PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite SUPERMAN Influences 

SUPERMAN AT 85: The celebrated Mr. K pays homage to the hero who’s inspired him the most…

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. Up, up and away! — Dan


We learned in the 1976 Super DC Calendar that Kal-El’s birthday fell on February 29, Leap Year Day.

But Superman was really “born” on April 18, 1938, the day that Action Comics #1 hit the newsstands.

Every newborn, real or fictional, is unique, but this four-color baby was like nothing the world had ever seen before. It wasn’t the costume or his science fiction-based exploits or the use of a secret identity; by 1938, all were recognized tropes of a certain type of heroic fiction, from the Scarlet Pimpernel to the Phantom and Flash Gordon. What made Superman stand out wasn’t that he was a costumed hero with a secret identity. It was that Superman was a costumed superhero with a secret identity. Emphasis, he said redundantly, on the “super.”

The Man of Steel’s success was immediate and widespread. By January 1939, there was a Superman comic strip running in newspapers and a month later, The Adventures of Superman syndicated radio program was on the air and would stay there for 11 years. In 1941, you might see the Superman animated features from Paramount at your local movie theater, or buy a loaf of Superman bread at the grocer, fill your car with Superman gasoline, chew Superman bubblegum, or play with a Superman puzzle or wear Superman underwear or…

You get the idea. According to a 1941 Saturday Evening Post article, Superman was generating around $1.5 million a year (over $30 million in today’s dollars) for National, so much that the publisher had to set up a separate company to handle the licensing.

I began my relationship with Superman sometime around 1960. I might have seen the comic books before that, but my first conscious memory of the character is the 1940s Fleischer cartoons that ran on the kids show I watched on our 17-inch, black-and-white Philco TV just before bedtime. I eventually put two and two together—the grainy B&W figure on TV and the guy on the colorful comic book covers on the newsstand in Flemmy’s candy store around the corner were one and the same—and a lifelong bond was forged, one only strengthened when we found the 1950s The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves as Superman. Yes, Superman! Then in perpetual syndication throughout my childhood. Thank goodness!

Superman was a constant in my life. He was an anchor in an often unhappy childhood, a hero I could count on to take me out of my misery to someplace safe. I never thought I would be a superhero or even that one might swoop in to rescue me—my situation taught me quite early that reality had to be dealt with straight on—but diversion and imagination are powerful things. Eventually, my imagination led me to a career in comics where, against all odds, I grew up (well…) to write the adventures of Superman in comics, newspaper strips, online 3-D animation, and kids’ books.

I once wrote at some length about what Superman means to me and others who grew up in the mid-20th century watching the “thrill-packed Adventures of Superman” in syndication, so here then, in chronological order (though not the order I read them, as many were first read in reprints), MY 13 FAVORITE SUPERMAN INFLUENCES:

1. Superman #19 (Nov./Dec. 1942). This was meta before there was meta. It was heavy meta! Of course, I read the story in a 1960s era reprint, but “Superman, Matinee Idol” by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Ed Dobrotka still blew me away. The story has Clark and Lois going to see a movie about Superman during which Clark has to keep distracting her from the scenes where the movie reveals his secret identity! I mean… what? But at 11 or 12 years old, it was an early introduction to absurdity.

2. Action Comics #252 (May 1959). “The Supergirl from Krypton!” by Otto Binder and Al Plastino was another story I would discover later in reprint, shortly before the feature ended its long Action Comics run. But it would set me off collecting the feature until I owned the entire run and it made Kara Zor-El a favorite I stuck with through thick and thin. Years later, I would start a three-year run writing the Girl of Steel in Superman Family and The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl.

Swan and Plastino

3. Superman Annual #1 (Aug. 1960). Simply one of the greatest comic books ever published!

Swan and Kaye

4. Superman #141 (Nov. 1960). A seminal tale and another one that I would return to later when I wrote the 1979 World of Krypton miniseries. “Superman’s Return to Krypton!” was Siegel, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye.

Swan and Kaye

5. Superman #149 (Nov. 1961). Not a hoax! Not a dream! But The Death of Superman” by Siegel, Curt Swan and Sheldon Moldoff was an “Imaginary Story” that introduced this young reader to the heart and humanity of the comic book Man of Steel.

Swan and Kaye

6. Superman #158 (Jan. 1963). Superman and Jimmy Olsen shrink down to microscopic size to visit the bottle city of Kandor and learn the secret of “The Invasion of the Super-People,” by Edmond Hamilton, Swan and George Klein, and while they’re there, they assume the identities of Kandorian superheroes Nightwing and Flamebird. As a young reader, I loved their costumes and the look inside the bottle, and, once again, I would return to favorite characters of my youth when I wrote a Nightwing and Flamebird feature in Superman Family.

Swan and Klein

7. Superman #162 (July 1963). A classic by anybody’s definition, “The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue” by Leo Dorfman, Swan and Klein… and a story I got to pay homage to with a 1980s take (co-written by fellow original tale fan Bob Rozakis) for DC’s European publisher, Ehapa.

Kurt Schaffenberger

8. Superman #164 (October 1963). “The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman!” by Hamilton, Swan and Klein was the story that humanized Lex Luthor! Luthor challenges Superman to a “fair fight” on a planet with a red sun. Because it’s 1963, Superman accepts and yada yada yada Luthor ends up becoming a hero to the people of this planet (which they rename Lexor in his honor).

