Happy birthday, Superman! A look back at 75 powerful years

April 18, 2013 | 11:50 a.m.

Superman is about to be everywhere. America's favorite superhero is celebrating his 75 anniversary, the highlight of which is "Man of Steel," which opens in theaters June 14. We're kicking off the festivities by digging into the L.A. Times' and DC Comics' media libraries to find 75 super images -- and 75 super facts -- celebrating the one-and-only Superman. (Credits, clockwise from upper left: Warner Bros., DC Comics, Associated Press and DC Comics. Center: Getty Images. Gallery by Rene Lynch.)

Superman made his first appearance in "Action Comics" No. 1 in June 1938. It is considered one of the world's most valuable comic books. (DC Comics)

The character proved to be so popular that Superman later earned his very own comic book series. (Associated Press / Sotheby's)

He goes by many nicknames, including "The Last Son of Krypton." We turned to DC Comics' encyclopedia for more facts -- some well known, some not so much -- about the world's most famous superhero. (DC Comics)

So let's start with some of the basics: Superman is the most powerful being on Earth. (Warner Home Video)

His original name? Kal-El. His legal name is Clark Joseph Kent. (Jim Lee / DC Comics)

His place of birth: Kryptonopolis, Krypton, a foreign planet. So, technically, he is an alien. (Getty Images)

Superman's origin story -- as well as his artistic look and costume -- have evolved over the years with each reboot. But DC Comics documents one strain of his origin story thusly: The child Kal-El was sent to Earth by his scientist parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van. (Wizard)

The reason they sent their son away: The planet Krypton was facing doom, and Kal-El's parents wanted to give their son a chance at life. (Warner Bros.)

Employing a gestation chamber, they sent Kal-El to Earth. There, the advantages were many: Exposure to the sun would "supercharge" his cells and give him his amazing abilities. (DC Comics)

Upon his arrival on Earth, the infant was found by a kindly couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent, of Smallville, Kan. (Handout)

The Kents raised the infant as their own, keeping his unusual arrival a secret. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

But it was increasingly clear that Clark was... different. His superpowers grew as he did. Among them: super strength. (The WB)

His adoptive parents finally told him the truth when he turned 18. (Associated Press / DC Entertainment)

Clark Kent made the decision that he would keep his superpowers secret. (Associated Press)

But Clark -- instilled with high moral ideals by his adoptive parents -- decided he would still use his superpowers to fight for truth and justice. One of the most famous Superman covers of all-time: Fred Ray's original art from the issue of "Superman" No. 14, in 1942, showing a signature wartime image of the "Man of Steel." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

With the help of his adoptive parents, Clark Kent moved into public life -- but under a secret identity. ("Max Fleischer's Superman" / Paramount)

The costume did not include a mask -- so that the public would better trust him, his mother reasoned. (DC Comics)

He decided to dramatically change his everyday physical appearance and mannerisms, "so that nobody would suspect" his true identity. (DC Comics)

That cover? The absolutely adorkable mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, of course. He was played to perfection by the late Christopher Reeve in "Superman." The 1978 film was one of many ways in which Superman and Clark Kent made the leap from comic books to films and more. [For The Record, 11:29 a.m. PDT March 28: A previous version of this caption said the film was released in 1987. It was released in 1978.] (Associated Press)

Some other Clark Kent facts courtesy DC Comics: He graduated from Metropolis University. (Credit: Brandon Routh in "Superman Returns" Warner Bros. Pictures / David James)

He later met with the lovely and ambitious reporter, Lois Lane. She would come up with the name "Superman" for the high-flying man in tights. (Image from the movie "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut." Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Some of Superman's finest adventures would involve Lois Lane, as in this edition, when she's forced to masquerade as a "lady dictator" in a bid to manipulate Superman. (DC Comics)

While Clark was working alongside Lane and cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, he crosses paths with villian Lex Luthor -- at least according to one strain of Superman's origin story. (DC Comics)

Luthor, a sinister businessman, tries to corrupt Superman, but of course it does not work. Thus starts the legendary feud that has lent fuel to Superman's story ever since. (Associated Press)

Another origin strain has Lex Luthor and Clark Kent growing up as friends -- a plot twist played up in TV's "Smallville," which starred Michael Rosenbaum, left, as Lex Luthor and Tom Welling as Clark Kent. The boyhood friendship is destroyed after Luthor's father is killed in a fire, according to one story.

