Celebrate Superman Month with a Historical Timeline! Part 2 – 1970s to 2010s
You know you love nerdy lists and timelines, people!
For those just joining us, June is often considered Superman month. The hero debuted in the 1938 June issue Action Comics #1. The real town of Metropolis, Illinois officially became “Superman’s hometown” in June. And in some comics, the hero celebrates his birthday one June 1o (the day he landed on Earth) and Clark Kent’s birthday on June 18 (the day he was adopted by the Kents and also the birthday of Bud Collyer, the first Superman actor).
So to celebrate, here’s PART TWO of our timeline. Catch up on PART ONE if you missed it!
1971 – Superman #233 starts a storyline that shakes up the status quo by: rendering all kryptonite on Earth powerless, having Clark Kent become a TV reporter for the Galaxy Broadcasting Company, and introducing a “Sandman Superman” duplicate that leeches away half of Superman’s general power. This idea to make Superman different and more vulnerable is quickly set aside. New Kryptonite samples wind up falling to Earth.
1972 – Superman #257 reveals that “Kal-El” is actually old Kryptonese for “Star Child.” Jor-El’s name is later said to mean “Great Star.”
In the real world where you and I exist (apparently), on June 9, the Illinois House of Representatives declares the real town of Metropolis, Illinois to be the official hometown of Superman.
1973 – There were plans this year to open up a full theme park called the Amazing World of Superman in the town of Metropolis, Illinois. Butt the delays of interstate construction and the oil crisis of the time caused this plans to halt. The park would have included a simulated space flight, a Bizarro exhibit, natural wonders of Krypton such as the Rainbow Falls, and a simulation of the interplanetary zoo in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
Instead, the town opens up a much smaller Superman Museum. Among its displays is a model of the starship that brought Superman to Earth. Up until this point, comics had always shown that Kal-El’s ship self-destructed after it landed. In deference to the real life museum, DC Comics revises Superman’s origin in the comics so his ship is not destroyed and remains intact.
The Superman museum only lasts a year. Twenty years later, it is revived and built across the street from the town’s 15-foot tall Superman statue.
1975 – The TV-adaptation of the musical It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman! The movie stars David Wilson as Superman and Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane (who auditions for Lois again for Superman: The Movie).
1976 – DC and Marvel publish the first of several special crossovers: Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man.
1978 – It’s Superman’s 40th anniversary and Superman: The Movie debuts in theaters. Christopher Reeve (age 26) plays Clark Kent while Margot Kidder (age 30) plays Lois Lane. Both will reprise the role in multiple sequels. Diane Sherry (age 26) plays teenage Lana Lang, while Jeff East (age 19) plays teenage Clark (though his voice is dubbed over by Reeve). Noel Neill and Kirk Alyn play Lois Lane’s parents in a scene that was cut from the theatrical release (but restored in the director’s cut and certain broadcast cuts).
The movie mimics the idea from the radio series that the S-shield is a Kryptonian symbol that only resembles a stylized English letter. The movie creates the idea that Lois Lane herself comes up with the name “Superman” to describe the hero (partly, it seems, because she mistakes the symbol for an S).
So far in the 40 years of Superman’s history, his adopted parents have always been depicted as dying of old age or disease as the hero reaches adulthood and before he begins his career in Metropolis. The movie interpretation proposes that his adopted mother survives and this idea will carry into different adaptations.
To tie-in with the movie publicity, the novel Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S! Maggin is published. It’s interpretation of Superman’s origin involves Jor-El sending a probe to Earth’s greatest mind, Albert Einstein, asking for his help in making sure Kal-El has a good life and is cared for. Einstein learns where and when Kal-El’s rocket will land and investigates the people of Smallville. Deciding that the Kents are good, honest, moral people, he arranges for them to be in the area of the ship’s landing.
Last Son of Krypton also included this quote: “The Kryptonians took as an assumption of their lives the fact that there was a right and a wrong in the Universe, and that value judgement was not very difficult to make.” This is said to be a belief that Superman himself adopts. Almost twenty years later, it will become popular with a new generation of comic readers in the story Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.
