published Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Superman Celebrating 75 years of the Man of Steel (with video)

Test your Superman trivia knowledge
Can you believe Superman is a senior citizen? With the first comic books hitting the shelves in 1938, the "Man of Steel" turns 75 this year. So counting all those years, the Times Free Press decided it was time to hit the streets and ask people to test their Superman knowledge.
Brandon Routh portrayed Superman in 2006 in "Superman Returns."
Brandon Routh portrayed Superman in 2006 in "Superman Returns."
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SUPERMAN, MULTIMEDIA MOGUL

* 1933: High school students Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel create the character of Superman for the third issue of Siegel's self-published fanzine "Science Fiction."

* June 1938: Superman makes his comic book debut in "Action Comics No. 1."

* 1940-1951: "The New Adventures of Superman," a radio serial, airs more than 2,000 episodes.

* 1941-1943: Paramount and Fleischer studios create 17 animated Superman shorts to play before feature films.

* 1948: Columbia produces a 15-part black-and-white, live-action serial starring Kirk Alyn as the first actor to portray Superman.

* 1952-1958: The franchise transitions to the small screen in "The Adventures of Superman" TV series starring George Reeves.

* March 1966: A Broadway musical, "It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman" debuts at Manhattan's Alvin Theatre.

* 1966-1970: CBS airs 68 episodes of the Saturday morning cartoon "The New Adventures of Superman."

* 1973-1986: Superman appears on ABC alongside other comic book characters in the Hanna-Barbera-produced Saturday morning cartoon "Super Friends."

* 1978: The Man of Steel appears in the Atari 2600 title, "Superman," the first of many video games roles.

* December 1978: Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder appear in the first of four "Superman" feature films.

* 1980: "Superman II" is released.

* 1983: "Superman III" is released.

* 1987: "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" is released.

* 1988: A single season of a new animated TV series, "Superman," airs on CBS.

* 1993-1997: ABC broadcasts the live-action drama "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher.

* 2001-2011: The WB (later the CW) airs 10 seasons of "Smallville," which initially focuses on Superman's origins in rural Kansas and his later move to Metropolis.

* 2006: "Superman Returns," a Bryan Singer-directed pseudo-sequel to "Superman II" is released, starring Brandon Routh.

* June 2013: A reboot of the Superman franchise, "Man of Steel," is released into theaters.

BY THE NUMBERS

* $659.3 million -- Domestic box office ticket sales (as of Tuesday) for the "Superman" film franchise.

* 4.5 million -- Number of Facebook fans of Superman.

* 9.2 million -- Number of Facebook fans of Batman.

* $100 -- Price paid at a 1966 auction for a copy of "Action Comics No. 1," in which Superman debuted.

* $2.16 million -- Price paid for the same issue at a November 2011 auction

* 104 -- Number of episodes in the Man of Steel's first TV series, the "The Adventures of Superman."

* 25 -- Number of iterations that Superman's iconic chest symbol has gone through in 75 years.

* 1 -- Position of Superman on pop culture website IGN's list of the Top 100 Comic Book Heroes.

* "I love him. He's super-sweet, super-strong, super-helpful [and] super-cute -- a super dude! Don't mess with my Superman!"

-- Ginny Barnes

* "Christopher Reeve really embodied the spirit of Superman. What he stood for in real life and the challenges he faced were what made me love the character so much. I think it would be difficult to see someone else playing that role."

-- Charly Sems

* "I've loved Superman since the black-and-white TV show. I guess because he stands for 'truth, justice and the American way.' Sadly, any real person who acted like that [in real life] would be ridiculed and bullied."

-- Suzy Shea

* "Superman is the worst superhero ever. He's flawless; he is everything that normal people can't be. Completely unbelievable. I want a hero who isn't invulnerable."

-- Drew Hartl

DID YOU KNOW

• Elements of Superman's name and setting were derived from popular movies. His adopted city, Metropolis, was named for Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film of the same name. His alter ego, Clark Kent, was named for actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor.

• According to the 1978 feature film, "Superman," the planet Krypton has a 28-hour day.

• Clark Kent's favorite book and movie is "To Kill a Mockingbird."

• Superman's Kryptonian name "Kal-El" translates from Hebrew as "Voice of God" or "All That God Is."

• In 1942 during World War II, Time magazine reported that the Navy declared that Superman comics be included as "essential supplies" for Marines garrisoned at the Midway Islands.

• In a 1978 issue, Superman squared off with legendary pugilist Muhammed Ali in a match attended by Gerald Ford, Andy Warhol and Batman, among other real and fictional celebrities. Boxing fans will be satisfied to know that Ali won handily.

• As originally conceived, Superman was depicted as a bald-headed villain with incredible mental abilities.

