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10 Things You Might Not Know About Superman

Mike Devlin

Superman is one of the most iconic characters in all of fiction, responsible for defining an entire genre. He has long stood for truth, justice, and the American way, but in over 75 years of comic books, cartoons, TV shows, and movies, he’s certainly seen some bizarre moments. Some World War II–era titles were particularly jarring, like one Action Comics cover that promoted war bonds with the slogan “Superman Says: You Can Slap a Jap.” Below, we will find how Superman crushed the KKK, turned gay, cursed innumerable people, and sent children tottering into land mines.

10He Couldn’t Always Fly

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Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

In the beginning, Superman could merely jump great distances, hence the description “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” used in the radio series and the 1940s cartoons. This power was based on the idea that Krypton was a planet with immense gravity. Earth’s weaker pull left him capable of jumping hundreds of feet, much as astronauts would later jump when on the Moon.

However, this power proved markedly difficult to animate, and Max Fleischer Studios, which produced the cartoon, requested that DC Comics change Superman’s abilities to allow him to fly. This evolution also better suited live action iterations, as the character could be shown soaring against a screen. This was far easier to accomplish than the frequent scenery changes necessary for a believable jumping sequence.

9Fighting The KKK

After World War II, the Ku Klux Klan saw a quick resurgence. This alarmed author and civil rights activist Stetson Kennedy, who infiltrated the Klan to learn their secrets. Kennedy was disconcerted to see the authorities uninterested in his findings. Thinking outside the box, he decided to bring the information to the staff of the Superman radio serial. This was a perfect arrangement; with the end of the war, Superman’s Axis Powers enemies had been deposed, and fresh blood was needed to liven the program.

The writers penned a 16-episode story arc called “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” Using intelligence provided by Kennedy, they exposed many of the KKK’s secrets and turned the organization into a bit of a laughingstock. Membership dropped precipitously immediately afterward, even though it would later emerge that Stetson Kennedy’s accounts used considerable dramatic license.

While a handful of members remain in the KKK, Superman’s battle against the men in white hoods helped assure that they would never again become mainstream.

8The Invention Of Kryptonite

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One of the biggest criticisms of Superman is his invulnerability. Other heroes are typically saddled with weaknesses, so they can conceivably be overpowered and lose or even die. Superman does have one weakness—kryptonite, which has been described as either vanishingly rare or in the arsenal of every self-respecting supervillain. But this mysterious mineral originally played no part in the comics, and it appeared for reasons that had little to do with compelling storylines.

Superman debuted without kryptonite in “Action Comics No. 1,” and his immediate popularity led to a radio show two years later. Superman was voiced by actor Bud Collyer, and to give Collyer time off, the show needed a new plot device.

In June 1943′s “The Meteor from Krypton,” a flaming meteor crashes to Earth, and Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent is sent to investigate. To his dismay, he suddenly finds himself dizzy and weak. This exposure to “kryptonite” put Superman temporarily out of commission—allowing Collyer a bit of vacation time while other voice actors picked up the slack.

Surprisingly enough, the substance would not make the jump to the comic books for another six years.

7Pink Kryptonite Makes Superman Gay

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Photo credit: DC Comics

Although kryptonite debuted in the comics as a red crystal, it has long since been portrayed as glowing green. Over the years, in various canons, different forms of kryptonite have been unveiled, including gold kryptonite (which permanently strips Kryptonians of their power) and white kryptonite (which kills all plant life).

The most bizarre form of kryptonite was surely the pink version from an alternate timeline, unveiled in “Supergirl (Vol. 4) No. 79.” Instead of weakening Superman, it leaves him with gay tendencies. Superman started plying Jimmy Olsen with compliments about his wardrobe, telling him “Did I ever tell you how smashing you look in bow ties, Jimmy?”

Not to be outdone, “Superman Family Adventures No. 16” has villain Braniac give the Man of Steel a dose of periwinkle kryptonite, which makes Superman “fabulous,” hallucinating a psychedelic disco scene and dancing with Lois.

6When Lois Lane Was Black For A Day

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Photo via Afro Punk

Over the years, Superman has gone through plenty of bizarre plotlines, but few were as strange as the comic where Lois Lane changed race for a day. In the November 1970 comic “Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane No. 106” called “I Am Curious (Black)!,” Lois is given an assignment to write a piece on Metropolis slum Little Africa. The residents refuse to speak to her because of her white skin—one activist there even claims that “whitey” is “the enemy.” To help her on the assignment, Superman lets her use an alien transformation chamber that turns her black for a single day.

