The Many Faces of the Man of Steel


From Cleveland to Krypton

The Origins of the Superman Comic and Radio Show

The Superman we know today scarcely resembles the Superman that writer Jerry Seigel and artist Joe Shuster created in Cleveland for their fanzine Science Fiction in January, 1933. There was no Clark Kent, no Lois Lane, no Krypton. In fact, Superman becomes a villain after a mad scientist gives him super powers. But after a long night of prolific writing and drawing in the summer of 1934, Seigel and Shuster refined their idea of a superman hero and created several weeks' supply of a Superman weekly comic strip. These first few comics tell of the planet Krypton's demise, baby Kal-El's arrival in Smallville, U.S.A., and the adult Superman's migration to Metropolis.

Jerry Seigel
Co-creator Jerry Seigel wrote most of the early adventures of Superman after inspiration struck one evening.
Joe Shuster
Even though he suffered from eye problems, co-creator Joe Shuster drew the early adventures of Superman.
Despite actively shopping the Man of Steel over the next three years, Seigel and Shuster were repeatedly turned down by comic syndicate editors across the country. The pair finally found a taker in Sheldon Mayer, an editor at the McClure syndicate, but Mayer was unable to convince his boss M.C. Gaines to publish the strip. Superman seemed headed for another defeat when D.C. Comics publisher Harry Donenfeld asked Gaines for material to be published under a new title, Action Comics. Gaines sent Donenfeld the Superman strips, and the rest is history. Action Comics No.1 was published in June, 1938, starting Superman on the road to comic book success. The origins of Superman, however, were not published until 1939 because Gaines felt the story too slow, and wanted more action in his comic. As a result, the demise of Krypton and Superman's rocket flight to Earth gave way to a pastiche of heroic exploits in the first issues.

With the quick success of the comic book Superman, Robert Joffe Maxwell, the man in charge of selling the superhero's subsidiary merchandising rights, and D.C Comics press agent Allen Ducovny realized that Superman could easily flourish as a radio program. The duo proved correct, as the Superman radio show became a smashing success. After debuting Monday, Feb. 12, 1940, the show garnered a 5.6 Crossley rating, the highest of any thrice-weekly radio program on the air at the time, in only its tenth week. The radio program employed some of the best vocal talent at the time. In its pilot episode, Ned Weaver and Agnes Moorehead played Superman's parents, and future episodes featured the acting of Santos Ortega and Frank Lovejoy.

Unlike Superman's first appearance in Action Comics, the radio show's first episode began with baby Kal-El's flight from a doomed Krypton. Even though Superman was absent from the first episode, the man whose voice would become synonymous with the Man of Steel could still be heard in the background of the Kryptonian Science Council. Clayton "Bud" Collyer was already a very busy radio actor before he agreed to be the voice of Superman. He could be heard on NBC's Road to Life, ABC's Listening Post, The March of Time, The Cavalcade of America, and a whole slew of radio soap operas.
Bud Collyer
Accomplished radio actor Bud Collyer was Superman's voice from 1940-1950. As the first man to ever play Superman, he defined the Man of Steel for a whole generation of radio listeners.
But Collyer's fame grew exponentially when he was first heard as the voice of Superman in the radio show's second episode. A talented and experienced radio actor, Collyer had the uncanny ability to create two distinct voices for Clark Kent and Superman that still sounded like they came from the same man. As the first actor to portray Superman in any medium, Collyer gave Superman a life and identity outside of the comic strips, defining America's idea of the Man of Steel for years to come. Indeed, Collyer made voicing Superman into a career, appearing later in Paramount's Superman cartoons, 1960s record albums and on television cartoons like The New Adventures of Superman (1966-1967), Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure (1967-1968), and Batman-Superman Hour of Adventure (1968-1969). But Collyer stayed true to his on-air personality, receiving no billing for his role as Superman, and concealing his true identity from the listening public until 1946. The licensing branch of D.C. Comics, Superman Inc., wanted to maintain the illusion that Superman himself was reading the radio broadcasts by not revealing the man behind the microphone.

Collyer remained on the show for ten years, the longest run of any radio adventure star. After playing the Man of Steel in more than 2,000 radio serials, Collyer passed the torch to Michael Fitzmaurice on June 5, 1950. A year later, Superman flew from the radio airwaves onto the television screen, opening yet another chapter in Superman's evolution.

By the end of the Superman's radio era, the comic book had continued to change and evolve, not always independently of the radio program. For instance, characters such as Perry White, the editor at The Daily Planet, and Clark Kent's friend Jimmy Olsen were introduced in the radio show and crossed over to the comic book. Not only did the radio show bring Superman into homes of a whole new audience, becoming one of the most famous programs in the heralded golden age of radio; it had a profound impact on Superman's public persona. The radio program breathed life into Shuster's drawings, embedding the superhero into the cultural consciousness.

Created by: Erin Barnes • Dave Hendrick • Chris Yeung