1979 – Superman restores the Bottle City of Kandor to proper size. The Kryptonians establish “New Krypton” on Rokyn, a planet that sometimes phases into another dimension for long stretches of time. Think of it as Superman’s Brigadoon.
1981 – The Superman novel Miracle Monday is published, written by comic book writer Elliot S! Maggin. The book influences several Superman writers to follow, including Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder. The book proposes that part of why Superman took a vow in the comics to never kill his enemies is because his ability to see the entire electromagnetic spectrum means he sees the presence of life. Sentient creatures have a colorful aura around them, animals a different one, plant life a different one, and when they are dead he sees a terrible absence of color.
1983 – By this time, Superman comics have fallen in priority for DC Comics. The stories are shorter and the hero is seen as an entry point for younger readers before they are mature enough to read more sophisticated superheroes such as Batman.
To bring new interest into the Superman stories, his two biggest enemies are revised. Luthor, who has by this point married and fathered a child on the planet Lexor (where he is considered a hero) attempts once more to destroy Superman, using an alien warsuit he discovers. His plans fail and result in the destruction of Lexor and his family. Luthor blames Superman and embarks on a quest for vengeance, now able to fight the hero physically due to his warsuit.
Brainiac has a near-death experience, resulting in a new perspective and a new, more obviously robotic body. He now believes that the “Master Programmer” of the universe has determined to stop Brainiac’s quest to attain power and intellectual perfection. To achieve his goals, Brainiac believes he must destroy Superman, whom he now considered to be the Master Programmer’s creation, an “angel of death.”
1985 – The multiverse is under threat in the DC Comics 50th anniversary crossover Crisis On Infinite Earths. A parallel universe version of Clark named Superboy-Prime debuts during this crossover. Supergirl sacrifices her life to save others. Superman takes her to be buried on New Krypton. The events of the Crisis (later known as the First Crisis) will result in many realities of the DC Multiverse being fused and rebooted into a new “Post-Crisis” DC Universe.
1986 – The Pre-Crisis Superman’s story concludes in the story “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” The story is written by Alan Moore, with some aid by Julius Schwartz, and art by Curt Swan and George Perez.
The Post-Crisis Superman Begins! A new version of Clark Kent who is a high school football star and grew up a popular kid is now introduced in the John Byrne mini-series Man of Steel. Krypton is now depicted as an emotionless place and Lara as a librarian who married Jor-El due to genetic compatibility. Jor-El is an aberration on Krypton, a person who experiences emotion and curiosity. Lara, on the other hand, considers love and emotions to be strange, near obscene things and concludes that Earth is a Hellish planet that should be molded to proper Kryptonian ways.
Superman’s powers are now entirely explained by solar radiation. Earth’s gravity and mass are not said to have any effect on him. For the first time in almost five decades of Superman’s comic book history, both of his adopted parents are still alive when he is an adult. Furthermore, Superman is now born on Earth, having been left Krypton when he as still a fetus inside an artificial “gestation matrix” that Jor-El attached a stardrive to.
DC Comics decides that Superman is to be the only survivor of Krypton, which means that Supergirl, Krypto, Kandor and the Phantom Zone villains are removed from history. Lex Luthor is now decades older than Clark and they didn’t meet until they were both adults. Luthor is no longer a scientist but a corrupt businessman who employs scientists and criminals instead.
1987 – The Post-Crisis Superman encounters the Legion of Super-Heroes for the first time, though now he is already an adult when they meet and has been a public superhero for over seven years. In the same story, Clark meets a younger version of himself called Superboy, who lives on another Earth in a pocket universe and whose life resembles that of the Pre-Crisis Superboy. This Superboy later dies to save the Legion and their world.
