Superman

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"This looks like a job for..."
Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! This amazing stranger from the planet Krypton! The man of steel --(gong ring)-- Superman!
—The opening to the Superman Theatrical Cartoons

The Last Son of Krypton. The Man of Steel. The Man of Tomorrow. The Big Blue Boyscout. The iconic Cape. The original Flying Brick. The Superhero.

While not quite the first superhero, he is certainly the Trope Codifier. Has been published continuously by DC Comics for almost 80 years. He first appeared in Action Comics #1 (June, 1938).

On the technologically advanced planet of Krypton, scientist Jor-El discovers that his planet will soon be destroyed by natural disasters. No one will believe him, however, and in a desperate attempt to save what can be saved, Jor-El builds a small rocket vessel to carry his infant son, Kal-El, to a different planet -- Earth. Because Kryptonians physically resemble humans in every way, the boy can blend in without being seen as alien.

As Krypton explodes, baby Kal-El is sent to Earth without any knowledge of his real identity. He lands outside of the rural town of Smallville, a small town in Kansas (although it wasn't too clear originally -- see Wikipedia for a full list of canonical locations). The baby is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who name the boy Clark, give him a loving home and teach him right from wrong.

However, Clark turns out to be different from humans after all. Kryptonians had evolved to absorb and store solar energy. While on Krypton, which orbited a relatively low-heat Red Giant (or in some versions Red Dwarf), their physical abilities were about identical to humans. When exposed to the rays of Earth's much younger, brighter yellow Sun, Clark learns that the surplus of energy gives him incredible powers, which increase as he grows up. Deciding to use his power for good, Clark puts on some spandex (or indestructible Kryptonian uber-cloth, Depending on the Writer) and fights crime as Superman! (Or at first as Superboy, in the Silver Age version of his origin). When not fighting evil, he masquerades as a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, The Daily Planet, which helps him find disasters and emergencies that much sooner.

Naturally, the Clark Kent/Superman dichotomy has been explored a great deal and has changed over time (with Kent going from nervous, geeky klutz to sharp-witted Intrepid Reporter, among other changes). In the Golden and Silver Age, Clark Kent was little more than a facade for Superman. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, this idea was reversed. Nowadays, Depending on the Writer, either Clark Kent is the "real" person and Superman the façade, or both people are equally valid and natural aspects of his personality. Both sides also tend to be a lot more psychologically/emotionally vulnerable than you'd expect. Given his powers, and the usual stereotypes about strength of his level, it would be easy to mistake him for a simplistic oaf; but Supes is actually quite a complex guy.

Aside from fighting crime, much of Clark's personal life is explored in relation to his supporting cast from the Daily Planet, his hometown of Smallville, Kansas, and his beloved home city of Metropolis. Possibly the most famous supporting cast of any superhero, it consists of a large number of changing characters, the fixtures of which are: his doting parents Jonathan and Martha (aka "Ma and Pa") Kent, who continue to support and advise him throughout his adulthood (or Pre Crisis, throughout his childhood and teen years, before dying shortly after Clark's high school graduation); his gruff, hot-tempered, long-suffering boss, Perry White, who gladly accepts Clark's constant disappearances and eccentricities as long as he comes back with a headline story; his best friend (in both identities) Jimmy Olsen, a young cub reporter/photographer with a wildly fluctuating age, the highest Weirdness Magnet rating in the DC universe and the unique gift of a signal watch he can use to call Superman anytime he gets into trouble; his short-tempered, stubborn teenager of a cousin Kara Zor-El alias Supergirl, who also survived the death of their planet but arrived on Earth several decades later and has a hard time adapting to her new home and finding out what kind of woman and hero she wants to be; and most importantly, his sharp-tongued, recklessly determined go-getter of a reporting partner (and longstanding object of his affections) Lois Lane, who was desperately in love with Superman but who always dismissed the mild Clark Kent. However, she would eventually fall for Clark, not Superman, before learning they were the same person and marrying him.

