Friday, April 18, 2008

Superman is Seventy

It was seventy years ago today that Superman was introduced to the world.

Yes, the cover of the first issue of Action Comics said June 1938. But the cover date on most magazines is like the expiration date on a milk carton. It tells the store owners when it's time to remove the product from the shelves, not when it arrived. For comic books, the cover date is usually 2 or 3 months later than the publication date. According to The Photojournal Guide to Comic Books by Ernie Gerber, Action #1 had a shipping date of April 18, 1938.

Written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Joe Shuster, two young men from Cleveland, Ohio, Superman exploded onto the world. Customers nagged store clerks for "that magazine with Superman in it." Within a year, his sales figures earned him a daily newspaper comic strip and his own comic book title. Superman #1, originally a quarterly but eventually a monthly magazine, debuted in 1939. In 1940, Superman gained an afterschool radio series, voiced by actor Bud Collyer (whom those of us who were around in the 1960s also remember as host of the game show To Tell the Truth). In 1941, a series of animated Superman cartoons arrived in theatres, produced by the Fleisher Studios (also known for Popeye and Betty Boop). In 1942, a prose novel, Superman, by radio writer George Lowther was published. The year 1948 saw a live-action Superman movie serial, starring Kirk Alyn and a young actress named Noel Neill as Lois Lane. The Adventures of Superman television series ran from 1951 to 1958, starring George Reeves as Superman, and initially, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, though in 1953 the aforementioned Noel Neill stepped in to reprise the role. In 1966, a musical comedy, It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse (Bye Bye Birdie) ran at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway for about four months. In 1972, the town of Metropolis, Illinois, declared itself (with the approval of DC Comics) the hometown of Superman, erected a statue and opened a Superman Museum, and holds an annual Superman festival in June. Superman the motion picture came out in 1978, starring Christopher Reeve (not Reeves) and Margot Kidder. And the next year, the first Superman video game was released.

Also on television, Lois and Clark, a light adventure comedy focusing on the romantic relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, ran from 1993 to 1997. Smallville, a look at Clark Kent's life in the years before he started wearing the cape and red S, began in 2001 and is still running. And there have been a great number of popular songs mentioning Superman, by artists including Donovan, Jim Croce, Eminem, Five for Fighting, Crash Test Dummies, Laurie Anderson, R.E.M., Donna Fargo, Eric Clapton, and many others. He's even mentioned in the theme to the sitcom Scrubs.

So Superman may in truth be called the king of all media. And after 70 years, Action Comics is still being published, with issue number 863 in the stores right now.

Please visit the Superman Homepage to read more about the Man of Steel. And have a super day.

(Cake photographed at the Superman birthday party held at the I-Con science fiction convention in Stony Brook, NY, on April 5, 2008)

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