Over the years, Luthor has tried to destroy Superman by many methods, among them: Green Kryptonite, which can steal a Kryptonian's superpowers. (DC Comics)

Other Superman adventures over the years: He fought Muhammad Ali and lost. How's that? Because the fight took place on a distant planet whose properties temporarily rob Superman of all his superpowers, that's how. The battle was envisioned as a political statement, its creator, Neal Adams, told Hero Complex. (DC Comics)

He also took on Titano, the Super-Ape, who has an ability to shoot Kryptonite rays from his eyes. (DC Comics)

Some more biographical facts about the enduring character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster ... (Reuters / Warner Bros. Studios)

Superman is 6 feet, 3 inches, 235 pounds. He has blue eyes and black hair. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

According the DC Comics' official guide to Superman, Clark Kent's favorite sandwich is peanut butter-and-jelly and his favorite sport is football. (Warner Bros. Pictures / Sony Pictures Imageworks)

His birthday is Feb. 29. This makes Superman's zodiac sign Pisces.(Warner Bros. Pictures)

His "base of operations"? Fortress of Solitude, Hall of Justice or Metropolis. Or where ever crime needs fighting. (DC Comics)

League members have changed over the years, but original members include Aquaman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman and Wonder Woman. (Cartoon Network)

Even when the "S" is not visible, you can tell which one is Superman by the granite jaw. (Alex Ross / DC Comics)

Superman is quintessentially American, but he is a citizen of Earth as well. In this issue of "Action Comics" No. 900, Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship because of his concerns that his actions are seen as instruments of U.S. foreign policy. (Associated Press / DC Comics)

In other adventures, Superman, DC Comics, and UNICEF joined forces to help in a mine-sweeping campaign in Bosnia. Private agencies and a NATO-led peace force distributed the comic book, showing Superman swooping in to rescue two boys hunting for war souvenirs, in order to get the word out about the dangers of mines. (Associated Press / DC Comics / UNICEF)

Superman's strengths are many, although the exact magnitude is unknown. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

DC Comics says it is "generally accepted" that he has the ability to lift at least 1,000,000 tons. (Associated Press / DC Comics)

His body is deemed "nigh-invulnerable." He survived a blast equivalent to a million nuclear warheads, for example. (DC Comics)

According to DC Comics, his "greatest feat of durability" was withstanding the explosion of a sun -- although the blast did temporarily knock him out. (DC Comics)

His super immune system makes him impervious to toxins and disease. (DC Comics)

Superman's X-ray vision is played to great effect in "Superman Returns" for Xbox 360. (EA)

He also has heat vision, the ability to fire beams of intense heat from his eyes. (DC Comics)

He has a genius-level intellect and almost unimaginable analytical powers. He can "read information directly from machines (and, with careful usage of his heat vision, he can even reprogram machines)," according to his DC Comics bio. (DC Comcs)

Superman also has an indomitable will, "completely free of evil or temptation." DC Comics adds: Superman "is very optimistic and never gives up, even when things look bad." (DC Comics)

He can fly faster than "light speeds," tends to fly at Mach 10 and has flown into outer space. He can reach the moon in minutes, if he desires. (Associated Press)

His superhuman stamina means he can hold his breath forever, and does not need to sleep or eat. He just needs exposure to the sun. (DC Comics)

This 1992 cover marked one of the most notorious moments in Superman's history. It proclaimed "The Death of Superman." (DC Comics)

Spoiler alert: Superman survives his battle with Doomsday, but not before the world mourns and several others try to take Superman's place. (Associated Press)

Superman's personal life has been complicated, as might be expected. But there has been no shortage of female admirers. Here, he gets busy with Wonder Woman. (Associated Press / DC Entertainment)

This 2006 cover of the Advocate kicked up controversy by suggesting that Superman might be miscast by the masses. (The Advocate)

But, as everyone knows, Lois Lane is Superman's one true love -- even after she finds out the truth about his secret identity. (DC Comics)

How symbolic and beloved is Superman? He infuses our culture through and through. When the NBA's Shaquille O'Neal wanted to send a message, he had Superman's "S" tattooed on his arm.(NBAE)

A Superman mural greets visitors to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia for the Superman: Escape From Krypton ride. It's billed as the first ride to reach speeds of 100 mph, a feat theme parks had been trying to reach for decades. (Los Angeles Times)

The ride begins in Superman's Fortress of Solitude and accelerates to 100 mph in seven seconds before shooting straight up a 41-story tower. (Los Angeles Times)

There's no shortage of Superman toys, games and other memorabilia. (Sideshow Collectibles)

...starring Bob Holiday in 1966's "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!" (Los Angeles Times archives)

While Superman usually gets top billing, he played a sidekick in "The Adventures of Seinfeld & Superman," online-only shorts for American Express. In the films, the pair pal around, taking in a Broadway show and even fighting crime. (American Express)

Actor George Reeves portrayed Superman in the 1950s television series. (Associated Press)

Others playing Superman on TV included Dean Cain, here with costar Teri Hatcher in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." The series ran from 1993 to 1997. (ABC)

His look has changed dramatically over the years. A cape just causes drag, right? This Superman costume upends the red-white-and-blue homage. (Reuters)

We'll close on that classic Superman pose. Here's to another 75 years, Superman! (Associated Press / DC Comics)

It’s an auspicious occasion for the Man of Steel. Exactly 75 years ago today, Superman made his debut in “Action Comics” No. 1.

