It’s SUPERMAN’s 85th ANNIVERSARY: To be (Superboy) or not to be — that is the question (one of ’em, at least)…
Superman turns 85 on April 18 — the date Action Comics #1 was released in 1938. To celebrate the Man of Steel, we have a lineup of groovy new material and a couple of favorites from the vaults that we are running across several days through the anniversary. Check the links at the bottom of this column by Digging for Kryptonite podcaster Anthony Desiato. Up, up and away! — Dan
I think a bit of an intro to Anthony Desiato’s column is in order here. With Superman’s 85th anniversary upon us, we decided to something a little different to celebrate — ask YOU what you think makes the perfect Superman, at least in terms of his origin and heritage. Anthony had the idea of coming up with 13 QUESTIONS for you to answer to get your take on which Man of Steel works for you.
So check out the column and we encourage you to write your answers in the comments below. We really want to hear from you. (Feel free to add your age too because that’s often an indicator of why you voted the way you did.)
Up, up and away! Here’s Anthony:
By ANTHONY DESIATO
In the Season 8 premiere of Smallville, John Jones describes Clark’s tale as an “impossible odyssey.” It’s one we’ve seen play out continuously across time and media — perhaps not quite as frequently as we’ve had to watch poor Martha Wayne’s pearls spilling onto the cold pavement, but still — from Jor-El’s miracle Hail Mary pass across the stars to Jonathan Kent’s unbelievably perfect catch, and beyond.
Whether the origin lasts one page (Action Comics #1 or Grant Morrison and Frank Quietely’s sublime, elemental opening to All-Star Superman), 12 issues (Superman: Birthright), 2-plus hours (Superman: The Movie), or 10 years (the aforementioned Smallville), the Superman origin story remains eternally compelling and ripe for reinvention and discussion.
In fact, I devoted two of the earliest installments of the Digging for Kryptonite podcast — which celebrates its 100th episode on April 25 — to chronicling the evolution of the origin story throughout comics, radio, animation, television, and film.
Fun fact: The original (it was later redone) radio show origin in 1940 put a rather odd spin on the familiar story, with Kal-El aging to adulthood in the rocket and emerging, fully formed, as Superman. He immediately rescues a young child and his father, who suggests that Superman should disguise himself as a reporter and call himself Clark Kent. And that’s it! Perhaps not surprisingly, that version never cemented. Similarly, Clark’s upbringing in an orphanage, established in 1938’s Action Comics #1, was quickly jettisoned in favor of the Kents by the time 1939’s Superman #1 rolled around.
Nevertheless, in between the firmly entrenched tentpoles of the rocket escaping destruction and that eventual shirt rip, many details have been added, changed, deleted, and reinserted over 85 years as times, tastes, and talent have shifted. But what is the “perfect” version of the Superman origin story? Your answers to the following questions, just like mine, are probably informed (at least in part) by the eras and stories that forged you as Superman fans. The better question, I suppose, is what is your perfect Superman origin? Have at it!
Here are 13 QUESTIONS to answer in BUILDING THE PERFECT SUPERMAN:
1. Born on Krypton or Earth? In addition to reconceiving Krypton as cold and sterile instead of warm and adventurous, John Byrne’s post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot also established that Kal-El departed the planet in a “birthing matrix” and wasn’t actually born until he arrived on Earth. While this change (since discarded) was in keeping with Byrne’s overall emphasis on Superman’s humanity during this era, it robbed us of the affecting scene of Jor-El and Lara physically placing their baby in the rocket.
QUESTION: What do you prefer to see on Superman’s figurative birth certificate?
2. Krypton’s Destruction: Natural Event or Villainous Plot? Throughout the many tellings of the origins, Krypton’s death by natural disaster — most often tied to the planet’s core or long-term fallout from Krypton’s past conflicts or policies — imbues the story with a mythic feel and scope (and also serves as a cautionary environmental tale). Superman: The Animated Series walked the line with the notion that Brainiac conspired to prevent Krypton from learning of its impending doom, making him complicit in failing to save the planet but not necessarily for its destruction.
Then, along came Brian Michael Bendis in 2018 with the reveal that Krypton was actually killed, its destruction purposely brought about by Rogol Zaar and sanctioned by an intergalactic council. Clever twist, or a clear-as-day example of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?
QUESTION: Did Krypton die of natural causes or was there something nefarious?
3. Rocket Ship GPS? In most depictions, Jor-El and Lara aim the rocket for Earth, but some versions give the ship an even more specific target. The opening pages of Byrne’s Man of Steel, for example, show that Jor-El has earmarked a “subsection called Kansas.” Smallville, meanwhile, goes even further, revealing that a young Jor-El went on a walkabout to Earth years earlier and actually hand-selected the Kent family. Too much? Even for this diehard Smallville fan, I’m afraid so.
QUESTION: Landing in Smallville — an accident or pre-ordained?
