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Happy 75th birthday, Superman

by Matthew Price Modified: April 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm •  Published: April 18, 2013

Superman made his debut on April 18, 1938, in “Action Comics” #1, 75 years ago today.

My Word Balloons column for this week in Friday’s Weekend Look will look back at the history of Superman and some of the highlights thereof.

For today’s blog, I’ll talk about some of my personal memories of the Man of Steel. Superman is my favorite DC Comics character; the following are some of the reasons why.

The “Superman” movie starring Christopher Reeve probably cemented me as a Superman fan.  I saw it as a young person and was impressed with everything about it – the romance, the Daily Planet, the man who can fly. While there are criticisms of the film that could be made, I’m not the one to make them.  It’s probably as much to blame for my life of comic-book fandom as anything.

I remember racing home after school to watch “Super Friends” as a kid, and while the show can be awfully cheesy, I loved getting to see all of DC’s major superheroes in one place.  Though I liked Batman and Robin a lot, too, Superman remained my favorite.   Though I didn’t see all of them until later, I also enjoyed watching George Reeves in “The Adventures of Superman” when I could.

I bought old and new Superman comics when I got a chance, and enjoyed Christopher Reeve’s Superman II and Superman III, though even as a kid, I saw some issues with Superman III, which was more of a Richard Pryor vehicle than a serious Superman movie.  Curt Swan’s Superman was a favorite.   But in the mid-1980s, DC Comics decided to make a big change.

John Byrne’s Superman, while irritating some long-time fans (imagine if we’ve had the Internet in 1986) was an exciting fresh start for me.  “Man of Steel” modernized Superman’s origins, and the ensuing “Superman” comics by Byrne focused on Lois and Clark and the Daily Planet aspects of Superman, which are my favorite part of the mythos.

This led both to the “weekly” comics of Superman through the 1990s (four series, one released each week, with an overarching story: Superman, Action Comics, Superman: Man of Steel and Adventures of Superman).

The biggest-selling Superman issue of the era was “Superman” No. 75, in which Superman was killed by a new character, named Doomsday.

I was working at a comic shop at the time, and the lines out the door and the intense demand for the comic was like nothing I’d seen before, even in the speculation-crazy era of the early 1990s.

The follow-up stories to the death were quite poignant, and I also enjoyed the tales of the four temporary Supermen that were introduced.  Though Superman’s return didn’t pack the sales punch of the death, I thought the overall story was handled well.

The more relationship-style comics of that era helped to inspire the TV series “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” which ran in the 1990s starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher.  Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane is still probably my favorite conception of the character.   The show, again, had its problems, but when it worked, I really enjoyed it.

In 1996, Superman got married to Lois Lane, both in the pages of the comics and on the “Lois and Clark” television show. In 1997, I followed suit and got married; the date of the wedding was August 16, a date notable both as the death of Elvis Presley, and as a line in my favorite Superman story, Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”

The next year, I opened Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman; it might be possible from the name to deduce the inspiration for my comics fandom.    This summer, we’ll celebrate our 15th year.

Since then, Superman’s had his ups and downs.  From 2005 to 2008, Morrison wrote “All-Star Superman,” a 12-issue storyline that melded some of the best aspects of Superman throughout history to create a classic Superman tale. He briefly flirted with parenthood in both “Superman Returns” and the comics “Last Son” by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner.   Then his marriage was erased in 2011 as Superman’s history got a restart.  The “Action Comics” written by Grant Morrison after the restart are highly recommended.  There have been lawsuits over the rights to the character that have at times overshadowed his fictional exploits.

This summer, Superman’s back in movie theaters, as Henry Cavill stars as Superman in Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel.”  Given how many times I’ve seen the origin, now, I wasn’t sure how excited I was about it for a while, despite generally liking Zack Snyder.   But the new trailer has me motivated.   And now, I have three children who haven’t fully experienced the fun of a Superman movie in the theaters.  (Two of them were around for “Superman Returns,” but were too little to really remember it.)   So, as I’ve done with some of my favorite comic-book stories, I intend to share the experience of a Superman movie with them.  (Please, Zack Snyder, don’t make it too gory.)

While the character has his own in-story and out-of-story problems, including lawsuits over the rights, I still appreciate what creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster put into the world 75 years ago: An outsider who believes in truth and justice and standing up for the little guy.   Thanks again to them for their truly super creation.

 

- Matt Price

 

 

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by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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