Superman: 80 years old and steel going strong

Hindustan Times | By
Dec 15, 2018 08:34 PM IST

Superman, who made his debut in Action Comics in 1938 is often thought of as the first superhero, the one who set the template for the rest. Here’s how he came to be.

1933: Jerry Siegel writes a story about strange powers turning one man into a Super Man. But few take notice.

Christopher Reeve played Superman in the 1970s, showing Hollywood that a man in tights and a cape can spell box-office success.
Christopher Reeve played Superman in the 1970s, showing Hollywood that a man in tights and a cape can spell box-office success.

1938: After many revisions, Siegel and Joe Shuster create a comic strip hero with superpowers, in the first issue of Action Comics.

1939: People love Kal-El. The daily Superman newspaper comic strip, plus a Sunday version, reaches 20 million readers. Already, there’s merchandise – buttons for the Supermen of America fan club, and wooden dolls. They now fetch thousands of dollars at auction. And Superman makes his first public appearance, at the New York World’s Fair.

1940: The children’s radio show, Adventures of Superman, runs from 1940 to 1951. Comics start advertising Krypto-raygun toys. The next year, Superman is on the big screen! Seventeen animated, 10-minute films run in theatres until 1943.

1948: The Man of Steel gets his first live-action adaptation. Kids love it.

1951: Now a proper picture. Superman and the Mole Men, a 58-minute B-movie, is Superman’s first feature film. Meanwhile the company that publishes the Superman comics starts to rebrand itself as DC.

1952: Adventures of Superman becomes the first TV show based on a superhero. It airs until 1958, aimed at kids and grown-ups.

1961: Here comes competition. Marvel Comics is created and Stan Lee riffs on DC’s Justice League to create The Fantastic Four, kicking off the Marvel Age. It’s the start of the friendly rivalry that creatively shapes how Superman will evolve.

1966: The newspaper comic ends. But Superman invades Broadway with the musical, It’s a Bird...It’s a Plane...It’s Superman.

1974: Superman makes friends. DC and Marvel collaborate for The Amazing Spider-Man vs Superman comic. It ends with Clark Kent and Lois Lane going on a double date with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.

1975: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Marvel and DC jointly produce the comic Marvelous Wizard of Oz, an adaptation of the classic movie.

1977: A big Superman movie is in the works. The comic strip is revived too, and runs till 1983.

1978: Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford and James Caan passed on the first big-budget superhero film. Christopher Reeve becomes the first blockbuster Superman.

1979: Atari releases the first superhero game: Superman.

1980: The film’s success spawns Superman II. There will be three more movies over the next seven years.

1987: India makes an awful Superman film, setting the story here, with Puneet Issar in the lead.

1988: The stories of young Superman air on TV as Superboy until 1992.

1989: Beware the Batman. Tim Burton’s dark, twisted telling of DC’s own story (and the films that follow in the 1990s) will popularise the otherwise niche, mortal caped crusader.

1993: Some romance. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman mixes adventure and love on TV until 1997.

1996: Superman: The Animated Series spawns a massive fan following. The show runs until 2000, but this version of Superman appears in crossover shows until 2006, making it the longest-running Superman series.

1999: A special DC comic introduces Jon, the child of Lois and Clark.

2001: All muscle. Smallville, aimed at teen girls, airs on TV until 2011. It looks at young Kent as a high school kid.

2006: Superman Returns, starring Brandon Routh is released.

2013: A Kal-El reboot. Man of Steel retells the original film stories. The sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), featured Superman alongside other heroes (Batman and Wonder Woman) for the first time. Superman also appeared in Justice League (2017).

2014: A copy of Action Comics No 1, Superman’s debut, sells for a record $3.2 million. It’s the highest price ever paid for a comic book. The original price: 10 cents.

2015: Supergirl, Kal-El’s cousin, gets her own show on TV.

2018: Krypton, a TV series focusing on Superman’s grandfather, Seg-El, debuts, and flops.

2018: In June, Action Comics becomes the first monthly comic book to hit its 1,000th issue. It’s a collectible!


    Rachel Lopez is a a writer and editor with the Hindustan Times. She has worked with the Times Group, Time Out and Vogue and has a special interest in city history, culture, etymology and internet and society.

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