On November 11th, 2015, /u/Airtrap commented on the fact that Superman: American Alien #1 seemed to give us the date of Superman’s birthday:
That was immensely cute, i like Kid Clark more than any adult version.
Also his “Birthday” is April the 18th, who knew
Who knew? I’d say that I should have, as the DC Multiverse Historian, but I actually didn’t – because this is the first time, I believe, that date’s been used in story continuity. That bolded bit is important, as you’ll soon see!
In this post I look at the many birthdays of Superman. In the original Reddit conversation we got a little sidetracked and I ended up covering where Smallville is located, what times of year corn grows there and, therefore, what the fields should look like when Clark’s craft crashed but as this birthday post has grown way bigger that will have to wait until a future post ;)
Why has this post got so big? Well, while researching this I’ve found countless pages spreading misinformation, myths and just outright nonsense. Due to this I’ve had to go back to original source material and read dozens of comics from the 50s, 60s and beyond, cross reference info and even consult some experts on things such as cover dates.
See, like his age, Clark’s birthday has fluctuated a lot over the years – not helped I guess by the fact you’ve got multiple options:
- The date the first comic shipped
- The date he was born on Krypton
- The date he landed in the rocket
- Some arbitrary day the Kent’s decided on
- Sometimes it’s said Clark and Superman celebrate separate birthdays
- Then there’s parallel earths, reboots, retcons and more!
With such different options and with so many different writers giving their take on it over 75+ years it’s safe to say there’s been a bunch of different days given for the Man of Steel’s Day of Cake.
What this means is there’s no real ‘right’ answer either – just some that are less wrong. While I’d never advocate a ‘ teach the controversy’ approach in regards to evolution it’s a good approach here and one I’ll be using below.
As I said, explaining each of these potential dates got way longer than I expected so to make it easier for people looking stuff up I’ve added this handy-dandy table of contents, including subsections. The entries are in the real world chronological order that they appeared in.
Table of Contents
- The Date the Comic Shipped
- June 1938
- April 18, 1938
- April 26, 1938
- May 3, 1938
- Dates Given in the Comic
- October ?? – Action Comics #149 (1950)
- June 10 – Action Comics #1241 (1958)
- June 18 – Superman #249 (1972), #263 (1973)
- February 29 – Super DC Calendar 1976
- 35 Eorx 9998 – World of Krypton #2 (1979)
- February 29 (Again) – Superman Annual #11 (1985)
- February 29 (Cont.) – Post-Crisis Mentions
- November ?? – Nothing!
- May 13 – Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1997)
- May 3 (also October 16) – Smallville (2005)
- December 1 – Superman: Secret Origins (2009)
- April 18 – Superman: American Alien (2015)
- Other Dates
Just like Wikipedia, right? Anyway, Supes isn’t getting any younger – not until the next recton, at least – so let’s get to it!
The date the comic shipped
The comic is famously the first ever appearance of Superman! Sometimes the date is even stated to be specifically June 30. Surely this is as good a place as any to call his birthday, at least from a publishing standpoint, right?
See, while Action Comics #1 certainly has the word June on the front cover of the issue this is what is known as a cover date. I’ve been meaning to write a long post about the difference between cover dates and shipping dates – and how these have shifted and changed over the decades – but luckily the excellent Mike’s Amazing World of Comics has an explanation for you all! See, in these early days comics weren’t sold in comic book shops but at newstands with magazines, papers etc and in order to…
…make it easier for these vendors to know which was the current issue available magazine publishers often placed a month on the cover of their periodicals. This month was not the month the book went on sale, it was the month the issue was to be removed from the newsstand in the event the book did not sell. For example magazines with an April cover date were removed in April.
Comic publishers used this cover date scheme on their comics beginning in the 1930s. From the publishers perspective, they would like the unsold comic to remain on the newsstand for as long as possible, giving it a chance for some lucky fan to buy it. If the book was not purchased, the vendor could return the unsold copy for credit, which cost publishers money. This is not true in today’s direct market where books are sold on a non-returnable basis and retailers are stuck with unsold books.
In order to ensure the longest possible “shelf-life”, publishers began to increase the diffence between the real-time publication month and the cover date. For example in the late 1930s, DC books were dated 1 month in advance of their actual release date … By 1940, however that 1 month gap had grown to nearly two months. An issue now bearing a June cover date such as Action [Comics] #25 went on sale in April. This now gave the book 2 months instead of 1 to be sold on the newsstand. The publishers hope was to get fewer returns by extending the shelf-life.
So, yeah, despite the fact June gets bandied around all the time as when Superman was first seen by the public it is actually wrong! It’s not just fans that mess this up though – DC themselves often seem to forget the difference.
In the last couple of years DC have celebrated the 75th Anniversary of a few characters, such as Superman and Batman, and the 75th Anniversary for the first appearance of the Flash celebrated earlier this year in January 2015. The problem is that that was based on Flash Comics #1 having a cover date of January 1940 – the comic went on sale November 10, 1939.
