Leaps and Bounds
We’re an hour away from Superman’s birthday, according to old comics lore.
Stories in various media conflict — even within their own continuity at times — over both when the Man of Steel was born on his homeworld of Krypton, relative to our Gregorian calendar, and when his rocket landed on Earth. As I wrote a few years back, though, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz and writer/historian E. Nelson Bridwell noted in response to reader mail with a giant wink that Superman barely seemed to
age because his birthday only came around every four years.
Panel from 1st story in Action Comics #1 © 1938 DC Comics.
Script: Jerry Siegel. Pencils, Inks, Letters: Joe Shuster. Colors: Unknown.
On the heels of the February 29th date seeing print in a 1976 DC calendar and those occasional lettercolumns, Alan Moore used it in the acclaimed tale “For the Man Who Has Everything”, drawn by his Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons for 1985’s Superman Annual. The same calendar gave alter ego Clark Kent’s birthday as June 18th, however, carried over from a 1973 story establishing the date as that of Kal-El’s arrival on his adoptive planet. Writer Cary Bates may have chosen that month based on the character’s 1938 introduction in the pages of Action Comics #1, bearing a cover date of June but on newsstands at least one month prior — despite which DC celebrated Superman’s 50th anniversary in 1988 with a party on the Friday before Leap Day, instead of in April, May, or June!
Superman’s Kryptonian genetics, of course, suggest a less whimsical reason for his continued vigor. While some of the so-called Imaginary Stories in the 1960s showed him aging as would a normal human, many other tales, from those set in an Elseworlds realm to the DC One Million event of the late-1990s DC Multiverse, portrayed him as aging more slowly or not at all far into the future. Neither the Leap Day gag nor his own Supermanity can account for the failure of his supporting cast to age much, obviously, never mind the editorial decree that the Man of Tomorrow — in his popularly known, merchandised Earth-One incarnation, anyway — was “eternally 29” until his first hard reboot in 1986. For the Earth-Two version whose continuity was directly traced back to his 1938 debut, time had indeed marched on, while the rebooted version seen after Crisis on Infinite Earths was stated to have begun his career at 25 and been active in the present for about a decade, a floating timeframe that was expanded by certain storylines until he officially reached at least 37 by the time of the follow-up Infinite Crisis... before last year’s second hard reboot.
Me, I dearly hope to mark Superman’s 75th anniversary next year with a bunch of fun, interesting stuff at my still-in-progress comics-oriented website — starting in April.
When he first appeared, incidentally, Superman could not fly. That power would emerge later, as did greater invulnerability and heat vision and other accretions to the legend. Action Comics #1’s brief origin for the character — whom friends Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster conceived as a “champion of the oppressed” in the tradition of fantastic adventure heroes from pulps, film, and comics like Doc Savage, Zorro, and John Carter of Mars — depicted the Man of Steel as able to hurdle great distances due to his tremendous physical strength but not yet outright defy gravity or propel and maneuver himself through the heavens at will. He could only leap, in the familiar parlance of the 1940s Superman radio serial and the animated theatrical shorts that it spawned, tall buildings in a single bound.
Related: DC at 75 • Case Closed • Panel to Frame • Superman DCC • El on Earth