Whether in-universe or in real life, DC’s Superman (Clark Kent) is the standard that other superheroes are held to.
Superman was the first major superhero.
It could certainly be argued that he wasn’t the first, but he was possibly the first superhero whose popularity went well beyond the comics.
By appearing in various non-comic media, he created even more Superman fans!
Superman: A Brief Overview
Superman is a superpowered alien immigrant who protects Earth and fights for truth, liberty, and justice for all.
With any other superhero that would be hyperbole, but not so with Superman. His biology gives him a godlike powerset, but he’s not interested in power merely for its own sake. Much like Marvel’s Spider-Man, Superman was raised to believe that powers come with responsibilities.
A superhero that traditionally uses his head and his heart more than his fists, Superman is the kind of person who’d still be a hero even if he didn’t have superpowers – a fireman, or perhaps a medical worker.
A scientist from a doomed planet called Krypton sends his son to Earth in a spacecraft, which crashes near a Kansas town called Smallville.
A couple named Johnathon and Martha Kent find the baby boy, and decide to raise the him. As he grows up, he begins to develop superpowers due to his alien biology. His adoptive parents tell him the truth about his origins, and show him the spacecraft. He reconnects with his Kryptonian heritage, and learns about his home planet. The spacecraft also contains a piece of Kryptonian clothing, which fits him perfectly.
He decides to use his powers to help people, so he studies hard to become a reporter so that he can expose evil wherever he finds it. He’d eventually begin working at a newspaper called The Daily Planent and find out that exposing evil wasn’t quite that simple – he’d soon come to rely on his superpowers to help folks out just as much as his writing.
Determined to help others, and not wanting to expose his civilian identity, Kent begins wearing his Kryptonian clothing whenever he helps people. The symbol on the chest is mistaken for the letter S by a fellow reporter, Lois Lane, who assumes his name must begin with an S.
Lois names the mysterious new stranger ‘Superman’, and the rest is history.
Superman has had many superpowers (even telepathy) over the years, depending on which era it is and which writer is writing the story.
However, there are some constants.
Superman has superhuman strength, speed, durability (toughness), and senses (sight, hearing, etc). He also has the power of flight, heat vision (eye lasers), and frost breath.
More than any other character (apart from maybe Flash), Superman uses scientific knowledge to enhance his powers and create non-lethal options in battle.
For instance, he’s more likely to use his superspeed to create a controlled windstorm in order to control the battlefield than he is to use his superstrength to cause a giant earthquake (unlike, say, Marvel’s Hulk).
Superman doesn’t rely on equipment anywhere near as much as other superheroes.
His most iconic piece of gear is his Kryptonian apparel, but that doesn’t really do anything practical for him beyond ‘being stronger than Earth-made fabrics’.
He also has the Fortress of Solitude, an arctic stronghold which also doubles as a Kryptonian museum.
As a founding member of the Justice League, he can count any Justice-League-affiliated heroes among his allies. Batman in particular is considered one of Kent’s closest and oldest friends.
He also has close friendships with many of his fellow Daily Planet workers, especially Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen.
However, his most important relationship is undoubtedly the one he shares with his adoptive parents, the Kents.
Superman: Rogues Gallery
Superman’s archnemesis is Lex Luthor, a mad genius who wants to control the world and already owns half of it.
Another powerful villain who regularly faces Superman is Doomsday. Doomsday even killed Superman once. Superman also shares many foes with his fellow Justice League members, such as Joker, Sinestro, Vandal Savage, Gorilla Grodd, and Circe.
Superman has also faced off against non-DC enemies such as Aliens and Predators (from the Aliens/Predator universe), and even the occasional Terminator (from the Terminator franchise).
Superman: Common Themes
Common themes addressed by Superman stories are: Immigration and displacement of family, the meaning of family, what it means to be human, the sacrifice/price of choosing good over evil, and how to ethically use the power you have over others.
There are also often scientific-related themes. Many of the first superman villains were mad scientists who were more concerned with destruction than creation.
Superman: Cultural Impact
Superman is most likely the reason that superheroes are even popular to begin with.
The characters first foray outside the comics was on a radio show, in which he fought against the KKK, and also discovered Kryptonite for the first time. This was followed by the critically-acclaimed Broadway musical named ‘It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman’, which featured music by Charles Strouse (who’d go on to write the music for the celebrated musical ‘Annie’).
A series of cartoons came next, followed by the first live-action adaption (a series of short films), and then the first of many feature length films.
Around this time (the 1950s), there was also a Superman TV show. Almost 15 years later, the first Superman animated TV series launched. Then, in the late 1970s, the first Superman videogame appeared.
Today, there’s a wealth of Superman media available due to the popularity of the character.
And during all that time, during the decades of cartoons and TV shows and films – the comic that launched Superman (Action Comics) has never been out of print!