The 30 Best Retellings of Superman's Origins

By Greggory Basore in Comics, Daily Lists, Miscellaneous
Friday, February 10, 2012 at 8:08 am
15) It's Superman! Novel (2005)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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Grant Morrison explains everything you need to know about Superman's origin in eight words. Eight words.

2) Superman Daily Strips #1-12 (1939)
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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.

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