By this point, every self-respecting geek knows Superman’s origin story. The last son of Krypton is placed in a space pod that blasts him away from his dying planet and eventually lands him on Earth, where he’s taken in by the Kents. However, it almost didn’t happen that way – as this letter from Superman cocreator Jerry Siegel makes clear.
Siegel sent a letter outlining his vision for the character to artist Russell Keaton in 1934. Siegel needed an artist to replace Joe Shuster, and he set his sites on Buck Rogers artist Keaton. Keaton passed on the gig, but the letter is fascinating because it reveals a different origin story for the Man of Steel – one that eliminates Krypton completely and replaces it with time travel and the end of the world. Even the Kents are gone – although Superman retains the name Clark Kent – with the superpowered child placed in an orphanage instead.
Everything being equal, I’m glad Siegel went with the current origin story. Just imagine how different Smallville would have been if Superman was really a time-traveling orphan created in a laboratory during the end of the world. I don’t think the WB would have picked that show up…
Kidding aside, check out the entirety of Siegel’s letter below and marvel at what might have been. Which do you prefer – the established origin story or this earlier take on the character?
[via Letters of Note]
10622 Kimberley Avenue,
June 12, 1934.
Dear Mr. Keaton:
You will find enclosed the first week's script for the cartoon strip, SUPERMAN. While the idea is a trifle fantastic -- a man with "infinite strength" -- I think it will follow the lines you like. We begin with "Superman" as a child and follow his history all the way up to maturity when the real story begins: of his adventures in helping those in need. Since Clark Kent possesses incredible strength there are great possibilities for humor and adventure in his experiences as a child and youth. The story of his youth will run a great length before we detail his adventures as an adult. Early, he will find that his great strength, instead of making friends for him, cause people to fear him. Mothers will not permit their children to associate with him, he will be hated in school sports because he never loses, etc. We can weave a very human story about him.
Here is the script for a possible sunday strip. It will acquaint you with the secret of Clark Kent's origin.
1. In his laboratory, the last man on earth worked furiously. He had only a few moments left.
2. Giant cataclysms were shaking the reeling planet, destroying mankind. It was in its last days, dying...
3. The last man placed his infant babe within a small time-machine he had completed, launching it as ---
4. --- the laboratory walls caved-in upon him.
5. The time-vehicle flashed back thru the centuries, alighting in the primitive year, 1935 A. D. A passing motorist sighted the metal cylinder...
6. ...and upon investigating discovered the sleeping babe within.
7. The infant was placed in an orphanage. The first day, it playfully bent its metal bed out of shape. The astounded attendants, of course, did not realize they were caring for a child whose physical structure was millions of years advanced from their own.
8. The babe, named Clark Kent, was a physical wonder. At the age of five, when an older boy sought to bully him, Clark sent him flying thru the air.
9. Clark's colossal strength was a source of wonder and pleasure to him. He found, at twelve, that he could easily shatter the world's high jump and dash records.
10. His powers increased unbelievably. When maturity had been attained, Kent discovered he could leap over a ten story building, raise unheard-of weights, run as fast as an express train, and that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his tough skin.
11. & 12. Early, Kent decided he must turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind. And so was created SUPERMAN, champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!
Let me know if you would care to work with me upon this strip. I'll be glad to receive suggestions. The idea, incidently, is liked by the General Manager of Bell Syndicate. Awaiting your reply....
(Signed, 'Jerome Siegel')