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 fictional character, a superhero, present in comic books bearing his name from DC Comics. The character has also been in various television series and movies.

Table of contents
1 Synopsis
2 Superman's Abilities
3 Weaknesses
4 Character Personality
5 History
6 Other characters
7 Adaptations in other media
8 Cultural influences
9 Other Meanings


The story of Superman's origin is a science-fiction update of the common origin story of various culture heroes eg. Gilgamesh, Moses, and Jesus, who, to save them from death as babies, are spirited away from the place where they are threatened.

Superman was 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 his mother, Lara. The ship launched moments before his home-planet exploded. His spaceship landed on Earth. He was adopted by a family in Smallville, Kansas, and was raised there until, as an adult, he moved to Metropolis. In the original series of Superman comics (1940s to 1985), Superman is the real person, and Clark Kent is a phony front he presents to the world, his so-called secret identity. In the original series, he adopts this persona of a normal human to find employment at a major newspaper; as a newspaper reporter Superman can learn about events and be of the most help to the public. Kent thus works as a reporter at the Daily Planet, a major newspaper in Metropolis. Lois Lane, also a reporter 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. When Superman is needed in time of crisis, Kent quickly changes into Superman. For decades, he was often depicted as ducking into a telephone booth to make the transformation.

In 1986, after the Crisis on Infinite Earths series, DC Comics hired writer John Byrne to reboot the Superman character from scratch, dumping all the previously established continuity, and offer a fresh retelling of the Superman mythos. In this version, Superman - like all Kryptonians - was created through in-vitro fertilization, on the planet Krypton. While still a fetus, he was put into a spaceship by his father, Jor-El, and his mother, Lara. The ship launched moments before his home-planet exploded. A few months later, his spaceship landed on Earth, in Smallville, Kansas. When it opened, it revealed a full term baby. Thus, in this version Superman was born on Earth, and is a son of Earth just as much a son of Krypton. He was illegally adopted by a farmer couple who witnessed the spaceship landing, Martha and Jonathan Kent, and raised much as a normal human. Over time, Clark's power slowly developed; he didn't fly until he was a teenager, and he didn't develop his near-invunerability until at least his late teens. After leaving Smallville, he travelled the world; as an adult he moved to Metropolis where he was hired as reporter for the Daily Planet.

In this post 1986 series, Clark Kent is the real person, and Superman is the front that he presents to the world, his so-called secret identity. He adopts this secret identity to prevent his enemies from taking advantage of him by hurting his family or friends. However, most of the world does not know that Superman is hiding his real identity at all because he does not use a mask which suggests that he does not have anything to hide. The concept that Clark is the real man, and a man shaped more by his parent's ethics than his alien power, is a deliberate reversal of the earlier comics. Similar to the older stories Lois Lane is a reporter and the target of Kent's/Superman's romantic affections. Over time, however, Lois and Clark start dating, and fall in love. Clark eventually tells her he is Superman, which causes a strain in their relationship, but they eventually marry.

Superman's Abilities

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". These powers were rather limited in 1940s and 50s stories, but grew to god-like powers in 1960s, 70s and early 80s stories. Only with the reboot in 1986 were his powers reduced to a medium level.

His powers include:

  • Near-invulnerability to damage. In the 1940s a bursting artillery shell could harm him, but not kill him. In the 1970s he could fly through a star and shrug off a nuclear blast. Today Superman is still extremely powerful, and withstands the assault of dozens of artillery shells, lasers and explosives, but would be killed if he flew into a star, or was close to the center of a nuclear explosion. In addition, his powerful immune system makes him immune to most toxins and diseases.
  • Vision-related powers:
    • X-ray vision: The ability to see through nearly any substance except lead. The selective application of this power allows him to see through walls but not through the people on the other side;
    • 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 includes 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. This power and his superbreath make up his primary ranged attacks.
  • 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 and precisely in any direction as well as hover.
  • Superbreath: The ability to create hurricane force winds by simply blowing. He can also chill it to freeze a target he can reach.
  • Superspeed: The ability to move at an incredible speed, much like The Flash. This includes running, but flying is more versatile and less strenuous for him.

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 nearby 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.

Superman has had his power levels increased over the past decade or so. Since coming back to life (See "Death Of Superman") Superman can now survive nuclear blasts and has survived plunging into the sun itself, which in fact provided a temporary increase in his power. Superman's strength is again increased and his is capable of moving far more weight than he could in 1986.


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 as they can maintain the exposure. The Pre-Crisis version had the weakness that his powers could vary to other degrees depending on the colour of the closest star available. For instance, while a yellow sun gives him maximum power, an orange one only gives him half strength.