4. Superbaby? I’m torn here: The bit with Clark lifting the Kents’ truck after emerging from the rocket is iconic. The notion of Superbaby flying around the farm all the time? Not so much. How about we split the difference? Give him enough power for the truck lift, but let his full power set emerge gradually.
QUESTION: Superbaby — in costume or not — yea or nay?
5. Last Son of Krypton — or Last Survivor? Supergirl? Krypto? Beppo?!
QUESTION: Is Superman the only survivor of Krypton’s explosion — or did a whole coterie of other Kryptonians make it out alive as well?
6. Krypton 101? At this point, the Kents revealing the ship to Clark as he comes of age is an indelible part of the story, but how and when should he learn the full extent of his alien origins? Stories like Secret Origin or S:TAS hand him everything right away in a handy, if disorienting, Kryptonian download, while the movies and Birthright send him on far more of a quest to find the answers he seeks. Byrne’s Man of Steel and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman don’t even reveal these answers to him until after he’s Superman. What’s the sweet spot in your version?
QUESTION: When should Clark learn of his Kryptonian heritage?
7. The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy? Admittedly, Clark’s Pre-Crisis past as Superboy is the aspect of the character I’ve struggled with most, and Geoff Johns’s reinstatement of that piece – twice, no less, first in Secret Origin and again in Doomsday Clock — remains a sore spot.
While I am all for superheroics in Smallville, I tend to prefer more of a blue shirt/red jacket ensemble than a full-on costume. After all, Superman: The Movie, Smallville, Man of Steel, and more conditioned me to view the donning of the costume as a final, graduation-level event, and the concept of Superboy only seems to undermine it.
Nevertheless, I cannot deny the appeal of Clark as Superboy or what those Pre-Crisis stories added to the mythology. Is there room for Superboy in your perfect origin?
QUESTION: Superboy — yes or no?
8. Lex in Smallville? This one has been a bit of a roller coaster for me. When I started watching Smallville as a highschooler in the early ’00s, Lex’s inclusion in Clark’s adolescence was a (welcome) departure from the stories I grew up reading and watching, where the two men always met as instantly adversarial adults.
Delving more into the history, of course, revealed Lex’s Silver and Bronze Age time in Smallville and the reason for his animosity toward Superboy and Superman: his baldness, which he blamed on his nemesis. Smallville thankfully added greater depth and nuance to the broken friendship between the two future enemies, although subsequent attempts to incorporate this into the comics (Birthright and Secret Origin in particular) kept Lex’s tenure in Smallville brief, and adult Lex either didn’t remember or refused to acknowledge it.
It’s still early days on the new status quo between Clark and Lex vis-à-vis the secret identity, but the current Super-titles seem poised to mine their complicated history in a meaningful way. Do you find their doomed friendship to be “the stuff of legend,” as Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex once foretold?
QUESTION: Lex Luthor meets Superman as a teen in Smallville or as an adult in Metropolis?
9. The Kents: Dead or Alive? This child of the ’90s, who grew up with Clark seeking counsel from his folks on the farm in the Triangle Era comics, on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and in S:TAS will always vote for keeping Ma and Pa Kent around. Nevertheless, even I can’t deny the power of Clark at Pa’s grave in Superman: The Movie. Do you see value in the Kents living, or do you prefer one or both of their deaths as a critical catalyst for Clark leaving the farm and embracing his destiny?
QUESTION: Jonathan and Martha Kent — dead or alive?
10. Who Makes the Suit? The suit being a Kryptonian product bestowed by Jor-El (a la in the movies) probably makes the most rational sense, but there’s no beating, “Thanks, my mom made it,” is there?
QUESTION: Who made Superman’s suit — Kryptonian Dad or Earth Mom?
11. “It’s not an S.” Or is it? What meaning do you prefer for the symbol Clark wears as Superman: an English letter “S,” family crest, symbol for hope, Kryptonian flag, or some combination?
QUESTION: What does the “S” stand for?
12. Journalism: Passion or Convenience? Traditionally, Clark takes a job as a reporter because it’s a helpful cover, allowing him to be “in the middle of the action.” A few iterations (including Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Birthright, and American Alien) have made Clark’s passion and aptitude for journalism part of his character, even pre-superheroics. How important is it to you that Clark genuinely wants to be a reporter?
QUESTION: Clark Kent as journalist — a calling or a convenience?
13. Lois: Duped or Part of the Origin? The Clark-Lois-Superman triangle has been a quintessential component of the origin story for decades. However, potentially hot take: Recent entries such as Man of Steel and Smallville — where Lois still has a moment of revelation when she discovers what Clark can do, yet is involved from the start in the crafting of the dual identity — offer a refreshing update that respects Lois’s intelligence and obviates the need for Clark to perpetrate his ruse toward her. Do you hope to see this trend continue?
QUESTION: When does Lois learn Superman’s identity — if at all?
— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite SUPERMAN Influences. Click here.
— ACTION COMICS #309: The Issue That Sums Up SUPERMAN in the Silver Age. Click here.
