35 years ago - Kal-el is born on the planet Krypton shortly before it is destroyed by an environmental disaster, made all the more tragic by the Kryptonian High Counsel's decision to return all Kryptonians to their home planet several years earlier. He alone is saved by his father Jor-el who sends him to earth in an illegal hyperdrive capable pod, where he lands in a cornfield in Kansas. he is found by John and Martha Kent, who decide to raise him as their own, and name him Clark.
19 years ago - 16-year-old Clark Kent's powers begin to manifest. Pa Kent shows him the space pod that brought him to Earth, explaining that he is adopted. The ship's core recognizes his DNA, and syncs with him to teach him his Kryptonian heritage. He is attacked by a temporally displaced Brainiac 6.0, but saved Rokk Krinn, Imra Ardeen & Garth Ranzz of The Legion of Super-Heroes, who blank his memory of the event before returning to their own time.
17 years ago - 18-year-old Clark leaves Smallville after high school to travel the world, earning college credits while he travels.
15 years ago - 20-year-old Clark Kent, while traveling the world and helping people, begins submitting stories to the international press corp. He meets and helps Super-Chief.
13 years ago - 22-year-old Clark arrives in Metropolis for his new job at the Daily Planet. He first meets Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane. He first reveals himself when he saves a falling orbital plane. He invents his Superman identity with Ma and Pa Kent, although the name was invented by Lois in her first story about him. He interviews Lex Luthor for the first time. Soon, Superman is invited to join the Justice League along with Batman. John Corben rampages through the city until Clark stops him. Bruno Mannheim strikes a backdoor deal with cyber-tech industries to illegally distribute advanced weapons to fight Superman.
12 years ago - 23-year-old Clark saves Karen Starr when she is taken by alien geneticist Despero and used in an experiment to synthesize kryptonian DNA. She becomes half-human, half-kryptonian and adopts her Power Girl identity. She is warned by Clark that she needs to mature as a hero before she is taken seriously. Winslow Schott begins staging violent attacks against Lex Luthor with his weaponized toys as the Toyman. He is stopped by Superman and placed in a prison for the insane.
11 years ago - 24-year-old Clark discovers his kryptonian datacore contains alien supercomputer Eradicator, who crafts his Fortress of Solitude. Clark saves a dog from freezing in Metropolis's Suicide Slums & takes him to the fortress of solitude to heal. 2-year-old Krypto exhibits some kryptonian biological traits after he is altered by the Eradicator, and must stay in the Fortress. Superman realizes the extent of The Eradicator's intentions to restructure Earth into Krypton when it converts Krypto into a Kryptonian creature. He must undergo an old Kryptonian rite of passage to earn the name of El and stop it. Rudy Jones is exposed to waste from Lex Luthor's experiments with alien bio-chemistry, becoming the Parasite. He consumes the lifeforce of Superman, temporarily gaining his powers and memories before he is defeated and put in prison. Lobo arrives on Earth on a contract to kill Clark & fights him to a standstill. He ultimately agrees to stay off of Earth, and kills the contact that gave him the job. Brainiac attempts to steal specimens for Kandor from Earth. His biological body is decimated in his battle with Superman, who stores the nexus of Kandor in the Fortress of Solitude. He is captured for the fighting pits of Warworld, and is only saved when the Justice League, depose Mongul of the throne.
10 years ago - 25-year-old Clark Kent unlocks the secret of his father's phantom zone projector, and unwittingly frees General Zod & his followers Faora-Ul & Non-Ek. Superman battles them with Krypto, but when Zod and his followers begin to establish their rule over humanity Clark needs help from his parents to understand what he must do. They are ultimately stopped by the combined efforts of Clark & Lex Luthor (who kills Non). They are returned to the phantom zone. Mongul breaks into his Fortress of Solitude and exposes him to the Black Mercy, trapping him in an illusion of his own ideal world where he has a life alongside all his human friends on Krypton, including a son with Lois Lane. He is saved by Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Diana Prince.
9 years ago - The Justice League collapses. Hank Henshaw's hyperspace experiment fails and he is mutated, uploading his consciousness into a computer and beginning to take over the computer systems of Metropolis, forcing Superman to load him into a far more complex Kryptonian datanode from his Birthing Matrix, setting it adrift in space. He works with the Teen Titans to battle the new Fearsome Five.
8 years ago - 27-year-old Clark Kent becomes a reserve member of the newly-formed Justice League. He battles Maxima of Almerac when she is manipulated by Brainiac to declare war on earth. Together, they battle the Brainiac worldship. Siobhan McDougal is possessed by the Silver Banshee spirit. Superman can only slow her until her families spellbook is finally destroyed, causing the spirit to vanish. His personality is rewritten by the Eradicator, to become distant from humanity, but with Power Girl's help he eventually frees himself from it's influence. He is attacked by Morgan Edge, who has become a host for the Blackrock. Bizarro is created by Lex Luthor in an attempt to clone Superman. He escapes and attacks, and is supposedly destroyed.
7 years ago - 28-year-old Clark Kent reveals his dual identity to Lois Lane. He fights Atomic Skull until his face melts. Bizarro finds his way back to Metropolis, thinking he is the real Superman. He tries to protect the city but unknowingly threatens it. He is brought into space by Superman and Hal Jordan & given an uninhabited planet to protect, which they dub Bizarro World. Gorilla Grodd attacks him using Titano, who is mutated using kryptonite-infused nanites. Lois Lane helps him to calm Titano, who he takes to his own island once Star Labs removes his nanites.
