Superman – A Comic Book Legend in Film and Television

Written by Nishanthini Ganesan

The brainchild of Jerry Siegel (October 1914 – January 1996) and Joe Shuster (July 1914 – July 1992), Superman first appeared in DC’s Action Comics #1 in June 1938. The explanation for Superman’s powers begins with Superman being the sole-survivor of the planet, Krypton. In a complex series of events, the young Superman finds himself on Earth, where he is adopted by local farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, and named Clark. Th superhuman abilities of the young Clark are kept hidden until a much later age, after which he begins to use them to fight evil.

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Superman possesses an extremely-good sense of hearing as he is able to hear sounds too faint for the ordinary human ear. Blessed with a body that has unparalleled superhuman strength, Superman also possesses eyes that enable him to have ‘telescopic’, ‘microscopic’, and ‘x-ray’ vision. He also possesses ‘heat-vision’, enabling him to generate heat within objects just by sight alone. Superman is able to think, move and react at superhuman speeds, along with defying gravity by taking flight, making him the classic superhero.

Little did Siegel and Shuster know that the character they had created would become the most universally-recognised superhero, portrayed in countless films and on television.


In the early 1940s, Paramount Pictures produced a series of seventeen animated short films, all in Technicolor, based on the character of Superman. The first of these cartoons was released on September 26, 1941 which lasted for 10 minutes and 22 seconds. It was titled Superman and it tells the story of how Superman stops a mad scientist from destroying a city.

The last of these cartoons was titled Secret Agent and was released on July 30, 1943.

Superman was first presented in a live-action film by Columbia Pictures, which released Superman (1948), a 15-part serial starring Kirk Alyn in the title role. The series was well-received, prompting a second serial, also consisting of 15-parts, Atom Man vs. Superman (1950). Kirk Alyn reprised his role as Superman.

1951 saw the release of the first full-length Superman feature film, Superman and The Mole Men (1951). Directed by Lee Sholem, the film starred George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, Superman’s love-interest. Both Reeves and Coates reprised their roles in the first season of Adventures of Superman (1952), after which Coates left the series and was replaced by Noel Neill.

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When Adventures of Superman was filmed in black and white, George Reeves’s actual costume for Superman was made in brown, which replaced red, and grey, which replaced blue. This would serve to provide a better contrast for Superman’s costume on-screen. The costume was then changed back to the iconic red and blue for the first time, when the series began to be filmed in colour in 1955.

In 1978, another theatrical version of Superman was released. This was followed by Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983) and finally Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987).

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On September 6, 1996, Warner Bros. Animation, the same company that produced Batman: The Animated Series (TV Series 1992-1995), premiered Superman: The Animated Series (TV Series 1996-2000) on The WB Television Network. Tim Daly voiced for Superman. Set in a modern, urban landscape, Superman: The Animated Series was seen as a fresh take on the original comic-book legend. The series also re-introduced many of Superman’s enemies from the Superman Rogues Gallery, including Darkseid, Parasite and Jax-Ur.

Superman: The Animated Series series ran for 54 episodes until it was finally discontinued in 2000. Re-runs of the series, however, continue to be shown up till present-day.

After the conclusion of Superman: The Animated Series, Warner Bros. Animation featured Superman alongside other DC characters such as Batman and the Green Lantern in Justice League (TV Series 2001-2006).

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On October 16, 2011, the series Smallville (TV Series 2001-2011) charmed audiences with its own portrayal of Superman. With Tom Welling as Superman, the pilot episode became the highest-rated debut for The WB Television Network. Smallville went on for 10 seasons, concluding on May 13, 2011.

While Smallville continued to grow its fan base worldwide, the character of Superman returned to the big-screen in Superman Returns (2006), nineteen years after the last Superman film. Directed by critically-acclaimed filmmaker Bryan Singer, Superman Returns was a sequel to the events of Superman II and saw Brandon Routh playing the role of the title character.

Seven years on, the character of Superman will be brought to life in yet another film adaptation, Man of Steel, that is set for release in Singapore on June 13, 2013. Man of Steel stars Henry Cavill as Superman. Russel Crowe also joins the cast as Jor-El, a scientist on the planet Krypton and the biological father of Superman.


Almost a century after its debut, Superman has become, and continues to be, an icon of DC comics. The legacy of Superman will endure just as it has done for so long, inspiring legions of audiences through his portrayals in film and television. For the fans of Superman who wish to see more of their hero, it is safe to say that there will always be a new Superman film set for pre-production just around the corner, or in the case of Man of Steel, waiting to be released.

– Superman Super Site | Cecil Buffington | IMDb | | Superman Homepage

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