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 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.)

Character Personality

In the beginning, Superman's personality was often very rough and destructive in sometimes questionable ways. A key example of this is an early story in which, after learning that the government would not move to help poorly maintained low income residential areas unless there is a disaster, Superman decides to create one by going on a destructive rampage on substandard housing. As superhero stories became more oriented towards a children's readership, the writers adopted his better known "boy scout" persona.

That personality, despite the emphasis on Superman having powers and abilities "far beyond those of mortal men," 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 or participate in community fund-raisers. He often acts behind the scenes in such a way that someone else receives the credit for his super deeds. He displays modesty and humility that often catch 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."

Recent writers have attempted to deepen his character and provide a believable rationale for his goodness. The basic element added is Superman's deep self doubt about his power and his conscience using it. He fears that this power gives him a terrible temptation to abuse for his own gain and that he has the potential to become a monster, subject to no one. He therefore makes a point of submitting to the legitimate authorities around him, allowing him to feel that he has some restraints on his actions. By extension, his boy scout behaviour is a further layer of self restraint to prevent him from losing control. A further motivation for his career as a reporter, in addition to privileged access to breaking news, is that he earns a living in a field in which he doesn't feel he has an unfair advantage due to his physical abilities. That grounds him so that he can't feel superior to native Terrans.

Superman's lily-white persona has often been mocked, ridiculed, and spoofed, especially during the past twenty to thirty years of comic book 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 more than sixty years.


Superman was invented by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster not as the hero we all know and love, but as a villain. Siegel and Shuster created a short story called "The Reign Of The Superman" about a bald-headed villain bent on dominating the world. The story did not sell, forcing the two to rethink their character on the right side of the law. The revised Superman originally appeared in Action Comics on June 1, 1938. They sold the rights to the company for $130 and in 1947, when the popularity of the character led them to sue for more, they were fired. Superman has been more or less consistently popular throughout the 20th century.

Throughout a series that has lasted for over sixty years (as of 2003), numerous comic book series, a radio series, cartoons, movies, written novels, and even songs, 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 have increased to the point that he is literally an omnipotent being who can do anything. This poses an enormous challenge for anyone assigned to write stories about the character, as it provides 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). Nevertheless, the re-launch of the Superman comic book series succeeded 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 has boosted sales of the comic but also sparked debate among fans as to whether some of the changes were necessary. Two major changes to Superman have had long-term effects. The first is the "Death of Superman" storyline, in which Superman apparently 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.

There have also been a number of characters called Superboy. The original Superboy, introduced in 1944, was summed up by the catchphrase "the adventures of Superman when he was a boy". This Superboy no longer exists, since the John Byrne reboot established that Clark Kent didn't become Superman until he was an adult, but there is now a new Superboy, cloned from a tissue sample stolen from Superman's body after he was killed by Doomsday.

At some points in his history, Superman has had a pet dog, Krypto, who had powers and abilities just like his master's. In the original Pre-Crisis origin of the character, Krypto was Kal-El's pet dog back on the planet Krypton, who was accidentally sent to Earth in a test run for Kal-El's own trip. Not only does he have the all the physical abilities of a Kryptonian being in a yellow sun environment, but his intelligence was raised to roughly a human level in complexity and sophistication. John Byrne's Post-Crisis reboot did away with Kal-El's pet and the test flight, but Krypto was recently re-introduced into continuity after following Superman home from a false Krypton built as a trap by one of Superman's enemies. This Krypto has only a normal canine intelligence which means he fights like an animal with his total strength. That typically makes him too dangerous to keep outside the Fortress of Solitude without close supervision by a sufficiently powerful keeper like Superman.

Superman has a limited rogue's gallery of recurring 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 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.
  • Morgan Edge, a crime boss in Metropolis.
  • 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.

Adaptations in other media

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:

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.

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 spoofs of Superman that 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 pastiche 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.

One of the only fictional characters explicitly modeled on Superman that DC comics allowed to stand without litigation is the comics character Hyperion, from Marvel Comics's superhero team, Squadron Supreme. The squadron supreme was created by comics writers at Marvel comics to allow them to do unofficial JLA/Avengers crossovers; the "new" Squadron Supreme characters were thinly veiled versions of their DC JLA counterparts. Hyperion stood in for Superman, the Whizzer stood in for The Flash, etc. The character of Hyperion has recently been revamped in a new Marvel comics series, Supreme Power. The first issue of this series is in many ways a new take on the Superman mythology, an original story that pays homage to the Superman mythos.

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.

Other Meanings

"Superman" is also a 2003 single by Eminem, from his album The Eminem Show.