Superman is so deeply rooted in popular culture that virtually everything about him, his origin story, and his supporting cast almost seem to have simply always existed. But the reality is that Superman, his pals, and his story were based on a number of people, characters, and stories that already existed when two teenaged boys named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster set out to make their mark on the comic book industry. Thanks to interviews, articles, and letters by Siegel and Shuster, many of their inspirations are known. The most prominent are recounted below.
- Superman: When pondering how the superpowered individual that he and Joe Shuster were creating would come to have his powers, Jerry Siegel found inspiration in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” books, in which Civil War soldier John Carter traveled to Mars, where he could perform awe-inspiring feats of heroism because his Earthly body was rendered super-powerful by Mars’ weak gravity. Siegel reasoned that a being from a planet that had gravity much stronger than Earth’s would develop amazing powers on Earth just as John Carter had on Mars. When the time came to draw Superman, Joe Shuster based his poses and mannerisms on Douglas Fairbanks, a movie star known for his action-packed swashbucklers of the silent era.
- Clark Kent: Siegel and Shuster, both of which were small and mild-mannered, were saddened by how people, especially girls, tended to ignore or look down on them. It was because of this that Siegel came up with the idea of a mild, unimpressive person who was ignored by women, but was secretly a superhero. Further inspiration came from Harold Lloyd, a comedian of the silent era known best for playing a bespectacled, meek underdog who would eventually turn the tables on those who bullied him. They named Superman’s alter-ego after actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor, and gave him the profession of newspaper reporter.
- Lois Lane: Jerry Siegel based Superman’s love interest on Glenda Farrell, the actress that played wisecracking newspaper reporter Torchy Blane in seven movies. He liked the name of Lola Lane (who also played Torchy in one movie), so he gave his character the similar name Lois Lane. He portrayed Lois as often ignoring Clark Kent or treating him with contempt, much like he and Shuster were treated by many of the girls they knew. Lois’ physical appearance was based on a model hired by Shuster. Her name was Jolan Kovacs, but she would later change her name to Joanne Carter, then later yet to Joanne Siegel upon her eventual marriage to Jerry Siegel.
- Metropolis: The bustling city of Metropolis was modeled after Toronto, Canada (Shuster’s hometown) and named after the 1927 silent classic film Metropolis. Clark Kent’s workplace the Daily Star (later changed to the Daily Planet) was based on and named after the Toronto Daily Star, which Shuster had once worked for as a paperboy.
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