Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Episode #62: Superman's Origin Stories!

On this week of Superman's traditional birthday, I thought a good topic for this episode would be the many origin stories over the years. Superman's origin has been retold many times over the decades, and has been developed, added to and changed for each new generation of Superman readers.

Superman's original origin was a very brief one page origin at the beginning of Action Comics #1, the June 1938 issue, on sale approximately on May 3, 1938. This brief origin contained the basics of Superman's origin that has remained unchanged for 70 years, even if the details have not. The first panel showed a rocket flying away from a city of collapsing building, barely escaping the destruction of the planet, from old age. The rocket is found by an unnamed motorist who took the infant to an orphanage. This toddler shows incredible strength at the orphanage. The next panel shows the adult, dressed in a normal suit, showing his incredible powers. He can leap 1/8 mile, raise tremendous weights (shown lifting a steel girder), and running faster than an express train. The Superman identity is created so Clark can use his abilities for humanity's benefit. The last panel shows insects who display incredible strength for their size. In this basic origin Superman is shown using his super powers as an adult. There is no Superboy at this point. Superboy did not appear until 1945 in More Fun Comics #101, after DC vetoed the original Siegel and Shuster version a few years earlier, before Siegel was drafted into the army.

The next origin was told in Superman #1 1939, on sale on May 18, 1939. This origin added more details to Superman's origin, and expanded to two whole pages. This origin is the first to mention the Kents being the people who found the infant. The husband is unnamed, but he calls his wife's name Mary. The Kents return to the orphanage to adopt the baby. The orphanage are only too happy to oblige before the terrible toddler breaks everything in their building. The Kents are briefly shown counseling young Clark on his powers. They tell him to keep his powers secret because humanity will fear him, but when the time is right he must use his powers for good. Clark is shown at their graves after they die, then appearing as Superman.

A full origin story did not appear until Superman #53, July/August 1948, published on May 5, 1948, ten years after he first appeared in comics. This story appeared in two reprint editions: The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (1987) , and Superman In The Forties, both trade paperbacks. The Origin of Superman was written by Bill Finger, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye, during the editorial reign of Mort Weisinger. This story has been reprinted in several editons: The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (1987 edition), and Superman In The Forties.

Other stories added details to Superman's origin. One example was Adventure Comics #210, March 1955. This issue contained a story which marked the first appearance of Krypto the Super-Dog. In the story we learned that Jor-El launched a prototype rocket, using the toddler Kal-El's pet Krypto as a passenger. The launch was successful, but before the rocket could return, it was knocked out of orbit and floated into space to eventually land on Earth. This story was reprinted in Superman In The Fifties and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. III.

Superman Returns To Krypton, in Superman #61, Nov./Dec. 1949, approximately on sale on September 7, 1949, told the story of Superman discovering his Kryptonian heritage. This story was also written by Bill Finger, with art done by Al Plastino. This story was reprinted in the Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told and Superman In The Forties. I have not read this story, but have listened to the plot, as described by Bill Jourdain on his excellent podcast the Golden Age of Comic Books, episode #42, for August 15, 2006. The enhanced version has cover photos embedded, so you can view them on your mp3 player.

Superman's origin was retold again in Superman #146, July 1961, originally on sale on May 4, 1961. The Story of Superman's Life was written by Otto Binder and drawn again by Al Plastino. This story incorporated details of Superboy's life and the origin of the Superboy / Superman costume, adding details from past stories.

Another retelling of Superman's origin appeared in The Amazing World of Superman (Metropolis Edition) from 1973. Simply titled The Origin Of Superman, the story was reprinted in Limited Collector's Edition presents Superman, issue C-31, November 1974, an oversized tereasury edition. Carmine Infantino did the layouts, Curt Swan the pencils, Murphy Anderson the inks, and E. Nelson Bridwell wrote the dialogue. This story did not add any new details, but touched on general details previously told in past origin stories, including Clark's first name coming from his adopted mother's maiden name, Superboy's special goodbye to Smallville and Superman being granted citizenship in every member nation of the United Nations.

