Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Death of Superman

"Strange Visitor from Another Planet"

Action Comics No. 1 issue
Action Comics No. 1 issue

By the time the TV series was launched, nearly every schoolboy in America knew the Superman odyssey saga by heart. Born to scientist Jor-El and his wife Lara on the fictitious planet Krypton, and named Kal-El, the future Superman was launched into space as a baby by his parents as their doomed planet was exploding. After a long journey through space, the baby's rocket crash landed on Earth and he miraculously survived. The sun rendered him invulnerable and gave him superhuman powers.

Found shortly after his landing by a kindly, childless Midwestern couple, Martha and Jonathan Kent, Kal-El wasn't long in astounding his adoptive parents with his superpowers. He was given the name Clark (after Martha's maiden name) and raised as a normal child in the appropriately named Smallville, a farm town coincidentally not unlike George Reeves' birthplace of Woolstock, Iowa.

The Daily Planet
The Daily Planet

As Superboy, the young, displaced Kryptonian performed great acts of heroism in a red, yellow and blue costume and cape with the letter "S" monogrammed inside a field shaped like a cut diamond. Martha Kent made the costume from the blankets found in the rocket ship that brought Kal-El to earth. Among his superpowers, in addition to extraordinary strength and invulnerability, were Superboy's ability to fly, leap great distances and heights, see through all objects (except lead) with X-ray vision, hear sounds at great distances (super hearing), travel at blinding speeds, and much more.

Jack Larson played cub reporter Jimmy Olson
Jack Larson played cub reporter Jimmy

While a teenager growing up in Smallville, Clark had to keep his true identity a secret in order to protect his loved ones from Superboy's vengeful enemies. He wore glasses and didn't take part in sports, pretending to be meek and weak. When he got bullied or taunted, he merely turned a blind eye to the abuse. As Superboy, however, he was the opposite of his secret alter ego: dashing, fearless, and heroic. And, as such, he was highly sought-after by Clark's pretty, redheaded classmate, Lana Lang, the first of many key people in the life of Superboy/Superman with the initials L.L.

During this time, that Superboy incurred the lifelong enmity of another of Clark's classmates, Alexander "Lex" Luthor. As the cause of a freak accident that resulted in Luthor losing his hair at an early age, Superboy (and later Superman) became Luthor's long-standing target for revenge. Discovering that the "Boy/Man of Steel" is vulnerable to green kryptonite, a highly radioactive remnant of Superman's former home planet, Luthor nearly succeeded in killing his rival in kryptonite-baited traps on a number of occasions.

Gene Hackman played Lex Luthor
Gene Hackman played Lex Luthor

Following the death of his adoptive parents and graduation from Smallville High, Superboy — now Superman, but still Clark Kent in disguise — went from small-town America to the big city, in this case a generic "Metropolis." He landed a job as a "mild-mannered reporter" for a major newspaper, The Daily Planet, and began a lifelong association with colleagues Lois Lane, "cub reporter" Jimmy Olson, and editor Perry White. Along with police inspector William 'Bill' Henderson, this trio — plus Superman  — became the main characters in the TV series.

(For some never-explained reason, Lana Lang and Lex Luthor are completely absent from the original TV series, even while continuing their lives in Superman and Superboy comics. In the comics, they follow the "Man of Steel" to Metropolis for different reasons. Lana continues to woo and pursue him, competing with Lois Lane for his affections, while Luthor remains bent on destroying him. Many years later, Luthor would resurface prominently as the arch-villain in a series of Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, with Gene Hackman in the bad-guy role.)

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