Swan and Klein

Once Luthor realizes he won’t be able to keep his promise to the drought-stricken world to find water, he throws the fight with Superman rather than stay and disappoint his followers (making Superman the world’s greatest enemy). A spark of goodness in otherwise unrelenting evil? Gasp! Choke! Were even comic-book characters more complicated than I thought?

9. World’s Finest #142 (June 1964). “The Composite Superman!” by Hamilton, Swan and Klein was the first story that made me conscious of how the broader DC Universe might be stitched together. While I got that Superman and Superboy were the same character at different times in his life, I don’t think I ever made the logical leap that Superman would therefore know (Have known? Will know?) the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Swan and Klein

But even that paled in comparison with the idea that this one character, imbued with all their powers, could kick the combined asses of Superman, Batman and Robin! And please note: The heroes don’t defeat Composite Superman; Superman Museum janitor Joe Meach’s lightning-strike-gained powers wore off before their final showdown.

10. Action Comics #314 (July 1964). “The Day Superman Became the Flash” by Hamilton and Plastino was something entirely new, very different from even the “Imaginary Stories” Superman editor Mort Weisinger was so fond of doing. This was a story of “what if?” scenarios posited by Superman’s dad Jor-El, who left enough posthumous messages for his son scattered around the universe to fill a library (and I point no fingers; I resorted to the same old hoary gimmick myself in the aforementioned World of Krypton miniseries).

Swan and Moldoff

This message, found by Aquaman (“while patrolling the sea bottom with Topo, my pet octopus!”) and presented to him along with fellow Justice League of America members Green Arrow, Flash, Atom and Batman, features a series of vignettes showing what the future might hold for baby Kal-El depending on the conditions of the world he ends up on after Krypton blows up.

One is a world of giants, another is a water world, yet others a world of medieval technology such as archery, or one in a permanent state of dark night, or yet another where he’s scientifically transformed into a super-speedster, i.e., mimicking the powers of all the JLAers in attendance and becoming a hero wherever he lands, according to Jor-El’s computer. The kid’ll be alright! 

11. Action Comics #356 (Nov. 1967). This one stuck with me less striking for its Marlon Brando/The Wild One antagonist, “The Son of the Annihilator!” (by Dorfman and Wayne Boring) than for its being the first Neal Adams Superman cover I ever saw. I loved Al Plastino and Wayne Boring and George Papp and I loved Curt Swan, but Neal’s photorealistic style brought Superman to life on the page like nothing I’d ever seen before, and he would go on to create a wealth of iconic Superman images


12. Superman #233 (January 1971). …Including this one, much to Neal’s chagrin. “Superman Breaks Loose” introduced readers to a new creative direction and (partially) new team of Denny O’Neil, Swan, Murphy Anderson and editor Julie Schwartz. Clark Kent goes from the newsroom to the TV anchor desk and gets a fashion makeover while Superman gets his powers taken down several pegs and the sand-Superman shambles forth. It wasn’t so much how good it was (and it was good), it was that Superman was finally being shaken up and given some new life.


13. George Reeves (January 5, 1914 – June 16, 1949). Superman was the costume. George Reeves was the hero. As I wrote in The Ghost of George Reeves, “It’s Superman we wanted to be, but it was George Reeves who made us want to be him.” The Adventures of Superman is the source of my love for the character and George Reeves my one true hero no matter how good some subsequent portrayals have been.

Happy birthday, Supes! Thanks for always being there, old chum!


— ACTION COMICS #309: The Issue That Sums Up SUPERMAN in the Silver Age. Click here.


PAUL KUPPERBERG was a Silver Age fan who grew up to become a Bronze Age comic book creator, writer of Superman, the Doom Patrol, and Green Lantern, creator of Arion Lord of Atlantis, Checkmate, and Takion, and slayer of Aquababy, Archie, and Vigilante. He is the Harvey and Eisner Award nominated writer of Archie Comics’ Life with Archie, and his YA novel Kevin was nominated for a GLAAD media award and won a Scribe Award from the IAMTW. Now, as a Post-Modern Age gray eminence, Paul spends a lot of time looking back in his columns for 13th Dimension and in books such as Direct Conversations: Talks with Fellow DC Comics Bronze Age Creators and Direct Comments: Comic Book Creators in Their own Words, available, along with a whole bunch of other books he’s written, by clicking the links below.



Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. I believe the recent issue of Alter Ego said Adams’ first Superman cover was an issue of Lois Lane #79. Guess we are gonna have to do some digging. That said, great article. My favorite first for Superman was the story about the Red and Blue Supermen. For me it came from a ‘70s reprint.

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    • That should be “first Superman cover I ever saw,” although the LOIS was on the stands at the same time, both being the same cover dates and on sale the same week.

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  2. Paul, is 1949 the correct death year for George Reeves? That would put him to have died before his appearance on I Love Lucy…

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  3. In 1962 I was 6 years old. My first comic book was Superman. Today I am 69 years old. Since I have remained faithful to Superman, I still continue to obtain all the titles concerning Kal-El. I have seen changes, but it has always remained the one I knew when I was a child with its variants for the needs of the scenario. Like you he is a true friend, he was always there and showed me to put obstacles behind me. Thanks for sharing your experience. It showcases what I love about Superman. You and I can say and say again ”Look, up in the sky…” lol

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  4. Hope you will come back as Supergirl writer!

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  5. Love those “that’s how it started” stories you post!

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