Originally created by two sons of Jewish immigrants, who, after several tries, finally got him published in Action Comics #1, where he immediately took off; imitations of him pretty much created The Golden Age of Comic Books.

This wasn't their first attempt at the character they had in mind. Ironically, he was intended as a villain with superior mental powers (also ironically looking a lot like Lex Luthor, Bald of Evil and everything) but when that concept flopped they revisited the idea by exploring the real idea of a "Super"man and in collecting their ideas it formed the now famous "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive..." pitch.

One prototype Superman comic was written by Siegel and Schuster in 1936. It depicts Superman rescuing innocent hostages from kidnappers. This pre-dates Action Comics #1 by nearly three years.

His powers include Super Strength, Super Speed, Flight, X-Ray Vision, Heat Vision, Freeze Breath, Nigh Invulnerability, Super Senses, and possibly others, depending on the interpretation.

On the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, he and the series he stars in almost universally tends toward the idealistic side, being the iconic Cape.

Along with Batman and Wonder Woman, he's one of the Big Three of The DCU. He has also been a member of the Justice League of America on and off (mostly on) since its founding.

Notable Superman Comic Book Series:

  • Action Comics: Anthology series for most of its run, starring Superman as the lead feature plus various backup characters.
  • Superman: Superman's self-named series. Renamed Adventures of Superman between the Byrne reboot of the late 80s and the mid-2000s, when it resumed its original title and historic issue numbering (and a second Superman title created after the Byrne reboot was canceled).
  • World's Finest Comics: Featured regular teamups with Batman.
  • Superman/Batman: The modern successor of World's Finest Comics.
  • Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen: Probably the comic that truly shows the Silver Age in its purest, distilled form. In the '70s, Jack Kirby used the series to launch his Fourth World metaseries.
  • Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane
  • Superboy
  • Adventure Comics: Featured various Superboy or other Superman family member stories.
  • DC Comics Presents: Featured teamups with assorted DC characters
  • All-Star Superman: A recent comic series based on the Silver Age version of the character that strips away current continuity in favor of telling fresh but classic stories.

Notable Superman Comic Book Stories:

TV series starring the character:

TV series where he's part of an ensemble cast:

Movies starring the character:

Animated movies starring the character:

Videogames Starring the Character:

Other versions of the character:

  • The 1940's radio version
  • The Just Imagine version of Superman
  • The Tangent Comics version of Superman
  • The Earth One reimagining of Superman by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis
  • The 1930s version of the character, or more specifically of Clark Kent, seen in Tom De Haven's 2005 novel It's Superman!

Parodies of the character:

See also Supergirl, his Distaff Counterpart, and Krypto the Superdog, a 2005 cartoon based off the adventures of his Kryptonian dog.

Also worth mentioning: It's a Bird... by Steven T. Seagle, which is a meditation on the Superman mythology through the eyes of someone who's been tasked with writing new installments of the series, and isn't sure he can do it because he doesn't feel anything in common with Superman. Then he really begins to think about the whole thing...


Superman is the Trope Namer for:

Tropes used in Superman include:

Superman: BURN!

    • It's generally a good idea to keep this trope in mind when dealing with The Man of Steel. He may be the quintessential nice-guy, but he's also generally considred to be the most powerful being on the planet. The rare occasions that his (rather immense) self-control slips are pretty damn terrifying.
  • Big Good: Leader of the Justice League, on top of being the most powerful superhero of all time.
  • Bored with Insanity: Mr. Mxyzptlk, in an Elseworld/"imaginary story".)
  • Blessed with Suck: Post-Crisis, this is often how Superman views his own powers. While he is as strong as a god, he's also, well, strong as a god. His best writers have made him into quite a psychological thought-experiment: on the one hand, he's terrified to not lose self-control or someone (or many, many people) may die; on the other, he often hates himself for still being mortal enough to not be the god everyone wants him to be (such as when he can't save everyone who cries out for him - especially because he hears them... all of them).

He knows he cannot save them all. And he still tries.

