?Hey. Did you know that Superman is actually from another planet named Krypton? That his father Jor-El put him in a rocket and shot him into space right before Krypton exploded? Or that the baby landed on earth, was found in Kansas by two kindly folks named the Kents, then raised in Smallville before moving to the big city of Metropolis? Or that sometimes he puts on tights and cape and helps people as Superman?
Of course you did. That’s Superman’s origin, and everybody knows it. Not just nerds; your mom could tell you Superman’s origin without thinking too hard about it. Chances are your grandmother could, too. It’s just one of those things that’s become completely ingrained in the collective pop culture.
However, that doesn’t stop people from explaining it to us… over and over again. When DC announced that Grant Morrison would tell Superman’s origin again in Action Comics #5, Rob jokingly mentioned someone write a top 45 list of Superman Origins to highlight how
overdone it is. Having a whole lot of time and nothing to do with it, I
undertook that task but came up short of 45 entries… but not by much.
A special thanks goes out to Tom Foss at “Fortress of Soliloquy” for compiling a list of Superman origins back in 2010.
which was a great help in researching this article.
3o) Action Comics #5 (2012)
?The most recent issue to tell a story that every nerd already knows by heart. This comes onto the list at dead last because it’s part of the “New 52” bullshit which is the most poorly planned of DC’s many, many tedious line-wide reboots. Grant Morrison adds little to the DCnU Superman’s new DCnU origin, other than implying that this time Krypto died on Krypton with Superman’s parents.
29) Man of Steel Movie (2013)
?Zack Snyder’s forthcoming film reboot is a favorite punching bag for nerds, due to Henry Cavill occasionally looking like a super-powered hobo (amongst other reasons). While obviously the movie isn’t out yet and we haven’t seen how the origin will be portrayed, we’re putting it here on principle, because no one needs yet another retelling of Superman’s origin (as this list will prove).
28) The Amazing World of Superman: Metropolis Edition (1973)
?This is one of the many comics that simply retell the story of Superman’s origin without offering much new information. It’s ranked lower than others like it because I couldn’t find a decent synopsis of it, which suggests that it’s not even an interesting enough retelling to be worth talking about.
27) Superboy TV Series, “Abandon Earth” and “Escape to Earth” (1990)
Although most people feel that having young Clark Kent flying around in costume would have made Smallville a better TV show, it didn’t do the Superboy TV series any good, which somehow managed to stay on the air for four seasons. Superboy boy actually didn’t know his origins until his parents Jor-El and Lara stopped by to finally clue him in. As it turns out, these two aren’t his parents at all, but oddly well-informed aliens who want to put Superboy in their space zoo.
26) Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman TV Series, (1993-1997)
?Warner’s own initial attempt at doing a Superman show didn’t turn out much better. For some reason the idea of turning the story of America’s best known superhero into a romantic sitcom wasn’t a runaway success with the comic nerd crowd. The show sloooooowwwly teased out bits of Superman’s origin over the course of the entire series, with Ma and Pa Kent eventually revealing their found Clark in a spacecraft, then Superman finding some recordings from Jor-El, and so forth.
25) Action Comics #500 (1979)
?Martin Pasko celebrated the 500th issue of the comic that started it all by… having Supes hanging out at the Metropolis World’s Fair and retelling the story that pretty much everyone knows. Meanwhile there’s a forgettable subplot where Lex Luthor creates a Superman clone to do his bidding.
24) Superman Returns Movie (2006)
People love to give Bryan Singer’s film a lot of (mostly deserved) grief for not having enough action and being so much of a tribute to the Richard Donner’s classic films as to not stand on its own merit. This makes his decision to re-tell Superman’s origin in the movie’s opening scenes — which was already wonderfully covered in Donner’s 1978 Superman movie — even more annoying. Superman Returns assumed every viewer had seen Superman and Superman II… except the origin part? Guh.
23) Superman: Secret Origin (2009)
?Meant to be the new “definitive” origin of Superman after Infinite Crisis, this mini-series is unique for not having any scenes on Krypton. Otherwise, it’s largely the same old story, reinstating previously abandoned Silver Age elements like Clark having been Superboy.