1988 – Superman journeys to the pocket universe version of Earth, which is under attack by that reality’s Phantom Zone villains. Despite his efforts, he is unable to prevent them from wiping out the entire human race of that world. Superman removes the villains’ powers but then fears the possibility that they’ll regain their abilities and continue to devastate planets and commit genocide. Believing this is an extreme circumstance where he alone is left to judge and enact justice for billions of dead human beings, Superman executes these villains with kryptonite. The trauma of this haunts him for years to come, resulting in a psychological break from reality as well as a temporary self-imposed exile.
The live-action TV series Superboy debuts on TV and will last 4 seasons, starring John Haymes Newton (age 23) in the first season. Starting in 1989, he’s replaced by Gerard Christopher (age 30) in the title role. Stacy Haiduk (age 20) plays Clark’s best friend and love interest Lana Lang.
The short-lived Ruby Spears Superman cartoon airs. Beau Weaver (age 36) plays Superman. Ginny McSwain plays Lois Lane, Ursa and Faora. Russi Taylor and Liz Georges play Lana Lang.
1989 – Superman encounters the Eradicator, a Kryptonian A.I. of great power that is tasked with preserving the culture of Krypton. In its early efforts to make Earth more like Krypton, the Eradicator creates the Post-Crisis Fortress of Solitude, based in Antarctica rather than the Arctic Circle.
Action Comics #642 reveals to readers that when the Green Lantern named Abin Sur was dying, his ring’s first choice for a replacement was Clark Kent rather than the hero Hal Jordan.
1990 – The Eradicator assumes a human form, called the Krypton Man. Superman stops the Eradicator from terraforming Earth entirely, hurtling the artificial life form into the sun.
Clark Kent proposes to Lois Lane in Superman #50. He confirms his secret identity to her, which she had already suspected and confronted him about years before, in Action Comics #662.
1992 – “The Death of Superman” introduces the Kryptonian monster Doomsday. It is followed by the storyline “Funeral for a Friend,” which leaves multiple clues that the hero is not really dead.
Batman: The Animated Series debuts, creating a new DC Animated Universe (or DCAU) that will carry through several shows to follow for over a decade.
1993 – The “Reign of the Supermen” saga, wherein new heroes are introduced who follow Superman’s legacy: Steel II (John Henry Irons) and a teenage clone who is dubbed Superboy. During this same arc, the Eradicator returns (now acting more for the benefit of humanity) and Superman’s enemy Hank Henshaw rebuilds himself into “Cyborg Superman.”
At the conclusion of “Reign of the Supermen,” the real Superman returns to active duty, now with longer hair because hey, it’s the ’90s.
The TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman debuts. Teri Hatcher (age 29) plays Lois Lane while Dean Cain (age 27) plays Superman. The show lasts four seasons.
1996 – Following Batman: The Animated Series, the DCAU continues with Superman: The Animated Series. This new cartoon stars Tim Daly (age 40) as the hero Kal-El and Dana Delany (age 40) as the crusading journalist Lois. Around this time, comics start again depicting Lex Luthor as having advanced knowledge of science. In the cartoon, Luthor is voiced by Clancy Brown (age 37) and doesn’t meet Clark Kent until they are both adults in Metropolis.
Clark and Lois finally get married and Batman gifts them a new apartment in the comic book special Superman: The Wedding Album. In the same issue, Superman finally gets a damn haircut.
Mark Waid and Alex Ross release Kingdom Come, an out-of-continuity Elseworlds story that explores a possible future where Superman compromises some of his morals and humanity in order to adjust to darker times.
1997 – Superman is changed into an energy being and given a new cape-less electric look. He must learn to function now with a different array of powers. Many refer to this as the “Electric Superman” era.
1998 – A trap set-up by the villain Cyborg Superman is supposed to destroy Superman’s energy form but instead splits him into two independent copies: Superman Red and Superman Blue. After a few months of this, Superman is re-merged into a single entity, regaining his original Kryptonian form and classic costume just in time for his 60th anniversary.
In Grant Morrison’s crossover DC 1 Million, Superman learns that in one possible future, he will father a dynasty of superheroes that will last at least until the 853rd century. He also discovers that in this possible future, he is still alive in the 853rd century and living in Earth’s sun. These ideas will be explored further in All-Star Superman years later.
