Our Superman Month continues as Oliver Davis looks at the Top 5 Superman Things Not Actually From the Comics….
Superman’s history in popular culture might have began in the comic book – Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Action Comics #1 from June 1938 – but his appearances in radio serials, television shows, video games and movies have all added to the character’s mythology. So to celebrate the man in red and blue (but mostly blue now his overpants are gone), we’re counting down the Top 5 Superman Things Not Actually From the Comics. Snappier titles welcome.
5. Chloe Sullivan
Chloe’s first appearance wasn’t in a Superman comic. It was on the 2001 television series Smallville, as played by Allison Mack. She was the only character, alongside Clark Kent, to still be on the show by its tenth season. That means she’s a survivor. Of both the fictional danger and fan criticism kind.
Perhaps it’s because she’s responsible for getting Clark into reporting, grooming him for a later career at the Daily Planet. As editor of The Torch, Smallville’s high-school newspaper (which shares its name with where Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s published his first stories), she was a prototype-Perry White.
More probably, though, it’s because of her serious bout of unrequited-love-itus on her best friend. Chloe’s relationship with Kent is essentially a reversal of the Lois/Clark dynamic that characterises Superman’s grown-up years. But it all ends well. She eventually shacks up with Oliver Queen, otherwise known as Green Arrow. She definitely has a ‘type’.
Although Chloe hasn’t appeared in DC’s New 52, she has featured alongside Jimmy Olsen (more on him later) in a series of Superman backups, and can also be seen in the Smallville Season 11 digital comic.
4. Perry White
Perry White. Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis newspaper the Daily Planet. Progressive (see enclosed photo). A stalwart of the Superman universe. Clark Kent’s employer, sometimes-stand-in-father-figure and friend. In there from the beginning, right? Wrong.
The character was created for and first appeared on the 1940s radio serial, The Adventures of Superman. This series is responsible for over half the ‘things’ on this list, and debuted barely two years after the comic. It’s an often overlooked contributor in Superman’s history.
Julian Noa provided the voice for Perry’s first appearance – the radio show’s second ever episode on Feburary 14th, 1940. The character was to become a mainstay in the comics later that year.
Arguably the definitive version of Perry White came a decade later when John Hamilton played him on the 1950s television programme Adventures of Superman (the George Reeves one). His catchphrases “Great Caesar’s ghost!” and “Don’t call me ‘chief’!” eventually made their way into the comics, also changing the portrayal of the character.
3. What the ‘S’ stands for
You know what the ‘S’ on Superman’s chest stands for? It stands for ‘Superman’. Easy. Nex-
Well, at least it did for the first 40 years of the Superman character. Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman: The Movie delved deeper, as geeks are prone to do, and embedded in this not-so-subtle logo a wealth of history.
Mario Puzo, the man responsible for the movie’s story, proposed another meaning. The ‘S’ at the centre of Superman’s chest wasn’t just a handy reminder of who he was, it was also a handy reminder of where he had come from. In fact, the movie says it isn’t an ‘S’ at all. Really, it’s the House of El’s coat of arms, a family crest. El is Superman’s surname, of sorts. His Kryptonian name is Kal-El, whilst his father’s (played by Marlon Brando in the film) was Jor-el. Puzo’s no stranger to families involving Brando. He also wrote The Godfather.
Man of Steel also has in it a scene between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) where they discuss the ‘S’. On Krypton, Superman describes it as a symbol of hope.
2. Jimmy Olsen
That’s right, Superman’s best pal and Daily Planet photographer, Jimmy Olsen, was a relative latecomer to the Superman mythology. Clark must’ve been even more of a loner during those first few days in the office.
An Olsen-like character (he wore a bow-tie) did make a brief appearance in Action Comics #6 back in November 1938, but was never named. Jimmy’s introduction proper was in the radio serial, The Adventures of Superman. He was brought in on the April 15th, 1940 episode, just a couple of months after the debut of Perry White in the same series. His main purpose was for Superman to have someone to talk to. Aww.
The following year, in 1941, Siegel and Shuster transferred Olsen into the comics with a bigger personality. His first appearance was in the story ‘Superman versus The Archer’ in Superman #13. Unlucky for The Archer…and also for Jimmy.
The character then disappeared for a large portion of the 40s. Not until on another medium, with the success of Jack Larson’s Jimmy Olsen on the 1950s television show Adventures of Superman, was he revived in the comics in 1953
The year after, he was gifted his very own book, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. It seemed to be devised solely for the character’s fondness of cross-dressing. A master of disguise, Olsen went undercover as a woman for issues #44, #67, #84 and #159, as well as more drastic body transformations throughout the book into the likes of Speed Demon, Elastic Lad, Wolf-Man, Giant Turtle Man, a human porcupine and a ‘Hippie’.
The big one. Superman’s main weakness, radioactive fragments of his destroyed home planet. It’s poetic. It’s a valid English synonym for the phrase Achilles’ heel. It comes in a variety of colours to match every occasion. And it didn’t even originate from the comics.
Kryptonite first appeared in the 1943 story ‘The Meteor from Krpyton’ from the radio serial The Adventures of Superman. The element was used as a plot device, but one of the main reasons for its invention was so Superman’s voice actor, Bud Collyer, could go on holiday.
Airing in the late-afternoon to catch the after-school crowd, the show was hugely successful, and ran for over a decade from 1940 to 1951. Naturally, its star, Collyer, occasionally wanted a break, so Kryptonite was used to explain his absence.
Still, it took the comic book writers six more years to include Kryptonite in their stories. It wasn’t until 1949, under the influence of editor Dorothy Woolfolk, that the green rock was introduced into comic lore, mainly because she found Superman’s invulnerability increasingly dull.
This was a close call between comics and radio, though. Superman’s co-creator, Jerry Siegel, actually wrote a story in 1940 entitled ‘The K-Metal from Krypton’. The K-Metal would sap Superman’s powers and give them to ordinary humans. Although the story was never published, the idea made its way into the 2001 television series, Smallville, where residents of Clark’s home town developed superpowers because of Kryptonite meteor rocks landing nearby.
Superman’s history is a rich tapestry of 20th and 21st century pop culture. He’s bigger than us all. Better than us. Hopefully Zack Snyder can do him proud in this Friday’s Man of Steel. Which is just a roundabout way of saying: let’s watch its piano-driven, third trailer for the squillionth time…
Oliver Davis is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors. You can follow him on Twitter @OliDavis.