It’s like celebrating your wedding anniversary on the date the photographer finally uploaded the photos to Facebook instead of the day it happened!
April 18, 1938
This is a date that you’ll see DC themselves have testified to in court, but it gets a bit more complicated than that and you’ll soon see why.
See, the quest to find when the first appearance of Superman actually hit the shelves has ly been of some interest to a lot of different parties over the decades. Since some copyright records hit the internet a few years back the April 18 date has gotten some mainstream exposure – but what exactly is the case its supporters make?
One such piece is this article by Mark Seifert on Bleeding Cool. In it he discusses how when previously dating other books, like Fantastic Four #1 and Incredible Hulk #1, they were able to look at penciled or stamped arrival dates that had been written on the covers of the comics. However, in Seifert’s own words:
We can’t really do the same thing with Action Comics #1, as arrival dates are quite a bit less common during the Golden Age of the late 1930s-1940s then they were in the Silver Age of the 1960s. Fortunately, we have something even better in this case: sworn court testimony regarding the release date of Action Comics #1.
In 1939, DC brought a copyright infringement suit against Fox Publications over Fox character Wonder Man’s similarities to Superman. During the trial, DC publisher Harry Donenfeld‘s business manager / partner Jack Liebowitz testified on the the stand…
The article then quotes information from this post published by the Comics Detectives concerning Detective Comics, Inc. vs. Bruns (Fox) Publications and which includes scanned transcripts of the hearing. The following is the most relevant quote and I’ve included the scanned page as well:
Leibowitz: “I can explain that first issue. We put that out April 18 and we left it on sale for about 6 weeks. The next on-sale date was about May 25, and thereafter it was published about that time so there was only a month’s difference after that time.”
A TIME Magazine article in 1988 – which I’ll talk about more later on – also mentions April as the month the book hit the shelves, possibly based on the same copyright details. That seems pretty cut and dried, right? I mean it’s testimony in court and there are the copyright cards, so what more is there to it?
Well, as past of putting this together I ended up speaking to Mike Voiles from Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, the site I quoted above about shipping dates. As someone who’s been researching these kind of things for decades, Voiles says that that’s just not the case:
“The April 18th date for Action #1 comes from copyright registration records. However, it does not reflect the date the book was actually on sale. The [Bleeding Cool article] references testimony from a copyright dispute. However, close inspection of evidence in DC’s submission to the copyright office reveals that DC was listing publication dates in advance of actual on sale dates. Essentially DC’s copyright submissions are erroneous. When copyright disputes arise the interested parties consult the copyright records and claim that April 18th was the sale date. At best that date is highly suspicious, at worst it is pure hogwash.”
So, despite the possible evidence for April 18, it seems there’s a good argument to be made that the book arrived later on, like, for example a week later…
APRIL 26, 1938
…the arrival date would have varied a bit from location to location around the country (I know of one copy with a penciled arrival date of April 26)…
A penciled date of April 26! Is this the smoking gun with a Kryptonite bullet that we’ve been looking for? According to Voiles, maybe and maybe not:
“The April 26th arrival date is interesting, but as with all such dates, there is no provenance for how/when/who that date was put on the book. Local dates did vary, but was the arrival date put on the book on the day the book went on sale? Hard to know. But I’d give it more weight as evidence than the copyright information.”
So yeah, it’s a possibility but not concrete evidence either way.
May 3, 1938
The day Action Comics #1 was actually actually actually released!
By now it will be clear to you that I’m a pretty big fan of Mike Voiles and his dedication to this issue and so I thought it only fitting to include here his suggestion for the date that Superman first arrived.
According to the piece on his site about DC’s cover dates that I quote above, Action Comics #1 was cover dated June but actually went on sale in May. When I asked him about it, this is whay he had to say:
“Since I care about the day the book was available for sale and not copyrights, I list the most likely date on sale. My own research has shown that Action was on sale in the early part of each month, usually the first Tuesday. Therefore May 3rd is most likely the sale date for the issue.”
Is this any more solid than the other proposed dates? Well, Voiles is extremely dedicated to the topic and someone who collects a large number of data points to inform these dates. Guesses they may be but very well educated guesses! You can read more about his methodology on his blog here.
Maybe one day we’ll know for sure!
Dates given in the comic
October ?? – Action Comics #149 (1950)
OK, well here we go! This is the first date in this list that actually appears in the comics, although we never get an actual day, just the month, and even then it’s actually pretty tenuous, as you’ll see.
The October birthday is certainly a ‘fact’ that you’ll see bandied around the internet. For example, the Superman Homepage’s otherwise great article says:
In 1950, Action Comics #149 claimed Superman was born on Krypton in October.
In the comics, Superman’s (aka Kal-El) birthday was initially stated to be in October as stated in Action Comics #149 in 1950.
The list goes on. One thing I suspect very few people who make this assertion have done though? Read the actual comic in question. Don’t worry though, that’s why you’ve got me!
