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Note: For Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the ‹bermensch ("superman" or "overman" in the German language) see ‹bermensch.

Superman, also called The Man of Steel, is a fictitious superhero, present in comic books bearing his name from DC Comics. The character has also been in various television series and movies.

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The story of Superman's origin is a science-fiction update of the common origin story of various culture heroes eg. Moses, Gilgamesh, who, to save them from death as babies, are placed in a basket to float downriver: born as Kal-el on the planet Krypton, while still a baby he was put into a spaceship alone by his father, Jor-El, and escaped moments before his home-planet exploded. His spaceship finally landed on Earth. He was adopted by a family in Smallville, and was raised there until, as an adult, he moved to Metropolis. Clark Kent is the secret identity of Superman. As Kent he works as a reporter at the Daily Planet, a major newspaper in Metropolis. A co-reporter is Lois Lane, who also is the target of Kent's/Superman's romantic affections. A central part of the storyline is Lane's affection for the strapping superhero and rebuttals of all advances from the meeker Clark Kent.

Superman possesses a number of extraordinary powers, rendering him -- in terms contemporary to the 1950s -- "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound". Other powers include:

  • Near-invulnerability to damage which varies from version to version from being vulnerable to a bursting artillery shell in the original, to shrugging off a nuclear weapon in the most extreme level.
  • Vision related powers:
    • X-ray vision: The ability to see through nearly any substance except lead;
    • Telescopic vision: The ability to see at a considerable distance such as several kilometres away;
      • When these two senses are used in combination, it is called Super Vision
    • Superman can also see the entire electromagnetic spectrum if he wishes, which include infrared and ultraviolet which also allows him to see in the dark;
    • Heat vision: The ability to apply heat to a target he can see much like a laser. The beams are also normally invisible to normal vision which allows Superman to work with subtlety when called for.
  • Superhearing: The ability to hear any sound regardless of volume or pitch;
  • The power of flight by force of will which also usually allows Superman to maneuver easily as precisely in any direction as well as hover.
  • Superbreath: The ability to create hurricane force winds simply blowing. He can also chill it to freeze a target he can reach.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, Superman's strength, speed, and abilities were literally unlimited: at the height of his power, he could travel millions of light-years across the span of the Universe in brief periods of time; he could dive into the hearts of stars and survive unharmed; he could easily travel through time by moving at speeds faster than light; and he could move planets and lift any weight. When Superman's character was re-created in 1986, he became much more "vulnerable" and no longer omnipotent. (Nonetheless, he is still one of the strongest and most powerful of all superheroes.) He can no longer fly faster than light, and he can no longer shrug off nuclear blasts. He has survived nuclear explosions, but attacks of that magnitude have left him wounded and seriously weakened. They are generally seen as reaching the "limits" of Superman's power. Likewise, while Superman could move a mountain if he pushed his strength to the limit, he can no longer affect the orbit of the planet Earth, as he used to do.

The origin of Superman's powers is the solar radiation of Earth's sun, which differs from the radiation of the star around which Superman's native planet, Krypton, orbits. The yellow sun of earth grants him powers he would not have under Krypton's red sun. Numerous stories have had Superman's enemies take advantage of that fact and expose him to synthesized red solar radiation to neutralize his powers as long they can maintain the exposure.

The remains of the shattered planet spread throughout the universe as a green crystalline or metallic substance known as kryptonite, which is harmful to Superman and robs him of his powers when it is in close proximity to him. A variant form of kryptonite is "red kryptonite", which does not usually damage him directly but has highly unpredictable effects on his psyche and powers (for example, red kryptonite exposure once transformed Superman's head into that of a giant ant). There have been a number of other lesser-known variants of kryptonite, introduced sporadically over the years whenever a particular plotline required them and then forgotten, but in a recent revision of the DC shared story universe they have been retconned out of existence.

The comics have also established that Superman and other Kryptonians are also highly vulnerable to magic. This means any wizard, magic based monster or even a ordinary person with a magic object can be extremely dangerous. (In the fictional universe of DC comics, "magic" is a type of energy that can be harnessed and controlled. It differs from the definition of magic as applied to the everyday world.)

However, despite the emphasis on Superman having powers and abilities "far beyond those of mortal men," Superman's true stature comes from his altruism and his desire and willingness to do good. This aspect of his personality has shone through from the earliest days of his career, and this above all is why he is known as "Superman." Superman has often been portrayed in the comics as willing to lay down his life or sacrifice his powers for the good of humanity. He will gladly go out of his way to rescue a cat stuck in a tree, participate in community fund-raisers, and he often acts secretly behind the scenes so that someone else receives the credit for his super deeds. He frequently displays modesty and humility that often catches his foes and critics off-guard, as they do not understand why a person with Superman's vast power would choose to spend his life helping others and doing good, not to mention disguising himself as a "mere mortal."

Superman's lily-white persona has often been mocked, ridiculed, and spoofed, especially during the past twenty to thirty years of comic bok history, when "grim and gritty" comics dominated the market. Superman may seem old-fashioned, quaint, and "whitebread" when compared to the various obsessed "dark avengers" who command the lion's share of the comic book market; but his appeal has lived on, and he continues to be a driving force in the comic book medium after over sixty years.


