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A baby arrives on Earth from a dying world and is taken in by loving, adoptive parents. The origin is consistent for almost every version of the character. His life after that gets loose fast, in part due to the abundance of adaptations born from the
Look, we all love Superman. He's the guy that puts the Super in superhero. A near century of continuous publication, however, is going to make any story an absolute mess.
A baby arrives on Earth from a dying world and is taken in by loving, adoptive parents. The origin is consistent for almost every version of the character. His life after that gets loose fast, in part due to the abundance of adaptations born from the character's massive popularity.
Those inconsistencies really didn't matter until an effort to explain the difference between the Golden and Silver Age characters was made with The Flash #123. Now, the Golden Age heroes were from an alternate Earth, Earth-Two. The problem was, however, the simplified and streamlined history of Earth-One Superman had very little in common with the Golden Age Superman. Superman of Earth-Two started out his hero career after moving to Metropolis, when he began working at the Daily Star under editor George Taylor. Throughout the decade of the 1940s, Superboy, the Daily Planet and Perry White were introduced, and their stories were still popular and occasionally reprinted. This decision potentially swept those adventures under a rug.
Writers and editors had different ideas on what stories happened on Earth-Two, Earth-One, or somewhere else. Or where Earth-One actually started, questions that remain mostly unanswered to this day. Eventually, the concept of "Earth-Two-A" was created. This was a variant of Earth-Two with characteristics of Earth-One stories. Several other inconsistencies were much later explained with even more in-between worlds, like Earth-E, Earth-Twelve, Earth-Thirty-Two and Earth-Forty. This did not clear things up as much as they had intended.
DC decided to clean up and refresh everything with the mega event, Crisis on Infinite Earths. A reboot of (most of) the DC universe, setting up one Earth with one timeline for the whole company. A new Earth with a new Superman who has one, single, definite, completely solid and unshakable backstory. Surely, this would solve the problem.
It didn't help, and it didn't last. As always, things started to get messy as years passed and different writers had different ideas on the character. DC would attempt more history-changing events to patch up the problem. Zero Hour, Hypertime, and Infinite Crisis. All sorts of status quo re-establishing over the years. New Earth Superman's story ended up as vague and wishy washy as the rest. DC eventually attempted another line wide reboot, Flashpoint, leading into another new Superman for the brand new Prime Earth. And then Rebirth happened and Prime Earth Superman sort of merged with a temporal duplicate of New Earth Superman and... maybe it's best not to think too hard about it.
- 1938: Superman is created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He's a reporter working for the Cleveland-based Daily Star under editor George Taylor. This is soon changed to Metropolis, and the newspaper becomes the Daily Planet.
- 1940: The radio show The Adventures of Superman introduces a new editor, Perry White. He is introduced into comics later that year. This marks the first appearance of Earth-Two-A. In the same year, Justice Society of America (JSA) begins to be published and although Superman does not appear in the first stories, he is already mentioned as a member of the team.
- 1941: First historical participation of Superman in a JSA adventure.
- 1942: Imaginary Stories - albeit not yet named as such - are introduced. Superman #19 is retroactively identified as the first Imaginary Story, though it originally didn't run with that banner. The many "what-if" Imaginary Stories that follow are later explained as taking place on other worlds, even though some are framed as dreams or metafiction.
- 1945: Superman's heretofore unexplored youth in Smallville is explored with the introduction of Superboy, the teenage Clark Kent.
- 1947: A new origin shows Clark Kent went to high school in Metropolis rather than Smallville. This is later retconned to have taken place on Earth-Forty.
- 1948: Superman's origin is retold again, showing his childhood in Smallville but omitting all mention to Superboy.
- 1951: Superman's origin is retold, which now includes his career as Superboy. This origin would remain canon, though with small variations, until 1986.
- 1959: The most iconic Supergirl is introduced as Superman's cousin.
- 1969: Eight years after Barry Allen discovers Earth-Two the Superman of Earth-Two has his first, non-retroactive, appearance.
- 1973: A new origin is published. It is based on the 1951 origin, but it is expanded to include the origins of the Superman Family
- 1976: On Earth-Two, Power Girl is introduced as Kal-L's cousin and new JSA member.