- Superman was born in October
- The birthday mentioned is based on the day he was born on Krypton
- Superman’s name is Kal-El
The last one is me just being a stickler because it also makes a good segue to a point I need to make: as this comic was from 1950 the Superman depicted is clearly the one later retconned as being from Earth-Two. See, to clear up a bunch of time and plot inconsistencies that had cropped up over the decades – like how were Batman and Superman still in their prime if they’d been around before WWII – in the 60’s DC revealed that there were parallel worlds, the main DC one being Earth-One, while the older stories of the 30s, 40s and 50s were revealed to have occurred on Earth-Two.
The problem was there wasn’t a firm ‘line’ drawn as to which stories were of which Superman/Earth. Mike Voiles – yes, him again – actually does a great job assigning issues to either side of the ‘line’ based on elements of the story and other evidence – for example, there was no Superboy in Earth-Two, so any story he’s in has to be Earth-One – and reading Part 1 and Part 2 of his posts on the topic is super interesting.
So why is his name important? Superman of Earth-Two was said to have the Kryptonian name Kal-L while Earth-One’s Man of Steel was originally called Kal-El. The only reason this matters here is this is, I believe, the only mention of his birthday that involves the original, and later regulated to Earth-Two, version of Superman.
So, what about my other complaints?
Well, let’s look at what the comic actually says in regards to Superman’s birthday:
Yep, that’s it. See, the plot involves Lois watching tapes of how Superman’s mother got Superman’s Dad to marry her and… forget it, it’s too stupid to recount here. Regardless, the only relevant line for our purposes is Perry saying “somehow word got around that today is Superman’s birthday!”
How do we get October from this? Well, it seems to be because of those pesky cover dates again. Action Comics #149 has a cover date of October 1950, but it actually went on sale August 16. There is absolutely nothing to tie the birthday mentioned to the cover date of the comic other than people just assuming that that was what was meant.
As for Krypton: while it’s true that the origin story of Superman at the time had him being born on Krypton and then being placed in the rocket, even if we take it that the birthday is October there’s no indication whether this refers to a translated date from Krypton or the day the Kents found him in the field or some other date entirely.
Any place that claims the issue says anything else is just lying or ignorant.
The rest of the issue was unremarkable, unless you love stories about Lois Lane desperately trying to get Superman to marry her and enjoy laughing at her as she’s inevitably rejected. If so, you’ll love the final panels:
What’s the upshot of this? Well, maybe the Superman of Earth-Two, Kal-L, who if you know your DC lore actually survives the destruction of his home dimension in Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985 – actually had his birthday in October. That’s a maybe that would have to be taken with so much salt that it would stagger even Superman to carry it, though.
JUNE 10 – Action Comics #241 (1958)
Just like the October ‘fact’ lots of places like to parrot a bunch of stuff about Action Comics #241 that came out in 1958. There’s this, from the Superman Homepage:
…in 1958’s Action Comics #241, it’s revealed that Superman celebrates both the date of his birth on Krypton and the date his rocket landed on Earth. The birth date given in this 1958 comic was June 10.
Or this from a list of Superman ‘facts’ from ComicRelated.com:
Clark Kent has a different birthday from Superman. According to Action Comics #241 (1958), June 10 is “Earthday”, the day that he came to Earth, but according to Superman #263 (1973), his birthday is June 18, when he was adopted by the Kents.
Or this kind of crap from one of those crappy Newsarama Top Ten lists they love so much:
According to Action Comics #241 in 1958, the Last Son of Krypton actually recognized two birthdays: as Superman, he celebrated the day he landed on Earth (June 10th); as Clark, he celebrated the day he was adopted by the Kent family (later said to be June 18th).
I’ll get to the stuff about June 18 soon but once again I don’t think any of the people who wrote any of that actually read the comic – but I did.
Here’s a super short list of things Action Comics #241 doesn’t say:
- Superman was born June 10
- Superman was born in June
- Superman celebrates two birthdays
- Anything about “Earthday” – where this oft repeated nonsense originated I have no idea.
Action Comics #241 is another ridiculous tale that mostly serves to show off the new addition to the Superman mythos: his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic. Sure, Superman had had a “Secret Sanctuary” or “Secret Citadel” at the top of the mountain in the 1940s, and later another in the ‘polar wastes’, but those were all now adventures that would soon be regulated to Earth-Two. In the eight years since the Action Comics #149 we’d jumped over to Earth-One and, regardless, this was still the first version of his Fortress that resembled one we’d recognise today.
In the story he discovers that someone has broken in and is messing with him – leaving him graffiti and notes saying he knows how to get in and that he knows that Superman is Clark Kent. Superman spends the entire issue in a montage of saving people, worrying about this new enemy and showing off how he relaxes in the Fortress of Solitude, such as painting, conducting science experiments and making wax sculptures of all his friends.
Spoiler alert: the guy breaking in was Batman.
Why? Well, you see, Batman had a really good reason. Well, he had a reason. Kind of:
So yeah, because it was the “the anniversary of [Superman’s] arrival on Earth from the planet Krypton” Batman decided to hide in his ludicrously large key and mess with his friend for a present. Superman worked it out and convinced Batman this had backfired and he was going to die of Kryptonite poisoning because of the ruse.
