Superman at 75: 10 key comic covers in the Man of Steel’s history

June 11, 2013 | 1:30 p.m.
covers b Superman at 75: 10 key comic covers in the Man of Steels history

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

When Superman first leaped onto the scene 75 years ago in “Action Comics” No. 1, he was the only game in town.

The now-iconic character was the world’s 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. Superman eventually landed his own comic title, movie serial, TV series, Broadway musical and several blockbuster movies, including this weekend’s “Man of Steel,” which stars Henry Cavill as Supes.

In the comics, the cape-wearing, crime-fighting Kryptonian paved the way for the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man.

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.

Click through the gallery above for a look at the covers, courtesy of DC Entertainment.

–Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark

Blake Hennon contributed to this report.


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12 Responses to Superman at 75: 10 key comic covers in the Man of Steel’s history

  1. Frank says:

    Let me guess, Noelene must have been born in the 1980's . . . it's the only way to explain no covers from the classic period of the 1940's, the 1950's, the 1960's, and the 1970's (except 1979) . . . . .

    • noelenecy says:

      It was definitely difficult to narrow them down. I struggled to find the right one from Julius Schwartz era. Which ones would you have included from the '40s-'70s?

      • craig says:

        Julius Schwartz never was an editor for any of the Superman family of comic books. He didn't like Superman—see his editorship of the first several years of JLA, when he almost deleted all reference to Supe from its pages, and ran a story, by Gardner Fox no less, in which he completely misunderstood how kryptonite worked on him. Shows how little noelenecy knows in referencing Schwartz, let alone having A CLUE about any Superman covers from 1940 to 1980. What a disgrace he is as a Supe historian.

      • Joe says:

        Bit harsh on him, aren't you? You exhibit a typical elitist comic fanboy attitude; or you're just a kid looking for mommy-oedipal attention. And you're wrong: Schwartz was the editor on Superman from the 70's into the 80's.

        And you never answered noelencey's question: which covers would you have chosen?

  2. AlxCzky says:

    Why is it that the great covers of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and the early 70s are missing?
    Why are the choices mostly biased from the late 80s onward. Alot of great cover artists sweat to draw
    fantastic covers that sold Superman and Action, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano to name a few.
    This selection does not do justice to great cover art.

    • noelenecy says:

      Thanks for reading! Narrowing down to 10 was tough. And the last two covers are forward-looking. Which ones would you have picked?

  3. @je7emiah says:

    A great look at Supes! I might have added the Superman/Spider-Man crossover. Or the Red Kryptonite Saga, I think there's a cover with Superman falling from a building after losing his powers.

  4. Robert Johnston says:

    An imaginary story from Superman #149—"The Death of Superman." It was one of the greatest stories from the 1960s.

  5. Marc Sparks says:

    Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come #4

    Action Comics #484 or #554

    Frankly though it’s unforgivable to omit George Perez’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths #7” with the dead Supergirl.

  6. Joe K says:

    "Big Blue" is reserved for the NY Giants.

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