Later mini-series added details to Clark Kent/Superman's back story. World Of Krypton, a three issue mini-series from July to September 1979 detailed Jor-El's life. The Krypton Chronicles, a three issue mini-series from September to November 1981, fleshed out some of the history of Krypton and of the El family line. It included a visit to the restored city of Kandor by Superman and Supergirl, a sequel of Superman #338, the August 1979 issue, published on May 21, 1979. Superman: The Secret Yearswas a four issue mini-series from February to May 1985. It detailed Clark's college career and showed how he matured from Superboy to Superman after defeating Lex Luthor's latest world threatening plot.

The most extensive revision of Superman began after the Crisis On Infinite Earths mini-series. Superman's new origin was told in the six issue mini-series Man Of Steel, collected in the trade paperback by the same name and still in print. This origin story appeared in bi-weekly issues from July to September 1986. Krypton, instead of being a scientific paradise, was an arid desert world with an advanced civilization, as a result of a terrible civil war eons in the past. (This civil war was told in the four issue mini-series World Of Krypton, which appeared about a year after Man Of Steel.) The citizens of Krpton led solitary lives with few personal interactions because of their advanced technology, allowing them to communicate remotely. Kal-El was not rocketed to Earth as an infant, but came to Earth as an embryo in a "birthing matrix" attached to a small star drive. The orphanage was skipped completely. The younger Kent couple found the infant Kal-El, just before the winter storm of the century snowed them into their home for months, enough time for it to be feasible that Martha conceived and gave birth to the infant Clark. Clark was never Superboy, which messed up Legion of Super-Heroes continuity, and was a football star at Smallville High as his powers slowly developed. There was no Kandor or Supergirl. Kal-El/Clark Kent was returned to his place as the the only survivor of Krypton, which has changed in recent months of Superman stories in 2008/2009.

World of Smallville and World of Metropolis completed the trilogy begun by World of Krypton in filling in the backstory of this new Superman continuity. Issue 3 of World of Metropolis featured the young Clark Kent, after leaving Smallville at the end of Man Of Steel #1, moving to Metropolis after months of travel. In this issue he got a job as a cook at a diner and enrolling in Metropolis University.

Subsequent mini-series developed Superman's origins in his post-Crisis continuity. Superman For All Seasons, written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale, explored Superman's first year in costume, using the seasons of the year as a framework to tell the story through the point of view of a different member of Superman's supporting cast; Spring was Jonahtan Kent, Summer was Lois Lane, Fall was Lex Luthor and Winter was Lana Lang. This four issue mini-series was published in 1998 and is still in print. Superman:Birthright was a revision of Superman's origin for the 21st century. The twelve issue mini-series was published in 2003-2004, and was written by Mark Waid and drawn by Leinil Francis Yu. The Kents were made younger, close to the same age of the actors who portrayed the Kents in the tv show Smallville. There is more conflict between Jonathan and Clark. Jonathan feels left behind as Clark/ Superman explores his Kryptonian heritage. This story also details Superman's first meeting with Lex (in Smallville), Lois, Perry and Jimmy. Krypton was revised to be a scientific paradise. and the S symbol had a significance on Krypton, meaning hope for a better tomorrow.

The latest revision began in Action Comics #850, late July 2007, on sale May 30, 2007. Supergirl is stuck in the 31st century, and she is viewing her era through a Brainiac 5 invention. It is part of his research to return her to her correct timeline. We see a reconnection of Superman to the Legion of Super-Heroes as Clark is shown with a Legion flight ring. Kryptonian dress and architecture, similar to that found in Superman:The Movie is shown, as well as a crystalline Fortress of Solitude. A new Superman origin will appear later in 2009: Superman: Secret Origins, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank. A panoramic cover art, showing a young Clark Kent in a Superboy costume, hints at a possible return of Supeboy to Legion continuity. (This is a slight surprise, with the ongoing Superboy litigation between DC Comics and the Siegel heirs.) With recent Johns/Franks stories, this new origin promises to be an excellent story and I can't wait to see it published.