Man, these guys really are the best of friends.
Regardless, just like with the October deal, we don’t actually get a date, or even a month, in the text of the comic, but there is slightly more evidence than with the last entry.
Everyone knows that cover art, especially during the Golden and Silver Age, was not to be trusted as an indicator of what actually happened in the comic. Comics of this time contained multiple stories – this issue has backups stories about Congo Bill and Tommy Tomorrow – and so also employed title pages which were just as unreliable as cover art – and its from this that we get the date June 10:
Now, not only is what Superman is saying and doing there got nothing to do with the story – while the yellow box mentions the issues plot, Superman’s diary entry about his “most daring experiment” isn’t related to the story at all – but it’s also inconsistent with how we see him actually write in his diary during the story (using his fingernail and not his heat vision).
Also, while the diary page does say June 10, even if this should be taken as the first page of the story before the actual birthday it is explicitly stated that several days have passed! Yes, the entry in the diary matches the cover date too but this is hardly any reason to actually take this as a reliable date.
In fact, given a number of days passed, even if you’re meant to take the June 10 diary page as a starting date maybe that final page was meant to take part on…
June 18 – Superman #249 (1972), #263 (1973)
FINALLY! Finally, I can promise you we get an actual, printed date that is explicitely mentioned to be the characters birthday!
It all happens in the pages of Superman #263 which was released in 1973. No, not in the main story that involves Superman travelling to another dimension and using Apollo’s sword after being swallowed by a giant, flaming wolf summoned from the dreams of the movie director who was riding it – how I wish I was joking with that summary – but from a backup tale called Unhappy Birthday to You!
To understand this story though, we need to go back a few issues to 1972’s Superman #249.
See, in this issue Superman is fighting a guy called Terra-Man – it’s actually his first appearance – but has trouble because “he is handicapped by an emotional upset a Kryptonian suffers on every sixth birthday.” Here’s the background of the ‘upset’:
Sadly that Super-Self-Hypnosis wasn’t successful and though it blocked the memory it “couldn’t erase the subconscious instincts that made him Kryptonian.” So, he starts crying and then loses his ability to see and hear – forcing him to rescue a crashing airplane by smell alone!
So, it’s now six Kryptonian years later again and he’s due for another bout with the Birth-Spell, which really messes with his ability to fight Terra-Man. His x-ray vision inverts, somehow, so he can see his brain, he can’t stop or control his flight and he cries. A lot.
Now, back to Superman #263!
The story Unhappy Birthday to You! starts with Clark’s friends surprising him on his birthday, explicitly said to be June 18:
The bulk of the story is a tale of ancient Krypton though, detailing the origin of the Birth Spell and its cause. Seems Kryptonians couldn’t express sadness and instead it built up inside them, hence the invention of a serum that, every six years, will make them cry and release the energy safely:
No, it’s not just you – the whole thing is very, very stupid.
The part that interests us of course is what we learn from both these issues about Superman and his birthday. In dot points, then:
- This is the Superman/Clark Kent of Earth-One.
- Clark’s birthday, at least, is June 18
- This is the date his spaceship crashed into the Kent’s farm
- Superman refers to his ‘real birthday’ as his Kryptonian one, but no date for this is given
- Kryptonians only commemorate every sixth birthday
So, is that it?
Well, there’s some other interesting stuff about the June 18 date. As Wikipedia, and a bunch of other sources happily inform us, June 18 was also the birthday of of Bud Collyer a voice actor who played the Man of Steel:
Collyer’s best-remembered radio role arrived in early 1940: the title role in The Adventures of Superman on the Mutual Broadcasting System, a role he performed in the 1940s radio drama and subsequent Superman cartoons. Collyer supplied the voices of both Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent opposite radio actress Joan Alexander as Lois Lane. A highlight of every Superman episode was the moment when Clark Kent changed into his Superman costume, an effect which Collyer conveyed by shifting voices while speaking the immortal phrase “This is (or “looks like”) a job for SUPERMAN!!” (Collyer’s voice shifted by an octave whenever he made the transition from the one identity to the other.)
So it’s likely this date was chosen possibly to honour Collyer, not to mention line up with that pesky cover date of Action Comics #1.
Now you know – and knowing is half the battle!