Anthony Desiato is a documentarian, podcaster, and lifelong Superman fan. He hosts the Superman podcasts Digging for Kryptonite and Another Exciting Episode in the Adventures of Superman. His most recent documentary film, My Comic Shop Country, is out now on Amazon, Apple TV, and Tubi. Visit Flat Squirrel Productions for more film and podcast projects.
April 18, 2023
My canon for the Superman saga must include a Clark Kent Superboy. And I consider any medium outside the comics — whether it be radio, movies, or television — to be interpretations of the saga and not canon. However as far as the variations in comics are concerned, I think we could clear this up if we consider that we are looking at the Superman of different Earths. The introduction of different Earths really was genius, but it was all thrown away with COIE. That there woud be different Earths really explains why we would have a Superman prior to World War II and a Superman almost a century later. And by reworking Earths into “Earth Gold”, “Earth Silver”, “Earth Bronze”, etc., we could divide out the different approaches, similar but different casts, stories written that reflect the times, etc. Oh and that “How important is it to you that Clark genuinely wants to be a reporter?” question? Very important on the Gold, Silver, and Bronze Earths because of the times, but today there’s almost no such thing as journalism as it was know then. However making Clark Kent a blogger just doesn’t cut it somehow.
April 18, 2023
Wow, what a fascinating topic! Some answers I came to right away, some I don’t feel strongly either way, and some I need to think long and hard about. I hope to come back to this article with fully formed answers.
April 18, 2023
As much as I admire the purity of the concept of Superman as the sole Kryptonian survivor who dons the costume as a rite of passage to adulthood in Metropolis, I am a child of the 1970s. Some of my favorite comics of all time are Legion of Super-Heroes by Shooter/Swan, Bates/Cockrum/Grell, and Levitz/Giffen. And for me the John Byrne reboot just wrecked the Legion concept beyond all hope of repair. So, Superboy (and Kara Supergirl) need to stay. But I’ll trade you Beppo, Superbaby and the bottle city of Kandor for the mature relationship of Clark & Lois circa 1989-1992.
April 18, 2023
Wow, some great questions there. Very well thought out! As a kid who grew up on the Bronze Age comics (and Silver Age reprints), but preferred the movies over those comics, I ride a lot of these fences. I’ll play along!
1. Born on Krypton. The Kents are there to make him human, and to connect him to his humanity.
2. Natural disaster, but I like the STAS Brainiac swerve.
3. Accident…or fate!
4. A few bursts of power, such as lifting the truck in STM, but not powers all the time. As a parent, I can safely say no one would have survived that!
5. Initially, he thinks he’s the Last Son, but c’mon, you have to have Supergirl and Krypto at the very least!
6. Superman The Movie got this right…but don’t make the guy stay there for 12 years Jor-El!!!
7. I love a lot of Superboy comics, but ultimately, I agree it does take away from the moment he becomes Superman.
8. If they can go the Smallvile (TV series) route, then Lex being friends with Clark or Superboy works for me.
9. Alive! Byrne’s best contribution to the mythos.
10. Martha! And, I would argue, she made it in Superman The Movie. Look at Clark’s backpack when he opens it up to get the green crystal, to make the Fortress. His suit is in there!
11. It being some element of Kryptonian history allows him to wear it initally without being boastful enough to call HIMSELF “Superman”. I like it when Lois puts it together and names him.
12. I like it better as a true passion.
13. I think it works better for everyone if Lois learns pretty early in his career.
April 19, 2023
@Chris Franklin – Absolutely 100 percent agree with all of this. I lean a little more into the Brainiac destroys Krypton, tho.
April 18, 2023
Okay, I’ll bite. As you know, I could go on at tremendous length about every single answer I give here, but in brief:
1) Born on Krypton. Being “born” on Earth always felt like a desperate have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too overcomplication. Also, the clumsy effort to close the door on Krypton and bolt it shut so we never have to refer to it robs the franchise of a whole avenue of potentially good stories.
2) NATURAL EVENT. For Christ’s sake, this is a no-brainer. One of the things that makes Superman’s and Supergirl’s origins refreshing is that they’re not based on *the single most overused comics origin cliche,* Orphan Revenge. Putting a face on Krypton’s destruction taints that origin by introducing an element of vengeance that doesn’t belong. It makes Jor-El an idiot. And at the very least it would have to–have to–upend Kara’s motivations and overall mission since she’s the one who actively remembers that world.
3) While in BIRTHRIGHT I thought it was poetic that Jor-El and Lara had no idea at all where the rocket might land up or if Kal would even survive, I’m good with Earth being the general target.
4) I’m likewise good with Kal’s powers gradually increasing rather than being 100% manifest as a toddler.
5) Having other Kryptonian survivors doesn’t diminish Superman. Okay, a monkey is a bridge too far, but we have to look at what each survivor adds to Superman rather than “subtracts” from him. Kandor gives him a window into a world that could have been. Supergirl (considering her origin) reminds Superman in his darkest, most hopeless moments that survival is always an option. Etc. I could go on.
