The Evolution of Superman

Tracing 75 years of the Man of Steel from his origins to Zack Snyder's reboot
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Courtesy DC Comics

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The Beginning

If Cavill's Superman is an immigrant having trouble assimilating into his adopted homeland, he's actually come a fitting full circle since Superman's earliest days. The character was invented by two Jewish teens from Cleveland, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, whose self-published 'zine introduced Superman in 1933. But Super-scholars generally date his birth to his 1938 appearance in Action Comics #1, with its iconic cover image of Superman hoisting a car over his head. That was the first time he was exposed to a national audience, thanks to publisher National Allied Publications (later DC Comics, the publisher that would go on to popularize Batman, Wonder Woman and a host of others). The familiar backstory was already in place: the infant Kal-El, lone survivor of his destroyed planet, lands in middle America, is raised as unassuming Clark Kent, recognizes that his superhuman powers oblige him to help the weak, and uses his identity as big-city reporter Kent as a cover for his heroic activities as Superman. Today, that issue of Action Comics, generally regarded as the first superhero comic book, can go for $2 million a copy, but Siegel and Shuster earned just $130 for the rights to their work. Of course, Superman immediately took off in popularity, leading Siegel and Shuster to spend a lifetime battling DC over royalties – over the share of the American Dream they felt had been denied them.

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