Superman Fan Podcast can be found at . Send e-mail about this podcast to

My Pull List is my spoiler free review blog of the comic books I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to

Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Episode #61: Curt Swan: "I Flew With Superman"!

Curt Swan was born on February 17, 1920 (died June 16, 1996). To comemorate the anniversary of his birth, the topic of this episode is a story he drew, and co-starred in, in the back of Superman Annual #9, 1983, titled I Flew With Superman. I could find no reprint information about this issue. If you would like to read this story before listening to this episode (which I would reccommend) you should be able to find this issue on line or in the back issue bin of your local comic book shop. I found my copy in the back issue bins of my comic book store Acme Comics (

The editor on this issue was Julius Schwartz. The cover was drawn by Gil Kane. He had a clever way of placing his name on the cover. Near the lower right corner of the cover, on a sign on a storefront partially covered in the background, Gil wrote his name. Higher on the page on a skyscraper in the background he wrote his stylized initials. The first story, titled Villian, Villain, Who's Got The Villain? was written by Elliot S! Maggin, pencilled by the legendary Alex Toth, inked by Terry Austin, lettered by Gasper Saldino and colored by Thomas J. Ziuko. The villain of the story was Lex Luthor, portrayed in the slightly slapstick Gene Hackman style of Lex Luthor from the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. The Gene Hackman version of Lex Luthor is one of my least favorite versions of the character, and one of the weak points (along with Otis) of the first two Superman movies, which I love.

I Flew With Superman was plotted by Cary Bates, written by Elliot S! Maggin, pencilled and inked by Curt Swan (one of the few stories he did that on), lettered by John Costanza and colored by Anthony Tollin. The story begins with Curt Swan at his well worn drawing table, drawing a splash page of Sueprman flying over Metropolis, toward the reader. Curt was pulling an all-nighter to meet his deadline and working through his exhuastion. He falls asleep at his drawing table and wakes up on a park bench. He thinks he sleptwalked into the city, and begins walking around to get his bearings before catching the train home. He is shocked when he finds himself in front of the Galaxy Broadcasting / Daily Planet building. Curt then buys a newspaper at a newsvendor on the sidewalk. It is the latest edition of the Daily Planet. He wanders up to the apartment building at 344 Clinton, Clark Kent's address. Frank the doorman buzzes Clark, who invites Curt to his apartment 3-D. After a brief discussion about Superman's status in our universe, Clark changes into Superman and takes Curt for a flight over the Metropolis skyline. Superman has to leave Curt on the Daily Planet globe as he stops a mugging in an alley. After dropping the muggers off to authroities, he picks up Curt and returns him to his own world in a flash of light. Curt wakes up on his drawing board and sees that he fell asleep for seven hours. Just as he thinks he's going to call Julie Schwartz, his editor, to tell him he'll be late finishing his story, Curt looks at the page on his drawing board. It is the fully lettered and inked last page where Curt appeared with Superman. He then remembered that just before Superman returned Curt to his own dimension he shook his hand. Curt remembered that Superman placed something in his hand during the handshake. When Curt opened his right hand he found three bullets that Superman stopped when he caught the muggers.

In Eddy Zeno's book Curt Swan: A Life In Comics, Curt's two daughter made some comments about this story. Oldest daughter Karin Swan Brooks talked about how we think things will last forever. When Curt's grown children mentioned to him that they didn't have any original comic book art pages to remember him by, Curt gave each of them a page from I Flew With Superman. Karin received the title page.

Youngest child Cecelia Swan Swift commented on the final page of the story, when Curt opens his hand to find the three bullets in his palm. In a coincidence, after Curt died and he was cremated, she received some of his ashes in a small brass container, shaped like a bullet.

Superman Fan Podcast can be found at . Send e-mail about this podcast to

My Pull List is my spoiler free review blog of the comic books I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail to

Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Episode # 60: Clark Kent's College Girlfriend!