February 29 – Super dc Calendar 1976
Yes, it doesn’t sound very ominous, does it? After all, we are just talking about a normal wall calendar, what harm could it do? Well, this post over on Gone & Forgotten actually does a good job of explaining what made this one just so special:
Comic book companies have been producing calendars for decades, and the chances are good that you can wander into the bombed-out ruins of your local Barnes and Noble and find a deeply discounted 2014 calendar featuring the same twelve “classic comic book covers” you always see reprinted across any licensed media which has bought the rights. There was a brief period in the burgeoning days of the comic-book-related material marketplace, however, where nerd-centric branding was really beginning to stretch its feelers…
During this period, in the late Seventies, the novelty calendar craze itself was beginning to take off, and DC and Marvel Comics both jumped on the bandwagon. DC in particular invested in a trio of calendars which contained original art and content, between the years 1976 and 1978 – the latter was a sort-of year-long numbers puzzle tied into a massive world-shattering event which slowly built in captions throughout the months of the year and was resolved in the December slot, involving a veritable army of DC’s super-heroes and villains…
The 1977 calendar focused on a hero each month, pointing out important character and event debuts from the character’s history which had happened that month, but 1976 – that year did something somewhat unprecedented; Practically every day of the year was assigned a birthday for a DC super-hero, villain or supporting character, with a few other days set aside for notable deaths and other events. This is an odd enough idea for a calendar … but what was stranger still was that some of the dates made it into canon.
It’s true, they did. The June 18 date of Clark’s spaceship crashing into Kent’s farm is right there on the page as well as a bunch of other dates from the comics, which certainly seems to imply that all the dates in the calendar are canon. Which is fine until you get to February 29 and read the following:
Feb 29: Birthday of Kal-El (Superman) – Captain Marvel Chose February 29 For His Birthday, Too!
Now ignoring the fact that Captain Marvel is just cementing the fact people mistakenly think he’s a Superman knock-off by choosing the same date, where did this date come from?
From what I can tell, nowhere. It just pops up here with no explanation. Oh, and if you want to peruse a list of all the dates, birthdays and events the calendar listed, this website has done a great job of transcribing all the info from this collectors item.
Maybe DC, or at least whoever was in charge of the calendar, chose February 29 as the birthday for their super superstar because it’s unusual – being a date that only exists every four years – but as far as I know this is the first time it was ever listed as his birthday.
It’s certainly not the last, though, but for now we move on…
35 Eorx 9998 – World of Krypton #2 (1979)
Now, we’re still post the schism that introduced the idea of Earth-One and Earth-Two but before the Multiverse and continuity destroying Crisis on Infinite Earths. The latter wouldn’t arrive, and complicate matters, until 1985 but in 1979 DC published a limited series called World of Krypton.
As you might guess, the series was about documenting the history of Krypton, especially that related to Superman’s family and expanding on things that had been seen in earlier stories. The first issue, World of Krypton #1, for example concerns the career of his father, Jor-El, and the wedding of his parents. For our purposes it’s an issue that also cements this interesting tit-bit about timekeeping on Krypton:
18 Kryptonian years equal approximately 25 Earth years
It might not seem hugely relevant, but we’ll come back to it later, as World of Krypton #2 is where we really get the information we’re after!
It’s a busy issue: Brainiac steals the city of Kandor, Superman’s grandfather dies, there’s giant ice birds and Jor-El running around trying to build huge space arks to save his people and heaps of other stuff – but it also includes the birth of Superman himself! The scene had previously been depicted in Action Comics #378 but didn’t include a date like this one did. See for yourself:
Most of this series uses the framing device of Jor-El’s diary so the days, dates and months listed there aren’t unusual and allow us to pinpoint exactly when Superman was born on Krypton. This however raises the question of what kind of calendar did Krypton use?
We know that 1 Thrib was equal to one Earth second. We know that there were 100 Thribs in a Dendar, their version of a minute. We know that there were 6 days in a Kryptonian week (known as a Fanff) and that there were 73 of these weeks in a year of 438 days (called an Amzet in Kryptonese). Conversely, there were 73 days in a month (Lorax) and therefore six months of the year. From reading World of Krypton we know the months of the year are, in order:
So, is that it? Well, I have a few more things to say about the Kryptonian date. The Super DC Calendar 1976 from the previous section doesn’t just introduce us to the February 29 date it also includes this little nugget of information:
June 23: Superman’s first battle with Terra-Man
Isn’t it interesting that years after the battle DC felt the need to date this ‘epic’ battle? What coincided with this battle though, of course, was Superman’s latest bout of the Birth-Spell meaning we know that June 23, 1972, on Earth corresponds with his actual birthday on Krypton!
Well, it does for that year.
See, you’ll find lots of places trying to do the maths in order to translate 35 Eorx to a real world, Earth date but the fact is, except in cases like this where we get the birth spell as a clue, it’s crazy. We know that “18 Kryptonian years equal approximately 25 Earth years” but that means that each Kryptonian year is around 1.38 Earth years.
Even before you take into account that the word “approximately” means this isn’t completely accurate it’s clear that the two dates will shift every single year. Sure, we can say the Kryptonian birthday of Superman was at the same time as June 23, 1972, but his next birthday would be completely different. If we use the 1.38 number we get a Kryptonian year is basically 503.7 Earth days long, so his next Kryptonian birthday would actually fall around November 8, 1973.