• Clark Kent/Superman's birthday is hard to pin down. It has been listed variously as "some time in October" or, more specifically, on Feb. 29, June 18 and Dec. 1.

• In a 1996 issue, Superman finally married longtime flame and Daily Planet co-worker, Lois Lane, but a reboot of the DC Comics universe last year undid the nuptials. In October, a story arc will publish that pairs him romantically with Wonder Woman.

• Actor Nicolas Cage is a huge comic collector and had his copy of "Action Comics No. 1" stolen from him in 2000 and later recovered in 2011. A movie based on the incident, "Action No. 1" is listed as in development on the Internet Movie Database.

FASTER THAN A ... MORE POWERFUL THAN A ...

Over the course of decades of issues and different interpretations by different authors, artists and filmmakers, Superman's powers have evolved, sometimes dramatically. The following are his most-consistent abilities:

• Superhuman strength

• Hypersonic flight

• Near invulnerability

• X-ray/heat vision

• Hurricane-force/freezing breath

• Extremely keen senses

• Genius-level intellect

When it comes to Superman's accomplishments during his 75-year career, there's no need to resort to hyperbole.

In addition to being the world's most high-profile spokesperson for the benefits of solar power and vitamin D, the Man of Steel has saved the planet from nearly every evil power imaginable, turned back time, returned from the dead, kissed his sweetheart on the moon and has a home inside the sun.

Not bad for a septuagenarian.

"Superman has endured for 75 years because he strikes a chord in everyone who ever aspired to be something greater than they are," says Rev Dan Wilson, a life-long Superman fan and co-host of The Getchyapulls, a comic book podcast. "Superman represents the very best in humanity -- sacrifice, helping others, standing up for the downtrodden, courage under fire."

His pull is still super-strong, judging by the $125 million taken in by the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel" when it opened last weekend. While keeping Superman's origin story -- home planet of Krypton explodes, his parents send him to Earth to save him, he develops superpowers once under Earth's yellow sun -- "Man of Steel" makes Superman a bit edgier, portraying him as a superhero who doesn't really want to be a superhero.

Superman was the brainchild of Cleveland, Ohio, high school students Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, whom cultural analysts suggest drew inspiration for their creation from mythical figures such as Sampson and Hercules as well as 1930s pulp fiction icons Zorro, The Shadow, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

In June 1938, Shuster and Siegel's creation debuted on the cover of the inaugural issue of Action Comics. While somewhat different from his modern depictions -- he jumped incredible distances but couldn't fly -- Superman set a precedent that many argue established the superhero archetype and many of its most iconic trappings, from fluttering capes to the secret identity.

"If it weren't for Superman, there wouldn't be an entire genre of superhero stories," reads British film magazine Empire's description of the Man of Steel, its No. 1 selection in a feature about the greatest comic book heroes of all time. "Every single tights-and-powers character who has come along after him is defined by how similar or how different they are from [him]."

Yet for all his near-god-like power and his origins on an alien planet, Superman's fans say the character has long upheld values that are strikingly human and close to home.

Chattanooga's Scott Fogg, a contributor to Last Cast, a geek culture podcast, was introduced to Superman when his parents taped the 1978 feature film in which Christopher Reeve first stepped into the knee-high red boots. Superman, he says, introduced him to the world of comics and became the litmus test for every superhero that followed.

The Man of Steel's most-striking quality isn't his ability to fly or his formidable arsenal of powers, Fogg says, but rather his desire to defend the defenseless.

"What most people fail to see ... is that Superman's real weakness is his heart," he explains. "He cares and he loves and he worries far too much. He's not foolish, but he's ever-hopeful, and that's what gets him in trouble the most."

Like many superheroes, Superman's storyline frequently has drawn inspiration from actual social and political trends.

When he first appeared during the Great Depression, his earliest foes were not supernatural but man-made, including corrupt politicians and businessmen, drunk drivers and gangsters. And occasionally, the intersection of comic and real world was more concrete.

In one 1940s issue, the Man of Steel bodily carries Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler to Geneva, Switzerland, to stand trial for war crimes. In the mid-'40s, the popular radio serial "The Adventures of Superman" pitted him against the Ku Klux Klan. During the post-World War II era and the rise of McCarthyism, each episode of "The Adventures of Superman" TV show began with Superman's patriotic catch-phrase to stand for "truth, justice and the American way."

The Man of Steel often has reflected social change, but the mirror works both ways, says Chattanooga's Josh McDaniel, a lifelong fan whose arm bears a tattoo of Superman's signature S-shield.

"Superman ... show[s] us how to be better," McDaniel says. "I assume this is why some may have a problem with him. It is hard to look in a mirror and see what is wrong with yourself.

"However, Superman's purpose is to help people realize the answer to the imperfections lies within the same reflection. This is perhaps the most ironic aspect of Superman's character: It takes an alien to show us how to be more human."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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