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When Did Superman Gain the Name 'Kal-El'?

In "When We First Met," we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, "Avengers Assemble!" or the first appearance of Batman's giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man's face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.

Today, based on a suggestion from reader Bill S, we look into the history of Superman's Kryptonian name. Bill specifically asked, "[W]hen did we find out about Superman's Kryptonian name - Kal-El? Or was Kal-L first? Why these two variations?"

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When Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), there was very little in the way of an origin given for Superman besides the fact that the character came from another planet...

Here's the thing that you have to recall about the time period. Comic books were still a new thing and so if you were somebody that was able to do a comic book, you would MUCH rather have your own comic strip instead of a comic book. Comic strips were much more popular and treated wit ha great deal more respect. Siegel and Shuster tried to first sell Superman as a comic strip and failed (in fact, Action Comics #1 was literally made up of their sample comic strips, cut up into a comic book format, which is why Action Comics #1 has an abrupt cliffhanger, as the first feature was literally just "use as much of the comic strips as it would take to fill this many pages"). Thus, when Superman became a big hit, the creators (and National Comics, as well) were very interested in seeing the comic adapted into a comic strip, as well.

They did not have to wait long, as the comic strip debuted in January of 1939. Siegel and Shuster devoted most of their energies to the comic strip (when Shuster had trouble keeping up with deadlines, he concentrated on keeping up with the comic strip first). The comic strip introduced a new, much more detailed origin for Superman and here we learn the name of the planet that Superman came from, as well as the name of his parents and his actual Kryptonian name. Here, though, it was Jor-L and Kal-L...

Later that year, Superman got his own solo ongoing comic book series and Siegel and Shuster adapted the origin story in Action Comics #1 and added in Krypton but not the other aspects (like the respective names of the characters)...

Superman then starred in his own hit radio series. One of the writers for the radio show, George Lowther, wrote a novel about Superman in 1942...

It was in that novel that the names Jor-el and Kal-el debuted.

A few years later, in the first appearance of Superboy in More Fun Comics #101 (by Siegel and Shuster), we get to see Jor-El adapted into the comics...

It was also worked in in the 10th anniversary origin of Superman in Superman #53...

Superman somehow didn't learn his birth name until 1957's Superman #113 by Bill Finger (who did Superman's other origins but somehow didn't work his name in there)...

Kal-El, though, was not really used in the comics with any regularity until Jerry Siegel returned to the Superman comics in the late 1950s, like this "Return to Krypton" bit in Superman #141...

and Otto Binder worked the various origins together in Superman #146....

There ya go, Bill! Thanks to Mark for the Superman #113 bit!

If anyone else has a question/suggestion for a notable comic book first, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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