How Did Superman Discover His Kryptonian Heritage in the Silver Age?

Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at brianc@cbr.com).

In a couple of recent columns, I have written about how we first learned in the comics that Superman's name was Kal-El and also when we first learned that Earth's yellow sun gave Superman super powers. Reader Dennis L. wrote in to ask, though, just how did Superman find out stuff about his Kryptonian heritage back in the day? Nowadays, there are crystals and various messages sent along with the ship that took him to Earth, but what about in the old days? How would Superman ever learn, for instance, that he even CAME from a planet called Krypton?

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We first learned of Superman's Kryptonian heritage PERIOD in the comics TEN YEARS INTO his comic book adventures. I mean, the first issue of Superman had said he had come from a planet named Krypton, but that was it. It wasn't until Superman #53 (by Bill Finger, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye) that we learned HOW Krypton exploded...

However, despite the first page of the story showing Superman recoiling from the destruction of Krypton...

The comic is just told to us from an omniscient narrator. Superman himself does not actually learn anything about Krypton in the issue.

Now, obviously, someone was probably all, "Hey, why is that the case?" and so just eight issues later, in Superman #61, the same creative team both introduces Kryptonite AND the revelation of his Kryptonian heritage to Superman. The Man of Steel is affected by a piece of a meteorite and he doesn't know why. So he decides to travel back in time and follow the path of the meteorite to see where it came from. In the process, he accidentally discovers the existence of Krypton and the fact that he came from that planet...

Yes, it was not until the very end of the 1940s that Superman learned that he was from Krypton (by the way, I know I said "Silver Age" in the title and the late 1940s is technically not the Silver Age, but it's not really the Golden Age, either, and there wasn't enough room for "How Did Superman Discover His Kryptonian Heritage in the Silver Age and Also the Nebulous Period Between the Golden Age and the Silver Age?"

Okay, so now almost a decade later, in 1957's Superman #113 (by Finger, Boring and Kaye), Superman discovers a MIND-TAPE (yes, a MIND-TAPE!) from Jor-El and that basically fills everything else, including his Kryptonian name...

From this point further, Superman essentially knew as much about Krypton as you could. Which helps, since the stories from the late 1950s and early 1960s would increasingly focus on Superman's Kryptonian heritage.

Thanks for the question, Dennis!

If anyone else has a question about comics, feel free to drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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