In 1938, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster created Superman for Action Comics number one. A newspaper strip featuring the character began the following year. A second year after its debut, a radio series was developed to tell the hero’s story. Bud Collyer, a radio actor and announcer, took the title role. He would become famous for talk show hosting on shows like Beat The Clock and To Tell the Truth.
Between the radio serials and the newspaper strips, the character became very popular among a younger audience.
Earlier versions had the hero’s home planet located on the far side of the sun, not another solar system. He came out of his rocket-ship grown and was never adopted by Earthlings. This was changed to fit the stories running in the comic books. Kryptonite was first introduced in the radio serials. Introductions for the serials were performed by Jackson Beck, who also performed additional voices on the shows. He would also perform the voice for Perry White on The New Adventures of Superman in 1966.
National Allied Publications decided to give the title character its own title in the summer of 1939. Superman #1 would feature the Seigel/Shuster creation and would give it the distinction of being the first character featured in more than one comic magazine at the same time. Issue #7 would declare the character, the “World’s Greatest Adventure Strip Character.” By 1940, Superman was selling almost one million copies per month.
The first version of the character was a homeless man given a drug by a scientist. The drug gave the character mental powers, which he used for personal gain. When the drug wore off, he was his old self again. The second version replaced the mental powers with super-strength and bullet-proof skin. The third version, submitted as a script to Leo O’Mealia, who drew Fu Manchu for Bell Syndicate, had the title character as a “scientist-adventurer” from the future who had “evolved superpowers.”
It would be quite some time before their beloved creation would gain his final super-powers.
After the success of the comic books, newspaper strips, and radio serials, a musical was produced in 1966 entitled, It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman. This featured music by Charles Strouse, an American composure know for his work on Annie and Bye Bye Birdie.
Animated shorts, released by Paramount Pictures, followed between 1941 and 1943. Seventeen episodes, each eight to ten minutes long, were produced. Shuster provided model sheets for the characters so there would be visuals to accompany the contemporary comic-book looks.
Superman (1948) Serial
A movie serial in 1948 became the first live-action adaptation of Superman and actor, Kirk Alyn would be the first to portray the character. According to Wikipedia, it was “the most profitable movie serial in movie history.”
Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) Serial
The sequel to 1948’s Superman was released in 1950.
Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
A fifty-eight-minute feature film released in 1951 and starred George Reeves as Superman. This was meant to serve as a promotion for the television series to follow.
Adventures of Superman (1952-1958)
Adventures of Superman was a television series starring George Reeves, which ran from 1952 until 1958. Made for a general audience, the show was the first to feature Superman in a television series.
Superman: The Movie (1978)
In 1978, Christopher Reeve starred in the first big-budget film featuring the character. Superman was produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind and holds the distinction of being the most successful Superman film, to date.
Superman II (1980)
The first of three sequels to the original film, all starring Christopher Reeves. Both the original and the sequel were meant to be filmed simultaneously, but due to budget concerns, completing the first film became a priority and the sequel was put on hold. It was eventually made, but with a lot production drama behind the scenes.
Superman III (1983)
The third movie in the series and the first to not feature Lois Lane as the main love interest, instead introducing Lana lang, Clark’s high school crush.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
The final movie in the Christopher Reeves series. This was the only movie in the series to not have any involvement with Alexander and Ilya Salkind. In 1995, Christopher Reeves was injured in a horseback riding accident that paralyzed him from the neck down. Reeves would pass away in 2004.
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman brought the superhero back to television in the form of Dean Cain. It focused on the hero’s life prior to becoming Superman. It ran until 1997.
In 2001, a show aimed at a younger teen audience showed the more everyday life of a young Clark Kent. Smallville ran for ten years with the actor portraying Clark Kent never wearing the famous red and blue suit nor adopting the name, Superman. Its final episode supplied CGI effects for the actor.
Superman Returns (2006)
Staring Brandon Routh and building off the Christopher Reeves version of the character specifically the first two movies.
Man of Steel (2013)
Is the first movie in the Zack Snyder version of the DCEU and starred Henry Cavill as the Siegel/Shuster created character.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
The innovative sequel pitted Henry Cavill’s Superman against Ben Affleck’s Batman and paved way for the next installment featuring more DC heroes.
Justice League (2017)
With Zack Snyder leaving the production mid through, Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the project, which brings Henry Cavill’s character back along with Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg.
Introduces Tyler Hoechlin as the Man of Steel, but not as the main character within the series.
Arrowverse: Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019)
Technically taking place on three different television shows, Batwoman, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, but all taking place in the Arrowverse crossover event with Brandon Routh reprising his role as Clark Kent / Superman this time from Earth 96.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Combining footage from the original 2017 Justice League film with newly shot footage to complete the original vision Zack had for the film. Henry Cavill of course reprises his role.
Superman & Lois (2021-Present)
Tylor Hoechlin returns but this time as the lead in this Supergirl spinoff series, focusing on the balance between family life on his old family farm and being the worlds greatest superhero. It features a domesticated version of the superhero who is married to long-time character, Lois Lane, and father to two teenagers. It airs on the CW network.
Black Adam (2022)
Henry Cavill once more is donning the cape for an after credits scene briefly facing off against the antihero.
The Flash (2023)
Taking place in the Snyderverse, you would think that Henry Cavill would be the only actor to make an appearance as Superman, but nope. With the introduction of the infinite Earths, we see brief scenes of George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, and Nicholas Cage alluding to the Tim Burton directed Superman Lives movie which was ultimately cancelled.
Although we have not seen him in a film yet, it has been announced that David Corenswet will portray the character in the 2025 scheduled film, Superman Legacy. The character of Clark Kent was also featured in a series about Superboy with John Haymes Newton and Gerard Christopher both playing the part. Superboy will be covered in a separate edition.
From 1938 to 2023, Superman remains a constant in the pop culture lexicon and an inspiration to many.
Special Thanks to Rob Price.
Encyclopedia of Superheroes: Superman
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