1999 – Superboy (vol. 4) #59. The clone Superboy is invited to the Fortress of Solitude to learn more about Kryptonian culture. To signify that they are family, Superman gives the teen the name “Kon-El,” which was the name of a relative on Krypton (and can be reassembled to spell “klone”).
2000 – Metropolis is infected by technology from the future, making it a true “City of Tomorrow.”
Superman establishes a new Fortress of Solitude using tesseract technology, making it a mobile structure that is much larger on the inside than the outside. Later on, Superman temporarily relocates this version of the Fortress so that it is hidden within the globe display that sits on the roof of the Daily Planet building.
The year ends with Lex Luthor becoming President of the United States.
2001 – Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness’s “Return to Krypton” story has Superman doubt some of the origin established in Man of Steel and opens the door to bringing back more Silver Age elements over the next few years. It is now unclear if Superman was born on Krypton or on Earth (as the mini-series Man of Steel depicted). The Kryptonian data crystals from Superman: The Movie are now brought into the comics. A new version of Krypto the super-dog appears (later revealed to be an animal native to a false version of Krypton created by the villain Brainiac-13).
The TV series Smallville debuts, starring Tom Welling (age 26) as a teenage Clark Kent and Michael Rosenbaum (age 29) as young Lex Luthor. It will last ten seasons. Actor Brandon Routh (age 21) auditioned for this role but, obviously, didn’t get it.
The DCAU continues in Justice League (and the follow-up series Justice League Unlimited). George Newbern (age 37) now stars as Superman.
2003 – Mark Waid and Leinil Yu present Superman: Birthright, a modernization of the hero’s origin and early days that incorporating elements from various previous versions and adaptations. This story establishes that Superman’s shield is not only the crest of the House of El but is also a Kryptonian symbol signifying “hope” and the desire to fight for a better tomorrow. Lara is once again established as a scientist and helps perfect the starship that sends Kal-El to Earth.
Birthright re-establishes that Lex is only a few years older than Clark and that they met in Smallville. Lex Luthor is revealed to be a brilliant scientist who used his patents and intelligence to become a powerful businessman.
It is now official once again that Superman was born on Krypton and sent to Earth as a baby, rather than being born on Earth. Once again, it is said that his costume is made from Kryptonian fabric rather than simple Earth cloth.
In the story “Public Enemies,” it is revealed that Luthor has been injecting himself with his own version of the Venom formula that empowers Batman’s enemy Bane, lacing it with traces of kryptonite. This affects Luthor’s mind and he decides to end his feud with Superman once and for all, declaring that the Man of Steel is a traitor to the U.S. He then battles Superman directly, wearing a new version of the 1980s warsuit that incorporates a combination of his own research and New God technology from the planet Apokolips. During all this, Bruce Wayne stages a hostile takeover of much of LexCorp, and a public broadcast reveals Luthor’s admission that he is a war criminal motivated by evil intentions. Luthor loses the U.S. Presidency and his LexCorp resources, truly becoming a publicly wanted super-villain for the first time since the Crisis.
2005 – Superman establishes a new Fortress in the Amazon rainforest.
The 12-part series All-Star Superman begins, written by Grant Morrison and with art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant. It comes to be regarded as perhaps the definitive Superman story for modern readers and influences many stories in the years that follow.
The crossover Infinite Crisis begins, a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths.
2006 – Superboy (Kon-El) dies in Infinite Crisis #6. In the same issue, reality is altered slightly so that more Pre-Crisis elements return to Superman’s continuity. Superman’s execution of the pocket universe villains is removed from history. Superman of Earth-2 dies in Infinite Crisis #7. Superman loses his powers for a year. The Post-Infinite Crisis version of the DC Universe is referred to as “Earth Zero.”
52: Week Two reveals that inverting the S-shield makes the Kryptonian symbol mean “resurrection.”
Superman Returns is released to theaters, starring Brandon Routh (age 27) and Kate Bosworth (age 23) as Lois Lane. Kevin Spacey (age 47) plays Lex Luthor.