6) See BIRTHRIGHT.
7) I’m 100% down with a costumed Superboy, though I’m not sure I’d want him to be much more than a local rumor.
8) See BIRTHRIGHT.
9) Dead Dead Dead Dead Dead Dead Dead Dead Dead. One of the constant howling criticisms by non-Superman fans is that nothing can hurt him and nothing can happen to him. I argue that every hero needs some tragedy in their life somewhere, especially for someone who’s physically invulnerable, and Superman above all needs the reminder that even he can’t do everything. Plus, I’ve always felt it diminishes Superman’s sense of authority, autonomy, maturity and presence every time he flies home to mommy and daddy to get advice and a piece of fucking rhubarb pie.
10) Ma makes the suit. The crest is Clark’s idea. See BIRTHRIGHT.
11) Come ON.
12) Convenience that becomes passion as Clark gradually comes to understand how being a reporter can make Clark a force for good as well as Superman.
13) I could write 100,000 words on why the love triangle between two people is critical to the overall concept of Superman. For those who complain that keeping the secret somehow makes Superman “a liar,” I will remind you (a) that there is a difference between secrecy and privacy, and (b) Superman’s situation is unique and is more (though not totally) akin to being closeted than to secretly being a bigamist or a cheat. Intent matters. Without having Clark as a filter, Superman can never completely trust that people–even those closest to him–are being *themselves* around *him.* Moreover, his dual identity is (or should be) one of the world’s biggest secrets, and handing that heavy a secret to someone places a gargantuan burden upon them. Also, and I make this point in upcoming stories, in my world and whenever I’m writing, Clark will never look someone dead in the eye and say, flatly, “No, I’m not Superman.” He’ll just notice a sprinkler system or wastepaper basket with his heat vision.
April 18, 2023
Don’t begrudge the rhubarb pie.
April 19, 2023
Right?! Mark lost me at rhubarb pie….. especially with strawberries. Mmmmmm.
April 18, 2023
There’s so much to think about. I find myself preferring some of the original concepts (Superman leaving Krypton as a baby, for example. It makes him an immigrant in the widest sense and it’s probably one reason he was so popular when he debuted, there being so many children of immigrants among the readers.) and some of the new ones (I think there can be too many survivors of Krypton. I also don’t miss the days of Lois trying to learn his real identity.)
Not That Joe raised a couple of good points. I think DC missed a better way to reboot its characters by establishing another earth, allowing more modern takes without the Silver Age versions being discarded. He also may have a point about Clark being a reporter. Julius Schwartz said he tried to update him by making him a TV news reporter but it wasn’t practical for Clark to appear live before cameras so much. What would be a good occupation for Clark now? Something outside of journalism that would allow him freedom to get around?
April 18, 2023
I prefer a simpler Superman, something deconstructed down to the core elements of the character, without a lot of the detritus that other people like (like Superboy, Kandor, various colored Kryptonite, mad scientist Luthor, etc.) but which I feel clutters up the concept. So my favorites are
— John Byrne’s 1986 reboot (especially the original six-issue Man of Steel mini-series)
— Zack Snyder’s Justice League Trilogy
— Tom DeHaven’s It’s Superman! prose novel
— The Max Fleischer cartoons
— Darwyn Cooke’s version of the character in DC: The New Frontier
Bruce Timm’s (and company’s) interpretation of the character throughout the DCAU deserves an honorable mention, but I just think that iteration was just too sprawling and would have been better and much stronger if about 75% of the episodes had been eliminated (and if the TMS studio had handled all of the animation).
April 18, 2023
1. Born on Krypton. I never liked the weird Matrix stuff.
2. Natural event. I actually like idea where Kryptonians were the cause of their own demise.
3. Landing in Smallville was an accident. This is what makes Red Son so great.
4. Superbaby happened. Why not?
5. Superman is NOT the last survivor of Krypton. Gotta love Krypto.
6. Clark NEEDS to travel the world, Zack Snyder style.
7. Superboy happened. End of discussion.
8. Lex being in Smallville is just TOO silly for me. That being said, Birthright does a great job handling the Lex in Smallville concept. But, it’s still a no.
9. The Kents… LIVE! Who’s going to raise Supergirl?
10. MARTHA KENT MADE THAT SUIT, GOD BLESS HER SOUL!!!!!!
11. S is for Superman. HOPE STARTS WITH AN “H”, STUPID!!!!
12. Clark has to LOVE being a journalist. Otherwise, why am I invested with what goes on at the Daily Planet?
13. This is the toughest one for me. Lois should be smart enough to figure it out early on, but I love the idea that Clark has to constantly avoid Lois’ snooping around. I’m going to have to go with Lois doesn’t know. (Also, I have a theory that Clark wears magic glasses that make people not recognize him )
April 18, 2023
1. Krypton. Anything else is semantics.
2. Natural causes, though I don’t mind the STAS approach that Brainiac allowed it to happen.
3. Jor-El sent him to Earth because of its properties. But that’s the extent of it.
4. No Superbaby but I do say Clark had powers as a baby that strengthened and diversified as he grew.
5. I lean heavily toward Last Survivor, with the exception of the Phantom Zone villains because that still tracks. (That said, Supergirl is too big a part of the family to dispense with. And I do love Krypto, because who doesn’t? Makes no sense, though.)