On this episode for the week of Valentine's Day I wanted to feature another of the L. L. women in Clark Kent's / Superman's life, Lori Lemaris. She first appeared in the story The Girl In Superman's Past, which was the third story in Superman #12p, the May 1959 issue (published on approximately March 19, 1959). If you would like to read and enjoy this story for yourself before listening to this podcast, because I will be reviewing the entire plot, there are several reprint editions that contain this story, at a price to fit your budget:
The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told TPB (1987)
The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told HC
Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I
Superman: the Man of Tomorrow Archives vol. II HC

The editor during this era was Mort Weisinger. Curt Swan pencilled the cover, which was inked by Stan Kaye. It featured the first story, about Lois Lane as a ghost. Bill Finger wrote the story The Girl In Superman's Past, which was subtitled An Untold Story Of Superman. Wayne Boring pencilled the art, which was inked by Stan Kaye. The story opens with Clark and Lois in the grandstands of the home stadium of the Metropolis University football team, on a winter day. Lois has a blanket on her lap, which reminds Clark about a girl he first met in college, Lori Lemaris (yet another L. L. woman in his life). Clark first met her when her wheelchair was rolling out of control down a hill and she couldn't stop it. Clark secretly used his heat vision to slightly melt the wheelchair's tires enough to make them tacky enough to stick to the ground and slow it down. When the wheelchair comes to an abrupt stop and throws her out of the chair, Clark by this time is close enough to catch her. Their eyes meet and Clark is in love.

In the days ahead Clark can't get her face out of his mind. Several days later he toured the Ark, a floating aquarium. An onboard explosion shattered some of the tanks, allowing the fish to escape off the Ark and into Metropolis harbor. Clark jumped overboard, changing into Superman, and rounded up the escaped fish. He was shocked to find Lori also underwater, her blanket tightly wrapped around her legs. She was caught in a tentacle of a giant octopus. Superman noticed her lips moving, as if she was communicating wtih the creature. He carries her to shore. Clark and Lori begin dating, and he fantasized about how he would show Lori his devotion to her, as only Superman could do. Some time later Lori suddenly broke off the relationship, telling Clark she needed to return to her family, who lived overseas. He was heartbroken, and decided he couldn't live without her. He was willing to give up his life as Superman to marry Lori. That evening Clark took Lori for a walk and proposed to her. As he was about to tell her his secret identity Lori tells Clark she knows he is Superman, but wouldn't reveal how she knew. Nevertheless she rejected his proposal.

Superman used his x-ray vision to spy on Lori at her small trailer (ala Superman Returns) and saw her radio some unknown person to tell them that she would return that night. That made Superman wonder if Lori was actually a spy. After she left her trailer Superman went in (superman breaking and entering?) and in place of a bed saw a salt water tank. Only one conclusion made sense, so he flew away to find Lori. Superman found Lori, who already knew that he had discovered her secret. At that moment Superman notices a neaby dam bursting. Lori asks to help and the both of them rescue victims and save their houses, and Lori revealed herself as a mermaid.

After their rescue effort was finished Lori told Superman about her life in Atlantis, and how she was sent to the surface world to study huan devleopment, as Atlanteans did every hundred years.Superman reluctantly let her return to Atlanis without him , but not without one final underwater kiss. Back at the football game Lois noticed Clark's far away gaze. When she asked him what he was thinking about Clark replied that he was thinking about an old friend and why he never married. Lois said that Superman would never marry her because he would never give up his career. Clark thought to himself that Lois would never know that once Superman almost did.

Lori would make about 74 appearances in DC Comics, according to In another appearance, in Superman #135, February 1960, Jerry Siegel wrote the story Superman's Mermaid Sweetheart. It was pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. Clark investigates reports of mermaid sightings, hoping the source of the sightings was Lori Lemaris herself. It was, and after some discussion and the permission of the leaders of Atlantis, Lori agreed to marry Superman, who had promised to leave the surface world and live at Atlantis. But Lori was injured by a deranged fisherman. She was paralyzed in the attack. Superman searched the galaxy for someone with the knowledge to cure her. He found such a genius on another world of merpeople. He agreed to return to Earth. When Superman returned to Atlantis he was overjoyed to find Lori cured, but was heartbroken to find that Lori and her savior had fallen in love. A dejected Superman returned to his life on the surface.