22) Super Friends, “The Planet Splitter” (1973)
This beloved cartoon introduced a version of Superman, and the rest of the Justice League, which for several years would stand as one of the most recognizable versions of these characters. Unfortunately, Super Friends decided to tell Superman’s origin through Marvin, instantly rendering it one of the worst retellings ever simply on principle.
21) The New Adventures of Superman TV Series (1966-1970)
A short-lived series on CBS which served as the first cartoon presence for Supes and his supporting cast since the ’40s. The origin was summarized very briefly in the show’s opening credits, so it was repeated every episode for all four seasons the show ran. This series is notable for including the first TV versions of Superboy and his dog Krypto, and also notable because it paved the way for our next entry.
20) More Fun Comics #101 (1945)
?This otherwise forgettable issue of an unremembered comic is notable only because it marks the moment that Siegel and Shuster introduced Superboy to the world, without realizing that he would someday punch a literal hole in DC continuity.
19) Superman Movie Serial, “Superman Comes to Earth” (1948)
This movie serial was the first live-action version of Superman. It began with a rather basic origin with the standard details, except for both of Clark’s foster parents (this time named Eben and Martha) dying before he moved to Metropolis. It also paved the way for…
18) The Adventures of Superman TV Series, “The Last Son of Krypton” (1952)
This TV series had pretty much the same premise as the movie serial from a few year prior, but being on TV gave it 1) more time to tell more stories and 2) a wider audience to tell those stories to. The first episode was devoted to Superman arriving on Earth and deciding to become a superhero. It also established Clark Kent as moving to Metropolis and becoming Superman after the death of his foster father, which would later be used in Superman: The Movie.
17) Superman for All Seasons (1998)
?While being meant as a stand-alone tale, this series doesn’t actually contradict anything in Byrne’s Man of Steel origin, which was still canon at the time (see below). Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale set out to reexamine the disturbingly thick-necked Superman’s early days in four season chapters narrated by Johnathan Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Lana Lang.
16) Adventures of Superman Radio Serial, “The Baby from Krypton” (1940)
This long-running radio serial (it ran from 1940-51!) was the first appearance of Superman outside of the comics. His origin here includes odd bits like Krypton being a planet in Earth’s solar system on the opposite side of the sun, and Supes maturing in space then emerging from his ship as a fully grown adult. Most importantly, the radio show is where his weakness kryptonite was introduced for the first time.
15) It’s Superman! Novel (2005)
?Tom De Haven’s novel is actually one of two notable examples of Superman in prose. This one gets a mention on the list because it places the Man of Steel in real world locations instead of made-up cities. Starting in rural Kansas during the 1930s, Clark Kent goes to Hollywood, California, where he becomes Superman, and then to New York City where he meets reporter Lois Lane. The novel got good enough reviews that I plan to actually read it someday, instead of merely summarizing it.
14) Max Fleischer’s Superman Cartoons, “Superman” (1941)
The first animated version of Superman was found in the beloved Max Fleischer cartoons, who spent the first few minutes of the first episode, simply titled “Superman.” It’s his origin from Action Comics #1, almost verbatim. The Fleischer cartoons are most important for introducing one of the most important aspects of Superman: his ability to fly. Before the cartoons Superman was only able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound” which due to technical limitations didn’t look right in animation. Fleischer studios opted to have the Man of Steel soar through the air, which would become an essential signature of the character.
13) Superman: Birthright (2002)
Mark Waid started out writing a non-canonical Superman origin (which borrowed some elements from Smallville. like Clark and Lex having known each other in their youth) that was intended to be a quick introduction to the characters for new readers. Apparently someone in the upper brass at DC really liked his version, because the story was eventually declared to be official after all, thus replacing John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” as the “real” origin of Superman… at least until Infinite Crisis and Secret Origin.
12) World of Krypton (1979)
Another comic retelling of the final days of Krypton and its destruction. This one is noteworthy because writer Paul Kupperberg focused on the life story of Jor-El, giving him a richer history than before than simply “man who shot his baby into space.”