6. I think Superman: The Movie nailed that one.
7. No Superboy, but see #4.
8. Lex in Metropolis all the way. 100 percent. Anything else stretches credulity too far, even for comics.
9. I love his parents being alive. Great storytelling and character development potential. Still, Jonathan having a heart attack and Clark being unable to save him is very moving and a lesson in his limitations. No reason to kill off Martha too, though.
10. “My Mom made it for me” is too good a line. How she made it from his blanket, I don’t know.
11. In my head, “S” is for Superman. I know it’s an antiquated idea and it doesn’t really fit the character, but that’s my knee-jerk response. I’m willing to go with the “S” being an El family crest, though.
12. Both a passion and a convenience — although in reality, journalism is a really, really inconvenient job for Superman, because believe me, you cannot go disappear on an editor. I like the George Reeves approach that Clark investigates where Superman can’t and vice versa.
13. Lois learns it pretty much they way they did it in the ’90s. But I also like the idea that she knew from the first minute and has just been messing with him this whole time. Because, really, if she loves Superman and finds out his secret, she’s NOT going to publish it. She’ll protect him.
April 19, 2023
Dan, re: #10. If memory serves me right, she un-weaved the blanket and Clark used his supervision to help “cut” the thread. The cloth was resistant to ordinary fire, scissors, etc.
April 18, 2023
OK, I’m ready, I think.
1. Kal-El was born on Krypton. I already discussed why in my previous post.
2. I have no strong opinion about Krypton’s destruction. If a villain or villains engineered it, Jor-El can still bring it to the attention of council who, through their pride, ignore him. (You’ll find more than a few compromises in my responses.)
3. Sure, Kal-El’s spaceship can have some form of GPS and Jor-El can have some knowledge of Kansas. It seems a bit random for Jor-El and Lara to send him out into space hoping he’ll land somewhere safe. If he had time to build a spaceship, shouldn’t he have had time to plan the flight?
4. Superman’s powers have developed over time. Otherwise, he could have accidentally harmed someone as a child. Also, that allowed him to grow up somewhat normal.
5. Superman should be the only survivor, or at least one of a small number of survivors, of Krypton. But remember: Superman writers of the 90s found ways to introduce Superman family characters without their being from Krypton.
6. Superman’s knowledge of Krypton could have come both through information Jor-El put in the ship and Superman’s own exploration.
7. I don’t want to give up Superboy. How about this: he’s part of the alternate Silver Age earth I mentioned in my earlier post? Then the Legion of Super-Heroes can inhabit that same earth without conflicting with the future of new modern versions of DC’s characters.
8. Lex having lived in Smallville has always been too coincidental for me. But he doesn’t have to be from Metropolis either. I didn’t find him very interesting as a ruthless millionaire.
9. Pa Kent has died, bringing home to Superman that he can’t save everyone. But Ma Kent is alive and he visits her often. It’s a reminder of his small-town background and family values.
10. Why wouldn’t Lara pack some clothing for her baby and if so, why not some in adult sizes? Perhaps the Superman suit is a combination of them, (The cape could be his baby blanket, for example.), and the idea of using them could be Ma Kent’s.
11. Sure, the S can represent something from Krypton (Perhaps it was part of his spaceship.), but it gives Lois the idea to call him Superman.
12. As I said earlier, perhaps it’s time for Clark to take another job. But what?
13. Initially Lois doesn’t know Clark’s secret, but she’s too smart not to have realized at some point.
By the way, back in Superman 330, we were told Superman uses a form of hypnotism that causes him to appear different to those around him. Here’s a link: https://www.progressiveruin.com/2004/03/02/now-do-you-believe-im-clark-kent/
I don’t know if I buy it, though.
Thanks for the fun post.
April 18, 2023
1. I have always preferred the idea of Kal-El having been born on Krypton.
2. Krypton’s destruction works best as a natural disaster that Jor-El cannot convince others to take seriously.
3. I liked how this was handled in Superman: The Movie; Earth was predetermined location—but Smallville, Kansas, was not specified.
4. Some of Clark’s powers may start to develop in childhood, but no Superbaby, please. That said, some stories of Clark’s childhood would not go unappreciated.
5. For me, Last Son; Supergirl’s a personal favorite of mine.
6. I like how Superman: The Movie dealt with Clark’s discovery of his Kryptonian heritage—but twelve years is a bit too long.
