#164: Duper!

164.1  Compiling a genealogy of Superman is a daunting task…dare I say Herculean…would that be mixing metaphors?…no?…good, didn’t think so. Foremost because Superman is a fictional character, and subject to all the biographical omissions and inconsistencies inherent in fiction…especially a character who has existed continuously for 76 years (as of 2014.) He has been chronicled in thousands of comic book stories, not to mention a newspaper comic strip that ran from 1939-1966. Then you have movies, radio and TV shows, novelizations (what we used to call “books”), toys, games, coloring books, costumes, and other merchandize…and yes, now video games.

164.2  Given the ridiculous wealth of source material, something must be held as “canonical”…I would include the comic books and the newspaper strip. The latter was originally produced by Joe Shuster & Jerry Siegel, the team that invented Superman for the funny books (as we used to call them) in the first place…and Mr. Mxyzptlk, a bald Lex Luthor, the telephone-booth-as-a-changing-room all made their first appearance in the daily strips. (The again, Jimmy Olsen first appeared on the radio show…to give Clark Kent “somebody to talk to,” as the story goes.)

164.3  But there are other problems…after all, Superman, like all super hero characters, is science fiction…where literally anything can happen. Perfect example: does Clark Kent have a Super-Sister named Claire Kent? Sure looks like it… inset 1 164.4  …from Adventure #278 (11/58). Actually, Superboy has been transformed into a girl, much to the unexpected (at least to me) delight of his adopted parents. Considered today, there’s a lot that could be said about this story-line…none of which would have occurred to anyone back in 1958…and I am going to respectfully decline to say it. But in the end, the whole episode turns out to be a dream projected into Superboy’s mind by a female alien whom he insulted…that’s the Shar-La mentioned in the last panel above. So no, he doesn’t have a sister. mon

164.5  But this would be a good time to get Mon-El out of the way. Introduced in Superboy #89 (6/61) he is Lar Gand, a young explorer from the planet Daxam, who lands on Krypton a short time before its destruction. Superman’s father Jor-El gives him a map showing the way to Earth…gee, I wonder why…but he lands here with amnesia. Because he too has super-powers, Superboy assumes he’s his long-lost brother, naming him Mon (because he arrived on a Monday). He takes on the Smallville identity of Bob Cobb, and is eventually seen mostly with the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 30th century. But he’s discovered to be no kin, obviously.

164.6  In addition to dreams and illusions, DC loved doing plain old imaginary stories…what-if’s with no connection to their regular on-going “reality.” Did Superman have any children? But of course…at various times with Lois Lane: Jordan, Clark Jr., Laney, Lola, Superman Jr., and twins Larry and Carole…and with Lana Lang (his old girlfriend from the Superboy days): Joan and twins Kal and Jor. Well, not really…but you see the problem.

164.7  Then again, even given the science fiction angle, the universe in which Superman and the other DC characters live in is an ungodly mess. As popular as superheroes were in the 1940s, they petered out in the 1950s…what’s now called the Golden Age lasted from 1938 to about 1951. There was the “Interregnum” from about 1951-55, super hero-less except for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Then DC re-introduced the character of the Flash in 1955…but this was a different Flash from the Golden Age version…different costume, different identity. Thus was born the Silver Age, 1955-1970.

164.8  The time was ripe, and readers took to the new super-folk with an intensity not seen before…which in due course would give birth to fanzines and amateur comic books, then conventions and dress-up. Naturally, the question arose: why are there 2 different Flashes, an old one and a new one? In 1961 DC took the bold step of explaining it this way: there was an alternative reality called Earth-Two, where the heroes from the 1940s existed, independently from the “new” heroes of the 1950s…and the 2 worlds could interact. Once this genie was out of the bottle, alternate Earths proliferated at an alarming rate…eventually there were hundreds of them.

164.9  It all came to a head in 1985…with a series of stories across multiple comic book titles, collectively called “The Crisis on Infinite Earths.” History was re-written…the dizzying complexity was pruned without mercy…what they called the Multiverse collapsed into just one, and many characters either died or were designated as never having existed. They said they did this to simplify the scene for new or casual readers…frankly, I don’t believe that. I think this was just another layer of “reality” superimposed on all the others, to make things even more complex and pregnant with ingenious plots and twists.

164.10  And I say that because the whole thing really didn’t take…elements of the old Multiverse soon began creeping back into story-lines, and today fans talk about characters and incidents as Pre-Crisis and Post-Crisis…because after all, you can’t un-ring a bell…what is supposed to have never happened still did happen before it didn’t happen, nez pah? Otherwise, there would have been no history to re-write.