    • This idea led to one of the most iconic Superman speeches, in the series finale of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, where Superman is fighting Darkseid and declares:

I feel like I live in a world made of... cardboard, always taking constant care not to break something, to break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control even for a moment, or someone could die. But you can take it, can't you, big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you just how powerful I really am.

  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Given how long running his series has been it's inevitable that this trope has come up a few times. Perhaps the most famous recent event to feature this is during the OMAC Project storyline, where Max Lord is controlling him to demonstrate why superheroes can't be trusted (since they can be turned against Earth by Mind Control, and the next guy might not be him and have more sinister plans in mind) and tells Wonder Woman that the only way to stop him is to kill him- and to the horror of Supes and the rest of the League, she does just that.
  • Brought to You by The Letter "S" (Just take a look!)
  • Bus Full of Innocents
  • Canon Immigrant
    • Jimmy Olsen, Inspector Henderson, Perry White, Kryptonite and the name "Daily Planet" from The Adventures of Superman
    • Professor Pepperwinkle from the first TV show
    • Mercy and Livewire from Superman: The Animated Series
    • Ursa and Non from Superman II
    • Chloe Sullivan, from Smallville, is en route for this. Originally created because Clark needed an Intrepid Reporter friend, but putting Lois from the get-go would trigger everyone's sensors. DC Comics has since bought the rights to use her character, apparently just to prevent misuse from a third party; but now that they have her, it's just a matter of time until she shows up in some comic it's been announced officially at Comic-Con 2010 that plans are now in motion to officially bring her into the comics in Action Comics #893.
    • Smallville's Lionel Luthor, Lex's father, has been brought into continuity as well. Although Lex had obviously always had a father, albeit barely-glimpsed in flashbacks, in recent years his father has officially been referred to as "Lionel," and in Superman: Birthright he was depicted as having a beard and long hair just like on Smallville. Recently, he reappeared in the Blackest Night story arc to get revenge on Lex for murdering him.
    • His flight power comes from the Fleischer cartoons where it was introduced because the animators found it easier to depict than his original jumping power -- and far less silly-looking.
      • In fact, most of his powers beyond the core strength/indestructibility have been immigrants -- for instance, his heat vision grew out of the early Silver Age conception of his X-ray vision actually projecting X-rays -- which the writers then decided he could focus and use to burn things.
    • Kryptonite comes from the 1940s-vintage radio program.
  • Captain Ersatz: Arguably, the entire super hero genre. But, more strictly speaking, there's Captain Marvel, Captain Atom, Supreme, Apollo, Mister Majestic, Icon, the Samaritan, the Silver Sentry, Captain Amazing, Gladiator, Hyperion, the Sentry, the Plutonian, Suppaman, and (at least in regard to his origin[2]) Son Goku. It's usually taken as a given these days that any "super hero universe" needs someone to fill the role of the top, most respected super hero in the world, and it's almost always an Expy of Superman. This creates some awkward situations when these companies fold, DC buys up their characters, and suddenly these Superman Expies are running around in the same universe as Superman himself (as has now happened to Captain Marvel, Captain Atom, Icon, Mr. Majestic, and Apollo).
