Superman in Popular Culture

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Kirk Alyn from the 1940s serials, image colorized by Ben Burgraff
Kirk Alyn from the 1940s serials, image colorized by Ben Burgraff

See also Superman and DC Comics *Superman Store

The comic book character Superman is an extremely recognizable American cultural icon, and has appeared throughout American popular culture, even achieving international fame. It has been stated that if one were to take a Superman symbol into the jungle, there would be a fifty percent chance that the natives would recognize it. Since his first appearance in 1938, Superman has appeared in radio, television, film|movies, and video games each on multiple occasions, and his name, symbol, and image appear on many products and merchandise. The character is also frequently referenced in popular music, and has also been the subject of many homages and parodies.

Contents

Portrayals of Superman

George Reeves as Superman (1951)
George Reeves as Superman (1951)
Christopher Reeve as Superman
Christopher Reeve as Superman
John Haymes Newton as Superboy
John Haymes Newton as Superboy
Gerard Christopher in a promotional photo for the television show Superboy
Gerard Christopher in a promotional photo for the television show Superboy
Tom Welling as Clark Kent in Smallville
Tom Welling as Clark Kent in Smallville

Among the actors who have played Superman (and/or his alter ego, Clark Kent) are Ray Middleton, Bud Collyer, Kirk Alyn, George Reeves, Bob Holiday, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, and Brandon Routh.

Radio & other audio

Film

Upcoming:

  • Superman: The Man of Steel, directed by Bryan Singer - scheduled for a Summer 2009 release

Television

Animated

Upcoming:

Video games

  • 1978: Superman by Atari for the Atari 2600.
  • 1984: Superman III by Atari for the Atari 8-bit family] of computers. Unreleased.
  • 1985: Superman: The Game by First Star Software for the Commodore 64.
  • 1987: Superman by Kemco for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
  • 1988: Superman: Man of Steel by Tynesoft for the Commodore 64.
  • 1988: Superman by Taito; Arcade game.
  • 1992: Superman: The Man of Steel by Virgin Interactive for the Sega Master System.
  • 1992: Superman by Sunsoft for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis.
  • 1994 / 1995: The Death and Return of Superman by Sunsoft for the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis.
  • 1995: Justice League Task Force by Acclaim for the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis.
  • 1998: Superman by Titus for the Game Boy.
  • 1999: Superman 64 by Titus for the Nintendo 64.
  • 2000: Superman by Titus for the PlayStation
  • 2002: Justice League: Injustice for All by |Midway for the Game Boy Advance. Superman is a playable character.
  • 2002: Superman: The Man of Steel by Infogrames/Atari for the Xbox.
  • 2002 / 2003: Superman: Shadow of Apokolips by Infogrames/Atari for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube.
  • 2003: Superman: Countdown to Apokolips by Infogrames/Atari for the Game Boy Advance.
  • 2003: Justice League: Chronicles by Midway for the Game Boy Advance. Superman is a playable character.
  • 2005: Justice League TV Games unit by Jakks Pacific. Superman is playable in some games, non-playable in others.
  • 2006: Superman: The Greatest Hero by VTech for the V.Smile system.
  • 2006: Superman TV Games unit by Jakks Pacific. Five different games featuring Superman.
  • 2006: Justice League Heroes by Eidos for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PlayStation Portable. Superman is a playable character and is voiced by Crispin Freeman
  • 2006: Superman Returns by Electronic Arts for the PlayStation 2, Xbox & Xbox 360. Features voices from the cast of the film.
  • 2006: Superman Returns by Electronic Arts for the Nintendo DS.
  • 2006: Superman Returns: Fortress of Solitude by Electronic Arts for the Game Boy Advance.

Theater & live appearances

Theme Park Rides

  • Superman: The Escape a roller-coaster at [Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California.
  • Superman: Ultimate Flight a roller-coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia in Austell, Georgia, Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, New Jersey, and Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois.
  • Superman: Ride of Steel a roller-coaster at Six Flags America in Washington D.C./Baltimore, Maryland

Superman Catchphrases

These are some lines that have become synonymous with Superman:

  • Strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
  • Up, Up and Away! (Before taking flight)
  • Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's...SUPERMAN!
  • Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
  • Fights a never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American way.
  • This looks like a job for Superman.
  • Great Caesar's Ghost! (Spoken by Perry White)
  • "Don't call me chief!" (Spoken by Perry White)

Superman in popular music

Superman has long been a source for popular music, inspiring songs by artists from several generations to celebrate the "Man of Steel" or to delve into his character. Interpretations vary greatly, from the respectful to the insulting to the comedic. The following is a list of different albums, Single (music)|singles, and songs about Superman:

Date Title Artist/Group Notes
1969/1986 Superman (song) R.E.M. R.E.M. covered it on their 1986 album Lifes Rich Pageant, reaching #17 on the Billboard (magazine)|Billboard mainstream rock charts.
1991 Superman's Song (song) Crash Test Dummies The song laments how Superman kept fighting despite "never [making] any money", and that "the world will never see another man like him." It became the Crash Test Dummies' first hit single, and the title of a biography of the group.
1991 Jimmy Olsen's Blues (song) Spin Doctors The song describes Jimmy Olsen having a crush on Lois Lane and competing with Superman for her. The lyrics of this song contain the album's title Pocket Full of Kryptonite
2001 Superman (It's Not Easy) (song) Five for Fighting single, it was adopted by rescue workers and emergency workers as an anthem following the 9/11 attacks to ease the burden of their work.
1979 (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman (song) The Kinks Low Budget album, the "disco-fueled" song Superman explains how the singer has "Got to be a Superman to survive" and "If I were Superman then we'd fly away".
1997 Resignation Superman (song) Big Head Todd & The Monsters Released on their Beautiful World album, the song examines what might happen should Superman decide to turn his back on the world.
1999 Waiting For Superman (song) The Flaming Lips Released on The Soft Bulletin album, the song "deals with loss and also the realization that not even our heroes can win every battle."
1977 Streisand Superman (album) Barbra Streisand Includes the lead single Superman, and the album cover features Streisand in a Superman t-shirt.
2002 Superman (song) Eminem Released as the thirteenth track on The Eminem Show, it also featured Dina Rae, and describe Eminem as "both sexual predator and commitment-phobic single guy" using Superman as a foil.
2002 Kryptonite (song) 3 Doors Down

Other uses

As an iconic figure, Superman has often been the subject of references in films and television shows, as well as the subject of many homages and parodies.

References

Film and television

  • In addition to his work in The Adventures of Seinfeld & Superman, there is at least one reference to Superman in most (if not all) episodes of the hit sitcom Seinfeld. During the retrospective clip show preceding Seinfeld's final episode in May 1998, the Superman theme song plays over the montage of scenes.
  • In The Iron Giant (1999), young Hogarth shows the giant space creature a Superman comic and tells him he must always use his powers for good, never for evil. The giant, which is actually a weapon, goes berserk upon being attacked, but remembering the example of his hero, Superman, decides to sacrifice his existence for his friends. His final line is simply "Superman."
  • The 2002 film Leaving Metropolis (based on the play Poor Super Man) references a number of events from Superman storylines of the early 1990s, including his revealing his secret identity and marriage to Lois Lane and Death of Superman. Events in the film loosely parallel events in the comics.
  • In 1980, Superman an unauthorized South Indian film in Telugu was released.
  • In 1987 a film referred to as The Indian Superman directed by B. Gupta was released. This Bollywood movie is essentially based on the first American Superman movie, even containing footage from the original film.

Other

Superman peanut butter
Superman peanut butter
  • Sunnyland Refining Co., in 1983, marketed jars of creamy and crunchy peanut butter using the familiar image of Superman. A jar of the product can be seen at the 1:22:52 mark in Superman III, during the scene where Ricky is doing homework at the kitchen table while Lana talks on the phone with Brad.
  • NBA All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal has bestowed the nickname Superman on himself. As a child, O'Neal read Superman comics and now currently has a tattoo of Superman's symbol together with the words "Man of Steel". O'Neal said he likes Superman "because his only weakness is kryptonite, and everyone knows that's not even real." O'Neal also played the title character in the movie Steel based on the supporting character in the Superman comics.

