Two young men from Cleveland created one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the world.
That creation, Superman, was unveiled to the world on April 18, 1938, in “Action Comics” No. 1. Seventy-five years later, Superman is still known around the world, appearing in comic books, movies, television, and more.
Kevin Stark, curator of the Toy and Action Figure Museum, 111 S Chickasaw St., in Pauls Valley, said Superman was the spark that ignited an industry.
“He started it all,” Stark said. “Superman is it, he is the guy. He started the whole caped superhero thing. I'm a huge Superman fan.”
Recalling elements of the Moses story, Superman was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, but as a baby he was rocketed to earth by his father, Jor-El, to save him from the fate of his dying planet. Kal-El was found near Smallville, Kan., by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who raised the boy, who they named Clark, to always fight for truth and justice.
When on this new planet, Clark developed powers beyond those of mortal men, he used them to help the weak and downtrodden as Superman.
“Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero” by Larry Tye follows the creation of the Man of Steel by a pair of Cleveland, Ohio, teenagers, and traces the history of the hero from the 1930s to today.
According to Tye, Superman's first appearance in “Action Comics” was a hit, selling around 130,000 of his first issue. Sales only went up from there.
By 1939, Superman starred both in “Superman” and “Action Comics,” and was the star of a newspaper strip as well. In 1940, radio became the home of new Superman adventures, with Bud Collyer providing the voice of both Clark Kent, and, dropping a register, the Man of Steel.
By this time, the “Superman” comic routinely sold more than a million copies, according to “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography” by Glen Weldon. In 1941, animated cartoons starring the character were playing in movie theaters. A novel, “The Adventures of Superman,” was published in 1942.
The late 1940s brought the first live-action Superman, in a movie serial. A 1950 sequel followed.
Making his way to television
Superman had quickly grabbed the public attention, and it would only increase from there, with the new medium of television. George Reeves brought tough reporter Clark Kent to baby boomers' TV screens. Kent became the even tougher Superman when someone was needed to fly or have bullets bounce off his chest.
“I grew up with the ‘Adventures of Superman,' the TV show with George Reeves,” Stark said. “I watched them every day after school. It was a big part of growing up.”
Artist Curt Swan had meanwhile become the main artist of Superman, drawing a lithe, mature figure.
“I always figured Superman to be 45-50 years old, more like your father,” Stark said. “As a kid I imagined him as Cary Grant or Rock Hudson. He was an adult, and Curt Swan drew him that way.”
Believing a man can fly
Superman's comic book adventures continued in the 1960s and 1970s, as did animated programs including “Super Friends.” But the character was less ubiquitous before Superman was reinvented for the 1970s and 1980s by Christopher Reeve in “Superman: The Movie.” Directed by Richard Donner, the film showed that comic-book tropes could be modernized and in part, taken seriously.
Since then, Superman has starred in two more live-action series and four more movies, the last starring Brandon Routh in a 2006 Bryan Singer film.
The character was rebooted by writer/artist John Byrne in 1986. Byrne provided a TIME magazine cover in 1988 celebrating Superman's 50th anniversary.
In 1992, the character was killed in the comic books, in an issue that sold a reported three million copies.
In 1996, Clark Kent married his longtime paramour Lois Lane in the comics and on the television show “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.”
Tom Welling played a younger Clark Kent — minus the cape and tights — for The CW television series “Smallville” from 2001 to 2011.
Looking to the future
In 2011, DC Comics again relaunched its comic-book line, with writer Grant Morrison creating a new start for the Man of Steel.
DC will celebrate the character with a Free Comic Book Day issue on May 4, and with a new series by writer Scott Snyder and artist Jim Lee launching in June called “Superman Unchained.”
Also in June, Superman returns to the movie theaters in “Man of Steel,” a Zack Snyder-directed reboot of the Superman film series starring Henry Cavill. The Toy and Action Figure Museum will celebrate with Superman events each weekend; a variety of Superman figures are already on display.
“He's one of my favorite characters,” Stark said. “I love when he'd rip open his shirt and say, ‘This is a job — for Superman!' I still say that today.”