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I was pondering the issue of why so many superheroes are orphans, which led me to consider who was first identified as an orphan and when. Although Batman was probably hot on Superman's heels, I assume that Supes was identified as an orphan first, since he came first, and since his powers made his origin story more important.

I found this picture of Superman's parents watching his spacecraft leave Krypton:

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Was this the moment when we learned that Kal-El's mother and father perished on his home world? If so, when did this issue appear? If not, when did we discover Kal-El's status as an orphan?

  • Should I take the green check mark to mean that the year 1948, not 1940, is when Superman's backstory and the fate of his parents were (or was) revealed? – user14111 Oct 14 '15 at 17:53
  • @user14111 The green checkmark is the asker's way of determining the best answer to their question, in their opinion. It could be that Wad accepted the answer before you posted yours, it could be that he meant specifically in the comics (note the "comics" tag at the bottom of the question), or it could be that he accepted it for some other reason. – TylerH Oct 14 '15 at 19:47
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    @TylerH You may be right. Personally, I consider the radio program more important than the comic books. When I was a kid, I listened to Superman on the radio regularly, but I seldom had a dime to buy a comic book. – user14111 Oct 14 '15 at 22:24
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    @user14111 - I was asking about the comics specifically, so I accepted the answer about the comics. Your answer deserves its own reward, so you will get a bounty as soon as I can open one (48 hours after the question was posted). – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Oct 14 '15 at 23:32
  • Thanks for the explanation. No need for a bounty. – user14111 Oct 15 '15 at 5:29
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Our first exposure to Jor-El and Lara being shown sending baby Kal-el to Earth was in 1948 in Superman #53 by Bill Finger and Wayne Boring. This is almost a decade after Superman has been saving the day. It was implied in some earlier depictions (particularly in radio broadcasts) but never actually realized "in print" until Superman #53.

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  • This origin was revised in 1961 in Superman #146 (by Otto Binder and Al Plastino), we saw that origin again, but refined and changed just a bit...

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The scene depicted by the original post originated in the World of Krypton series #3, in 1979. Cover art by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano.

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  • "The Last Days of Krypton" written by Paul Kupperberg, penciled by Howard Chaykin, inked by Frank Chiaramonte, colored by Jerry Serpe and lettered by Ben Oda.
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    I love that even in a world where people are super smart and learn calculus as 4 year old's, there are science deniers – Kevin Oct 14 '15 at 20:21
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    I always thought it was a little strange, personally, to find people who were supposedly so intelligent and yet unwilling to even consider their planet's impeding demise. I've been working on a story to explain WHY the Kryptonians didn't leave. It would never be published but it would make everything about the end of the Kryptonians, the existence of the Daxamites, and why so many humanoids species have superpowers in the 30th century. – Thaddeus Howze Oct 14 '15 at 20:49
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    @Thaddeus: It's not strange at all. To quote Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!". Seriously, this. Very smart people can find very smart counter-arguments to anything – slebetman Oct 15 '15 at 5:17
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    The 1948 story loses all credibility in the penultimate panel, when Lara refuses to accompany little Kal-El in the spaceship, although there is room for both of them. She sacrifices her own life in order to . . . send her child all alone on a space voyage to another planet? – user14111 Oct 15 '15 at 6:52
  • Cultural differences: we could not understand her motivations. – JDługosz Oct 15 '15 at 14:59
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+100

The fate of Superman's parents was revealed on February 12, 1940, with the broadcast of "The Baby from Krypton", first episode of the Superman radio serial. It is quite clear from the broadcast, which you can listen to at the Internet Archive or YouTube, that Jor-El and Lara did not survive the end of Krypton:

So the tiny rocket ship roars into the uncharted heavens as the mighty planet of Krypton explodes into millions of glowing fragments, glittering stars to remain forever in the night sky. Jor-El and Lara, devoted parents of the tiny boy, perish in the giant quake that destroys Krypton.

But what of the rocket ship? Does it reach the earth? Does it find its mark in all the far-flung darkness of space? Remember—don't miss the next installment of Superman!

