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Word Balloons: Superman celebrates 75th birthday

On April 18, 1938, two young men from Cleveland unveiled in “Action Comics” No. 1 what would become one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the world. Seventy-five years later, Superman is comics' most visible son and has appeared in movies, TV, books and a wide variety of other media.
by Matthew Price Published: April 19, 2013

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.”

Moses elements

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.

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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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