Leaps and Bounds


We’re an hour away from Superman's birthday, according to old comics lore.
Stories in various media are in conflict — at times, within their own continuity — over both when the Man of Steel was born on his homeworld of Krypton relative to Earth’s Western calendar and when his rocket landed near the Kent farm. 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.


Superman in mid-leap between sketchily drawn buildings above a trafficked city street, holding a flailing fellow by the ankle
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 Feb. 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 Super-man Annual. The same calendar gave alter ego Clark Kent’s birthday as June 18th, however, carrying on from a 1973 story establishing the date as that of Kal-El's arrival on Earth. 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 with a party on the Friday before Leap Day in 1988.

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 debut in that first issue of Action, 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 floating present for about a decade, a 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 one-page origin for the character — then a vigilante figure and "champion of the oppressed" — depicted the Man of Steel as hurdling great distances due to his tremendous physical strength, not outright defying gravity and willing himself through the air like a maneuverable projectile. 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.



Updated and revised January 2019



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2 comments:

  1. I'm sorry you've had such a rough week. Happy belated Superman's Birthday anyway? I can't wait 'til next year, although I'm dubious about the Zack Snyder film and Rao only knows what DC will (or won't) do.

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  2. I too am looking forward to the 75th anniversary, and hope to do something special to celebrate.

    It'll be interesting to see what, if anything DC does with the milestone, especially since nuDC seems reluctant to draw on characters' histories.

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