11) Smallville TV Series (2001-2011)
While yet another Superman origin story, Smallville was unique in one sense — it took 10 years to tell the damn thing. Tom Welling’s Clark Kent didn’t put on the suit until the final minutes of the final episode. The other 216 episodes involved nonsense like secret drift-racing clubs in Smallville.
10) Action Comics #1 (1939)
You may be wondering how the hell the very first appearance of Superman doesn’t even make number one on the list, or even the top five. That’s because the actual origin in Action #1 is only seven panels on one page. Seriously take a look!
That scant bit of information is all that was offered for back story in Supes’ first outing. The planet he came from wasn’t given a name, and he was discovered by a “passing motorist” and then put into an orphanage. All of the key elements of who Superman is would come later, so even though this serves as his formal introduction to the world the origin isn’t meaty enough to get a higher rank.
9) Superman #1 (1939)
Siegel and Shuster got a chance to expand on the origin from Action #1, but most of the additional material was incorporated from the daily newspaper comic strips that came along after Action Comics #1. It still gets a high spot on the list for being the first comic devoted entirely to Superman.
8) Superman #146 (1961)
While many writers have done comics rehashing Superman’s past, Otto Binder was the first to gather separate elements that had been introduced in the past and put them all together in one place. Touching on everything from the rocket leaving Krypton to the introduction of Krypto and Supergirl, this issue gave new readers of the day everything they needed to know about Kal-El in a single issue.
7) Superman: The Secret Years (1985)
Bob Rozakis had the distinction of being the first comics writer to tap into previously unmined territory in the Superman mythos, namely Clark Kent’s transition from Superboy into Superman. Unfortunately, all that hard work would be pissed away the following year when Crisis on Infinite Earths and Man of Steel rendered Superboy obsolete.
6) The Man of Steel (1986)
After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC wanted to give Superman a new, simpler and more easily accessible back story. John Byrne took on the monumental task and among other things declared that Clark’s powers developed slowly as he grew up under a yellow sun, which meant he was never Superboy. He also decided that instead of being put into a rocket as an infant, Kal-El was instead placed inside of a birthing matrix as a fetus… which is just plain creepy when ya think about it.
5) The Adventures of Superman Novel (1942)
This little-known novel is worthy of a mention on this list. George Lowther (who worked on the radio show) made the first attempt to expand the tale of Superman’s early life. The first few chapters provided the first detailed descriptions of Krypton along with Clark Kent’s upbringing on the farm of Eben and Sarah Kent (it wasn’t until much later than the Kents were officially renamed Johnathan and Martha). The novel also holds the distinction of being the first Superman story credited to someone other than Jerry Seigel, as well as the first novelization of a comic book super hero.
4) Superman: The Animated Series, “The Last Son of Krypton Parts I-III” (1996)
One of the most beloved forms of Superman to ever hit any screen. After their stellar work with Batman: The Animated Series, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm managed to catch lightning in a bottle a second time and bring Supes to the airwaves in all his awesome Kryptonian glory. The origin was told over the first three episodes, often presented as one hour-long special. This version is significant for adding Braniac into the destruction of Krypton, which made him a far more interesting nemesis for the Man of Tomorrow.
3) All-Star Superman #1 (2005)
Grant Morrison explains everything you need to know about Superman’s origin in eight words. Eight words.
2) Superman Daily Strips #1-12 (1939)
The first detailed origin of Superman was found, not in comic books, but in the daily newspaper strips, where Siegel and Shuster had originally intended to tell their story. After the characters caught fire in the funny books, they were able expand on the limited origin presented in Action Comics #1 and begin telling what would eventually become one of the most enduring modern myths in the world.
1) Superman: The Movie (1978)
While it may seem blasphemous to put anything other than a comic at the top of the list, there’s no denying that Richard Donner’s film is still the most dominant telling of Superman’s story, amalgamating the details of over 40 years worth of comics and other media and filtering out the worst elements. Over three decades later, this film still holds its ground against most of its modern rivals. The role was so iconic that for the rest of his life Christopher Reeve was associated with the character. Admit, just looking at the picture above gets that powerful theme by John Williams stuck in your head.