Homages and Parodies

The word "Super-Man" is used on Gladiator.
The word "Super-Man" is used on Gladiator.
  • Gladiator of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard is an analogue of Superboy and Superman, and possesses a number of relevant powers, such as strength, endurance, flight, enhanced senses, and the ability to travel through space unaided. Like Superman, He has a cousin (Xenith), who is a Supergirl analogue. He has one special weakness (an unknown form of radiation), which mirrors Superman's weakness to kryptonite. His costume also shares a similar theme with Superman.
  • Hyperion, originally of Marvel Comics' Squadron Supreme, was originally a tribute to Superman; like Superman, he was a solar-powered alien who fell to Earth in a spaceship and tried to live as a human.
    • The Squadron Supreme as a whole was created as an homage of DC Comics's superhero team Justice League Of America.
    • In the darker Supreme Power reboot, Hyperion is taken by the government from the Midwestern couple who find his crashed ship and raised as a super-soldier to be acutely aware of his biological superiority, and believes himself to be better than all humans.
  • Supreme was created by Rob Liefeld and was a violent, egotistical Superman knockoff. Later Alan Moore rebooted Supreme to pay tribute to the classic Silver Age Superman mythos.
  • Prometheus first appeared in 2005 in the pages of the independent comic book title, Digital Webbing Presents #26 by writer Ryan Scott Ottney and artist Joe Dodd, in a story titled "The Prometheus Effect". The story saw Prometheus as a Superman-figure who had to pay a great penance for using his amazing powers to help mankind. The story features a city like Metropolis, a love-interest similar to Lois Lane, and a beloved and all-powerful hero not unlike Superman; the cover also features a classic pose mirroring the cover of Superman #1.


  • Several references to Superman can be found in Planetary written by Warren Ellis. In the first issue, "All Over The World", a bald, silver-skinned Superman analogue is among the analogues of Justice League members who attack Doc Brass and his allies to save their universe from destruction by Brass' quantum computer. In the tenth issue, "Magic and Loss", another analogue, this time of the infant Superman, is seen departing his planet of origin (the launch itself causing the destruction of his homeworld), but is destroyed by a member of the Four (along with analogues of Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern). The character of Clark Kent, who does not go by the name Superman but does possess his powers, also appears in the alternate-universe story Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta where Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince must confront a villainous Planetary, which is presented as an analogue of their enemies the Four.
  • Both Centurion and Captain Thunder, from the Freedom City campaign setting of the Mutants and Masterminds role-playing game, can be considered homages to Superman (though Captain Thunder is somewhat closer to an homage to DC Comics' Captain Marvel).

Parodies

Comics

  • The Caped Wonder is the New England Comics version of Superman. Caped Wonder is plagued by the presence of the not-quite-heroic costumed character The Tick, who offers The Caped Wonder the opportunity to be his sidekick. The Caped Wonder's secret identity is Clark Oppenheimer (until his cover is blown by the Tick).
  • From its earliest days, MAD Magazine has frequently spoofed the Man of Steel; some consider the parody "Superduperman!" (from issue #4), in which a Superman doppelganger battles a Captain Marvel doppelganger named "Captain Marbles", to be the magazine's first true example of what would come to be the MAD vein. Since then, numerous MAD articles about or including Superman have appeared, including parodies of the various TV and movie projects. Other related pieces include:
    • "What If Superman Were Raised by Jewish Parents?" (in which the rabbi is unable to circumcise his super-foreskin, but he makes his mother proud by using his vision to become a radiologist);
    • "Superman R.I.P.", a poem published shortly after Death of Superman
    • "What If Truth in Advertising Laws Applied to Comic Book Previews," which made sport of DC Comics' killing and reviving the character;
    • Various gag strips, including one by Sergio Aragones in which a hobo finds Clark Kent's abandoned suit inside a phone booth and steals it, and another by Don Martin in which a series of massive lifts induce a "super-hernia."
  • The Saint from the independent comic The Pro was an obvious parody of Superman; he wore a blue spandex uniform with a red cape, had a day job as a reporter, and had an unrequited crush on his pushy co-worker.
  • Japanese manga artist Akira Toriyama parodied Superman in his first series Dr. Slump, in the form of "Suppaman" (slightly different from Supaman, the way that Superman is written in Japanese katakana), a short, fat, pompous buffoon who transforms into a Superman-like costume by eating a sour (or "suppai" in Japanese) pickled ume fruit (umeboshi). Unlike Superman, Suppaman can't fly, and instead pretends to fly by lying belly down on a skateboard and scooting through the streets. The Dr. Slump characters appeared in an episode of Dragon Ball where in the English dubbed version, Suppaman was renamed "Sourman".
  • Toriyama's later series Dragon Ball Z paid homage to Superman as well. The hero, Goku, was sent to Earth to destroy it shortly before his home planet was destroyed. Like Jor-El, his father Burdock also tried to warn his people of their imminent destruction, in the TV movie Bardock: The Father of Goku. Goku's powers are in some ways similar to those of Superman, and similarly large-scale. His mild-mannered son, Gohan, eventually takes a superhero identity as the "Great Saiyaman," while attempting to hide his identity from the tough-as-nails Videl.
  • Spanish cartoonist Jan created his parody of Superman in 1973, called Superl√≥pez.
  • Superdupont is a parodized French Superman.
  • The character El-Vis, from the webcomic The Japanese Beetle, is a parody/pastiche of Superman and Elvis Presley. El-Vis is the last son of Argon, and was raised by hillbillies (Snuffy Smith and Maw) after crashing on Earth. He initially despises the Beetle, believing that the bumbling hero ruined his life (albeit accidentally), but the two became uneasy allies thanks to events like a parody of Our Worlds at War and the takeover of America by the evil robot Hypnotron, who shrunk Branson, Missouri and placed it in a bottle (as with Kandor). El-Vis' costume is a modified version of Elvis' stage outfits, and he has many of Superman's traditional superpowers, as well as odd ones like "X-ray crotch" and "laser uvula".