- 1977: The origin of the Justice Society is retroactively told as having occurred in 1940, and Earth-Two Superman was one of its founding members.
- 1977: Mark Gruenwald suggests that nearly all the Superman and Batman stories between All-Star Comics #57 (March, 1951) and The Brave and the Bold #28 (March, 1960) were actually set on Earth-E
- 1980: An Earth-Two Lana Lang is retroactively introduced in the 1950s; she and her family had left Smallville when she was very young. Clark Kent and Lana Lang never met during their youth, unlike their Earth-One counterparts.
- 1985–1986: Crisis on Infinite Earths introduces a Superboy on Earth-Prime, Supergirl dies, and her existence as well as the Multiverse's is erased.
- The concepts of Earth-Two-A, "Earth-B", and Earth-Twelve are established to explain inconstencies in Earth-One and Earth-Two stories, many of which involved Superman.
- Post-Crisis Superman is introduced by John Byrne's The Man of Steel (Volume 1) series. Superman's story is reset, where he is less powerful, never was Superboy or joined the Legion of Super-Heroes, and was the last surviving Kryptonian (with no blond female cousins). Kal-El was rocketed to Earth in embrionic state, born on Earth. Most of his villains and support cast change too. Luthor was now a businessman, not a mad scientist, and he never befriended Superboy.
- A Pocket Universe is introduced to explain the existence of Superboy on the Legion of Super-Heroes.
- Power Girl, who can no longer be Kryptonian (or from Earth-Two), is retconned as Arion's granddaughter. Power Girl replaced Supergirl in a few past stories, for example, in the battle alongside the Doom Patrol against Reactron.
- Iron Munro was one the heroes created in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths specifically to replace Golden Age characters who were no longer considered active during World War II. Iron was intended to fill the role and power set of the original Superman.
- 1990: Keith Giffen retcons the Legion of Super-Heroes' history, replacing Superboy and Supergirl with Valor (Mon-El) and Andromeda in an attempt to fix the continuity mess caused by the Superman's retcons. For example, in this new reality, Karate Kid defeated Valor instead of Superboy in order to be admitted to the Legion, while Andromeda replaced Supergirl's feats.
- 1993: A new Superboy is introduced. This Superboy isn't a young Clark Kent but Superman's clone created to replace him after his death at Doomsday's hands.
- 1994: Zero Hour introduces very few changes for Superman, none of which proved to be permanent. The biggest one is that Superman developed his powers only in adulthood, so his football trophies at high school and college were won honestly.
- 2001: Everything Superman knew about Krypton was a lie created by his father Jor-El. In this newly revealed past Superman was born on Krypton and was rocketed to Earth as a small child.
- 2002: The Krypton Superman was told about and traveled to was an an elaborate trap created by Brainiac 13.
- Power Girl is told she's neither Arion's granddaughter nor an Atlantean.
- Superboy is retconned to be not only Superman's half-clone but also Lex Luthor's.
- Superman: Birthright retcons Superman's story again: he was born on Krypton and was rocketed to Earth as a small child; Luthor is born in Smallville.
- 2006: Infinite Crisis changes Superman's origin again: Clark Kent's career like Superboy and status like JLA founding member is restored, with the twist he was never a public hero until his adulthood. Power Girl's Pre-Crisis backstory is fully restored.
- 2007: The original Legion reappears, and Superman's status as a member is restored.
- 2009: Geoff Johns' Secret Origins mini-series finally sets Superman's origin post-Infinite Crisis, mixing concepts of his Pre-Crisis and Man of Steel origins.
- 2011: The Flashpoint event culminates in the creation of two new timelines called Prime Earth and Earth 2. Superman is given a new origin by Grant Morrison, according which he was never Superboy and Jonathan and Martha Kent died before his move to Metropolis. A new Supergirl appears, and she continues to be Superman's cousin. At the same time, DC publishes the adventures of Earth 2 versions of Superman and Power Girl.