The cartoon series Legion of Super-Heroes debuts, starring Yuri Lowenthal as a teenage Clark Kent who travels to the 30th century to operate as a superhero. It lasts two seasons.
In the Post-Infinite Crisis story “Up, Up and Away,” Kryptonian crystals are now said to be called “sunstones.” Superman creates a new Fortress of Solitude that resembles the one in Superman: The Movie.
Superman encounters Lor-Zod, son of Dru-Zod. He and Lois decide to give the boy a home. They name him Christopher Kent.
2008 – Brave and the Bold #10 reveals that the medieval hero Brian Kent AKA the Silent Knight is an ancestor of the Kent family of Kansas. Superman/Batman #50 establishes that Thomas Wayne and Jor-El actually met via hologram transmission less than a year before the births of Bruce Wayne and Kal-El.
Action Comics Annual #11 has Christopher Kent sent into the Phantom Zone. When he appears again, he is fully grown.
The New Krypton saga, followed by the series The World of New Krypton, establishes a new, complex culture for the Kryptonians, incorporating elements from all previously established versions. Thousands of Kryptonian survivors appear, causing great concern to the people of Earth. The survivors grow a new planet to call home, which they call New Krypton.
Superman battles to save all of reality again in the year-long crossover Final Crisis, which continues into 2009. During this, he teams up with versions of himself from across the multiverse.
2010 – War of the Supermen features the destruction of the New Krypton planet. Its survivors, led by General Dru-Zod, attack Earth. This leads to the “100 Minute War.”
The first of DC’s new Earth One graphic novels is published. Superman: Earth One gives a different take on Clark Kent and his origin story, taking place outside of the DC Universe.
2011 – The DC Universe is once again rebooted as a result of the Flashpoint saga. The “New 52” reality is established. Superman and Lois are younger now and neither married nor have ever dated. At the beginning for the New 52, Superman has only been in operation for about six years. He starts his superhero career with a cloak made of Kryptonian fabric and a T-shirt he prints the S-shield on. Later, he acquires Kryptonian formal “biotech” armor.
It is established that the name Lara Lor-Van translates to “Light of Waxing Moon.”
The full nature and history of this version of Superman is still being established. He becomes a founding member of the Justice League and, after five years, begins dating teammate Wonder Woman.
2012 – Following the end of Smallville on TV, series script editor Bryan Q. Miller writes the digital-first series Smallville Season 11. The series continues into 2015, expanding the universe established in the TV show.
2013 – The movie Man of Steel hits theaters, beginning a new cinematic universe for DC Comics heroes. The film stars Henry Cavill (age 29) as Superman and Amy Adams (age 39) as Lois Lane.
2015 – In the Convergence saga, we learn that the Pre-New 52 Superman and Lois were not erased from history but still live in a portion of their universe that was kept intact. The two are still married. During the events of Convergence, Lois gives birth to their son, Jonathan Samuel Kent. At the end of the event, Pre-New 52 Superman joins a team attempting to prevent the destruction of the original multiverse during the First Crisis. They apparently succeed, which indicates that somewhere in the multiverse or beyond, the Pre-New 52 Superman and Lois still live and are raising their son together.
Back to the New 52 reality. During a battle with the superhuman Ulysses, Superman accidentally activate a new “super-flare” power. By expelling all of his collected solar energy at once, his body creates a massive explosion and becomes powerless. It takes a full day for his powers to completely return.
In Action Comics #41, a new status quo begins. Superman is now closer to his 1938 power levels and his secret identity is now public knowledge.
That brings us up to speed, folks. Hope you enjoyed this! Look out for the Supergirl, Superwoman, Power Girl timeline next (with more info on certain aspects of Lois and Lana’s lives).
Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is the author of the New York Times Best Seller Doctor Who: A History. He is an actor, host, comic book historian and geek consultant who has recently relocated from NYC to LA. Archives of his work can be found at: AlanKistler.com
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