In 1938, costumed superheroes were not common place. We had heroes like Dick Tracy, Conan the Barbarian, and Flash Gordon, who were extraordinary in their actions, but weren’t very super. Then two men — Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — had the idea to create a non-traditional hero in the true American fashion. Immigrants to America themselves, Siegel and Shuster envisioned a costumed alien (literally) who looked like a man but had superhuman powers. Superman first appeared in the comic book issue Action Comics #1. Costumed in blue, red, and yellow with a now-iconic "S" across his chest, Superman was a true American hero. Superman would go down in history as the first superhero and inspiration for all costumed heroes since.
The Basics of the Character
Action Comics #1
Superman’s costume and powers have changed many times over the years. While his powers began as “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” Superman was later given the ability of flight, heat vision, and much more. His costume has adopted various color schemes, but a few thing have stayed the same — Superman always wears blue, always has a cape, and always has his a large "S" displayed on his chest. You can check out the details on how his emblem has evolved in our infographic, here!
Character in Conflict
The Big Red Cheese (Captain Marvel/Shazam) and The Blue Boy Scout (Superman) go head to head
Superman’s real world history has been a messy one. In fact, a major lawsuit concerning Superman, National Comics Publications (DC Comics) v. Fawcett Publications, made its way to the Supreme Court! National Comics argued that Fawcett’s character Captain Marvel, created in 1939, infringed on the copyrights of Superman. DC claimed that Marvel was essentially a cookie-cutter copy of Superman with only minor details changed. The courts ruled in favor of DC, and Captain Marvel would eventually join Superman in the DC cast of characters.
Superman and the Courts
Superman goes under oath. No, not at the actual trial.
The heirs of the Siegel and Shuster estates filed a suit to regain the rights to a few of the major portions of Superman’s character in 1999. While some of Superman’s characteristics are completely DC’s original ideas, a lot of what makes the Man of Steel so super was actually created by Siegel and Shuster. The legal battle continued when it was revealed that the attorney secured by the Siegel and Schuster families used his position to gain a portion of the rights, which DC and Warner Brothers then brought suit against. Ay ay ay!
Superman's earliest look vs. Superman in the New 52 comics from DC
Superman’s look has changed in various ways over the years. His earliest costume consisted of the simple red yellow and blue color scheme, with a literal shield emblazoned with the letter "S." Over time, the Superman shield would evolve into what we see it as today, with the authors making it the crest of House El, meaning "hope" in Kryptonian. Superman’s costumes and history stayed fairly regular until 1992, when DC decided to kill off their flagship hero in the event “The Death of Superman.” The event would go on to be the highest grossing day in comic history. After that, Superman would modify his costume in a number of ways in the following years, taking on darker tones in times of mourning.
Economics of Superman
Superman's 50th birthday musings on the cover of TIME Magazine
In 1988 (Superman’s 50th year), TIME Magazine featured the Man of Steel on the cover, and the issue contained a lengthy article describing Superman’s history. In this article, they estimated that the whole franchise was worth approximately $3 billion. Adjusted to "2015 dollars," that’s $6,104,298,093. AND that’s not counting the new additions to the franchise, including the movies, television shows, and other comic versions of the character. As one of the most recognizable characters in the world, it is safe to say Superman will be around for a long, long, time.
Celebrate the long and super history of Superman with these shirts:
All Superman T-Shirts - Shop
Did you learn anything from this super history lesson? Tell us about your favorite Superman moments below! Up, UP, AND AWAY!