The Bizarro (World) History of Superman
Superman made his comic book debut on June 30, 1938, inadvertently setting off a chain of events that left moviegoers choosing between various musclebound jumpsuits at the box office nearly a century later. In the intervening decades, such an influential property was bound to get weird, and boy, did it ever.
The First Version of Superman Was a Villain
Five years before the character’s official debut, creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster published The Reign of the Superman about an impoverished man named Bill Dunn who is tricked by a scientist offering him a hot meal into becoming a human guinea pig, gains superpowers, immediately uses them to become wealthy and powerful (you know, in the normal way), and instead of stopping there for some reason, chooses chaos and turns humanity against itself. It’s basically Dr. Horrible but with actual powers.
The Daddy Connection
Though Siegel never confirmed the inspiration, early sketches of Superman bear a distinct likeness to his father, who died during a robbery at his clothing store in 1932, right around the time he and Shuster started working on the character. Siegel himself may have been unaware of what drove him to create an all-powerful daddy figure, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first to dive down that Freudian rabbit hole.
Kryptonite Was Invented to Give an Actor a Day Off
Kryptonite wasn’t (just) a way to spice up the otherwise tension-free story of an indestructible god. It was invented in 1943 so the actor who played Superman on the radio show The Adventures of Superman could take a damn vacation.
There Are So Many Different Types of Kryptonite
This kryptonite business got out of hand in a hurry, with dozens of different types of kryptonite popping up over the years. Arguably the most interesting forms are silver kryptonite, which appears to get Superman stoned, and pink kryptonite, which makes him gay. Yes, really.
Superman Was Censored During World War II
In 1945, the War Department was pretty sensitive about the fictional portrayal of atomic bombs, so they ordered DC not to publish a Superman comic titled “Battle of the Atoms” in which Lex Luthor literally throws around atomic bombs, which fail to have any effect on Superman. The War Department wanted people to take atomic energy seriously, though after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they changed their tune for some reason and the comic was allowed to be published.
Superman v. the KKK
You might have heard of Stetson Kennedy, the activist who infiltrated and exposed the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan in the ‘40s, but you probably didn’t know he used Superman to do it. After he approached the writers of the Superman radio show, who happened to be in the market for a new villain after World War II, Superman spent 16 episodes fighting the KKK, whose enrollment dropped down to zero. He also worked with the government to prosecute white supremacists and stuff, but you know, it was mostly Superman.
His Weirdest Power
In 1958, Superman lost all of his powers but gained the ability to shoot a tiny mini-him out of his hand who did have powers and did all of his work for him. Tiny Superman ended up sacrificing himself to save his daddy, Superman got his powers back, and everyone tried to forget that whole thing ever happened.
The Time Superman Almost Made Porn
In 1987, Metropolis was terrorized by a new villain appropriately named Sleez who was basically just a sex criminal. He controlled people’s minds to get them to do his kinky bidding, including forcing Superman and Big Barda to perform in a porn. They’re interrupted before they can actually get down on camera, but before Superman can catch a predator, Sleez kills himself. It’s bleak from start to finish.
His Controversial Haircut
Even Superman isn’t immune to the pressures of transient fashion trends. From 1993 to 1996, the height of Billy Ray Cyrus’s career and hence its popularity, Superman had a mullet.
He Fought Muhammad Ali
In 1978, evil aliens demanded to fight Earth’s greatest fighter, so Superman had to fight Muhammad Ali to determine which one of them that was. (Spoiler: Ali won against the power-free Superman.) Don Rickles, Pat Boone, and Neil deGrasse Tyson have also made inexplicable cameos over the years.
Alternate Universe Supermen
There are a ton of alternate universe versions of Superman, including a Communist Superman who happened to land in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas and a Nazi Superman. He even got to be the first black president before the actual first black president.
He’s Kind of an Unethical Journalist
It would really undermine that whole “secret identity” thing for Clark Kent to reveal how he knows Superman, which means he should probably stop covering and even “interviewing” him or allowing his girlfriend, who also can’t disclose her personal relationship to the subject, to do the same. It’s also not clear when in his busy Supermanning schedule he found the time to get a journalism degree.
He’s a Breatharian
We could all look like jacked demigods if, like Superman, we had no disgusting human desire for nachos. Superman doesn’t need to eat unless he’s deprived of exposure to the sun, which is where he normally gets his energy, technically making him a breatharian, as if those people needed more encouragement.
The Legal Battle for Superman’s Copyright
Siegel and Shuster sold their Superman copyright for $130 in 1938 and spent the rest of their lives (and a good chunk of their heirs’) understandably trying to get it back. At one point, Warner Bros. agreed to pay them a five-figure annual stipend just to stop suing.
The Superman Curse
The plight of Siegel and Shuster is believed to be the reason terrible things keep happening to guys who play Superman: Kirk Alyn “couldn’t get another job” afterward, George Reeves died mysteriously at age 45, and Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. Brandon Routh seems to be okay, but someone should keep an eye on Henry Cavill, just in case.
Top image: Warner Bros.