in comics, the hero later returned to his original form.

Superman has not been simply been a fixture in comic books. From an early radio show in the 1940's (which first introduced us to "Look! Up in the Sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Superman!" and the phrase "truth, justice, and the American way") to the present television series Smallville, Superman has been part of nearly every media type. He had his own television show in the 1950's starring George Reeves and has been part of a number of cartoon series including the Superfriends. He was the star of four movies starring the late Christopher Reeve in the title role as well.

Some facts taken from:

My favorite quote from Kal-El, with his wonderful name: "And remember boys and girls, your school -- like our country -- is made of Americans of many different races, religions, and national origins. So...if YOU hear anyone talk against a schoolmate or anyone else because of religion, race, or national origin, don't wait: tell him that THAT KIND OF TALK IS UN-AMERICAN.


Being an undocumented, illegal alien, and written by two Jews, this poster, released in 1948, shows that Superman has at least one dog in the fight. 

I wish this could be reprinted and placed in every school, every apartment building, and any place where people come together...

Su"per*man` (?), n.

See Overman.


© Webster 1913.

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