Upon her return to Little Africa, Lois finds the people unfailingly kind. When she next encounters the activist, Dave Stevens, he confronts some criminals in a back alley and is shot. His life is saved by a blood transfusion from Lois.

When her skin suddenly becomes white, Lois is reluctant to meet Stevens again, but Superman convinces her. To her surprise, Stevens greets her with a smile and a handshake, leaving readers with a warm notion of racial unity.

5Land Mine Awareness

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Photo credit: DC Comics

In conjunction with the US government and UNICEF, DC created 1996′s “Superman: Deadly Legacy,” a free comic book for children in areas with active land mines, particularly war-torn areas of the former Yugoslavia like Bosnia and Herzegovina. The comic was printed in both English and Serbo-Croatian in Latin script and Cyrillic. In the story, Superman comes to the rescue of Bosnian children caught in a minefield. Unfortunately, this campaign led some children to strand themselves in mined areas, hoping Superman would rescue them.

Two years later, a similar comic was penned for the children of Central America. Called “Superman and Wonder Woman—The Hidden Killer,” this title was distributed in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Oddly enough, this book came with warning stickers kids could put in places that looked dangerous to them.

Batman also played a role in mine awareness, this time for the American public, in a title called “Batman: Death of Innocents—the Horror of Landmines.”

4The George Reeves Shooting Incident

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Photo credit: Lippert Pictures

George Reeves was a serious actor with some two dozen film credits to his name (including a small part in Gone With the Wind) when he signed on to TV’s Adventures of Superman in 1951. By all accounts, it was a miserable assignment—the pay was low; the production schedule hectic. Although his co-stars remembered him fondly as a kind, good-humored man who loved his young fans, Reeves was unhappy with the role and the resulting typecasting.

He also hated making public appearances as the Man of Steel, claiming that many kids could not differentiate between the television show and reality. One tale he recounted involved a young boy bringing a real loaded gun to an appearance and aiming it at the actor’s chest to test Superman’s bulletproof body. George claimed that he talked the boy down, saying that while he wouldn’t have been hurt, the bullets bouncing off of his body could harm others.

The story was probably apocryphal, cooked up by Reeves so that he could get out of wearing the costume at appearances.

3Sex

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Photo credit: DC Comics

From the earliest days, Superman has maintained a tenuous love triangle between himself, his alter ego Clark Kent, and reporter Lois Lane. Depending on the canon, she is either in on this secret or caught between two seemingly opposite men.

How a romance between a mortal woman and an supremely powerful alien might play out has been the subject of considerable conjecture. Author Larry Niven’s essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” asserts that the act of sex would be impossible, as involuntary movements and emissions would kill a human woman in myriad horrifying ways.

Should the two manage to overcome that problem, fans debate whether the pair could conceive a child. In alternate canons, Superman has children with several different women. In the 2006 film Superman Returns, for instance, his and Lois’s son Jason exhibits vast strength from an early age. However, other comics say the genetic chasm between human and Kryptonian DNA would rule out any offspring.

2Superman Was Sold For $130

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Superman was invented by Cleveland high school students Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Much like Batman’s unsung true creator, Siegel and Shuster saw their character slip through their fingers. They sold the rights to Superman to Detective Comics in 1938 for $130 and a contract to continue publishing stories.

The pair could have never dreamed of the success their character would experience. They went on to work on other comics but never came close to a hit like Superman. The men waged legal battles with DC for the rest of their lives, and their families continued the suits long after both were dead.

Adjusted for inflation, the $130 would amount to around $2,100 in today’s dollars, a drop in the bucket compared to the untold millions the Superman entity has generated. In 2012, the cashed check was sold at auction to an anonymous party for $160,000.

1The Curse’s Youngest Victim

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Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The so-called “Superman Curse” took such victims as George Reeves (who committed an extremely fishy suicide) and Christopher Reeve (paralyzed in a horse riding accident). However, fans have also linked the curse with others, including Richard Pryor (who played an unwitting henchman in Superman III and was hobbled by multiple sclerosis), Marlon Brando (who played Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El—Brando lived to be 80 but with much family heartache), and Lane Smith (Perry White on Lois & Clark, struck down with Lou Gehrig’s disease).

The youngest victim of the curse was British-born Lee Quigley, who portrayed the infant Kal-El in 1978’s Superman when he was just seven months old. It would be his only movie role.

Quigley was a troubled youth, and when he parents split up, he went to live with his grandparents in London. There, Lee discovered an affinity for sniffing glue. He died in 1991 at age 14 from solvent abuse.

Mike Devlin is an aspiring novelist.