Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the 80th anniversary of Superman! Way back on April 18, 1938, the Last Son of Krypton made his first appearance in Action Comics #1 and became an instant smash hit. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster in Cleveland, Ohio, Superman is one of the most recognizable mainstays of American pop culture. Why has Superman resonated with so many people for so long? He speaks to an elemental experience that crosses racial and cultural lines. Superman is more than just a hero who is faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive; he is the ultimate immigrant story.
To quote The New York Times theater critic David Rooney, Superman was “born on an alien planet, he grows stronger on Earth, but maintains a secret identity tied to a homeland that continues to exert a powerful hold on him even as his every contact with those origins does him harm.”
Plus he can fly and has heat vision, which as the teens say, is cool as hell, my dudes. So on today’s episode of The Dan Cave, we’re going to celebrate Superman’s 80th birthday with a rundown of 8 things you didn’t already know about the Man of Steel.
Superman wasn’t alway a hero
Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Before he made his first appearance in Action Comics, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created a short story in 1933 entitled “The Reign of the Superman,” which Siegel self-published in his fanzine, Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization. It was the story of a drifter named Bill Dunn who gained incredible psychic powers after a mad scientist gave him an experimental drug. Transforming into Superman, Bill proceeded to straight-up murder his creator and proceeded to do what any one of us would do in that situation: abuse his powers for his own selfish amusement and gain! Ultimately, this “Superman” gets his comeuppance when he loses his powers and is forced to return to a life of vagrancy, haunted by the fact that he lived long enough to see himself become the villain. Sure we’d get a version of Superman that’s a total jerk, but at least he wasn’t an out-and-out monster.
Superman was on the FBI’s watchlist
Image: Warner Bros.
Back in 1945, Superman’s superheroic antics didn’t just catch the eye of thousand of readers, but it raised some seriously red flags at the FBI. In April 1945, a strip penned by Alvin Schwartz involved a device known as the cyclotron, better known as an atom smasher. With the U.S. government hard at work on building an atomic weapon of their own, the FBI felt compelled to pay a visit to the DC Comics offices to ensure that there were no leaks. Schwartz claimed that he learned about cyclotrons from a 1935 issue of Popular Mechanics, and learned years later that Jerry Siegel--who was in the military at the time--had been questioned too. Ultimately, the FBI forced DC Comics to bring the storyline to a swift conclusion because it was getting a little too close to reality. So it turns out that Kryptonite isn’t Superman’s only weakness after all...
Superman only cost DC Comics $130
Image: DC Comics
Back in 1938, Siegel and Shuster were elated to sell their character Superman to DC Comics for the not-so-princely sum of $130. Adjusted for inflation, that’s approximately $3,200 today. What followed was a lifelong struggle as the creators tried fruitlessly to regain legal ownership over their creation. Although they received decent wages for writing and illustrating Superman comics, DC eventually fired them in 1947 after they duo launched a lawsuit against the publisher. Ever in dire financial straits, Siegel would return to DC a few times over the years, but ultimately left again in 1965 after launching a second, unsuccessful lawsuit. When Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman film finally went into production, Siegel launched a PR campaign protesting the way DC had treated Shuster and him. As it turns out, publicly shaming them was just the ticket. DC’s parent company, Warner Brothers, reinstated their byline, giving them creative credit once more after a 30 year hiatus, and granted them a lifetime pension of $20,000 per year plus health benefits, which was later increased to $30,000. Though it was hardly the end of their woes, it was a small victory for the men who gave the world a hero it sorely needed.
You can steal his identity
Image: Warner Bros.
No, I’m not suggesting that you get a pair of glasses and start frantically changing your clothes in phone booths. Do those even still exist? But you could potentially use Superman’s social security number to commit all manner of minor financial crimes. In 1966’s Action Comics #340, DC decided to give Clark Kent a Social Security number, 092-09-6615. It’s actually a brilliant move if you’re trying to convince everyone you’re a mild-mannered journalist and NOT a superpowered alien crime fighter. As it turns out, that number belonged to a New York man who had passed away a year earlier. While Giobatta Balocchi’s relatives may have been confused at the time, they should be proud that their dearly beloved’s social security number is in the super-strong hands of none other than Superman.
He made a sex tape
Image: DC Comics
While Superman is portrayed as a pure-hearted paragon of truth, justice, and the American way, he is also a huge celebrity, which means that, yes, he does have a sex tape. Superman’s adult video is the result of A) John Byrne being a damn freak and B) a villain named Sleez who Darkseid banished from Apokolips to the sewers of Earth because he was just too disgusting. In 1987’s Action Comics #593, Sleez used his mind control powers to hypnotize Superman and Big Barda into doing the nasty. Or maybe they just kissed. It’s unclear what actually went down because we mostly just see a porn director berating Superman for not being passionate enough. Thankfully Barda’s husband, Mister Miracle, broke in before they could do another take. It’s a weird story that ends with Sleez seemingly blowing himself up, and Superman, Barda, and Mister Miracle all agreeing never to speak of this ever again.
Kryptonite didn’t originate in the comics
Every hero needs a weakness, but in the case of Kryptonite, it was first invented as a clever means for actor Bud Collyer, who played Superman on The Adventures of Superman radio serial, to take a much-needed vacation. So in June 1943, they introduced the deadly mineral Kryptonite as part of “The Meteor from Krypton” story arc. A stand-in for Bud moaned in pain until Collyer came back from vacation. Although Jerry Siegel wrote an unpublished story in 1940 called “The K-Metal from Krypton” featuring an early version of Kryptonite, it wasn’t until 1949’s Superman #61 that it became an integral part of the Superman comic mythos too. And oh what a part it would become.
There are some seriously weird kinds of Kryptonite
Everyone knows about Green Kryptonite, the chunks of Superman’s home planet that drain his powers and render him helpless, but there’s a whole spectrum of Kryptonite out there, and they’re all weird as hell.
- Red Kryptonite: also weakens Superman, but much more effectively than Green Kryptonite. Later on, it would also induce mood
- Black Kryptonite: splits any Kryptonian into two separate entities, one good and one evil
- Blue Kryptonite: does the exact same thing as Green Kryptonite, but to Bizarro
- Gold Kryptonite: normal kryptonite affected by atomic radiation, this nullifies all superhuman abilities granted by yellow sunlight.
- White Kryptonite: kills all the plant life of any world it touches
- Red-gold Kryptonite: temporarily erases Kryptonians’ memories
- Periwinkle Kryptonite: causes Kryptonians to lose all their inhibitions, which has almost definitely been used as a part of some weird space orgies.
- Orange Kryptonite: gives any animal that touches it superpowers for 24 hours
- Pink Kryptonite: which appeared as a satire of ridiculous Silver Age stories, turns Kryptonians gay.
His blood is basically vampire poison
Image: DC Comics
Many fans know that Kryptonite isn’t Superman’s only weakness; in addition to being exposed to red sunlight--like the one that shone on his native Krypton--Superman is vulnerable to magic and the supernatural. Except, of course, for vampires. When Dracula tried to bite Superman’s neck in 2002’s Superman #180, he experienced the equivalent of biting a piping slice of pizza and burning his tongue...times approximately one billion. Because Superman’s body is basically one giant solar panel, his blood was also suffused with the power of daylight, which caused Dracula to scream in agony until he fucking exploded. Now where’s THAT scene in the DC Cinematic Universe, huh?
And those are some facts about Superman you didn’t already know. Which is your favorite? What’s your favorite memory of Superman? Let me know in the comments below!
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