When John Byrne revamped Superman in the mid-1980's he adapted both of these stories into his own tale, Lost Love, which appeared in Superman vol. II #12, the December 1987 issue (published on September 8, 1987). One difference was that the merman who cured her paralysis, Ronal, was an Earth merman, not from another planet. Another difference was that she came to the surface world to search for other lost cities of Atlantian descendants.

According to, Lori made about 74 appearances in DC Comics. The pre-Crisis version of the character died in the final issue of Crisis On Infinite Earths, #12, defending Atlantis from an attack by shadow demons. In Action Comics #583 (Sept. 1986), part two of the story Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? a statue of Lori Lemaris is shown in Superman's Fortress of Solitude.

The post-Crisis Lori Lemaris has also continued to make appearances in DC Comics. During the 1990's Lori magically gained the ability to have legs when she was dry and transform into a mermaid when wet, like the Daryl Hannah movie Splash, in a Superman storyline. She briefly stayed with Lois Lane, and Lori's status as an old flame of Clark's temproarily put a strain on Clark and Lois' relationship. Later, the Spectre destroyed Atlantis during the Infinite Crisis mini-series. Lori survived the attack and has made appearances since in DC comics.

Back in DC Comics Presents #5, the January 1979 issue, in the story The War Of The Undersea Cities, it is noted that Lori Lemaris was a citizen of Tritonis, and Aquaman was a citizen of Poseidonis.

Note for Episode #61: In honor of Curt Swan's birthday I will share the story I Flew With Superman from Superman Annual #9, where Curt drew himself co-starring with Superman.

Superman Fan Podcast can be found at . Send e-mail about this podcast to .

My Pull List is my spoiler free review blog of the comic books I read every week. It can be found at http://mypulllist.blogspotcom . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Superman and all related characters are copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Episode #59: Happy Birthday, Ray Middleton!

Ray Middleton was born on February 8, 1907 in Chicago, and died on April 10, 1984, age 77, at Panorama City, California. He holds the distinction, in Superman history, of being the first actor to portray Superman in costume. He did not appear as Superman on movies, and TV was not available to the masses. Nor did he appear on the radio, where a costume would be unnecessary. Ray Middleton made a public appearance as Superman on July 3, 1940 at "Superman Day" at the 1939-1940 New York's World's Fair.

He had a long acting career, appearing on Broadway in 1931, to movies and television as well, until the early 1980's. His first appearance on Broadway was as the Giant in the show Jack & The Beanstalk. Among his first movie appearances was in Gangs of Chicago in 1940. In 1941 he appeared in the John Wayne movie Lady From Louisiana, as Blackburn "Blackie" Williams. In the movie Wayne played a northern lawyer who went to New Orleans to clean up the local crime syndicate. During WWII Middleton served in the Army Air Forces, appearing in the Air Force Broadway production Winged Victory, as Lt. Sperry, from 1943 - 1944. In 1946 Ray Middleton originated the role of Frank Butler in the original Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun which starred Ethel Merman. He also appeared on Broadway in South Pacific as Emile de Becque from 1947 - 1954. His career expanded into television and movies, as well as stage and screen. Among his many TV appearances in the 1950's were several appearances as guest host of Taste of the Town and its successor The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1956 he played the Innkeeper in the Broadway show Man of La Mancha.

During Middleton's time on the show he married the dancer and singer Patricia Dinnell. The couple devoted themselves to Unitarian Church activities and his one man show America In Song & Dance.

