So, as I begin to map out some things pertaining to Superman, I started looking for strong shifts and developments in his history, as well as pointed moments of development that showed him acting in some fashion as a rhetorical model.
Here is what I came up with so far, feel free to suggest more…
Golden Age (1938-1950)
American Historical Context: Tail end of Great Depression, Crime, Corruption, WWII (Superman stays on the home front), and Beginnings of Cold War, Nuclear Armament
Superman is given birth, becomes an icon and helps navigate the context and struggle of America during times of growth and war.
Action Comics #1 (1938) – Fighting injustice and Corruption
Supermen of America (1939) – Fan Club Established
Superman #1 (1939) – First superhero to have his own title
Look Magazine #7 (1940) – “How Superman Would End the War”
Action Comics #23 (1940) – Introduction of Lex Luthor (the anti-model)
Actions Comics #58 (1943) – Superman says to “Slap a Jap” and buy bonds
Superman #23 (1943) – Superman helps train the armed forces
Superman #29 (1944) – Superman fighting to help sell war bonds
Superman #53 (1948) – Origin story really developed in full for first time
Superman #61 (1949) – kryptonite, fear of radiation in wake of nuclear bombs
Silver Age (1956-1970)
American Historical Context: Ramping up of the Cold War, Assassinations of JFK, MLK, and Bobby Kennedy, Civil Rights Movement, the Space Race, and Vietnam War
Superman’s focus, in wake of the Comic Book Code turned to more Sci-Fi adventures that took on fears of invasion, radiation, and the space race. In 1954, U.S.S.R. tested an atomic weapon.
Action Comics #252 (1959) – Arrival of Supergirl, another survivor of Krypton
Action Comics #254 (1959) – Face off against Bizzaro
Action Comics #259 (1959) – Battle with Kryptonite Man
Superman #141 (1960) – Returns to the past and to his home planet of Krypton
Superman #163 (1963) – Takes on Lex Luthor in a “fair fight”
Superman #199 (1967) – Races the Flash
Bronze Age (1970-1985)
American Historical Context: Ramping down of Vietnam War, time of economic and political turmoil, arrival of Regan era and promise of a new morning in America
Superman is searching for relevancy as America is searching also for its identity following the 1960’s. More powers given to Superman, then his powers eventually are reduced. He is put on trial, becomes a celebrity, and the world is asked to wonder what and where would it be if he did not exist or died.
Superman #233-8, 240-2 (1970-71) – Kryptonite no more
Superman #247 (1972) – Superman on trial
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (1978) – Fights then teams up with the fighter
Action Comics #554 (1984) – “If Superman Didn’t Exist?”
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow – A world imagined after Superman is dead
Modern Age (1985-2001)
American Historical Context: Leaving behind the Regan era, America hit recession and then entered a period economic prosperity before facing terror attacks upon entering the new millennium.
Superman continues to shift in his evolution. Moving from Regan era and attempts to reboot him with fewer powers, rewriting his Silver Age past, Superman depictions run the gambit of him dying and returning to life, to depiction in alternate futures, and getting married.
Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985) – Twelve-issue series that attempted to shrink DC Universe
John Byrne’s Man of Steel (1986) – Six-part series that attempted to change the mythos, reduce powers, and major edits to Superman in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths
Dark Knight Returns (1986) – Alternate Batman timeline where Superman was government stooge
Superman (vol. 2) #2 (1987) – Lex Luthor uncovers Superman’s identity
Death of Superman (1992) – Decision to kill Superman in an epic series of interconnected stories
Funeral for a Friend (1992) – Tribute to the death of Superman, reflection on what he meant
Reign of the Supermen (1993) – Consequences of a world trying to replace Superman and his return
Kingdom Come (1996) – Alternate future where Superman walked away and returns to set things right again
Superman: The Wedding Album (1996) – Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Finally said, “I do”
Superman: Peace on Earth (1998) – Superman attempts to eliminate world hunger
Post-Modern Age (2001-Present)
American Historical Context: 9/11, the War on Terror, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and changing paradigm of American culture in dark territory.
Superman faces an attempt to continue to stay relevant in a world that has shifted to darker, grittier depictions of superheroes.
Superman: Red Son (2003) – Elseworlds story that imagines Superman as champion of U.S.S.R.
Superman: Birthright (2003-04) – Revisit of origin and updating for 21st century
All-Star Superman (2005-08) – an update and refit that imagined Superman at his mythological best
Superman Grounded (2010-11) – Superman returns to Earth and basics after struggle with New Krypton
New 52 (2011-Present) – Relaunch of entire DC Universe