Superman was created by two teenagers, boyhood friends, Cleveland-born Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born, Joe Shuster. Siegel first used the name in 1933 for a science fiction story, "The Reign of Superman," illustrated by Joe Shuster. Inspired by Nietzsche, this first creation was an evil mastermind with advanced mental powers. After the rise of Nazis that same year, Hitler projected a different, darker and distorted view of Nietzsche's Superman, causing Siegel and Shuster to recreate their character, to be a force for good. It was a long four years before they found a publisher willing to accept their idea. While waiting, they had begun producing work for Detective Comics, Inc., the predecessor of DC Comics. It was early in 1938 that Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to Superman to DC for a reported $130, along with a contract to supply material to the publisher. A repasting of newspaper strip samples, Superman appeared for the first time in the first issue of Action Comics (June, 1938 vol#1).
With superhuman powers, the character was able to leap tall buildings, lift automobiles, tear steel doors from their hinges, and have bullets bounce off his chest. He quickly became a hit for DC Comics, and by 1940 he was being printed in three different comics: Action Comics, Superman, and World's Finest Comics. This was quickly followed by a radio serial and the 1941 17-episode series of animated cartoons from Max Fleischer. When the United States entered World War Two after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Superman became a combat hero, battling both Hitler and Tojo. Although Siegel and Shuster had been well compensated for their work, they were unhappy that they didn't own their own creation.
In 1945 when Siegel and Shuster were in military service, DC Comics produced the Superboy series in More Fun Comics, without compensating the creators. Returning from the war, the young men sued for a piece of Superboy, and were successful, receiving a reported $100,000. But DC Comics refused to renew their contracts in 1948, and took their creation credit off the feature. That same year, 1948, the first Superman movie serial was released, starring Kirk Alyn as Superman, who would do battle with the Spider Lady. A second serial appeared in 1950. It was the George Reeves version of Superman on television from 1953 to 1957 that was probably the greatest hit for the Man of Steel.
In subsequent years Siegel and Shuster continued to fight for the rights to Superman. It wasn't until 1978, as publicity was rising for the most technically advanced cinematic Superman, that prominent comic creators began a campaign to get recognition for the two creators of the Man of Steel. Under pressure from their corporate parent, Warner Communications, DC Comics gave in, and Siegel and Shuster's creation credit was restored to the Superman feature. Each received an annual royalty, reportedly about $20,000, until they died. By the time Shuster died in 1992, the creation credit was guaranteed on everything that has since been created relating to the Man of Steel. The 1978 movie starred Christopher Reeve as Superman and Canadian actress Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, the two characters exhibiting far more sexual tension than the producers of the 1950s television series ever imagined. There were three more Superman movies, the second received as well if not better than the first, but they were followed up by two final and less inspiring efforts. As a primary superhero, Superman was a natural to become a core member of the Justice League of America.
The Millenium has seen continued rebirths of Siegel's and Schuster's creativity with an impact on the genre that far outweighs what the two boyhood friends had ever originally envisioned. But if you ask any Superman fan who invented the hero, it's unlikely you will find too many who know. The creators had stumbled upon a need that society's youth required, a need that appears to have no end in sight.