Flying onto the scene in 1938’s Action Comics #1, Superman has been an immortal embodiment of truth, justice and the American Way. If there is anyone who embodies the essential qualities of a superhero, it’s the Man of Steel. No surprise then that in the nearly 80 years he’s been around, Superman has quite a few stories to tell.
So, we’ve gone digging through some secret files to find a selection of Superman facts we believe very Superman-fan deserves to know…
1. Richard Donner was Offered a Million Dollars to Make ‘Superman’
We’ve all heard the saying – “I’ll give you a million dollars if…”. Well, according to interviews with the Hollywood Reporter, Superman director, Richard Donner was offered this by producer, Alexander Salkind. While sitting on the toilet (another fun fact about the Superman movies!), Salkind called Donner saying, “I’m making Superman. I don’t have a director and I’ll pay you a million dollars.” Recalling the pivotal moment, Donner said, “A million dollars! That was like saying ‘I’ll give you all the tea in China,’”
2. Superman I & II were Originally 8 Hours Long
There’s a rule of thumb with scripts – a single page amounts to a single minute of screen time. Most scripts as a result are anywhere between 120-170 pages long. The script Richard Donnor received was reportedly a door-stopping 500 pages for both Superman and a possible sequel. This would translate to 8.3 hours when the pacing was averaged out, so Donnor immediately called in his friend, Tom Mankiewicz to rewrite the story.
3. The Original ‘Superman’ Scripts Were Nonsense
At least according to Donner. An example he gave was a sequence where Superman scours Metropolis for Lex Luthor by checking every bald man in town and bumping into Kojak (Terry Savalas) who says, “Who loves ya, baby?”. There was also an idea for a fourth Kryptonian imprisoned with Zod, an evil prankster called “Jak-el” (no relation, we think). We guess this was another reason why Donner wanted the entire script rewritten.
4. Gene Hackman Refused to Go Bald as Lex Luthor
Throughout the filming of the Superman movies, Gene Hackman was very stubborn about shaving his head or his mustache. Not in a Henry Cavill way (remember his CGId mustache in Justice League?), but simply because he didn’t want to. To get around this, it was decided that Lex Luthor would wear various wigs (it was just his hair styled differently in real life) to explain why DC’s most iconic bald man had hair for most of the movie. When we finally did see Hackman with a bald head, he was actually wearing a bald cap.
5. Superman is No Longer an American Citizen
Here’s a Superman fact you didn’t know (unless you’re a comic fan)! When it comes to where he’s from, the Man of Steel is characteristically neutral yet inspirational. Although he was raised in the United States, 2011’s Action Comics #900 saw Superman renounce his American citizenship because he was “tired of having his [my] actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy”. Rather, he considers himself a citizen of the universe. Imagine the passport for that.
6. Marlon Brando Had Crazy Ideas for Kryptonians
The man who took on the role of Superman’s father initially had some rather interesting ideas to make sure he did as little as possible while still getting his cheque. Marlon Brando apparently hated to work but loved money. So, to work as little as possible, Brando proposed that Kryptonians looked like green suitcases. Then he wanted them to look like bagels and communicate in noises that are subtitled on-screen. We guess Brando didn’t end up getting his way.
7. ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ Reset Superman’s Powers
Among other things that Crisis on Infinite Earths was famous for doing to the DC canon, it is that it put an end to the obscene powers of Superman’s silver-age incarnation. If you can name a skill, he likely had a super-version of it for a couple of issues and then forgot about it. Super sewing, super sneezing, and super horse riding were just a few of the bizarre skills Supes had.
8. Clark Kent is a Reporter on Principle
Most superheroes (if they’re not billionaires) use ordinary jobs to make a living. Peter Parker makes money off snapping himself fighting crime as Spider-Man, Matt Murdock daylights as a lawyer, and Barry Allen keeps the day job as a forensic scientist. Clark Kent mainly took the reporter job because it grants him inside knowledge to the world of crime and gives him a reason not to be where he is needed as Superman.
9. Clark Kent had Other Tricks to Hide His Identity
How does Superman hide just by putting on glasses? Believe us, there other ways. Christopher Reeve’s famous transformation, where Clark takes off his glasses and stands straight to become Superman is one way. He also buys baggy suits to make himself less trim and raises his voice an octave. As far as we know, Super-Acting was not one of his Silver-age talents.
