Clark Kent is the Man of Steel, the Last Son of Krypton — an alien orphan raised here on Earth where our yellow sun gives him powers of flight, strength, speed and invulnerability, as well as X-ray and heat vision and cold breath.
You know the story: As the planet Krypton is destroyed, a pair of Kryptonians send their only son into space to save him. The ship lands on Earth, and human parents find the Kryptonian baby and raise him. As he grows up, he realizes he has amazing powers. Cue the music and a passer-by shouting, “It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superman.”
In “Man of Steel,” Henry Cavill wears the tights. The British actor explores Clark Kent's origins in Smallville, Kan., as well as the attack on Earth that turns him into the hero we all know.
Originally appearing in 1961 as Dru-Zod, the character was popularized by his appearance with Ursa and Non in “Superman II.”
A megalomaniacal Kryptonian general, Zod (portrayed by Michael Shannon) is back in “Man of Steel” to turn Earth into a new Krypton and — of course — hunt down Superman.
“Zod doesn't really have a choice,” Shannon told the New York Daily News. “Ever since he was born, he's been training to be guardian of Krypton.”
In Smallville, Clark Kent's parents are Jonathan and Martha Kent. But before he traveled to Earth, Kal-El was born on Krypton to Jor-El.
Played in “Man of Steel” by Russell Crowe, Jor-El attempts to save Krypton as it is destroyed, but is only able to save his son. And after Superman has arrived on Earth, he reappears as a lifelike sort of hologram to continue to guide his child.
PHOTOS: "Man of Steel," Production Stills
Superman on Film
Does it feel like Superman just has a ton of movies and remakes? Well, he does. Since 1978, six men have donned the blue tights and red cape to portray Superman (and Clark Kent, of course), including Christopher Reeve in four films between 1978 and 1987, Brandon Routh in the 2006 film “Superman Returns,” John Haymes Newton in the 1988 TV show “Superboy,” Dean Cain in the TV series “Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman” and Tom Welling in “Smallville” (who only put on the costume in the final episode).
“Smallville” and “Lois & Clark” don't tie into any other versions of the character, but “Superman Returns” was envisioned as a sort of sequel to “Superman” and “Superman II.” Despite the movie's worldwide gross of nearly $400 million, Warner Bros. decided to reboot the franchise entirely.
Several versions of Superman films were also proposed between the early 1990s and 2002 but were never made. Scripts for “Superman Reborn” and “Superman Lives” in the '90s were supposed to be about the death of Superman, which at the time had just occurred in the comic books. A “Batman vs. Superman” story was also pitched, as well as a script by J.J. Abrams called “Superman: Flyby.”
“Man of Steel” draws on 75 years of Superman stories to bring a new mythology to life. The best stories about the hero are “great examples of Superman's beginnings as told from different eras, or examples of Superman's heroic ideal,” said Joe Patrick, manager at Legend Comics & Coffee and co-host of the “Two-Headed Nerd” comics podcast.
We looked through Supes's history and picked some of his best stories in case you're interested in getting acquainted with his comic roots.
» “Last Son”: Co-written by “Superman” film director Richard Donner, this series re-introduces General Zod to the comics.
» “Man of Steel”: This story by John Byrne is Patrick's favorite: “Byrne introduced the idea that, being raised on Earth, Clark Kent was his true identity while 'Superman' was the disguise he wore. In other words, he considered himself a part of the human race and related to us. As opposed to other versions where Superman/Kal-El, while certainly very noble, considered himself outside of humanity and wore the disguise of 'bumbling, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent' to blend in.”
» “Superman for All Seasons”: This story by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale incorporates elements of “Man of Steel” and follows Superman through the four seasons of one year.
» “All-Star Superman”: A story that sees Superman stripped down to his “timeless” essential qualities, as writer Grant Morrison said, “All-Star Superman” sees an epic battle between Superman and Lex Luthor as well as a Clark/Superman and Lois Lane love story.
» “Superman: Earth One”: Updating the Superman origin story for modern times, the “Earth One” story starts with Clark Kent arriving in Metropolis and his search for a job. An alien attack then gives him the inspiration to become Superman.
Free Superman Comics
• "All-Star Superman"
• "Last Song of Krypton"
• "The Man of Steel"
• "Superman No. 1"
• "H'EL on Earth"
• "Superman Adventures," more "Superman Adventures" and more "Superman Adventures"
• "Superman 101
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