Film

  • In the Philippines-produced movie Fly Me To The Moon (produced around 1988), starring Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto and Joey De Leon (the hosts of Eat Bulaga!'), Superman's costume got sucked into their spaceship's rocket booster while the three were on their way to the moon. Superman, who appears in the film wearing only polka-dot boxer shorts, is shown begging the astronauts for the return of his costume.
  • 1987: Superman (a/k/a "The Indian Superman"), starring Puneet Issar as Superman. In this Indian take on the classic superhero story, a young baby from the doomed planet Krypton is sent to Earth, where he is adopted by an elderly couple in India who name him Shekhar. After growing to an adult and learning about his origins and powers, he goes to the city in search of his school sweetheart, Gita, who has become a newspaper reporter. At the same time, Verma, Shekhar's rival for Gita's affection in their school days, has gone on to become a crime lord and general super-villain. Verma has hatched at plan to become rich by devastating part of India with natural disasters, then buying up all of the abandoned land. Will Superman/Shekhar be able to put a stop to Verma's evil plan? Will he win Gita's heart? Will he keep his double identity a secret?

Television

  • Classic Sesame Street Muppet character Grover has a recurring fantasy sequence in which he imagines himself as a superhero named Super Grover, who is explicitly patterned on Superman, right down to a secret identity of "Grover Kent" who uses telephone booths to change costumes. Although wearing a red cape in a clear Superman reference, Grover's "G-shield" chest symbol is actually more reminiscent of Shazam's famous lightning-bolt. The Roman helmet Super Grover wears does not seem to be a direct superheroic reference.
  • Saturday Night Live has often parodied Superman:
    • A 1979 episode was hosted by Margot Kidder. In one sketch, Kidder (as Lois Lane) is hosting a dinner party with her new husband, Superman (played by Bill Murray). Superman briefly leaves the party, and Clark Kent appears. He proceeds to ask Lois how married life is with the "Man of Steel", and is crushed when Lois tells him Superman is "incredibly dull". Clark leaves the party so Superman can return, but neglects to change back into his costume, thereby revealing his identity to the partygoers. (Other cast members appearing in the sketch are Dan Akroyd as the Flash, Garrett Morris as Ant-Man and John Belushi as the Incredible Hulk.)
    • The Rock played a Superman unable to conceal his secret identity effectively from Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White (while being completely oblivious of that fact) in a Saturday Night Live sketch.
    • Christopher Reeve, playing himself, appeared in a sketch auditioning for the role of Superman against another young hopeful and it is soon revealed that Christopher has the edge since he has Superman's powers.
    • There was a sketch spoofing the "Funeral for a Friend" story in which Superman's funeral is attended by Lex Luthor (who admits he won't really miss him), Marvel Comics' Super-Heroes (including a eulogy by the Hulk, and Black Lightning (played by Sinbad) claiming that he taught Superman how to fly.
    • A sketch from the 1970s asked the question: "What if Superman were German?". The sketch played out as a re-enactment of "Lois Lanekov" (played by Laraine Newman), "Jimmy Olstein" (played by Al Franken) and "Klaus Kent" (played by Michael Palin) in a press meeting with Adolf Hitler, with Klaus saving Hitler from a bomb and using his X-ray powers to determine that Jimmy Olstein is Jewish. The sketch goes on as a war veteran and a comic book expert discuss the aforementioned question.
    • Hugh Jackman portrayed Superman in a sketch in which Superman travels to the Fortress of Solitude and meets his father (only a recording) and a series of awkward moments between the two follow.
    • Jerry Seinfeld donned the costume for a skit in 1992.
  • Monty Python's "Bicycle Repairman" sketch features a land of Supermen (complete with identical costumes) who watch in awe as Bicycle Repairman (a quite ordinary fellow) comes to the aid of a Superman who has wrecked his bike.
  • In the original All That years, there was a character who appeared frequently named Superdude. He was played by Kenan Thompson. The character possessed most of Superman's abilities and Superdude's only weakness was milk, because he was lactose intolerant.
  • A parody of Superman called Zuperman appeared in the music video of Shakira's Objection (Tango) assisting Packageman (Batman parody) in beating up Shakira's cheating boyfriend.