10. Superman’s got a Dirty Tape
Bear with us here. This fun (or frisky) fact might make your head spin. There’s a rather notorious strip in Action Comics #593 where an Apokolyptan alien called Sleez, mind-controls Superman and fellow Apokolyptan, Big Barda to erm, do it. Posing as a sleazy director to make a sex tape, his plan was to use it to raise money for an anti-Darkseid army. It didn’t pan out, Sleez went into hiding and everyone agreed never to speak of it again.
11. He Betrayed his Best Friend
Pete Ross was one of Superman’s best friends, until he turned crazy. When his son, Jonathan Ross was kidnapped and taken to an alien planet, Supes tried to save him. But the hero was soon visited by the Legion of Superheroes from the future who told him that for a ‘perfect future’ and to become a great champion, Jonathan must stay imprisoned. Surprisingly, Superman agreed. Pete obviously wasn’t okay with this news, had a nervous breakdown, turned to crime and ended up in an asylum. Is a ‘perfect’ timeline that perfect if it requires ruining your best friend’s life?
12. There are Many Types of Kryptonite
One of the most iconic magic rocks of all. Kryptonite has been used countless times to provide a story or give Superman a weakness. There’s the typical green variety, which weakens him, red which transforms him or alters his mind, gold which removes his powers permanently, black which splits a Kryptonian into a good and evil copy, and pink which turns the exposed into a homosexual – seriously?
13. Metropolis was Inspired by Fritz Lang
It’s understandable if one imagines New York as the inspiration for Metropolis, but this is only half-true. The name itself (and the architecture) was inspired by the city of the 1927 movie, Metropolis by German director, Fritz Lang. Lang himself drew inspiration from the New York skyline.
14. Superman’s Killed Lois Lane Repeatedly
The thing about being a paragon of justice who always does the right thing and possesses godlike power is that from a narrative standpoint, it gets kind of boring. With disturbing regularity, Superman’s writers had to make him seem like an antagonist to sell comics. Such examples included killing Lois (repeatedly). Indeed. In multiple occasions in the comics, Supes actually killed his lover. He once turned Lois to glass and another issue showed him driving her off a cliff. Talk about domestic abuse.
15. He has a Psychotic Alter Ego
Superman is one of the very icons of a superhero ‘no kill’ policy. So, after he had to kill an alternate version of General Zod with Kryptonite, some trauma was expected. His PTSD however created Gangbuster, a violent, bloodthirsty persona that the citizens of Metropolis came to fear. Superman soon reevaluated his life and chose to abandon the crazy persona. It was soon adopted by school teacher, Jose Delgado.
16. Nicolas Cage Almost Played Superman
Rumor has it there were plans for a movie titled Superman Lives which was to be directed by Tim Burton (who was riding high after his 1989 Batman movie) back in 1998. At the time, talks of this movie were rife, and leaked images of Nicolas Cage wearing the iconic blue tights went viral. Concept artist, Rolf Mohr told MovieWeb that Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman were in the running to play Braniac, while the movie’s plot was “rather crazy and confusing”. It was to feature a “giant biomechanical alien spider thing which had a body that could open up and smaller ones came out…” Yeah, we’re happy that DC movie never hit screens.
Are you a die-hard fan of the Man of Steel? Know someone who is? Check out our selection of Superman merch!
17. Superman Made Lex Luthor Bald
Ever wondered why Lex is bald? Well, according to this Superman fact, the hero himself is to blame! One of the origin stories of Lex Luthor has been that back in Smallville, he had a lab accident which started a fire. Superman (who was Superboy at the time) came to rescue him, but his super-breath blew several chemicals over Lex that caused total hair loss. Being Lex, he accused Superman of being jealous and balding him on purpose.
18. His Comics Have a History of Misleading Covers
Part of Superman’s occasional reputation as ‘mean’ mainly comes from the covers that artists would frequently draw to encourage sales. Quite a few of these covers, such as Superman forcing Aquaman and Jimmy Olsen to fight over a glass of water, made a lot more sense when reading the strip itself.