7. As a Legion fan, I need a Superboy, and if I’m honest, I read Superboy comics as a kid before I read Superman comics.
8. I like Lex Luthor as a Metropolis-born and -bred bad guy. I like how he’s become a combination of the scientist and the CEO.
9. Long live the Kents!
10. Ma Kent made the costume!
11. I like the chest-shield as an “S” but have no problem with its symbolizing the House of El that gets interpreted as an “S.”
12. In my mind, Clark Kent loves being a journalist.
13. I like Lois knowing Superman’s secret identity. Honestly, I really like them as a married couple.
April 18, 2023
1. Born on Krypton (Obviously): A lot of what John Byrne changed may have made more “sense” than a lot of the Silver Age tales, but denying Jor-El and Lara the all-too brief joy of seeing their son grow just seems cruel.
2. Natural Destruction of Krypton (Obviously): It wasn’t broke, so don’t try and fix it. I mean, in 2023 science denial is more real than ever, am I right? A planet exploding because no one believed their top scientist is practically torn from today’s headlines!
3. Rocket Ship GPS? Ehhhh, I kind of like the idea of Jor-El having *some* idea of where he was sending his only child. Even though I’m not American and have never been to Kansas, I also kind of like the idea that Jor-El chose Kansas as the “heart” of the country Kal-El was being sent to. Geographically speaking, you know? Hello? Is this thing on?
4. Superbaby? Will I allow the thought of a super-powered baby in a blue shirt and red shorts making trouble? Yes, yes I will. Like, I wouldn’t want him joining the Legion of Justice Toddlers (or do I?), but just enough hijinx is fine by me.
5. Last Son of Krypton? Even with Supergirl, Beppo, Krypto and whoever else shows up…even everyone in Kandor…Kal-El truly *is* the Last Son of Krypton, and none of the above negates that…so bring ’em on!
6. Krypton 101? I feel like the Kents should tell them what they know when Clark is an appropriate age, then have him discover things over the years, like layers of an onion. Information dumps are just that…dumps.
7. Superboy? Sure, why not? All you would have to do for it to be ‘acceptable’ in modern canon is to have Superboy be operating kind of in secret around Smallville, etc. Any and all of his Legion adventures would be fine as well, since they’re thousands of years in his future…and I love that this super-powered boy has some friends he can hang out with and be himself. His graduation to Superman would be when he fully revealed himself to the world.
8. Lex in Smallville? Look, I was always a fan of the “you made me bald!” secret origin of Luthor. It’s deep-fried gold. The older I get…and the more hair I lose…I understand his rage! I also kind of love that older Luthor refuses to admit he ever spent time there, so as with most things on this list, the perfect Luthor takes a little from column A, and a little from column B.
9. The Kents? This is probably the toughest one for me. As much as I’m a Superman purist, I love that (post-Crisis) his parents have been there for him, but then again…wow, what a lesson for him for them to die just as he beings his journey to adulthood. Being the most powerful man in the universe and being unable to stop two sets of parents from dying? Yeah, that gets me right in the feels.
10. Who made the suit? Ma Kent is the only rational answer…which goes along with…
11. ..The ‘S’! I like to think it’s some sort of family crest Ma Kent appropriates for the costume that gets misinterpreted as an ‘S’ by the media, who then names him Superman.
12. Journalism? For me it’s all about putting Clark Kent in the middle of the action, and the reporting is just a happy accident. It’s not that he doesn’t also enjoy it…but yeah.
13. Lois – duped? Yes, she should have no clue that Clark Kent is Superman, and it goes without saying that there should be no marriage or children. I’ll never be convinced that this decision was made for any other reason than pure laziness…but I digress. I know these days it’s a hot topic to say that Lois not knowing Clark is Superman is misogynistic, but hey, consider this: Perry White didn’t know either!
April 19, 2023
I was born in the mid-Fifties and anyone who has read my Silver Age pieces will know where (or should I say “when”) my Superman preferences are:
1. Krypton. The entire John Byrne reboot was a mistake and an insult to what came before.
2. Krypton exploding was a natural event.
3. I go with landing near the Kents as a fortunate (for the world) event, nor a scientific determination by Jor-El. Let’s not forget that Jor-El planned to build a rocket big enough for the family but didn’t have that chance when the planet reached it quicker than expected ending. The smaller rocket for Kal-El was a test rocket.
4. I like that he received as a babe his powers under the yellow sun but had to learn how to harness them under the tutelage of Pa Kent.
5. Though it seemed like everyone from Krypton survived, except Jor-El and Lara,I like those stories because it was part of the Superboy/Superman Silver Age mythos I grew up with.
6. Definitely not a download. He learned his origin due to exposure of Green K.
7. Definitely Superboy all the way.
8. Well, Lex in Smallville. Sure I know that Superman met Lex as adults in the Golden Age, but I prefer him being first in Smallville as opposed to the Byrne grown evil rich businessman.
