Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's...!
Clark Kent (Kal-El)
The Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow, the Last Son of Krypton, Metropolis' Favorite Son
First DC AppearanceEdit
Action Comics #1 (June 1938)
First Story AppearanceEdit
Black and White
While the Pre-Crisis Superman commanded a 'super-intelligence' and was always building various doodads (for example, the 'Super-Mobile', which Superman used to deal with kryptonite), the Post-Crisis Superman has this ability severely toned down. Despite various toys and action figures showing Superman with weapons and offensive body armors, Superman is not prone to using weapons.
Kryptonian physiology allows Superman's cells to absorb the rays of Earth's yellow sun, which combined with Earth's lesser gravity grant him amazing abilities: vast super strength, speed, and near invulnerability (it takes INCREDIBLE force to be able to harm Superman, though he can be harmed easier via kryptonite and magic (Superman is mortal and hence as vulnerable to magic as any mortal), and he will lose his powers if he is separated from solar power for extended periods of time or exposed to the rays of a red sun like the one that Krypton orbited) as well as incredible stamina, super vision (he can see in both telescopic and microscopic vision, and see through any substance except lead), heat vision, super/arctic breath, and super hearing. Planet Earth's lesser gravity allows Superman to fly, and his body can survive extreme forces besides offensive attacks against him (he can swim into the deepest trench or fly unaided in space for considerable amounts of time). Finally, Superman has a great longevity due to his powers, and could potentially live for hundreds of years.
Oh come on. IT'S SUPERMAN. If you honestly have no idea who he is, THEN WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING ON THIS PAGE?
Ok, ok, fine. When it comes to Superman, Bill Kennedy said it best.
"Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superman! Yes, it's Superman - strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman - who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a neverending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way."
That pretty much sums it up. Superman was the first true 'superhero', who essentially defined the medium of comics in one fell swoop when he debuted in the late 30's. Created by Jerry Seigal and Joe Shuster, Superman would create the entire superhero mythos single-handedly. And in DC history, while there were 'superheroes' that came chronologically before Superman, it was Superman that brought about the great age of them, as swiftly behind him came Batman, his human counterpart, and Wonder Woman, his female counterpart. The rest, as they say, is history.
Superman's origin, despite several tweaks during his decades long existence (he technically has three origin stories: his first one given back in his beginning days, the 1986 'Man of Steel' revision by John Byrne that came after the Crisis on Infinite Earths in which many DC heroes were rebooted, and the 2004 storyline 'Birthright' which combined elements of the two: the Birthright storyline is currently considered canon by DC), has stayed roughly the same: scientist Jor-El, of the planet Krypton, a supremely advanced planet (in all areas except a space program, it seems), realized through his research that Krypton was due to soon explode due to its core being greatly unstable. After Jor-El's efforts to convince the Kryptonian government of this fact fell on deaf ears, Jor-El turned to building a rocket (changed to a birthing matrix in Man of Steel and changed back to a rocket in Birthright) to save the only one he could: his infant son Kal-El. Finding the planet Earth just moments before it exploded, Jor-El and his wife Lara Lor-Van placed their son within and bid him farewell as the rocket launched towards Earth, even as the planet collapsed and died around Jor-El and Lara, killing them as well as virtually all of the planet's inhabitants. Baby Kal-El did survive though, and headed for Earth, where he crash-landed in Smallville, Kansas and was found by Jonathon and Martha Kent, who adopted the child as their own and named him Clark, after Martha's maiden name. As Clark began to grow up, his body began to absorb yellow sunlight and manifest his powers, which was taken in remarkable stride by the Kents, who made sure to teach Clark a strong moral compass as well as the idea of using his powers for the betterment of mankind. As he reached adulthood, Clark learned of his true alien origins, and with the encouragement and help of his parents, decided to do as they had suggested and use his powers for the good of mankind: assembling his famous costume, Clark Kent moved to Metropolis, got a job at the Daily Planet, and became Superman. It did not take long for him to meet his supporting cast (including his future wife, in DC Comics anyway, Lois Lane) and those who would oppose him (including his greatest foe, Lex Luthor) and to see his example of heroism proliferate across the world, including in those who would wear his symbol, such as Superboy and Supergirl.
But despite all this, the last 15 years (in real time) have not been easy for Superman: he has had to struggle with the reality that for all his great power, there is only so much he can do, that power corrupts and that even the best of men and women can fall prey to that corruption (for a good example, see Superboy-Prime), and that perhaps his power can bring as much misery as good in both vengeful supervillains and those he was unable to help. Not to mention that in the past years Superman has had to deal with his own death (so to speak: Superman was confronted by the alien weapon Doomsday, whose power was so great that for the first time Superman's innate solar energy reserves were completely exhausted, causing Superman to fall into a death-like coma after the battle was done. In theory all that would be needed was for Superman to be exposed to a steady stream of solar energy afterwards and he would have eventually revived and regained his powers, but unable to tell the difference between actual death and this alien 'death-coma', the mournful Earth BURIED him...fortunately events transpired that Superman was eventually revived and restored), his temporary transformation into a being of energy, and events such as attempts to expose his secret identity, to put him on trial for crimes he did not commit, caused terrible death and destruction to his home planet, and many other events (more then a few may have been caused by the revelations of the 2005 miniseries Infinite Crisis) that have struck at him despite his invulnerability. Recently, it seemed he had lost his powers, though this was ultimately revealed as a kind of mental block: part of being Superman was that Clark Kent had to WANT to be Superman, and for a time he did not. But the heart of a hero forever beats in Clark Kent's chest, and eventually he did return to the costume to face whatever evil threatens his city, his world, and his people.
Superman has been a minor presence in the Legendsverse for the most part: he gave Savior some advice on heroism, and would have aided in the Final Night had things gone somewhat differently. It was said he was involved in the Last Wish in some degree as well. But for the most part, Superman stands simply as the paragon the Titans aspire to. For as malleable as they can be, as easily seized and abused by the misguided, the greedy, the zealous, and the evil, in the visage of Superman one remembers the virtues he stands for, that they can still exist in their pure forms as well. And as long as he lives, and beyond, tomorrow will always have hope, in the future and that mankind, as flawed as it is, can turn its weaknesses into strengths.
And so Superman stands, for Truth, Justice, and the American Way!