Even then there’s a big margin of error and it’s just, well, silly. Don’t even get me started on the people who try and tie the 35 Eorx date directly with a birthday on Earth (usually the February 29 date) and then tie the destruction of Krypton (that occurred 39 Ogtal 10000 by the Kryptonian calendar) with Clark crashing to earth two days later on June 18, as covered above in order to line the calendars up perfectly. They’re not solving a riddle, they’re just proving they don’t understand how this stuff works – and that’s before you even take the more complicated spactime stuff like time delation and the distances involved which I’ve specifically ignored here!
It’s already a tricky business lining up our dating system with Mars, and they’re both our neighbour and not fictional like Krypton. (As an aside, timekeeping on Mars is a seriously interesting subject and also anyone who hasn’t should read about the Darian Calendar, a calendar for Mars!)
So yeah, 35 Eorx is certainly the birthday of the pre-Crisis, Earth-One Superman but how that translates into a real world date – other than when we know for such because Clark cries a lot – isn’t much help.
February 29 (again) – Superman Annual #11 (1985)
When DC fans think of 1985 they think of the huge, reality breaking and continuity changing even, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and while this will even affect the search for Superman’s birthday soon something else happened that year too.
Yes, sure, I was born, but something even better than that: the release of Superman Annual #11, commonly known by it’s story title, For the Man Who Has Everything.
See, while Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 hit the shelves in early 1985 the actual destruction of the Multiverse and rebirth of the new , combined Earth didn’t come about until later that same year meaning that Superman Annual #11 which hit the shelves in June represents the last pre-Crisis birthday of Superman!
This is, honestly, a brilliant issue and everything an annual should be. A self contained, gripping story and, even better, it was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, the team who the very next year would give us the seminal classic Watchmen! You might not have read the comic but if you’ve been on the internet you’ll probably recognise this classic page of Batman ribbing Jason Todd:
Ah yes, pre-Crisis Jason Todd, who actually saves the day in this comic too! I heartily recommend everyone read the book but if you can’t or just need a reminder this breakdown covers the story well. This issue was actually also adapted into an episode of the animated series Justice League Unlimited. It was the second episode of the first series and shares the comics title, although there are some changes – Robin doesn’t appear and Batman’s gift of the rose is given by Wonder Woman instead, for example.
|Despite these changes the most surprising thing about this adaptation is the response of Alan Moore! Moore is famous for his cantankerous persona and for deriding all adaptations of his comics but according to Wikipedia, “has gone on record saying that the episode is the only adaptation of his work that he approves of.”|
The basic premise is that Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman are visiting the Fortress of Solitude for Superman’s birthday and as you can see in the top left caption of the page I posted above it explicitly states that the date is February 29.
There is one other interesting element though: the issue came out in 1985 but that year wasn’t a leap year. The next one wouldn’t be until 1988, well after Crisis, but 1984 was a leap year too. This also fits with Robin’s history as the pre-Crisis Jason Todd first debuted as Robin in 1983.
So yeah, Superman gets a special birthday that only occurs once every four years. While the rest of the story is great it’s not really relevant to this post so I’m going to move on because, unlike the wholesome Jason Todd, this birthday actually survived the Crisis!
FEBRUARY 29 (Cont.) – post-Crisis mentions
A TIME magazine story in 1988 stated that Superman’s birthday is February 29 and that year DC Comics hosted a party for the Man of Steel.
It’s true! Well, if we can reference a calendar we can certainly reference TIME magazine. Superman was actually the cover story of the March issue – I don’t care enough right now to look up TIME cover/shipping dates discrepancies – to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the character.
You can read the whole article via scans here – including how quaint it is that Action Comics #1 “can sell for $35,000” when a good copy now sells for millions – but the relevant info is simply that it says:
…although nobody is sure exactly how old he is, there is a tradition that his birthday falls on Feb. 29 (the leap-year day appropriate for Lois lane’s repeated efforts to get him to marry her).
CBS broadcast a prime-time special on the great day, and DC Comics rented part of Manhattan’s Puck Building to throw a big party; several thousand fans came to watch favourite film clips, buy balloons and nibble on birthday cake.
The Superman Homepage piece on the ambiguity of Superman’s birthday by Barry Freiman has this to say about the origin of February 29, that TIME article and that party:
The idea that Superman’s birthday is February 29 initially began as a lark. DC editors explained tongue in cheek in comic book letter columns that Superman remained eternally youthful because he was born on Leap Day, February 29, which occurs only once every four years.
When DC celebrated Superman’s 50th anniversary in 1988, they treated February 29 as the Man of Steel’s birth date. Even a “TIME” magazine cover-story (March 14, 1988 cover dated magazine) commemorating the 50th anniversary (with a cover by John Byrne) declared for all of America that Superman’s birthday is February 29.
DC even held a Leap Day birthday party for Superman’s 50th in 1988 which I attended (and I cannot believe that was 20 years ago). The party was held at the Puck Building in downtown Manhattan. There were cheerleaders clad in Superman sweaters. Superman artist Curt Swan was there signing autographs. There was a Superman cake. Party goers got to walk through a room made of Kryptonite (actually green lights and cellophane). And of course there were truckloads of Superman merchandise for sale to those in attendance. I remember it well.
