Earlier this year, in June more specifically, the Champion of Truth, Justice, and the American Way celebrated his 75th Birthday! But unlike most Septuagenarians, Superman shows no signs of aging. Every generation the Man of Steel gets a bit of a reinvention. It could be something as minor as a new design for his classic ‘S’ insignia – which artist Wayne Boring did when he inherited the character from creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the 1940’s – or a shift in power-set much like Curt Swan did in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when he made Superman immune to the once crippling effects of radioactive Kryptonite.
Many comic book creators have added their own signature stamp on the Superman mythos. In honor of his Diamond Jubilee – DC Comics, parent company Warner Brothers, Man of Steel movie director Zack Snyder, and legendary superhero animator Bruce Timm developed a 2 minute animated sequence that chronicles some of the biggest milestone moments and events in the Last Son of Krypton‘s first 75 years. The little animated short is pretty cool. It very briefly demonstrates some of the wonderful additions to the modern mythology that is Superman; from going from leaping tall buildings in a single bound to flying – or from the introduction of a vast and diverse supporting cast to a gallery of colorful and powerful adversaries. It also shows the evolution of the way Kal El of Krypton has been depicted over the last eight decades, mostly by mimicking the styles of the most influential artists that have ever had the pleasure of working on the granddaddy of all superheroes.
This installment of THE CREATORS is going to take a brief examination of the most important ARTISTS that have ever depicted The Man of Tomorrow in all his four color glory on the printed page. Although countless artists have had the privilege of drawing Superman in a comic book, we’re going to take a look at some of those that were featured in the animated short we saw earlier, have had the longest runs with the character, or added something to his incredibly rich history.
Canadian born artist Joe Shuster co-created Superman with writer Jerry Siegel in 1935. The original draft barely resembles the caped wonder that is recognized the world over today, rather, this Super-Man was a villain with extraordinary mental abilities. That version disappeared amidst numerous turn downs but the basic concept of a man with powers and abilities far beyond normal men was consistent through all of its early incarnations. The idea for the strip was shopped around, denied, retooled, denied, and in June 1938 eventually ended up donning blue tights and a red cape and graced the cover of the premiere issue of DC Comics new anthology book Action Comics. The character was an astounding success and became quite popular. The success of Siegel and Shuster’s creation opened up the possibility of a multiverse of extraordinarily powered caped crime-fighters from a multitude of burgeoning publishers. Along with the character’s success came the financial windfall for DC Comics, but the same couldn’t be said for the young creators who signed a common pay-for-work contract with the company that essentially stripped the creative duo of their copyright to the character. Although their long drawn out legal battles with DC Comics (and its owners) over royalties, copyright, and bi-line are well documented (and touched upon in brief here), this article’s aim is to focus on the print history of the Last Son of Krypton. As the popularity of Superman grew, so did the demand to put out content. Along with Action, a second book called Superman was released, as well as a syndicated newspaper strip. Joe Shuster could not handle the hurried pressures of putting out so much content and was assigned a cover artist in Jack Burnley, and with his eyesight failing hired an assistant to work on illustrating the daily newspaper strip. This protégé would eventually go on to take over the illustrative duties of the character in the main comic books when Shuster was eventually squeezed out, and his take on the Man of Steel would become the preeminent take on the character for an entire generation. That man was Wayne Boring.
When Wayne Boring took over for Joe Shuster drawing Superman in the comic books, he was instructed to make the switch a seamless transition. Initially his work was resemblant of Joe Shuster’s (naturally given that he started in the business as his assistant) but over a couple of years Boring sculpted his own distinct look for Superman. Under Wayne Boring’s pen, the Man of Steel looked more mature than Shuster’s depiction. The co-creator of the character drew a younger adult male figure to embody the look of his hero, but Boring brought a magisterial look to Superman — taller, more muscular and masculine, and the appearance of middle age. This was the Superman that became the most recognizable during the war era of the mid 1940’s through to the 1950’s. Even the covers of Action Comics and the self-titled book Superman took on a different feel and tone. Siegel and Shuster’s take on Superman was a hero that fought the good fight for the common man against common criminals such as mobsters, slumlords, petty thieves, abusive husbands and so forth. Under Wayne Boring’s direction, Superman took on more fantastical adversaries and developed arch-nemesis like the mad scientists Ultra-Humanite, and Lex Luthor. Boring also made Superman look more powerful and imposing. His Superman was serious and truly adopted his science fiction otherworldly origins.