19. The “S” Means More than “Superman”
For the longest time, the big “S” on Superman’s torso was simply a moniker to identify him as Superman. When Superman was made in the 1970s, it was decided that some explanation was needed for where he got the idea to fly around with a giant “S” on his chest. The idea developed that this was the insignia for the House of El, his family. The Superboy comics on the other hand, claimed the “S” stood for “Saving lives, Stopping crime, and giving Super-aid wherever it’s needed!” Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu had a different approach, saying that the symbol is the Kryptonian translation for “hope.”
20. There’s a Famous Superman Dynasty
While there are no indications that Jor-El was nobility, his son, Kal-El has had numerous siblings, aunts, uncles, clones, children and descendants all the way into the 850th century. The Superman Dynasty as depicted in the DC One Million crossover, was a lineage of superheroes descending from Superman. Seriously, Superman and Lois had more kids than Aegon II. If the Skywalker family can go from slave-borns to a galactic quasi-aristocracy from their notoriety, why not the Els?
21. Superman’s Weakness is Mind Control
There’s a certain power that Superman is vulnerable to – psychic power. The hero has often been mind controlled (to fight Batman and make that dirty tape) by psychic villains in the past including Darkseid, Poison Ivy, Mongul, and even Lex has had ago. It seems like every other week, Superman becomes someone else’s mind-slave.
22. He’s Fought (Almost) Everyone in the DC Universe
Whether he willingly chose to fight one of DC’s heroes, or whether he was forced to under mind control, Superman has had a fight with pretty much everyone. There are the usual cases like Batman, Darkseid and Lex Luthor. But he’s also wrestled Green Lantern, Aquaman and even Wonder Woman. Want to know how strong someone is? Throw Superman at them, apparently.
23. Superman has Two Father Figures
While Jonathan Kent raised the young Clark on their farm in Kansas, Jor-El hasn’t been invisible in his son’s life. Because a sentient hologram of him exists in the Fortress of Solitude, Jor-El has been the one who has taught Kal-El what it means to be Kryptonian and a hero.
24. The Original Superman was Totally Different
Before the first 1938 publication, the idea of the Man of Steel was The Super-Man. This idea was the focus of a 1933 pulp story titled The Reign of the Superman which told the story of a crazy vagrant with telepathic abilities granted by science. Super-Man plotted to take over the world, killing his creator in the process, only realizing too late that the potion giving him telepathy was temporary. Bonus fact? The first version of Supes was short and bald.
25. His Death was a Pop Cultural Phenomenon
The 1992-1993 arc, Death of Superman is quite simply a pop-cultural phenomenon. The issue itself where Superman died against Doomsday (after getting beaten to a pulp) – Superman #75 – sold record numbers (six million copies) and it was all over national news and spawned multiple adaptations.
26. Superman I and II were Shot Simultaneously
Although there was a two-year gap between the movies, there was an executive decree that Superman I and II were to be produced simultaneously. This resulted in director, Donner having to attend seven different sets at a time and his solution of keeping track of everything was to drive around in a golf-cart containing several two-way radios.
27. Outfits in ‘Superman’ Required Gloves to Handle
Want some juicy movie trivia? Believe it or not, the outfits worn by Kryptonians in 1978’s Superman had to be handled with gloves. Remember their unique reflective shine? Well, apparently, the costumes were made of thousands of tiny glass balls. Even the slightest exposure to bare skin could tarnish them, so anyone handling the costumes were forced to wear cotton gloves.
28. Superman’s Death was Famous. Superman’s Return? Not so Much
You know how we said the Death of Superman was the biggest selling comic of 1992? The same couldn’t be said for subsequent chapters. Because Superman #75 sold in such abnormally massive numbers, and the return didn’t make national news like his death did, it was not impossible to meet people who were unaware that Superman had even come back.
29. He Once Fought for Communism
Among the various Elseworlds stories is one in 2004 where Superman’s rocket lands in Ukraine rather than Kansas. The famed story, Superman: Red Son imagines what would have happened had Superman been raised in the Soviet Union rather than the United States. Don’t worry this is not an Evil Superman story, the hero is actually a force for good for the Soviet Union.
Like the intrepid Jimmy Olsen, we worked and looked carefully to find the most interesting facts about Superman. Are there any we missed out? Let us know in the comments.
Want more from the world of Superman and his fellow heroes? Check out our list of facts about DC!