Created in 1938, “Superman" was the first-ever superhero. Sometimes, in life, in sports, or in the arts, the "first" is succeeded by newcomers and it's popularity is eclipsed and surpassed. Not so with the Man of Steel. Superman remains, after three-quarters of a century, the most popular and beloved superhero the world over. (Superman placed #1 on IGN’s “Top 100 Comic Book Heroes" list in 2011.)
Superman’s #1 status remains intact and this indisputable fact remains true, despite the appearance over the intervening years of Batman, Robin, Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Captains Marvel and America, the Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, and countless others. Okay, let's take a look at a few things you may not have known about Superman.
*Created in 1938 by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-American artist Joe Shuster, Superman is generally acknowledged to be the very first "superhero.”
In fact, the term is derived from Superman. Although we commonly refer to superheroes as "superheroes", before superman, heroes were ordinarily called "mystery men" or "masked heroes.”
* He was originally a villain.
(Image credit: Joe Shuster)
In 1933, Siegel and Shuster had initially created a bald, telepathic villain bent on dominating the world in a short story called “The Reign of the Super-Man.” This "bad guy" version of Superman appeared in science fiction #3, a fanzine Siegel published. Siegel re-envisioned the character later that year as a hero, bearing no resemblance to his villainous namesake.
* Action Comics #1 (the debut of Superman) is the most prized comic book in history.
Only four comics have ever sold for $1 million dollars. Two of the four are Action Comics #1.
* Superman almost never made it into the public consciousness.
The comics creators, Siegel and Shuster, had actually been pitching the comic to various newspapers for years and had pretty much given up hope. DC comics editor Vin Sullivan actually dug the story out of a slush pile and decided to run it as a secondary story in Action Comics #1. Despite the fact that he wasn't even the lead story, Superman was featured on the cover of the comic (shown lifting up a car). Superman caught on like wildfire and quickly outsold practically every other comic book DC comics had sold up to that time.
* Who was Kent Taylor?
Superman's alter ego is, as we all know, Clark Kent. Clark Kent's name was derived from two movie actors: Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. Okay, everyone knows who Clark Gable is- the immortal Oscar-winning actor and star of Gone With The Wind (1939) as well as many other great films. But who the heck was Kent Taylor?
Kent Taylor actually appeared in over 100 movies, mostly in the 1930's, and mostly as a B-actor. his movie credits include I’m No Angel (1933) with Mae West. (Kent appeared in 14 films in 1932 alone.) In the 1950's, he switched over to television, doing guest spots on The Rifleman, My Little Margie, and Bat Masterson. He ended his career appearing in "slasher films" in the seventies, including Hell's Bloody Devils, I Spit On Your Corpse, Satan's Sisters, and Brain of Blood. Kent Taylor passed away in 1987 at the age of 79.
* Was Clark Kent pretending to be Superman or vice-versa?
The above question has been argued and debated by Superman fans since the inception of the comic. In fact, the question was often debated by the comics' creators. Siegel and Shuster, and various Superman artists and writers since then, have done comics with both themes.
* Clark Kent was based on Harold Lloyd.
Clark Kent's bespectacled, slightly nervous, insecure persona, was based, at least in part, on the classic silent movie comedian Harold Lloyd. Lloyd was probably the movie's first-ever "nerd": clumsy, fumbling, insecure with women, a ne'er-do-well who would always redeem himself in the end.
* Superman's stance was based on Douglas Fairbanks.
The classic Superman stance i.e. strong, confident, bold, hands clenched in fists and placed firmly on his hips, is derived from another legendary silent movie actor, swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks. Creators Siegel and Shuster were both huge movie fans and got the classic stance from Fairbanks' 1922 film Robin Hood.
* He originally couldn't fly.
The original Superman character was a bit different than the one we are all familiar with today. Originally, Superman ran at amazing speeds and could jump 1/8th of a mile. Superman first flew in action comics #35 (in april of 1941). This comic was also the first time Superman caught a plane in the air and carried it safely down to the ground.
* Metropolis was based on a film, too.
Superman's hometown Metropolis was also based on a silent film, Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis (1925).
* Jerry Siegel may have based Superman on the death of his father.
Although Siegel never stated the fact in any interviews himself, both Gerald Jones and Brad Meltzer (two famous comic book artists) share this theory. Jerry's father, Mitchell Siegel, was an immigrant who owned a clothing store in Cleveland. He died in a robbery in 1932, a year before Superman was created. “It had to have effected him,” says Jones, “There's a connection there: the loss of a dad as a course for Superman.”
Adds Meltzer: “Your father dies in a robbery and you invent a bulletproof man who becomes the world's greatest hero. I’m sorry, but there's a story there".