Batman's status as an orphan was established a few months earlier. According to Wikipedia, Batman's origin story appeared in Detective Comics #33, the November 1939 issue:

The character's origin was revealed in #33 (Nov. 1939), unfolding in a two-page story that establishes the brooding persona of Batman, a character driven by the death of his parents. Written by Finger, it depicts a young Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents' murder at the hands of a mugger. Days later, at their grave, the child vows that "by the spirits of my parents [I will] avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals".

  • Was it invented for the radio and only later "backported" to the comics, then? – Random832 Oct 14 '15 at 15:21
  • @Random832 Could be, I don't know. I guess it depends on how much was explained about Superman's origin in the first couple years of the comic book. – user14111 Oct 14 '15 at 16:55
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It might be interesting to some that the theme of parent(s) casting their child into the unknown, who later grows up to become a mighty warrior has occurred couple of times in ancient legends and myths.

Not on the river, but hills:

  • { Greek } Oedipus who is left to die as a baby in the hills, by his father the king. Rescued by shepherds.

Strange coincedence isn't it? Repeating themes of miraculous births, princesses, priestesses, virgins, being high-born and raised in humble surroundings and warrior sons.

In the legend of Superman, the themes of being "elite-born", "raised in humble surroundings" and "warrior" are present too.

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    So you're basically suggesting the origin of the story rather than answer about its first appearance as i understood OP asked about ? Isn't this more of a comment material ? – yondaime008 Oct 14 '15 at 14:10
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    I feel a strong urge to downvote this answer, because it isn't really answers the original question, but - since it is sort of relevant, quite well phrased and really interesting - I wil resist this urge. According to the stack exchange meta, I think you should have asked a question more relevant to your answer like "What are the mytholgical analogs of Superman's backstory?" then post your answer under that, and leave a link to your question in a comment. – mg30rg Oct 14 '15 at 14:55
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    Moses' story fits very well. A difference of theme in Oedipus' story is that his father Laius abandoned him not to save him, but because it was prophetized to Laius that he will be killed by his son (fate that finally happened). Romulus and Remus have a similar fate, being left to die by their uncle. – Taladris Oct 15 '15 at 3:58
  • @Taladris I wonder if Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were consciously inspired by the story of Moses when they created Superman. – user14111 Oct 15 '15 at 9:14
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    @JDługosz Maybe Siegel and Shuster were thinking of Moses rather than Christ, seeing as they were Jewish. – user14111 Oct 15 '15 at 21:44
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Batman was first introduced in 1939. In 1938, the very first panel of the very first published Superman story, in Action Comics #1, it very clearly states:“As a distant planet was destroyed by old age, a scientist placed his infant son within his hastily devised space-ship, launching it toward Earth!” While the finer details of this were not revealed until later, I would say that this proves that Superman was shown as orphan before Batman was.

Action Comics 1

  • It says that the planet is being "destroyed by old age". It doesn't confirm the status of his parents, though. – Valorum Oct 15 '15 at 15:27
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    @Richard - Pretty sure their deaths are heavily implied, as the entire planet is being destroyed, and his space-ship is described as "hastily devised", meaning they probably didn't have time to build others for the rest of them. Interesting how they basically give his entire back story in one page. They didn't waste time back in the day... – Darrel Hoffman Oct 15 '15 at 18:00
  • @DarrelHoffman - Heavily implied, yes. Stated? Nope. – Valorum Oct 15 '15 at 18:01
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    @Richard By the same token, the 1948 and 1961 comic book stories posted in Thaddeus's answer merely imply that Krypton really blew up as predicted, and that Jor-el and Kara and all the other Kryptonians perished. Those events are neither depicted nor stated to have occurred. They were predicted by Jor-El, but he could have been wrong. – user14111 Oct 16 '15 at 4:22
  • @user14111 - While you're not wrong, both of his examples actually show the catastophe, rather than just a description. – Valorum Oct 16 '15 at 7:32

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