Superman was invented by Jerry Siegel[?] and Joe Shuster and originally appeared in Action Comics on June 1, 1938. They sold the rights to the company for $130 and when the popularity of the character led them to sue for more in 1947 they were fired. Superman has been more or less consistently popular throughout the 20th century.

With a series that has lasted for over sixty years (as of 2002), numerous comic book series, a radio series, cartoons, movies, and written novels, Superman has starred in an amazing number of adventures that have put him into every imaginable situation, on Earth and throughout the universe, in numerous eras of history. During his long history, as he has faced nearly every imaginable peril, Superman's powers increased to the point where he was quite literally an omnipotent being who could do anything. This posed an enormous challenge for anyone assigned to write stories about the character, as it provided a nearly insurmountable obstacle: "How does one write about a character who is nearly as powerful as God?" This, among other reasons, contributed to a decline in Superman's popularity, especially during the 1960s and 1970s when Marvel Comics brought a new level of character development to mainstream comic books. By the early 1980s, DC Comics had decided that a major change was needed to boost Superman's popularity and make him more appealing to the audiences of the time. Comic book writer-artist John Byrne was brought in to re-create Superman from scratch and re-start the series. The resulting retcon of Superman, which took place in 1986, brought a number of substantial changes to the character, some of which were less than successful (and were met with varying degrees of acceptance by comic book buyers). The re-launch of the Superman comic book series did succeed in returning the character to the fold of mainstream comic books, returning it to the forefront of DC's flagship titles.

Since the launch of the "new" Superman, the editorial staff at DC has introduced several drastic changes to the character, which boosted sales of the comic but also sparked debate among fans as to whether some of the changes were necessary. The two major changes to Superman that have had long-term effects included the "Death of Superman" storyline, in which Superman died at the hands of a supervillain named Doomsday[?]. He returned from the dead to finally defeat Doomsday, though his "death" gave rise to a number of new characters and storylines. In 1995, Superman (or rather, Clark Kent) finally married Lois Lane, and the two have had a happy marriage that has lasted...so far. Future editorial changes to the Superman comic book series may reverse some or all of these changes.

Other characters

Famous characters in Superman include Lois Lane, the Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen, and the city editor Perry White. Superman also had a cousin from Krypton, Supergirl; though she was killed in the comic book series Crisis on Infinite Earths. After the retcon of Superman, Supergirl was re-introduced into the comic book series, but her history is now far more confusing and convoluted.

Superman has a limited rogue's gallery of supervillain enemies, but they include:

  • Lex Luthor: The Pre-Crisis version is a criminal scientist who has an all consuming vendetta against Superman. The Post-Crisis version is a corrupt head of a mega corporation had a similar grudge and used his company's vast resources to fulfill it. He later was elected President of the United States of America much to Superman's chagrin.
  • Brainiac: The Pre-Crisis version is a alien android bent on conquest and Superman's death. The Post-Crisis version is a alien entity who is an organic being with similar ambitions of conquest.
  • Mr. Mxyzptlk: An extra-dimensional alien with overwhelming power who delights in tormenting Superman and will only leave when Superman fulfills a challenge, usually making Mxy express his name backwards
  • Parasite: A superpowered man who can absorb the powers, strength and memories of any organic being and naturally wants Superman's power for himself.
  • Bizarro: An grotesquely flawed duplicate of Superman who clumsly tries to emulate the original and causes a great deal of damage in the process.
  • Metallo: A criminal cyborg who prefers using kryptonite as a reliable power source which makes him a deadly threat against Superman.
  • Phantom Zone Prisoners: In the Pre-Crisis setting, these prisoners are kryptonian criminals who hate Superman as the son of their prison's creator and become extremely destructive when they periodically escape into Earth's yellow sun environment.
  • Intergang: A heavily armed organized crime cartel armed with incredibily powerful weapons supplied in part by the New God, Darkseid[?].

Cultural influences

Both Superman's name and the premise of his character owe a large debt to the concept of the ‹bermensch, developed by the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Superman is a staple of American pop culture.

The Superman character has made the transition to television and movies, both on multiple occasions. Among the actors who have played the role are George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, and Dean Cain[?].

There have also been numerous animated cartoon series starring the Man of Steel. They can be summarized as follows:

DC Comics has copyrighted variations on the "super" theme, such as "superdog" and "supergal" to circumvent parody or product confusion. Nevertheless, a great many imitations and parodies of Superman have appeared over the years. One of the first Superman imitations, Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel, sparked legal action because of its similarities to Superman. Several famous spoofs of Superman have become famous (at least among children who grew up at the time of their popularity) include Mighty Mouse, Underdog[?], and Super Goof.

In the 1990s, comic book artist and writer Rob Liefeld[?] created a Superman imitation and starred him in his own comic book series, called Supreme[?]. The series sold moderately well at first, but sales dwindled until the series was taken over with issue #41 by writer Alan Moore. Moore produced about fifteen issues of Supreme that paid homage to the classic "Silver Age" Superman before his 1985 retcon.

Superman is believed to have been inspired in part by Philip Wylie[?]'s 1930 science fiction novel Gladiator, about a man whose superhuman strength inspires him to help the human race, but who is instead spurned by humanity precisely because of his power.

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