9. Both adoptive parents passed on.
10. Ma Kent.
11. It’s a “S”! Not a family symbol. If I could keep anything from the Superman movie with Reeve…it’s Reeve. Everything else…no.
12. I like that Clark wanted to be a reporter because he liked to write and was interested in people. Not because he could keep track of everyone from there. Let’s not forget many of America’s greatest writers started in small towns.
13. I cannot dismiss all the years of Lois trying to prove his double identity, but I prefer she finally fell in love with Clark before he learned for a fact that he was Superman. The romantic in me.
Thanks for the quiz.
April 19, 2023
The comments about Superboy remind me that I’ve wondered if he was a more popular character than modern readers assume. DC always found ways to keep him around. When they separated him from the Legion, he got his own book. When that ended, he often headlined Superman Family. When that ended, he got his own book again. When the TV show was on, they produced a non-canon comic based on it. Perhaps Paul Kupperberg can shed some light on this.
April 19, 2023
I wonder if copyrights were the reason. As I recall, Jerry Siegel (or at least his lawyers) believed he had an even stronger case for recapturing the copyright to Superboy than he did for Superman. So DC needed to keep a character with that name in print, just to make sure there was no question they were using the character and acting as if they owned it.
April 19, 2023
OK, I had to think about a few things on this list. I was born in ’79, so even though I “read” Superman comics before I could even read (there are pictures of me as a toddler running around in a blue pajamas with a red cape), I always think of the post-Crisis Superman as “my” Superman. I remember Crisis coming out when I was around 5 or 6, so when the Man of Steel mini came out, it was really the first exposure I had to his origin that felt like it was for me. That said, I think that if I had my druthers, I wouldn’t do everything the same way.
1. Born on Krypton. I think having that connection to Lara and Jor-El is important. It makes their sacrifice even more heartbreaking. They weren’t just trying to save a legacy of their world, but rather their SON.
2. Natural causes. I hate, hate, HATE when they suggest that Krypton was destroyed through nefarious means. The idea of these super-scientists being so caught up in their own hubris is such a cautionary tale.
3. Landed on Earth is pre-ordained, but not necessarily Kansas, and definitely not the Kents specifically.
4. No Superbaby. I like the idea of him having some powers, but the rest of them gradually emerging. It kind of follows his own real world trajectory. When he first appeared, he didn’t have all the fancy abilities he has now (flight, enhanced senses, heat vision, etc.), so having those things appear over time makes sense to me.
5. Not the only survivor, but definitely not as many Kryptonians as there were in the Silver Age. Superman, Supergirl, Krypto, the Phantom Zone villains. After that, it’s diminishing returns, and dilutes the specialness of Superman.
6. He learns his Kryptonian heritage slowly as he grows and quests to find answers. But an important part of this is that he NEVER knows the whole truth. He is always searching for more. Its part of the tragedy that he never gets to really feel Kryptonian, and is always searching for that aspect of himself.
7. Superboy, yes – to an extent. I like the idea of him learning how to use his powers while spending time in the future with the Legion. But in the present day, he would be more circumspect about using his powers. And definitely not known world over. He should be a Smallville urban myth.
8. No Lex in Smallville. Having both Lex and Clark come from the same small town stretches things a bit to far for me. I really like the Post-Crisis interpretation where he is a scheming businessman who is threatened by Superman’s encroachment on “his” territory of most powerful man on Earth.
9. Marth alive, Jonathan dead. This one is tough. I like the idea of him having his parents alive because not everything in his life needs to be tragedy. He’s not Batman. But he needs the impetus to go out and find his own way that Pa’s death affords him. Having Ma at home still gives him some grounding.
10. Ma makes the suit. Period. End of story.
11. It’s an “S”. It isn’t a family crest or a Kryptonian glyph, or anything else. “S” stands for Superman. The fact that it is known the galaxy over is a testament to his feats and deeds, not because he is piggybacking off of others.
12. Journalism is a passion. Even if Clark were to hang up the cape, he would still feel the drive to help people, and to find the truth. He is a natural journalist because he has a inquisitive nature. I also love the idea of him being more than superpowers. Being a reporter gives him smarts, too.
13. Lois knows the secret, eventually. I don’t think he spills it to her right away. I like the idea of her falling in love with Clark Kent and her thing for Superman is a pie-in-the-sky fancy. I don’t think he should go to ridiculous lengths to prove he isn’t Superman (like he does in the Silver Age to Lois and Lana), but it should be special when he finally lets her in on his secret.
That is what I would do, if I were in charge. Make of it what you will! Thanks for the thought exercise!
April 28, 2023
You and Peter Bosch above are spot on with #13, with one caveat – Clark shouldn’t take the relationship with Lois to the next level (sleeping together or marriage) until Lois knows who he truly is. The comics and Lois & Clark had him doing otherwise, and from a dramatic standpoint, the stories rightly showed how his mistake caused tension in the relationship.
