75 years of Superman: From 1938’s "Action Comics" No. 1 to 2013’s "Superman Unchained" No. 1, here are 10 covers that tell the story of a constant but changing superhero. (DC Entertainment)Link
1. “Action Comics” No. 1, 1938
Superman was the first real comic book superhero. He made his debut in 1938’s “Action Comics” No. 1, by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. In that issue, Superman rescues Lois Lane from a gangster and his hoodlums, smashing their car with his bare hands. The scene makes for what is perhaps Superman’s most iconic cover. (DC Entertainment)
2. “Superman” Vol. 1, No. 1, 1939
After the success of “Action Comics” No. 1, Superman returned in 1939 with “Superman” Vol. 1, No. 1, becoming the first comic character to get a self-titled comic book. The issue reprinted some material from “Action Comics” No. 1 for new readers and introduced Superman’s adoptive parents, then named John and Mary Kent. Shuster’s cover shows the caped hero leaping above skyscrapers; the character initially did not possess flight abilities. (DC Entertainment)
3. “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali,” 1978
This one-shot comic, by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, pitted Superman against world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in a boxing match to determine which fighter would represent Earth in a battle against an alien warrior. The cover features the fighters in the ring, surrounded by celebrity spectators, including Batman, Jimmy Carter, Christopher Reeve, the Jackson Five and dozens more. The Man of Steel and the People’s Champion box beneath a red sun, and Superman is left bruised and bloody as Ali proves himself to be the Greatest. Then, they team up to defeat the aliens. (DC Entertainment)
4. “Action Comics” Vol. 1, No. 583, 1986
For three decades, artist Curt Swan helped define the Silver Age Superman, producing hundreds of covers and drawing a hero as relatable and big-hearted as he was powerful and noble. It was Swan’s Superman that Christopher Reeve brought to life on the big screen. Swan ended his run with the 1986 story line “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” written by Alan Moore. The cover is Swan’s goodbye, and the end of Superman’s Silver Age. (DC Entertainment)
5. “Man of Steel” No. 1, Special Collector’s Edition, 1986
After DC’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” writer and artist John Byrne relaunched Superman for the modern age, beginning with his 1986 limited series “The Man of Steel.” Byrne chronicled Superman’s origin with some changes from the hero’s previous iteration: Kal-El, the sole survivor of Krypton, is rocketed to Earth as a fetus in a “birthing matrix” and officially “born” an American. He gains powers gradually, ultimately becoming the Man of Steel. Byrne’s cover marked the beginning of a new era for Superman. (DC Entertainment)
6. “Action Comics” Vol. 1, No. 662, 1991
Lois Lane’s shocked face fills the cover of 1991’s “Action Comics” Vol. 1, No. 662, by artists Brett Breeding and Kerry Gammill. In the issue’s story, “Secrets in the Night” by Roger Stern, Clark Kent finally reveals to his fiancée Lois Lane that he is Superman. “Did you ever have a secret, one you’d kept for so long that when you did finally confide in someone, you were afraid that they’d take it the wrong way?” Clark asks Lois in the final pages of the issue. “Lois, for the past few years I’ve lived a double life — using the name you gave me after I was forced to use my powers in public…. Ever since that day, I’ve been both Clark Kent … and Superman!” (DC Entertainment)
7. “Superman” Vol. 2, No. 75, 1993
In “The Death of Superman,” a massively popular story line in 1992-93, Superman battles Doomsday, a killing machine from prehistoric Krypton who lays waste to the American Midwest and defeats the Justice League with one hand literally tied behind his back. Big Blue and the archvillain face off in a bloody fight in front of the Daily Planet building, and Superman stops Doomsday, but at the expense of his own life. “Most will remember this sad day as the day the proudest, most noble man they ever knew finally fell,” the captions in the comic’s final pages read. The cover, by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding, honors the hero and mourns his fall. (DC Entertainment)
8. “All-Star Superman” Vol. 1., No. 1, 2006
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Eisner-winning “All-Star Superman” aimed to revive the best aspects of Superman from previous eras, especially the Silver Age. Morrison argued that the bumbling Clark Kent of Metropolis and the soaring Superman were both disguises, and that the true Clark Kent was the strong, kind, dauntless farmboy raised by the Kents in Smallville. The cover for the first issue echoes that idea, showing Supes as a relaxed and confident hero, perched above Metropolis, the city he loves and protects. (DC Entertainment)
9. “Action Comics” No. 1, 2011
In 2011, DC announced a relaunch of its superhero titles. Among the first New 52 titles released was “Action Comics,” which took Clark Kent back to his 20s, erased his marriage to Lois Lane, and resurrected Superman’s Golden Age sensibility — an all-American do-gooder racing from adventure to adventure, still coming of age and not yet the end-all and be-all of superheroes. Writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales also raised some eyebrows by having Supes trade in his red underpants for blue jeans. (DC Entertainment)
10. “Superman Unchained” No. 1, 2013
The latest series starring the Man of Steel comes from two of DC’s creative heavyweights, writer Scott Snyder and artist Jim Lee, in “Superman Unchained,” out in June 2013. The debut issue includes a four-page, double-sided fold-out poster of Big Blue facing off against an enormous foe, but in the new title, Superman’s greatest enemy might be himself; Clark Kent’s commitment to do right — the moral compass that makes Superman Superman — may prove to be his undoing. The new series aims to “introduce new lore into the mythology that feels organic and feels like it could have been there all along,” Lee said.
Superman just set a new world’s record.
An original copy of “Action Comics” No. 1, which introduced the world to the iconic hero, fetched $3.2 million on EBay for owner Darren Adams of Pristine Comics in Federal Way, Wash., making it the most expensive comic book ever sold.
The comic, published April 18, 1938, already has made history in a number of ways, of course — it is recognized as the publication that brought the world its first comic book superhero, created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster when they were still high school students in Cleveland in the early 1930s.
The copy that was sold was in excellent condition, which merited the high price. ComicConnect, an online auction site, purchased the issue from Adams.
In the comics, the cape-wearing, crime-fighting Kryptonian paved the way for the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man, and he’s continued to enjoy a robust life outside the medium.
After his “Action Comics” debut, Superman soon got his own comic book and, in 1948, made his first appearance on-screen, portrayed by Kirk Alyn in a serial shown in movie theaters. George Reeves donned the iconic cape and underpants from 1952 to 1958 in “The Adventures of Superman” TV series, and then Bob Holiday took Superman to Broadway with “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman,” a 1966 musical.
After the character captured the imaginations of children in a number of cartoon series, perhaps the most iconic Superman actor took the mantle; Christopher Reeve soared on-screen in Richard “Dick” Donner’s 1978 “Superman,” facing off against Gene Hackman’s villainous Lex Luthor, and reprised the role in several sequels.
In the 1990s, the Man of Steel took a romantic turn. Dean Cain played Superman opposite Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane in “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” a TV series that aired from 1993 to 1997. Tom Welling introduced a new generation of young people to Superman in “Smallville,” a 2001-2011 series focusing on Clark Kent’s early years.
In 2006, Bryan Singer brought Kal-El back to the big screen with “Superman Returns,” aiming to pick up where Donner left off. The film, which starred Brandon Routh as the hero, met a lukewarm response at the box office.
With 2013’s “Man of Steel,” Henry Cavill became the latest in a long line of muscled actors to bear the iconic “S” symbol on his chest, and he’s set to reprise the role in Zack Snyder’s upcoming “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” due out in 2016.
Click through the gallery above for a look at 10 comic book covers that tell the story of a constant but changing superhero.
— Noelene Clark and Gina McIntyre
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