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!
Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!
Did MTV Cancel the Reality Show Fear Because a Contestant Died During the Filming of the Series?
On the next page, did Jerry Siegel review Philip Wylie’s Gladiator?
STATUS: I’m Going With False
One of the more controversial aspects of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation of Superman is the influence of other works on their creation. Siegel was a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy, so he obviously was influenced by a number of works. Copyright laws were enforced differently back in the 1930s, though, so writers were a lot more afraid about being seen as basing their character on a character of another writer (DC Comics, after all, managed to be competitive in a copyright lawsuit over Captain Marvel, a suit they would never win nowadays). So Jerry Siegel was extremely coy for years about what influenced Superman, or even outright denying the influence of other works. The most notable example was Philip Wylie’s 1930 novel, Gladiator.
The novel is about a scientist coming up with a serum to essentially mutates his unborn son. His son has the proportionate strength of an ant and the leaping ability of the grasshopper. Both of those examples were exactly what Siegel used in Action Comics #1 eight years later…
Awfully big coincidence, right?
However, not so shocking that it would be impossible for it to actually be just a coincidence.
Beyond that, there’s very little to go on regarding Siegel and Gladiator. Some people have claimed he said he never read it, but I’ve never seen an actual quote to that effect. Siegel HAS been quoted on the influence of seminal pulp fiction works like Doc Savage and John Carter of Mars, but not Gladiator.
That’s why for years it was such a big piece of information that Siegel reviewed the novel in the second issue of his 1932 fanzine, Science Fiction (the same fanzine that featured the first take on Superman, “The Reign of Superman,” in the following issue).
Sadly enough, I have never had a chance to read said issue. However, I am confident enough that I believe that this review never actually appeared in the book.
Famed collector of science fiction memorabilia, Forrest J Ackerman, passed away in 2008. He owned every issue of Science Fiction in his vast collection of science fiction collectibles. Late in Ackerman’s life, he began to auction off pieces of his vast treasure trove of a collection. Jerry Weist was a noted comic book fan and scholar (he passed away in 2011). Bob Beerbohm IS a noted comic book fan and scholar. In 1997, Beerbohm wrote the following update to the Grand Comic Book Database Mailing List:
Just for the record and contrary to previously published reports, Jerry Weist has informed me after flipping through every page of all five issues of Forry Ackerman’s personal copies of Science Fiction that were auctioned off at this summer’s Sotheby’s Comic Art auction, there is no direct review of Philip Wylie’s Gladiator story in Science Fiction.
I trust Beerbohm and Weist, so I think that this is a pretty safe false.
Thanks a lot to Bob Hughes, who does the awesome Who’s Whose site, who found me the citation.
EDITED TO ADD: The always informative Tom Brevoort wrote in to share with me that Jerry Siegel eventually DID concede that he both read Gladiator AND that it was an influence on him. It was just not until a late 1970s autobiography that he conceded it (the autobiography ended up never being published). In the same work, he said that he had never reviewed it, though. Thanks so much for the info, Tom!
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Were there really hidden aliens in every episode of South Park?
This is an example about how sometimes you just can’t get ahead of the game.
Superman #127 (by Otto Binder, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye) introduced the King Kong riff, Titano…
At the end of the issue, Titano is trapped in the past. And Superman uses his Super-vision to search through the time stream to see how Titano is doing…
Naturally, the ficklest of fans freaked the f out over this. “Superman can SEE THROUGH TIME?!?!”
So when they reprinted it in the Giant Superman Annual #2, they made it super-imagination instead…
Which doesn’t really make much sense itself “Trust me, Lois, everything worked out fine. Well, I imagined that it did, at least.” But it made more sense that him seeing through time. A couple of the stories from this time period (the late 1950s/early 1960s) were collected into Signet trade paperbacks. Impressively, they actually went with the edited version (this was rare – typically these type of books just use the original version).
However, when the story was reprinted in 1971’s Superman #239, it was the original version…
So famed fan Rich Morrissey (today’s column is all about the super-fans!) wrote in and it is funny that the editors seemed to have forgotten the Superman Annual, where the change happened in the first place!
Oh well, Superman editors, you tried!
Thanks to everyone’s pal, Commander Benson, for the information! You rule!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!
Here’s my new book, Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? The cover is by Kevin Hopgood (the fellow who designed War Machine’s armor).
If you want to order a copy, ordering it here
gives me a referral fee.
Follow Comics Should Be Good on Twitter and on Facebook (also, feel free to share Comic Book Legends Revealed on our Facebook page!). Not only will you get updates when new blog posts show up on both Twitter and Facebook, but you’ll get original content from me, as well!
Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).
The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you all next week!