April 19, 2023
I strongly feel that much about the Superman mythos depends on what ERA he is put into…many of these suggestions work great, depending on WHERE he is put. Like, for example, The Bat-man from 1939 doesn’t work now, because a careful reading reveals a bent toward defending wealthy industrialist males and rich society types….whereas Early Superman is a SJW (of his era). Superman is truly a cultural chimera, able to be placed in any era depending on the focus he is given. Great suggestions, all!
April 21, 2023
1. Born on Krypton
Without a doubt, this is a necessary element.
2. Krypton’s Destruction – the dying RED sun and its pull against the world’s core, causing its destruction. Leave Brainiac alone to steal Kandor.
3. Earth was picked by Jor-L. Kansas and the Kents were fate. I’m all for a rocket ship but, please, one without a glass panel. That makes zero sense.
4. Superbaby – he must charge under the Earth’s sun. Powers should manifest slowly. I would not have anything tied to a strong gravity on Kryton or, have the Kryptonians have any enhanced abilities Pure yellow sun.
5. I’m fine with some form of Argo City. So, Supergirl is a yes. Krypto makes sense…even the USSR started with a dog. Any other animals, I guess if they escape from the Bottle City are okay.
6. Krypton 101 – knowing he’s adopted since early birth is okay. The ship says alien and once powers start to manifest it clear. Once Supergirl shows up, Krypton’s history is learned.
7. Adventures of Superboy – How could you have both Clark and Superboy from the same small Kansas town? I can live without a Superboy but if you must, it needs be more myth.
8. Lex in Smallville – doesn’t work. Hair loss seems like a horrible reason to resent Supes. I like Lex thinking he’s all that until Superman shows up and steals his thunder. I’m okay with how he was portrayed post-Bryne but you need to keep the mad scientist angle.
9. Kents dead – I think it makes the origin and motivation too much in line with other heroes. Keep both or just mom….I’m good either way. Just don’t use Synder’s idea of Pa.
10. Ma makes the suit. Material can be more rugged but can’t be enhanced from the yellow sun like Clark.
11. The shield – it’s a “S”. Ma Kent adds it after Lois names him in the paper. I would also have Superman known as “Kal”. Where he lives is a mystery. But who says you need to assume he has a secret identity?
12. Reporter – passion or convenience? I like that Clark has a passion. Journalism is a good one and works with his schedule. TV talking head of the ’70s just doesn’t work. That would be a nightmare on keeping a schedule.
13. Lois duped or not – constantly trying to expose him doesn’t work. It’s silly and makes for a horrible way to show you love someone. Let her figure it out slowly. What she does with the knowledge is part of her story.
14. I’m adding this one. Era modern or past? I think comic heroes work best in the 1930s. There’s a reason it’s called the Golden Age.
Now when do we get to The Bat-Man?
April 27, 2023
Love the article. I’m in my 50s and have fond memories of seeing the first Superman movie when it premiered. Here we go:
1. Krypton. Byrne’s idea seems like as a mere technicality, and from my perspective, Superman’s humanity stems from his upbringing, not his place of birth. Either way, it echoes the Moses story. Aside: if James Gunn were to ask me, and I’m sure he’s checking his phone every five minutes for my call, I would suggest he give the Christ allegories a rest as overdone.
2. Natural event. The cautionary environmental tale does indeed give the story a mythic feel.
3. America or Kansas is appropriate. It provides some uncertainty for Jor-El and Lara about their son’s future.
5. Prefer that the only other survivor is Kara. Her memory of Krypton and her trying to adjust to Earth life provide a good contrast with her cousin, who thinks of himself as human.
6. Prefer the quest approach of the movies and Birthright.
7. Never liked Superboy. During the Silver Age, Lana was an even more annoying version of that era’s Lois, another target of Clark’s gaslighting about his secret. The only plus was having his parents as confidants, something that Smallville more fully developed.
8. Absolutely. Smallville and the doomed friendship gave us an excellent origin for Lex. Not just the essay in extreme parenting, as Gough and Millar described Lionel versus Jonathan and Martha, but also the gaslighting by Clark and later Chloe. Totally makes sense that the controlling upbringing and thrnlies would drive him over the edge.
9. Undecided between both living and just Martha living. Both have been done well.
10. I vote for the Birthright approach – Martha finding inspiration in the images from Krypton.
11. Family crest like on Smallville. In my household I’ve been calling it the House of El sigil.
12. Passion. The Triangle era had it right – journalism was an arena where Superman could excel without his powers. Plus it strengthens the bond with Lois.
13. My favorite approach is where Lois figures out Clark’s secret on her own, like the journalist that she is – Lois & Clark and Smallville.
I would add a 14th aspect for building the perfect Superman. Carstonio’s Relationship Ethics for Superheroes – one should propose sexual or marital relations only with a civilian who knows one’s other identity, especially if one is an alien or an enhanced human. The Triangle Era and Lois & Clark flunked the test, and the latter had the great line from Lois about Clark waiting until their kids started flying around the house. Smallville passed the test.