- During Convergence, a time-duplicate of Superman of New Earth gets trapped in one of the stolen cities together with his wife for one year. Clark and Lois' son Jonathan is born during that time. At the end of their captivity, Kal-El and his family, as well as the Supergirl and Flash of Earth-One and Parallax Hal Jordan go back in time to the first Crisis and defeat the Anti-Monitor before he can destroy the Multiverse. Afterwards, Superman and his family are sent to Prime Earth instead of their own universe.
- Superman: Lois and Clark (Volume 1): New-Earth Superman and their family spend one decade living anonymously in their new home dimension.
- 2016: Superman: The Final Days of Superman. New Earth Superman gets forced to reveal himself during one battle between his Prime Earth alternate and a super-villain. In spite of his best efforts, Prime Earth Superman dies and New Earth Superman as well as Prime Earth Supergirl continue his work.
- Reborn story arc. New Earth Superman discovers he and Lois were split up in the past. New Earth Superman and Lois and their Prime Earth selves are merged into one person, and history is changed.
- Although the new merged Superman initially remembers History has been altered, he forgets about it soon afterwards. His new backstory starts off with Superman: Secret Origin, followed by most of his Post-Crisis adventures up to Action Comics #775 and an altered version of his Prime Earth story. In the new universe, there was no Power Girl and no Supergirl and Superboy other than his cousin and his son, he never dated Wonder Woman, his son Jonathan was born in the Fortress of Solitude, and he and Lois moved out of Metropolis until Jon was ten.-
- Kon-El is reintroduced as a member of Young Justice, resembling the original version.
- Doctor Manhattan observes the history of the DC Universe unfolding, and theorizes the main Earth is a "Metaverse", which changes every time Superman's life is altered by external forces -like the Anti-Monitor or Extant- which push his landing's date forward in time or alter his History since 1938, and whose shifts ripple through the entire Multiverse. Feeling intrigued, Doctor Manhattan changed History by erasing the Justice Society. The resulting effect transformed New Earth into Prime Earth and wiped the Legion of Super-Heroes from existence.
- Superman Recommended Reading
- Action Comics (Volume 1)
- Action Comics (Volume 2)
- Adventures of Superman (Volume 1)
- Batman/Superman (Volume 1)
- Batman/Superman (Volume 2)
- DC Comics Presents (Volume 1)
- Superman (Volume 1)
- Superman (Volume 2)
- Superman (Volume 3)
- Superman (Volume 4)
- Superman (Volume 5)
- Superman/Batman (Volume 1)
- Superman Confidential (Volume 1)
- Superman: The Man of Steel (Volume 1)
- Superman: The Man of Tomorrow (Volume 1)
- Superman/Wonder Woman (Volume 1)
- World's Finest (Volume 1)
- Superman Origins
- Superman Publication History
- Supergirl is confusing
- Official Crisis on Infinite Earth Crossover Index
- The Official Crisis on Infinite Earths Index
- Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Compendium
- Action Comics #1
- Action Comics #15
- Action Comics #23
- Superman #7
- All-Star Comics #3
- All-Star Comics #7
- Superman #183
- More Fun Comics #101
- Superman #46
- Superman #53
- Action Comics #158
- Action Comics #252
- The Flash #123
- Justice League of America #73
- Amazing World of Superman #1
- All-Star Comics #58
- DC Special #29
- Omniverse #1 (1977)
- Superman Family #203
- Legion of Super-Heroes (Volume 3) #37
- Secret Origins (Volume 2) #11
- Secret Origins Annual (Volume 2) #1
- Young All-Stars #1
- Legion of Super-Heroes (Volume 4) #4
- Adventures of Superman #500
- Superman (Volume 2) #0
- Superman (Volume 2) #166
- Action Comics #793
- JSA #50
- Teen Titans (Volume 3) #1
- Superman #200
- Superman/Batman #8
- Infinite Crisis #2
- Justice League of America (Volume 2) #8
- Action Comics #858
- Action Comics (Volume 2) #1
- Supergirl (Volume 6) #1
- Supergirl (Volume 7) #8
- Action Comics #977
- Action Comics #978
- Doomsday Clock #10