Sounds like a one hell of a shindig, shame there wasn’t something similar for his 75! Oh well, hopefully I’ll still be around in 2038 for Superman’s centenary! Oh, and at least one of those “DC editors” and possibly the ringleader of the concept, was none other than the legendary Julius ‘Julie’ Schwartz whose letter columns were absolutely wonderful. I’ve also seen it attributed Mort W. or, more likely, E. Nelson Bridwell.
This wasn’t the last reference to this birthday post-Crisis though! From Wikipedia:
Post-Crisis stories also reference February 29 as Clark Kent’s birthday, as shown in Action Comics #655 (July 1990)
It’s not the main story that includes the reference and, if you read the actual book, it doesn’t actually reference February 29 directly. See while the main story is actually great – it has Lois shouting “the Nazis have taken over fairy land!” – this issue contains a backup insert called Ma Kent’s Photo Album.
It’s a cute look at Superman growing up but the first page is the relevant one:
If you can’t read it, the newspaper clipping in the top corner says the following:
This paper is please to report, though a trifle belatedly, the birth of a baby boy to Jonathan and Martha Kent, on or about February 28th. “We’re not exactly certain of the date,” reports the proud father, “we were without power due to the blizzard. And in all the excitement, I’m afraid I’d let my watch run…”
So, it seems that Jonathan and Martha used a blizzard and being cut off from the outside world as cover for how they went from Martha not appearing pregnant to suddenly having a baby. The birthday isn’t actually given as February 29 but we’ll give them a pass on this.
When we started this section we were talking about a birthdate for Superman, and that Clark possibly still used the June 18 date of his crash but post-Crisis Superman’s origin had changed too. Instead of being born on Krypton and then placed in a rocket, it was slightly more complicated. From the Superman Homepage article again:
None of these previous revelations mattered anymore after 1986. Writers John Byrne and Marv Wolfman rebooted Superman’s continuity from scratch in the comics. In Byrne’s “Man of Steel” miniseries, which introduced the rebooted Man of Tomorrow, Superman isn’t born until he reaches Earth. His Kryptonian parents, Jor-El and Lara, grew baby Kal-El in a genetic incubator of sorts. The Kryptonian escape rocket was essentially built around the matrix. When the rocket landed on Earth, the matrix opened up and the infant Kal-El was technically born on Earth when the Kents removed the baby from the ship.
So now it seems that February 29 isn’t just his birthday, post-Crisis, but also possibly synonymous with the day his rocket crashed into Earth!
November ?? – Nothing!
Now, this is a really odd one. I can’t remember ever seeing any evidence of November ever being mentioned as a candidate, but in researching this piece it kept popping up again and again, sometimes associated with the blizzard story mentioned in Action Comics #655.
From the Superman Homepage article:
In this post-“Crisis on Infinite Earths” rebooted DC Universe, Clark Kent’s birthday is in November. Shortly after the Kents brought the baby back to their Smallville farm, there was an early snow storm which kept them isolated from their rural neighbors for several months. When Spring came, the Kents told the neighbors that Clark was their natural born son.
From that website listing all the info from the 1976 Calendar, albeit they mention the info in the brackets isn’t from the Calendar but from a different source:
June 18: “Birthday” of Clark Kent. Anniversary of the day he landed on Earth [Pre-Crisis version; Post-Crisis Clark Kent’s “birthday” is in November]
And… that’s all I really have to say about this! None of the places that mention this actually give a reference to a comic that mentions this and I have no memory of it. I must admit I suspect that this is a case where there was some disinformation which has just self replicated across the internet.
If I’m wrong and you can correct me on it, let me know!
MAY 13 – Lois & Clark: The new adventures of Superman (1997)
Supervising producer and writer Bryce Zabel gave Clark his own birthday, May 17, as the date his parents found him in the Kansas cornfield.
Seriously, how gosh darn hot were Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher?!
May 3 (also October 16) – Smallville (2005)
More on this from the write up on the Superbirthday debate over at SupermanHomepage.com:
To confuse matters more, on episodes of TV’s “Smallville”, Clark celebrated several birthdays in episodes that aired in early May (and a season five episode declared Clark’s birthday to be May 3).
Now the terrifyingly detailed Smallville wiki page on birthdays actually doesn’t name the date as May 3…
Clark Kent’s birth date on Krypton is unknown, but his adoptive parents guessed he was about three years old when he found them in 1989 and put down a date on his adoption papers indicating he was about two and a half. He celebrates his birthday on Earth in early May, 1987.
Season 2: Calling, Airdate: 05/13/03. His age is not given but it is assumed that he is turning 16. Lana brings him a birthday cake and they share their first kiss in his loft.
Season 3: Talisman, Airdate: 05/20/04, Age 17. He misses his birthday party when he is injured in an attack.
Season 4: Run At the start of his senior year, Jonathan states that he is 17, so he must have turned 17 in Talisman.
