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Superhero Origins: Superman

VO: Dan Paradis
Superman’s origin story was originally told on only one page. As a distant planet was dying, a scientist placed his infant son on a spaceship and sent it to Earth. There, the child benefited from an advanced physical structure, which granted him incredible strength. Given the name Clark Kent, as an adult he discovered that he could also run at super speeds and leap great distances. Deciding to use his gifts to benefit mankind and protector of Metropolis, he became Superman! Over the years his origin story and powers have been expanded upon. Join as we explore the comic book origin of Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent. Special thanks to our user jousef Allam for submitting the idea on our WatchMojo.comsuggest page!

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*Script written by Clayton Martino

Superhero Origins: Superman

It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s Superman! Welcome to and today we will explore the comic book origin of Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent.

As with most comic book characters, there are often re-imaginations and different versions to a character’s past. We have chosen primarily to follow the original storyline which unfolded in 1938’s “Action Comics” #1, which was expanded upon in 1939’s “Superman” #1 and 1948’s “Superman” #53.

In “Action Comics” #1 Superman’s origin story was told on only one page. As a distant planet was dying from old age, a scientist placed his infant son on a spaceship and sent it to Earth. On Earth, the baby was discovered by a passing motorist who turned the child into an orphanage. Because the child had come from a planet that was millions of years more advanced than Earth, the baby possessed a, quote, “advanced physical structure”, which granted him incredible strength.

Given the name Clark Kent, as an adult he discovered that he could also run faster than a train, leap 1/8th of a mile, and hurdle a twenty-story building. Deciding to use his gifts to benefit mankind, he became Superman!

This extremely brief origin story was expanded upon slightly in the first edition of “Superman” in 1939. Just like in the previous year’s issue, a scientist on a dying planet Krypton again sent his child to Earth. The baby was then discovered by an elderly earth couple named the Kents, who decided to adopt him themselves after first dropping him off an at orphanage. The Kents told their young boy that people may be scared of his astounding powers, but that he must someday use them to help humanity. His powers were described as nearly identical to those outlined in the Action Comics #38, with the notable addition being that his skin was now said to be neigh impenetrable.

This origin was expanded upon once again in “Superman” #53, the tenth anniversary of Superman’s debut. In this version, we learn that “humans of high intelligence and magnificent physical perfection” lived on Krypton. We also learn that the force of gravity on Krypton was much stronger than on Earth, so much so that a Kryptonian on Earth could essentially defy gravity entirely. Jor-El, however, Krypton’s greatest scientist, proclaimed the planet to be doomed. He explained that every atom of Krypton would explode in one giant blast and that they should all migrate to Earth.

Jor-El’s prediction was greeted with laughter and scepticism by the other Kryptonian elites, however, who claimed that he wanted to frighten Krypton’s leaders away so that he could rule the planet himself. Jor-El returned home to his wife Lara just as Krypton began to self-destruct. Lara, deciding to stay with her husband, placed their infant son into a spaceship and launched it towards Earth. As Krypton exploded in the background, the spaceship travelled through space and eventually landed on Earth.

The spaceship was discovered by passing motorists, and vanished when they removed the infant. They took the child to an orphanage, where his super strength was discovered. Fearing that the child will destroy the orphanage, the doctor agreed to let the couple who discovered the child, Mr. and Mrs. Kent, adopt him. They decided to name him Clark Kent.

As Clark grew older, he discovered more and more of his powers, including his speed, his jumping ability, his invincibility, and his X-ray vision. Eventually, Mrs. Kent died and Mr. Kent became gravely ill. On his deathbed, he told Clark that Clark needed to hide his true identity and use his amazing powers for the forces of good. When his father finally passed away, Clark decided that a job at a big newspaper would keep him in touch with those he needed to help the most. He resigned to wear glasses and be timid, but to change into his blue and red costume an be known as Superman whenever he was needed.

Like all comic book heroes, Superman has gone through numerous re-imaginings, with one of the most famous and long lasting being 1986’s “The Man of Steel” storyline. This storyline maintains most of the aspects of the original origin stories, with an added emphasis on Clarke’s teenage years and his experiences in the town of Smallville.

Just like his origin story, Superman’s abilities have be revised and modified throughout the years. Abilities that have been added to his roster over the years include, but are not limited to: heat vision, super hearing, super breath and super intelligence. However, the most notable change to the character was in his ability to fly. Early issues only describe Superman’s ability to leap great distances, but the creators of the 1940’s cartoon show found it wasteful and difficult to animate having him jumping from place to place. Thus, Superman was given the ability to fly.

This would not be the last time Superman’s medium would change his character. His greatest weakness was revealed to be Green Kryptonite, irradiated pieces of his former planet. Kryptonite was actually introduced as a plot device for the 1940’s radio show in order to give the voice actor who played Superman a bit of time off. Although Green Kryptonite is the most common and deadly foil to Superman, other colors of Kryptonite have been known to appear and have had various effects on the man of steel.

Lastly later issues would change the source of Kryptonian strength to be earth’s yellow sun, meaning Kryptonians on Krypton would not have extraordinary powers due to their own native red sun. Only in the presence of a yellow sun would their true strength emerge.

As one of the most famous comic book heroes in history, Superman has appeared in various media, including everything from radio shows to animated series to big-budget blockbusters. George Reeves and Christopher Reeve have provided two of the most famous representations of Superman, on the small screen and big screen respectively. Recently, Henry Cavill starred as Superman in 2013’s “Man of Steel”, and will reprise the role in 2016’s “Batman vSuperman: Dawn of Justice”.

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