Animation

Bugs Bunny 1943 Superman parody
Bugs Bunny 1943 Superman parody
  • In the 1943 Merrie Melodies short Super-Rabbit, Bugs Bunny eats fortified carrots in Professor Canafrazz's laboratory which transform him into Super Rabbit. He then goes to Deepinaharta, Texas, to fight notorious rabbit hater Cottontail Smith. Bugs' adventures as Super Rabbit end abruptly when he decides to become a real Superman - he goes into a phone booth and emerges as a United States Marine. (The Marine Corps was so pleased, that they officially inducted Bugs into the service as a private, complete with dogtags. Bugs was regularly promoted until he was officially discharged at the end of World War II with the rank of Master Sergeant.)
  • In 1940, the Terrytoons studio created the character of Mighty Mouse in the wake of the success of the Superman comic books and the Fleischer Studios animated series. Mighty Mouse went on to become a long-running star of children's television, as the Terrytoons theatrical cartoons were broadcast on children's TV shows for over thirty years, from the 1950s to the 1980s.
  • In the 1956 Looney Tunes short Stupor Duck, Daffy Duck is featured as the title character (and his alter ego, Cluck Trent). Cluck eavesdrops on his editor, who is watching a crime drama about "Aardvark Ratnik", a fictional villain hell-bent on world domination. Cluck, believing Aardvark is an actual villain who has announced his plans to the editor, changes into Stupor Duck and searches for the non-existent villain. One by one, he spots "examples" of Aardvark's supposed work: a skyscraper being razed to make way for a new city hall; a train wreck that's actually a stunt for a movie; a sinking ship that turns out to be a submarine; and a nuclear missile that's actually a rocket headed for the moon (with Cluck/Daffy holding on for dear life). This cartoon was later edited into Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island, and Daffy has also occasionally re-donned the Stupor Duck guise in the Looney Tunes comic book.
  • Drawn Together's character Captain Hero is an obvious parody of Superman, down to his specific superpowers, association with the JLA and origin in "Action Comics". However, it is revealed that his home planet was not actually destroyed, but his parents sent him to Earth as a form of abortion.
  • In the flash cartoon Happy Tree Friends the superhero squirrel Spelndid is a parody of Superman. The only big difference is that most of the times he tries to save people he ends accidentally killing them.
  • Superman has appeared occasionally on the Adult Swim series Robot Chicken. In the first sketch of the show's first episode produced, Superman, along with several DC comics heroes from Super Friends, were featured in a The Real World spoof titled Real World: Metropolis. In the parody, Superman played the stereyotypical jerk, harassing Aquaman for his lack of powers and blaming others for his sick, perverted acts.
  • Superman, as Clark Kent, is strongly implied to be Eiko Magami's father in the anime Project A-Ko

Literature

  • The satirical novel Super-Folks features a costumed protagonist who hails from the planet Cronk', and as a result, is vulnerable to the substance Cronkite.
  • Author John Varley wrote the short story "Truth, Justice and the Politically Correct Socialist Path", a parody where Superman does not land in the United States but in Soviet Russia. In this story, "Kyril Kentarovsky" took on the identity of "Bolshoiman", who attempted to represent Russia but only managed to get thrown into a gulag (with Leon Trotsky as his cellmate). The story can be found in the collection "Superheroes", edited by John Varley and Ricia Mainhardt.
  • √úbermensch! is a short story by British science fiction author Kim Newman. It features a version of Superman who crashed in Germany and was brought up with the Third Reich. He ends up incarcerated in Spandau prison. He can easily escape but his conscience regarding past deeds for the Third Reich keeps him there ultimately leading to his suicide.

The "Curse of Superman"

The myth of a so-called "curse of Superman" has grown up over the years, and is occasionally revived by the media, due to the misfortune that a number of actors involved in Superman portrayals have suffered, such as George Reeves (possible suicide) and Christopher Reeve (paralyzed and death). Critics of the myth point out that the evidence is highly circumstantial. Margot Kidder who played Lois Lane in the original Superman movies stated in an interview "With any group of people in life, sad things happen, and crazy things, and happy things. When you're in the public eye, it's just amplified, that's all. There's no curse." . The story of George Reeves' possible suicide is told in the 2006 film Hollywoodland.

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