Is Superman a Marvel or DC character?

Superman is one of the most recognizable superheroes in comic book history. His costume, spit curl, incredible powers, and decades of adventures make Big Blue the closest superhero comics have to a template.

As the legendary narration of the 1950s series The Adventures of Superman put it, he’s “faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!” Who hasn’t heard the story of the last son of Krypton?

Kal-El of Krypton

Smallville

Krypton was Superman’s birth planet, but not the world that made him a hero. Born Kal-El, his parents Lara and Jor-El placed him in a rocket as a baby, enabling his escape from the planet just before it exploded. Landing on Earth, he was found by Martha and Jonathan Kent, the farming couple who raised him as their own in Smallville, Kansas. They instilled a moral and ethical code in the boy they named Clark that would make him famous as a protector of Earth and allow him to have a dual identity as a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet in Metropolis.

Superman’s origin story has been tweaked and updated since his debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938, but the core details of this simple, influential legend have remained the same. Superman’s legend was shaped by him and a host of supporting characters, namely his adoptive parents, romantic interest Lois Lane, and colleagues like photographer Jimmy Olsen and editor Perry White. 

Is Superman a Marvel or DC character?

Superman Special Banner
Image via DC Comics

Superman is a DC Character, and quite probably their most important. Along with Batman and Wonder Woman, he is one of the trinity at the heart of the vast DC multiverse. He has headlined multiple and concurrent comic titles, including Action Comics and Superman. And for most of the superteam’s existence, he’s been the de facto leader of the Justice League.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster met in 1932 and started developing the character of Superman a year later. But the young comic creators took a few years to hit on the big boy scout we know today. They first used the name in their menacing short comic Reign of the Superman, but the appearance of the evil scientist of the title was what we’d later associate with Clark Kent’s nemesis Lex Luthor. 

When various newspaper editors suggested that the pair make their character more sensational, Siegel and Shuster created a new one, accidentally gifted the incredible powers of super strength and invulnerable skin. It was when their burgeoning hero was reframed as an alien evacuee, put on a distinctive bright costume with an “S” on the chest, and assumed the alter-ego of a journalist that he took off. After numerous rejections, Detective Comics, Inc. contracted the pair for the launch edition of their new Action Comics title. Although Superman could only leap tall buildings (he wouldn’t fly until a radio serial adaptation granted him the ability a whole two years later), he had legs the minute he hit the newsstands. 

Siegel and Shuster had launched the superhero genre. The pair’s original contract and subsequent disputes between their estates and DC Comics would be part of that legacy for decades. But there was never any doubt that they had created a beacon that would inspire generations.

Shuster and Siegel, one born in Canada the other in America, were both children of Jewish immigrants. They combined to create one of the most significant explorations of immigration, society, and humanity in popular culture. Superman was instantly popular, but his power to inspire grew during and after World War II. His relevance has never diminished. 

Superman is the god among us who uses his incredible powers for truth and justice, not to control and dominate. He has the strength of Krypton (gifted through the Earth’s yellow sun) but the qualities of the best of humanity.

Man of screen

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s no surprise that Big Blue quickly crossed to other media, including the screen. To date, Superman has appeared in nine live-action films alongside hugely popular television series and animated adventures. Many still consider Christopher Reeve’s performance to be the pinnacle iteration of the character thanks to a run of four films through the 1970s and 1980s. Those films range from the sublime to the ridiculous, but Reeve never failed to steal a scene as the Man of Steel. In the DC Extended Universe, Henry Cavill has taken Superman from Smallville to a heroic death at the hands of Doomsday and on to resurrection and a tense stand-off against one of his greatest enemies, Darkseid.

Superman’s lasting appeal is impressive, considering the challenge his incredible powers pose to writers. But many incredible creators have taken on that challenge and helped Superman soar to even greater heights. It’s an impressive list, one that includes Curt Swan, Jeph Loeb, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mario Puzo, Brian Michael Bendis, George Perez, Bill Finger, Marv Wolfman, J, Michael Straczynski, and Louise Simonson.

More than the powers

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Image via The CW

Superman isn’t just about his incredible powers, which is demonstrated in his latest on-screen incarnation, Superman and Lois. The CW show takes its lead from current DC Comics, where Clark and Lois are parents, drawing out the essential qualities that are just as important as Superman’s super-strength, heat vision, and ice breath. 

Superman made headlines in October 2021 when DC Comics announced that his famous slogan was being modified to “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.” The controversy was inevitable, but the great publicity also showed that the great American hero, with over 80 years of continuous storytelling, is a global icon. 

Superman has made international headlines for everything from his famous Death of Superman storyline to his marriage to Lois Lane and the sexuality of his teenage son.

Action Comics #1, featuring Shuster’s iconic image of Superman holding a car above his head, has the record for being the second most expensive comic book of all time. A copy sold at auction for $3.25 million in April 2021. The only superhero to beat him was Spider-Man, whose first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 managed to take $3.6 million just five months later.

Inspiring Marvel

superman
Image via DC COmics

Superman emerged to kickstart the Golden Age of Comics years before the Marvel era began in 1961. However, Marvel did take its name from a comic released not long after: Action Comics #1. Marvel would emerge from Timely Comics, which was formed in 1939. Timely released Marvel Comics in Oct. 1939, introducing two heroes whose names are still in print today: Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch. They would launch their own all-American hero Captain America two years later. 

DC’s revival of superheroes and the advent of Comics Silver Age in the late 1950s encouraged writer Stan Lee and veteran artist Jack Kirby to create the Fantastic Four in 1961. It launched a new era for the new Marvel Comics imprint. Lee and Kirby were encouraged to create a new superteam for the renewed publisher following the successful launch of  DC’s Justice League in 1960. Adding a dysfunctional family dynamic to superheroic adventure and creating extraordinary characters that kid readers could easily identify with would lead to the Marvel universe we all know today. 

But it all falls under the shadow of one red cape. Without Superman, superhero comics just wouldn’t have been the same.