Season 5: He is stated to be 18 in Hidden so he turns 19 in Oracle, Airdate: 05/04/06. Lois Lane makes him a special cake and gives him a journal. Shortly after, they break into Lionel Luthor‘s agenda, the on-screen indication that it is early May.
…which is odd because just look at all the detail and trivia they put on the episode pages! Regardless, this page on TV.com for the episode Oracle does:
This episode takes place starting on Wednesday, May 3, 2006, as established by Lionel’s appointment calendar. The episode originally aired on Thursday, May 4, 2006. This makes Clark’s “birthday” (and presumably his arrival) as May 3, 1987, since he’s turning 19. His arrival has been stated as occurring in 1989 and he was approximately 2 at the time.
I’m not going to lie: I didn’t go back and check this episode to see who’s right. Will do in the future. Maybe.
Except the first meteor shower which brought Clark’s rocket to Earth in the first episode of Smallville took place on October 16, 1989. This makes sense as Smallville High School was celebrating its homecoming the day of the meteor shower. Kal-El emerged from his rocket looking like a three-year old toddler. He even walked from the rocket to the Kents’ truck which was overturned by the meteor shower.
So where did the May 3 date come from if it wasn’t the day Clark crashed? Who knows.
December 1 – Superman: Secret Origins
Anyway, let’s just forget about Smallville, it’s its own little world so we can accept that that Superman is it’s own, self contained and confusing, continuity. I guess DC has settled on the February 29 date for the main continuity Superman – a unique day for a unique man, I guess – and there’s nothing more to say about it-
However, 2009’s Superman: Secret Origin depicts Clark celebrating his birthday on December 1.
…God damn it, Geoff Johns!
Some background info from Wikipedia about Secret Origins:
In 2003–2004, DC Comics published a 12-issue limited series entitled Superman: Birthright, which touted itself as a new origin series that replaced the 1986 series The Man of Steelby writer/artist John Byrne. Birthright presented a number of changes to the continuity of Superman’s origin. After the 2005–2006 event seriesInfinite Crisis, many new changes were made to the history of the DC Universe, including more alterations to Superman’s origin, and at the time it was stated that both Man of Steel and Birthright were the “official” origin stories.
The truth was that after Infinite Crisis, Superman was without an “official” origin story as stated by then-monthly Superman writer Kurt Busiek. In order to definitively answer the glaring continuity questions, in 2009 DC enlisted the Action Comics creative team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank … to pen what was planned to be the “definitive” origin story of the modern Superman, post-Infinite Crisis.
And that is what we get. Well, maybe not the definitive origin but certainly another one. Anyway, here’s the relevant page:
I don’t have much to say really about this other than it’s another listed birthday. Opinions on Johns’ writing aside it’s not even that special as an origin story because in 2011 the DC would relaunch following Flashpoint with the biggest continuity reboot since Crisis of Infinite Earths and the world of the New 52 began.
As far as I remember no details on his birthday have been given since the reboot, until…
April 18 – Superman: American ALien #1
A new entry in this series – although as you can see it’s also, possibly, one of the earliest dates! The publication of this book is also what spurred the original post on Reddit and therefore this entire post.
As I write this we’re only one issue into this Superman miniseries from the force of nature which is Max Landis. Superman: American Alien #1 details Clark learning to fly for the first time as a boy in Smallville.
It’s actually a really great issue, and watching Clark and his Dad try to get him to be able to control his flight is very touching. It’s also incredibly cute.
Anyway, his birthday isn’t mentioned in the comic directly but there are two relevant pages. The first is this flashback depicting Clark’s arrival:
Then there’s this splash page from the end of the comic which really appears to rife with clues and hints about Superman’s childhood in this series:
The relevant details:
- A newspaper clipping about meteor shower with no date
- An insurance claim about a fire at 2:15, April 18 on the Kent farm
- A singed note from Jon to a neighbour Marv to bring a tractor and some shovels to “move something big”
- Another note from Jon to someone called Dan about needing help “putting through legal adoption papers… and forging a birth certificate”
There’s other more worrying clues – like photos of a pregnant Martha,info about a fatal car crash and bottles of antidepressants and – but all this seems to point to the idea that in this series Clark crashed to Earth on April 18.
Now, did Landis chose this date based on those copyright records we were discussing way back at hte beginning of this piece? Is it some kind of giant, meta nod to the fandom?
As it appears to be its own continuity, it’s not that big a deal I guess, but it’s still interesting! If there is any further info in the future issues I’ll update this.
I’ve gone into a fair amount of detail here but I’m sure there are other stories – be they Elsewhere tales, radio serials, alternate universes or simply now long forgotten continuity – that have included a few other birthdays for the Last Son of Krypton, but for now we’ll end this here.
If you have anything I’ve missed feel free to pop a comment below or drop me an email and I’d be happy to update this :)
It’s certainly makes sense that the Man of Tomorrow has such a high chance of tomorrow being his birthday! And now, for having sat through all of that here’s a picture of Batman enjoying Superman’s birthday in his own special way: