Comics/Graphic Novels

Adventures in a New Kryptonite: Superman Origin Stories

Jessica Pryde

Contributing Editor

Jessica Pryde is a member of that (some might call) rare breed that grew up in Washington, DC, but is happily enjoying the warmer weather of the desert Southwest. While she is still working on what she wants to be when she grows up, she’s enjoying dabbling in librarianship and writing all the things. She can be found drowning in her ever-growing TBR and exclaiming about romance in the Book Riot podcast (When in Romance), as well as on social media. Find her exclamations about books and pho on twitter (JessIsReading) and instagram (jess_is_reading).

We’ve established that I’m always late to the party. Partly because I tend to read in trades, and partly because I just keep. Discovering. New. Old. Things. So of course, I only just realized that there is a special place in my heart for Superman origins. I’ve discussed Superman: Secret Identity and Superman: Red Son in the past, and I blew through all three volumes of Superman: Earth One like the wind once I made the decision it was high time to read it.

What is so darn appealing about his beginnings?

Part of it, I think, is the same for all renditions of anyone’s origins: where is the author going to go with it? How will they characterize this person that we are so intimately familiar with? What supporting characters and villains will they include?

But in this particular case, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for The Development of Clark Kent. So when I realized I had begun collecting his origins, I knew I had to actually sit down and read that book that had been staring at me from my shelf for so long:

Cover of Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years

I have read a lot of Superman, and a lot about Superman. I have seen every version on film with the exception of the 1952 television series (which is SO on my list). But somehow his first appearance in Action Comics had escaped me.

Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years

The beginnings of Superman the comic are fascinating, not just because of the whole developmental aspect (did you know his origins weren’t revealed in print until issue 53 in 1948?). To see his character evolves through the lens of society’s vision of The Perfect Man between World War II and now is incredibly thought provoking. Jessica Plummer’s look at Golden Age Superman discusses this a little bit: Angry Superman throws people long distances and has no problem with people dying if they’re bad. Or making them think they’re going to die and then saving them at the last minute. But his first meeting with Bruce Wayne just makes me snort and edit the story in my head to create the beginnings of a romance–aren’t they the Mom and Dad of the Justice League anyway?

I alternated reading a few Golden Age issues with Superman: Birthright…which, I think, might not have been the best idea. Waid’s story is probably one of the best out there when it comes to developing Clark’s character within one collection (a really long one, admittedly). What particularly leapt out at me was Martha Kent; she is often involved in the creation of the Superman costume, but her true creation is that of Clark Kent.

Page in Superman Birthright in which the Clark Kent image is developed


Their relationship is very much similar to that in Superman: Earth One, which, as I mentioned, I devoured in three large bites in succession. The feel of the story, however, is very different. On the surface they are much the same: young Clark is exploring himself and his possibilities, and realizes that he can’t escape the strong urge to help people. Also, his ship still exists–a fact that I was surprised to discover was not the case in Siegel and Shuster’s original origin story:

Panel from The Origin of Superman

And I know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m saving All Star Superman for last. No, I haven’t read it yet. It sits there, staring at me, waiting to bring me into its orbit. I might need to take a small break from Superman after Birthright and the 75 year anthology, especially if All Star is the epic that I keep hearing it is.

So I guess for me, it’s not just origins when it comes to Superman. It’s seeing the different ways a familiar character is depicted and developed. Maybe trouble in his adolescence has nothing to do with his decision to put on The Suit. Maybe Jonathan Kent doesn’t inspire him with one act of sacrifice. Maybe he travels the world learning stories and saving people before he even consciously makes the decision to be a Hero. Maybe he is a vegetarian because living beings have an aura in his Super Eyes.

Maybe he’s a tough guy who hates the mask of Clark Kent because Lois Lane thinks he’s a wimp.

Either way, Superman as a character is one who, when utilized the right way, can invoke the proper feels without sending a reader into the angsty spiral of a few darker characters. But those feels still lead us to the central product of Superman as a hero, as a character, as an adopter and adoptee of America and the Planet Earth: Hope.


What do you do when you get hooked on a new character or body of work?  Do you read them all immediately or savor them bits at a time?


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