Other highlights of his acting career included the 1967 NBC production of Damn Yankees, as Joe Boyd. Phil Silvers had the starring role. In 1972 Middleton played Col. Thomas McKean in 1776. He played rancher George Spahn in the 1976 TV movie Helter Skelter, about the Charles Manson murders. Among Ray Middleton's last roles was Cardinal Reardon in the MASH episode Blood Brothers, which also included a young Patrick Swayze as Pvt. Gary Sturgis. Middleton's last role was as grandfather Huey Rush in Ted Knight's sitcom Too Close For Comfort.

The idea for "Superman Day" on July 3, 1940, was credited to publicist Allen "Duke" Ducovny as part of the promotion of DC's New York's World's Finest Comics #2, which was sold exclusively at the World's Fair along with the first issue of the same title. The first issue had been published on April 30, 1939. It contained 96 pages and sold for a quarter, as compared to a regular sized comic book of 64 pages for a dime. Vin Sullivan served as editor and also drew the cover. Both issues featured the World's Fair landmarks of the Trylon and Perisphere. The first issue showed head shots of some of the characters inside, including a blonde headed Superman, and the first published appearance of the Sandman. Bob Kane created a story for this first issue, but he had not c0-created Batman with Bill Finger yet. His contribution for this first issue was the humorous characterGinger Snap. Humor was what Kane was known for at this time. Zatarra was another hero that appeared in this issue, along with more humorous stories.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster contributed a Slam Bradley story as well as Superman. In Superman At The World's Fair Clark and Lois are covering the World's Fair for the Daily Star and their editor George Taylor. On the Fairgrounds Lois recognizes a wanted criminal, who realizes Lois has spotted hime. He kidnaps Lois after knocking out Clark. After secretly changing into Superman, Clark saves Lois and catches the crook.

New York's World's Fair Comics #2 was published on May 11, 1940 and was sold exclusively at the World's Fair. It also contained 96 pages but carried the cover prive of 15 cents. Whitney Ellsworth was the editor on the second issue and Jack Burnley drew the cover, featuring the first appearance of Superman, Batman and Robin together. Inside the characters appeared in separate stories. Superman and Batman would not appear together in the same story for over a decade. Jerry Siegel and Jack Burnley created the Superman story, Siegel and artist Harry Lampert created the Red, White & Blue story, and Siegel and artist Howard Sherman created the Slam Bradley story. Bob Kane created another Ginger Snap story, as well as a Batman and Robin story.

In the unnamed Superman story, Clark and Lois are again covering the World's Fair, this time for Perry White and the Daily Planet. this time it's Clark who recognizeds a wanted international jewel thief at the fair. This jewel thief kidnaps Lois. Clark discovers he has also stolen an emerald that was scheduled to go on display soon. Clark secretly changes into Superman and recues Loi, captures the crook and presents the emerald for display.

In Batman and Robin Visit the 1940 New York World's Fair, a bridge near the fairgrounds collapses. Batman and Robin discover that a scientist has invented a device that melts steel. They save the next target and raid the evil scientist's lab. To avoid prison the rogue scientists commits suicide by electrcuting himself.

Part of the festivities for "Superman Day" was a competition to crown a Supergirl and Superboy of the day. They did not dress up as Superman, or Supergirl. Charles Atlas was one of the judges. Maureen Reynolds and William Aronis won. Aronis reminisces about that day at the web site . He said that he went to the DC offices and met Superman's creators. The web site also noted that Aronis became a competitive weightlifter and placed third in 1996 at the World's Masters competition at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"Superman Day" at the 1940's World's Fair served as the backdrop to the climax of DC's Elseworlds graphic novel Detective 27. This story is full of historical references which adds to the fun of reading it.

Another web site which contains information about Ray Middleton is .

A great podcast about the history of Superman and Batman team ups is episode #58 of The Golden Age Of Comics podcast, hosted by Bill Jourdain. The link for that episode is .

To learn more about Ray Middleton's movie and television career go to . For information about his Broadway career go to .

Superman Fan Podcast can be found at . Send e-mail about this podcast to .

My Pull List is my spoiler free review blog of the comic books I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Superman and all related characters is copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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