    • To be fair, Icon and Superman had already met in Worlds Collide.
  • Catch Phrase: There have been many:
    • Superman: "This looks like a job for Superman!" and "Up, up, and away!"
    • Perry White: "Don't call me Chief!!!! and "Great Caesar's ghost!"
    • "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!" has been shown as an In-Universe catch phrase. Metropolitans no longer speak these words because they actually think the blue and red figure in the sky is a bird or a plane, but because those are their lines, and they get a kick out of performing them for the tourists.
  • Characterization Marches On: Way, way back when Supes was first created, he was far more rough and aggressive than his modern counterpart. While he was never as cold-blooded as the early Batman, the Superman of the 1930s had no problem using his strength to the fullest and never seemed to care that fatalities would presumably occur, although these were seldom shown explicitly on the page. This came to an end late in 1940, and ever since then, Supes has been the Thou Shalt Not Kill boy scout we all know and love.
  • Chest Insignia: The big S in a diamond shield, at first just standing for Superman, later explained as being the symbol of the house of El -- and that even later as the Kryptonian symbol/glyph for "Hope".
    • Motif Merger: Chest insignias are used for Superman/Batman crossovers.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Silver-Age Lois and Lana, though not Lori, Luma, or Lyla.
  • Cloning Blues: Averted completely in the first (non-canon) Superman Red/Superman Blue story. When he accidentally clones himself, the two of them eliminate all evil and turn earth into a paradise, and restore Krypton. It even resolves the Lois/Lana Love Triangle! A later version of the story played the trope more straight.
    • Bizarro. Pre-Crisis, Bizarro was always played as sympathetic, being dangerous only because of his stupidity. These days, he's often portrayed as an out-and out killer.
  • Clone Degeneration: Bizarro
  • Clothes Make the Legend: DC tried changing his costume a few times, but it didn't last long.
  • Clothes Make the Superman: Double use - in the late 90s, DC tried to change his outfit to be lightning-themed and the suit gave him electricity-based powers (he was de-Kryptonian-powered at the time); that plan didn't go over well. Then he got his Kryptonian powers back, and his non-powered original suit back, showing that, even though the general public loves to make fun of the underwear-on-the-outside classic look, it also loves the tights & cape so much that anyone who dares to drastically change the Big Blue Boyscout's uniform will be ripped a new one.
    • After Flashpoint he's wearing an "Darker and Edgier Edgier" version of his suit, in a more armorlike fashion, with lines thrown in everywhere just for the hell of it. Naturally It's not exactly popular.
  • Comic Book Time
  • Complete Immortality: In many incarnations.
  • Continuity Porn: Any story by E. Nelson Bridwell, proud and joyful Bronze Age King of the Promoted Fanboys! A fellow who loved his job.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Lex Luthor, since the Crisis.
    • Also Morgan Edge, since the Crisis. (Before the Crisis, he was just a passably obnoxious executive.)
  • Corrupt Politician: Not the norm, but Lex Luthor occasionally counts.
  • Crowning Moment Of Funny: Yellow Lantern.
    • And Pink Kryptonite. Lookin' pretty hot there, Jimmy.
  • Curse Cut Short: One exchange between Superman and Brainiac in the Justice League cartoon:

Superman: Read my lips, go to-
Brainiac: Unfortunate...

Superman: That man [Batman] won't quit so long as he can draw breath. None of my teammates will. Me? I've got a different problem. I feel like I live in a world made of cardboard. Always taking care not to break something, to break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control, even for a moment. Someone could die. But you can take it, can't you, big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose, and show you just how powerful I really am. [Lets loose with a punch that distorts the air with a sonic boom and sends Darkseid flying... real far.]

  • No Man Should Have This Power: In "The Day the Cheering Stopped", Superman gets a magical sword which was apparently created at the dawn of time. It gives him incredible power (even for pre-Crisis Superman) and helps him defeat the villian. In the end he realizes the incredible power the sword will give him and feels that it will make him an all powerful protector. He decides he doesn't want this power and throws it into space.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: After decades of teenagerdom, Jack Kirby finally let Jimmy reach the age of 21, and he stayed an adult until the Crisis reboot.
  • Official Couple: Superman and Lois Lane.
  • Old Retainer: In the Post-Crisis reboot, Superman eventually inherits his father's faithful robot servant Kelex.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Lori Lemaris
  • Outdated Outfit: Jimmy and his bowtie and jacket.
  • Papa Wolf: Clark is generally a nice guy but threaten Kara or Chris and you will be lucky to leave with just a few broken bones.
  • The Paragon: Depending on the continuity.
  • Perma-Shave: Courtesy of heat vision and mirrors.
  • Photographic Memory: He possessed this along with super-fast thinking in The Silver Age of Comic Books and The Bronze Age of Comic Books, and regained these abilities post Infinite Crisis.
  • Phrase Catcher: "Look, up in the sky!"
  • Pillars of Moral Character [context?]
  • Polar Bears and Penguins: The location of the Fortress of Solitude, somewhere up north.
  • Powered Armor: Ruin. And sometimes Luthor.
  • Power Creep, Power Seep: Especially during The Silver Age of Comic Books, when he could fly many times faster than light, move planets by pushing on them, and survive the interior of a supernova.
    • In his first comic book appearances, Superman couldn't fly. That helps to illustrate just how far the power creep has gotten...
  • Powers as Programs: The Parasite
  • President Evil: Lex Luthor, from 2000 till roughly 2004. Arguably, one of the most iconic and interesting character developments that Lex Luthor has gone through over the years.
    • The idea of Lex becoming President of the United States was reused in Superman: Red Son. It has also been hinted several times that this will also happen in the future of Smallville's version of the story.
  • Pretty in Mink: Lois, at least in some of the silver age covers.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Toyman
  • Psychic Powers: In the past "Psionic Superman" was one common explanation for Superman's Required Secondary Powers. He doesn't have super strength, he just lifts things with his mind and needs to touch them to use it (hence why he doesn't just rip his "handle" off whenever he carries something), "x-ray" vision is clairvoyance, "superhearing" is clairaudience, "heat vision" is pyrokinesis, and so on. This is the only ability of his clone in The Death of Superman.
  • Raised by Natives: The Kents
  • Reality Warper: Mr. Mxyzptlk
  • The Reveal Prompts Romance: With Lois Lane.
  • Retcon: Many. That trope's page lists eight separate issues on which the character's history has changed, and some of those have gone back and forth more than once. And that's just counting retcons, not changes to the status quo going forward.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Uh, oh. You've just pressed Superman's rare Berserk Button.
  • Rival Turned Evil: Conduit
  • Robot Master: Toyman
  • Robot Me: The Superman robots
  • Rogues Gallery: Lex Luthor, Darkseid, Brainiac, Bizarro, Mr Mxyzptlk, Metallo, Toyman, Mongul, the Parasite, General Zod, etc.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: Poor, poor Lana. Also, Superman himself wound up this to Lori, after she married an alien (an alien merman, natch). Poor Supes had actually proposed to Lori back in college, and she turned him down.
  • Samaritan Syndrome
  • Scout Out: One Justice League comic involved a situation where the heroes had to tie something off with a rope. Superman effortlessly makes an impressive knot. Someone compliments him on it, and he says, "Well, I was in the Boy Scouts," earning the comment, "Of course you were..."
    • Justice League Animated for some reason explicitly says the opposite :

The Flash: So you're not a Boy Scout after all.
Superman: Never made it past my first merit badge.

Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple.

