With Man of Steel right around the corner, speculation is running high as to just how different—aside from the lack of red shorts—Zack Snyder’s Superman is going to be from what’s come before. How many surprises can there be for a character that’s been in the pop culture spotlight for three quarters of a century?
But one of the reasons the character’s been around so long is that there’s always something new to pull out of that blue sleeve. And even his past contains some things you may not know. Here are ten such little known facts from Superman’s vast history that may well surprise you (unless, of course, you are a comics fan, in which case, Shh! Don’t spoil it for the laypeople!).
1. SUPERMAN WAS ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED AS A VILLAIN
In 1933, the third issue of the fanzine, Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization featured a story by its publisher, a young writer named Jerry Siegel, entitled, “Reign of the Superman,” with illustrations by Joe Shuster. The story tells of an evil scientist who chooses a homeless man to be the test subject for an experimental serum that grants telepathic powers. When the formula proves a success, the empowered vagrant kills the scientist before he can use the serum on himself. Inspired to take over the world, the Superman is shocked to discover that the effects of the serum are temporary, and he soon loses his powers, as well as his world-dominating aspirations.
But Siegel was more interested in writing about heroes who could battle against the world’s evils, and so (with Shuster again on art duties) he set about reworking the powers and concept of his Nietsche-inspired character. It would be another five years before they were finally able to sell their revamped Superman to National Comics for a whopping, copyright-forfeiting $130.00.
2. LEX LUTHOR USED TO HATE SUPERMAN FOR FOLLICULAR REASONS
Over the years, Superman’s arch-enemy has evolved from evil scientific genius to evil corporate overlord to evil scientific genius corporate overlord, but his abiding hatred of the hero has never wavered. These days, the general gist is that Luthor is envious of Superman’s powers and popularity, mistrustful of his motives, and aggravated by his altruism.
But in the simpler Silver Age, the reason was much more superficial, as explained in Adventure Comics #271 (1960): Friends as teens, Superboy built a fully stocked laboratory for the young Lex Luthor. When an awry experiment caused a fire in the lab, the Teen of Steel used his super breath to blow it out, but the resultant mixture of gaseous chemicals caused permanent hair loss for his now-ex pal, who swore he’d get even (he also accused Superboy of jealousy and was mad that a huge experiment was ruined, but it was mostly the hair thing). Turning your back on the coolest friend you could ever have because you think he made you bald? Vanity, thy name is Lex (a first name, by the way, that was finally given to the previously mononymous Luthor in this very tale).
3. IT’S NOT AN S
Actually, if you’ve seen the third trailer for Man of Steel, then you do know this one, but the evolution of Superman’s trademark chest emblem is an interesting story. For decades, the symbol was indeed an S, and Clark himself chose the rather immodest name for which it stood. 1978’s Superman: the Movie decided to adorn Superman’s birth daddy, Jor-El with the symbol as well, altering its meaning to stand for the House of El, the resemblance to our letter S being a mere coincidence (and, in that film, as well as MoS, it’s Lois Lane who gives Kal-El his nom de guerre). DC Comics retroactively adopted this idea, and while the precise meaning of the Kryptonian glyph has shifted in the past three decades, one thing is for sure: It’s not an S.
4. IN COLLEGE, HE FELL IN LOVE WITH A MERMAID
Superman’s girlfriends over the years have almost all had one thing in common: Alliterative names beginning with the letter L: There was Lana Lang, his childhood crush, Lyla Lerrol, the Kryptonian actress he fell in love with during a time-travel trek to his home planet, and of course, the intrepid reporter, Lois Lane. And then there’s Clark Kent’s college sweetheart, a wheelchair-bound beauty named Lori Lemaris.
Introduced in a flashback story in Superman #129 in 1959, Lori cast such a spell on Metropolis University student Clark Kent that he proposed marriage to her, despite not knowing why she always had to cut their dates short to return home by 8pm. When Lori reveals she knows Clark is Superman due to her native people’s telepathy, Clark is stunned to learn—because he would never use his X-ray vision to peek under the blanket she always wore—that he has fallen in love with a mermaid from Atlantis, sent to study the progress of we “surface people” (the 8pm curfew was so she could soak in a tank of water, of course).
Despite their love, interspecies relationships were still frowned upon in Silver Age comics, so Lori returned to the sea, leaving behind a broken hearted Young Man of Steel. Wah.