As the focus of this post is to examine some of the more influential artists that have worked on Superman over the last 75 years, I thought that in this second half I’ll go light on the talkie-talkie and showcase some of the artist’s beautiful artwork depicting the various looks and designs of the Man of Steel over the years. We’re going to look at the era of Superman from the 1950’s to just before his re-launch after DC Comic’s pivotal continuity altering saga Crisis On Infinite Earths (hence the PRE-Crisis in the title) from 1985. But, like many of my fellow Superman fans, when I think of the mighty marvel in the blue and red tights I imagine the John William’s score from the 1978 movie:
**OPENING CREDITS TO: SUPERMAN THE MOVIE (1978)**
Part Two – The PRE-Crisis Man of Steel
*CONSISTENT SUPERMAN COMIC BOOK ARTIST FOR OVER 30 YEARS*
*HIS SUPERMAN DESIGNS DEFINED THE LOOK OF THE CHARACTER FOR THREE GENERATIONS*
**OPENING CREDITS TO: THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV SHOW (1952 – 1958)**
**1950’S SUPERMAN COLLECTIBLES**
*THE KING RE-INVIGORATES THE MAN OF TOMORROW AND INTRODUCES A NEW CHAPTER IN THE SUPERMAN MYTHOS WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF DARKSEID AND THE NEW GODS*
*HIS SHORT STINT WITH THE CHARACTER EXPANDED SUPERMAN’S COSMIC ROGUES GALLERY*
*THE MAN WHO CREATED ALL OF THE TOP CHARACTERS AT MARVEL IS DRAWING SUPERMAN!!*
**1960’S AND 1970’S SUPERMAN COLLECTIBLES**
**SUPERMAN AS PART OF THE SUPERFRIENDS (1973-1985)**
*ADAM’S ARTISTIC STYLE ADDED A SENSE OF REALISM TO SUPERMAN*
*HE WAS THE PRE-EMINENT COVER ARTIST OF THE DAY AND DESIGNED SOME BEAUTIFUL COVERS DEPICTING SUPERMAN*
*NEAL ADAMS HELPED JERRY SIEGEL AND JOE SHUSTER WITH THEIR LEGAL CAMPAIGN FOR THEIR RIGHT’S TO SUPERMAN IN THE 1970’S*
**SUPERMAN (CHRISTOPHER REEVE) FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE IN THE MOVIES – SUPERMAN THE MOVIE (1978) – THIS WAS THE SUPERMAN THAT I GREW UP WITH**:
**1980’S SUPERMAN COLLECTIBLES**
We’ll continue minimize the verbage and instead showcase the beautiful artwork by some of the more predominant artists that depicted Superman throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. But first, here’s a quick look at one of the stinkiest super-cheese Superman properties to come out of the last 75 years:
**INTRO TO SUPERBOY THE TV SERIES (1988)**
Part Three – The POST-Crisis Last Son of Krypton
*SUPERMAN ARTIST ON “MAN OF STEEL” IN 1986*
*SUPERMAN ARTIST ON “SUPERMAN” FROM 1987 TO 1989*
*RE-LAUNCHED AND RE-DESIGNED SUPERMAN AFTER THE CONTINUITY REBOOT OF “CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS“.*
*HIS SUPERMAN DESIGNS USHERED IN A NEW ERA.*
**INTRO TO SUPERMAN CARTOON BY RUBY-SPEARS (1988)**
**1980’S AND 1990’S SUPERMAN COLLECTIBLES**
*SUPERMAN ARTIST ON “ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN” FROM 1987 TO 1991*
*CO-INTRODUCED THE MAN OF STEEL WITH JOHN BYRNE IN THE MID-1980’S.*
*ADDED A REALISTIC LOOK TO KAL EL*
**SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – MID-1990’S**
*SUPERMAN ARTIST ON “SUPERMAN” FROM 1989 TO 1998*
*SUPERMAN ARTIST ON “MAN OF STEEL” IN 1986*
*”KILLED” SUPERMAN IN 1992 (AND RESURRECTED HIM THE FOLLOWING YEAR*
*INTRODUCED THE ELECTRICITY POWERED SUPERMEN (RED AND BLUE) IN “SUPERMAN #123“*
*PRE-DOMINANT SUPERMAN ARTIST OF THE 1990’S*
**INTRO TO LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – MID-1990’S**