  • Superhero Trophy Shelf: Not the Trope Codifier (that's probably the Trophy Room in The Phantom's Skull Cave), but the Fortress of Solitude is still probably the best known example. It's huge, and most of the space seems to be filled with souvenirs of Supey's adventures.
  • Superman Can Breathe In Space: In some continuities, like the DCAU, he requires an oxygen supply; in most, he just awesomes away the need to breathe.
  • Super Senses
  • Super Strength: And how. 200 quintillion tons? Superman only needs one arm for that. Bear in mind that in that story he was overpowered by solar radiation and that's supposed to be based on his SilverAge/Pre-Crisis incarnation.
  • Superpower Lottery: No matter how much some want to balance him out.
  • The Syndicate: Intergang.
  • Terra Deforming: One Silver Age comic shows the Fortress of Solitude surrounded by buildings, because future humans have intentionally melted the polar ice caps in order to colonize the Arctic. Superman is upset by this, not because of the catastrophic effect on the environment, but because he doesn't have privacy anymore.
  • Thematic Rogues Gallery: The Phantom Zone criminals.
  • Theme Initials: "L.L."
  • Thememobile: The Super-Mobile, used during situations where he is Brought Down to Normal to compensate for his lack of superpowers.
  • They Do: Clark and Lois, after several decades until reboot's Flashpoint.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill
    • And when his alternate self violates this rule in the DCAU, be afraid.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: In the first Christopher Reeve Superman film, Superman is given a Sadistic Choice by Lex Luthor. He destroys the missile headed for Hackensack, New Jersey, saving millions and keeping his promise, but in doing so is forced to let Lois Lane die. Superman ends up breaking Kryptonian law by using time travel to save her.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Beef bourguignon with ketchup. Lois introduced Clark to beef bourguignon. The ketchup was his addition.
  • Tranquil Fury: Very rare but used in some of his more memorable stories. Used against an Authority-Expy group in "What's Wrong with Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" with disturbing effect.
  • Tribute to Fido: The miniseries A Superman for All Seasons, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, gave teenaged Clark Kent a dog named Shelby, after Sale's own dog. It was a two-panel gag, but Shelby later became more notable as the golden retriever in Smallville.
  • True Companions: The Daily Planet staff.
  • Tsundere: Lois Lane is a type B towards Clark.
  • Upbringing Makes the Hero: His childhood on a farm gave him his connection to humanity and values.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Lana Lang.
  • Underwear of Power: Well, yeah. It's Superman.
  • Villainesses Want Heroes: Hot Amazon Maxima thinks Superman would make a good baby daddy.
  • Voodoo Shark: Superman needs to change into his costume, so he has to duck away for a second...into a phone booth?
    • It made more sense when phone booths were walled off boxes you couldn't look inside, rather than tiny glass bubbles around a phone that don't exist any more anyway. The 1978 movie got a good gag out of Superman trying to duck into a phone booth, only to find a booth-less kiosk. However, there is also another wrinkle to the legend: when reporters found themselves in the middle of a story, they would duck into the first phone booth and call the editor. Perfect alibi!
      • In Smallville, it makes sense again: the Daily Planet basement still has old-fashioned phonebooths from when the building was built. The booths are tucked away in a corner of the basement and the one exposed side is covered with stained glass. Granted, though, Clark only seems to use it at night when no one else is in the basement.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Both Smallville (see above) and Metropolis -- though the "Big Apricot" is almost universally on the East Coast somewhere, and 90% of writers make it a Captain Ersatz of New York City. In the Fleischer cartoons, in fact, it was specifically stated that Clark & co. lived in Manhattan; it was a plot point in the "Electric Earthquake" short.
    • Eventually, it was settled that Smallville's location would be in rural Kansas. As for Metropolis, it's often hinted that it's at the bottom of upstate New York, somewhere on the state's small coastline. Alternately, several sources have placed it in Delaware.
  • Wife-Basher Basher: In the very first issue of his own comic in the 1930's, Superman deals with an abusive husband by brutally throwing the guy into a wall and beats him until he promises to never hit his wife ever again.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Superman himself, mostly. Except for those related to his Secret Identity.
    • And not even then. It isn't technically a lie if he says his name is Kal-El when asked, after all...
  • Wolverine Publicity
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Mr. Mxyzptlk goes back to his own dimension if tricked into saying his name backwards, though Post-Crisis this is a self-imposed weakness.
  • Wonder Child
  • Wrong Parachute Gag: In #176, which explains how Superman decided on his ideal location for his Fortress of Solitude, he's on a flight over the arctic as Clark Kent when the plane suffers engine troubles. Almost immediately, everyone went for the parachutes, but Clark, who was inspecting the packs with his x-ray vision, notices a ripped parachute and switches it with his good one. Luckily for Clark, nobody notices the Human Aliens dropping like a stone in the arctic night.
  • You Could Have Used Your Powers for Good: Supes towards any number of his enemies, especially Luthor.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Traditionally, colorists have always used blue for the highlights in Superman's black hair. Parodies often take this literally, giving him actual blue hair.
    • Played straight by Livewire.

Notes

  1. OK, he doesn't actually know the weak and unmanly nerd Clark Kent that his daughter married is the dangerous and powerful alien menace that threatens Earth, humanity and mom's apple pie are one in the same, but he's still Supes' father-in-law.
  2. in most other respects, Goku is based on the Monkey King