164.11  Now I bring all this up because my Superman genealogy will be confined mostly to what Baby Boomers will remember…gleaned from 1938 up thru the early 1970s, in some cases a little later. But you must understand that things are “different” today. As one example, your grandson might tell you that the “original” Superboy, who was after all Superman as a teenager, died fighting with the Legion in the 30th century. Today’s Superboy is a clone of Superman named Kon-El. Um…ok…fine. Thus, many of the individuals in Chart 583 don’t “exist” today and never did. Right…whatever…chart 583164.12  You will notice that Kryptonian naming customs are slightly different from ours. Take Var-El at the very top of Chart 583. His family name is El, his given name is Var…the 2 are connected with a hyphen. He had 2 sons, Jor (Superman’s grandfather) and Zim…thus Jor-El and Zim-El. He also had a daughter named Kayla (sometimes Kalya or Kyla)…but her name was not Kayla-El, because females take their father’s entire name as a surname, combined without a hyphen with their given name…so she is Kayla Var-El. Had Superman really had a daughter, named after his mother, she’d be Lara Kal-El, not Lara-El…get it? Speaking of inconsistencies, Supergirl’s mother Alura is sometimes spelled Allura, just so you know. And Post-Crisis, some of those who still existed got new names…who cares, not me. inset 2164.13  Top row above you see one of the earliest incarnations of Kal-El’s parents. In the very first Superman comic book, Action #1 (6/38) his father is referred to only as “a scientist.” In the newspaper strip the following year he is named Jor-L, eventually Jor-el then Jor-El. His costume became standardized as basically green (middle row). His brother Zor-El (Supergirl’s father) looked similar, only red (bottom row)…well, most of the time…you still had inexplicable exceptions, like that strange dude in yellow, bottom right.

164.14  Most of the Kryptonians in Chart 583 were mentioned but never seen.  loisAfter all, for the first 20 years of the Superman saga, he was the lone survivor of the planet Krypton. Sure, you could have flashbacks…and time travel episodes like the one at the right…notice how they go out of their way to assure the reader this it NOT an imaginary story. A bit on the Oedipal side? Well, something similar was a main plot device in “Back To the Future” and the world didn’t end, as I recall.

164.15  All this changed in the late 1950s with the introduction of Kandor, the shrunken Kryptonian city in a bottle, stored at Supey’s Fortress of Solitude. Below, top left, the blue-and-white clad individual is Nim-El, Superman’s uncle, identical twin to his father Jor-El, altho he doesn’t look like it here. Superman, in the middle, has been impersonating Nim-El and been detected…but the presence of Jor-El suggests this is time-travel, not Kandor…even tho Nim-El does survive in Kandor, and his son Don-El, said to be Superman’s look-a-like, which is hardly surprising, is their chief of police. One time Don-El goes off his rocker and thinks he’s Superman. inset 3 164.16  Forgive me for not double-checking, but that could very well be Don-El in the bottom row left, dressed as Superman, but with a mask since the rest of Kandor would recognize him…versus Superman as Nightwing and Jimmy Olsen as Flamebird, the Batman and Robin of Kandor. Eventually their places would be taken by Van-Zee as Nightwing, another Superman look-a-like, said to be his 2nd cousin but actually his father’s 1st cousin…and Van Zee’s niece’s husband Ak-Var as Flamebird. This new Duo is seen bottom right, now wearing masks since they too would be known to Kandorians.

164.17  Besides Kandor, there’s the Kryptonian city of Argo…home of Supergirl’s parents Zor-El and Alura. It was flung free of Krypton and eventually destroyed by Green Kryptonite…but not before they sent her to Earth to be cared for by her 1st cousin Superman. And we also have evil Kryptonians surviving in the Phantom Zone…top right is another of Superman’s father’s first cousins, Kru-El. And on it goes. At various times the House of El has been traced back dozens of generations…but I think you’ve got the basics of the Pedigree of Steel, at least the extraterrestrial side. Next week, part 2: Attack of the Adoptionoids from Terra!

wicked ballsy

ballsy Superheroes were one of the key motifs of the Pop Art movement back in the 1960s. I remember one art critic actually admitting he liked them, appreciating such characters as unabashedly “idiotic”…his word. Well, Marvel Comics tried to steer the genre into less idiotic territory, and in the fullness of time DC would follow suit. But back in their heyday, hoo-boy! Vegetable people attracted to light…and to Green Goddess salad dressing…


Copyright © 2014 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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