Superman is celebrating his 75th birthday with a new comic book by DC Comics all-stars Jim Lee and Scott Snyder and an ambitious new film directed by Zack Snyder and co-written and -produced by Christopher Nolan, of “Dark Knight” trilogy fame.

Part of Superman’s success is owed to his unique origin story as an infant refugee from the planet Krypton. Superman, known as Kal-El on Krypton, was a baby when his parents sent him to Earth to escape Krypton’s destruction. He landed on a farm in fictional Smallville, Kansas, and was raised by a farmer and his wife, Jonathan and Martha Kent. As young Clark Kent grew up, he discovered he had special abilities, and he dedicated his life to secretly using his powers to help humanity.

"Action Comics" No. 1, published on April 18, 1938, marked Superman's comic book debut. (DC)

“Action Comics” No. 1, published on April 18, 1938, marked Superman’s comic book debut. (DC)

The Last Son of Krypton may be surrounded by Batman, Iron Man, Wolverine and scads of other latex-clad superheroes at the modern multiplex, but when Superman first arrived on the scene in the 1930s, he was the only game in town. The character was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster when they were still high school students in Cleveland, Ohio, in the early 1930s. With his comic book debut in the June issue of “Action Comics,” published April 18, 1938, Superman became the world’s first superhero, paving the way for the likes of Batman, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman.

Soon after his “Action Comics” debut, Superman 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 capturing 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 that focused 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.

When Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” hits theaters June 14, Henry Cavill will become the latest in a long line of muscled actors to bear the iconic “S” symbol on his chest.

“You guys who know everything about him,” Cavill told some 6,500 fans in Hall H at Comic-Con last year, “you’re there through thick and thin. It’s for everyone else out there as well who hasn’t quite experienced what Superman can be, hasn’t gone through comics books, hasn’t felt that world and seen how it changed. And with this, hopefully it can bring a modern version which everyone can associate with.”

To celebrate Superman’s birthday, flip through the 75-image overview of his evolution in the gallery above, watch the “Man of Steel” trailer, and try your hand at our Superman quiz, below.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark

Gallery by Rene Lynch


Man of SteelEmotional ‘Man of Steel’ trailer: Krypton’s doom

‘Man of Steel’: General Zod seeks Superman

‘Man of Steel’ TV spot: Henry Cavill soars

‘Man of Steel’: New trailer is action-packed

QUIZ: How well do you know the Man of Steel?

Orson Scott Card’s ‘Superman’ comic delayed

Zack Snyder on ‘Watchmen’ legacy

Zack Snyder on directing ‘Star Wars’: No thanks

‘Man of Steel’: The Superman we ‘need and deserve’?

Superman still ‘jewel in the DC crown’


9 Responses to Happy birthday, Superman! A look back at 75 powerful years

  1. Michael Sacal says:

    Has the person who put that trivia seen a movie called Switching Channels? It has Reeves and George Newvbern (the voice of Superman in Justice League) together. I've always thought that was funny.

  2. PBrstreetgang says:

    Happy Birthday Superman !!!

  3. Atomic Kommie Comics says:

    Why no pix of Kirk Alyn, who starred in two movie serials as the first live-action Superman?

  4. Roy says:

    It always annoys me in comic discussions when some people try to assert that the source material for Superman is inherently boring. You don't become a pop icon for 75 years by being boring. Is he overpowered? Sometimes maybe, but it's still possible to script interesting story lines around him, as Paul Dini and Dwayne McDuffie demonstrated in DCAU (animated works).

    • John W. says:

      What so many of the detractors can't comprehend is context. Things evolve from however they were first introduced, but if they never appeared somewhere to start, they couldn't evolve into what we see them as now. Believe it or not, the Wright Brother's original Flyer was considered a technological marvel. More science fiction than real. But if it wasn't for that quaint-to-us-now flying machine, we wouldn't have had the space shuttle or the SST or any other heavier-than-air, machine-powered flying contraption.

      Simply put, some people just have no vision.

  5. Olugbenga Sulaiman says:

    Happy birthday Superman, its my birthday too.

  6. lea says:

    Happy Birthday Superman!!
    Love you all!!

  7. anto33 says:

    Happy Birthday,the first and still the greatest.

  8. AHMED NADA says:


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