Comic Book Legends Revealed #423
Welcome to the four hundred and twenty-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and twenty-two. This week, in honor of the Man of Steel opening today, it’s an All-Superman edition of CBLR (also, amusingly enough, this is CBLR #423, the same number as the last issue of the original Superman ongoing series)! Learn the odd origin of Superman’s S! Find out whether Jerry Siegel REALLY reviewed Philip Wylie’s novel, Gladiator! And finally, discover a odd series of edits involving Superman’s super-imagination!
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Superman’s S was not a Kryptonian symbol until Mario Puzo came up with the idea for Superman the Movie.
When Superman debuted in Action Comics #1, the S on his chest had a simple explanation – it was there because he was called Superman, thus he had an S because, well, Superman begins with an S.
And people were fine with that for years. It was just an accepted part of Superman’s set-up. He fights crime and has a costume that has an S on it because it stands for “Superman.”
Even when Superman’s origin was detailed, the design of the costume was just glossed over…
Same when Superboy debuted, the costume is just glossed over…
Even in the most detailed Superman origin of the Silver Age, Superman #146, which at least explained WHERE the costume came from (it came from the clothes SUperman was wearing when he landed on Earth)…
it skipped over the S part entirely.
It was not until 1960′s Superboy #78 (drawn by John Sikela, I dunno who wrote it) that an attempt was made to explain the S, and it was quite a doozy…
That was about the most any comic book spent on the origin of the S for the rest of the Silver Age.
However, when it came time to write the screenplay for Superman: The Movie, Mario Puzo had the idea that Superman’s S was NOT an Earth symbol, but rather, in effect, the logo of Krypton. So it would be used all over Krypton in the early scenes in the film set on the doomed planet. That approach was altered in the later editions of the screenplay, but the idea of the S being present on Krypton persisted and it eventually became the symbol of Superman’s family, the Els. Marlon Brando’s Jor-El wore the S on his shirt (apparently Brando specifically requested that he wear the S on his shirt).
However, in the comics, it remained an Earth invention. In Action Comics #500, Martha Kent explains that it came to Jonathan Kent in a dream…
(Later, there was a Superman Annual that explained HOW it came to him in a dream. You can sort of tell the passing of time just based on how many more stories came out explaining minutiae…)
When John Byrne rebooted the Superman comics, he had the Superman name PREDATE the Superman costume…
so when the Kents got around to designing the costume, they planned on doing an S design because of that name…
It was not until Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright mini-series in 2004 that the S symbol once again became a Kryptonian symbol, as Jor-El wears it…
but the symbol is found elsewhere, as well…
It appears as though Waid was mixing the idea of the symbol being the El crest along with the idea of the S symbolizing hope.
That’s what the S has been ever since, a symbol of hope, and that’s what it will be in Man of Steel….
Thanks to my pal Loren for the suggestion and thanks to Barry Freiman for a cool article he wrote on the topic!
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On the next page, is there really proof that Jerry Siegel was aware of Philip Wylie’s Gladiator?