6 years ago - While exploring the remains of Krypton, 29-year-old Clark Kent discovers Kara Zor-el's intact lifepod on the decimated moon of Krypton, Argo. He brings her back to Earth where she is taken in by Ma and Pa Kent. 23-year-old Maxima comes to Earth to take him as a mate. He refuses, but helps her quell an uprising on Almerac. he battles a rampaging kryptonite-powered John Corben. Rudy Jones discovers ways to alter his body. He escapes and poses as Jimmy Olsen to sneak into the Daily Planet, looking for Superman. When John Henry Irons falls while working high steel in Metropolis, he is saved by Superman. Mr. Mxyzptlk first appears in Metropolis to torment Him, until he discovers the secret to banish him back to his home dimension. Winslow Schott kidnaps a series of children in Metropolis, holding the city hostage until Superman finds him, discovering that it is actually a rogue robot double.
5 years ago - 30-year-old Clark Kent is "killed" in battle with Doomsday. His body is taken by The Eradicator to the Fortress of Solitude where it can be bombarded with solar radiation in an attempt to restart his life-signs. When Pa Kent has a heart attack, he finds himself fighting to protect Superman's wayward soul from the dark forces trying to collect it including the Demon Etrigan... until they are both spared by The Spectre. While he is presumed dead, John Henry Irons builds his armor and becomes Steel to help honor him, and Superboy first appeared from the Cadmus labs. Clark comes back in time to help stop Mongul and Hank Henshaw from rebuilding the Earth into a new Warworld. Leslie Willis speaks out aggressively against him after his return, and begins to attain national attention.
4 years ago - 31-year-old Clark Kent and Lois Lane are married. Mr. Mxyzptlk appears a week before the wedding wedding to torment them, but ultimately he wishes them well. He comes into conflict with the Elite, and has to fight them alone as a matter of principal to defend his entire life mission. He defeats them humanely. Leslie Willis stages a concert to disrupt the cleanup of Metropolis after the Parademon attack. She is struck by an energy discharge from a dying Father Box. She becomes Livewire, and begins to attack Superman until he's able to capture her.
3 years ago - 32-year-old Clark Kent is among the Justice League reservists who come together after the Justice League is decimated in the White Martian invasion and form the Watchtower. He is attacked by Manchester Black, but is assisted by a newly assembled Elite. Realizing that Superboy needs guidance, he opens up to him about his identity and gives him the name Connor Kent. Connor moves to Smallville to stay with Ma and Pa Kent. He catches Lucia Rojas smuggling. She kills Morgan Edge in prison and becomes the new host of the Blackrock, attacking him with better control of it's powers. He survives with the help of Kara Zor-el.
2 years ago - 33-year-old Clark is framed by President Lex Luthor for attacking the Earth with a meteor strike. He and Bruce Wayne prove his innocence and uncover Luthor's conspiracy with the help of the global-monitoring of Winslow Schott. Luthor attacks them with his power armor, losing the presidency.
1 year ago - 34-year-old Clark sees Brainiac's drones attack the entire solar system, and Brainiac 2.0 emerges from within his ship, having grown a new biological body. Clark and the entire Watchtower stop him. He is kept in suspended animation on New Genesis. When Clark is incapacitated by Metallo's new form he is saved by Natasha Irons, Traci Thirteen and Miss Martian. He convinces Terry Thirteen to allow Traci to use her powers to help people.
now - 35-year-old Clark Kent, while taking Lois Lane on a trip across the galaxy, is caught by General Zod & Mongul. They are taken prisoner on Warworld. Mr. Mxyzptlk appears on Warworld during their imprisonment, taunting them with false rescues.
Superman has more content than practically any other character, and the vast majority of it is completely ridiculous. His story has been told and retold over and over in an attempt to somehow find the core of a character we all intrinsically understand. When building his timeline, it quickly became clear that even more than other characters, his history is constructed of singular events that have multiple possible versions. This wasn't just about cleaning up a timeline, but rather assembling the best possible version of it. More than most characters, we spoke to a LOT of people to find what we ultimately agreed was the best assembly of Superman stories. We'd love to hear if we left out a part of Superman that you feel is important, but as it stands this is, we believe, the definitive Superman timeline.
Superman's Comic History
Superman is the very first comic book superhero. There are obvious presidents, of course; John Carter of Mars, Flash Gordon, and Hugo Danner all serve as proto-Superman ideas, and his costume is clearly modeled after circus strong men. Still, there's always a certain imaginative chemistry that happens whenever someone takes a few ideas and brings them together into a singular explosion of innovation that forever changes the cultural zeitgeist. The innovation of Superman is the innovation of the very idea of comic book superheroes, and every genius character you've ever seen appear in a comic book can trace his inspirational lineage back to Superman.
Of course, at his core, Superman is a child's power fantasy. Probably THE child's power fantasy. He's strong enough to do anything, always. There's no foe to big, no challenge to daunting. This is the way a child imagines themselves when they want to feel powerful. When you get past all the fanciful science fiction, all the decades of stories, Superman is ultimately about the unbridled optimism for the future that is inherent in childhood. If any attempt to interpret the character gets too far from that, then they're missing the mark.
I'd like to make a point about the common complaints about Superman. The first is that he's too powerful; that there's no way to properly challenge a character this strong. The second is that he's too much of a boy scout; that it's not interesting and unrealistic to read about a character that always does the right thing.
The thing you never hear anyone say is that those two complaints cancel each other out. That the point, the ENTIRE point, of the character is that he is powerful enough to always do the right thing. Every other superhero sees their powers as a burden, but for him they're freeing. No matter the challenge, he can always hold his head up high and be the person we all wish we could aspire to be; he can choose to allow his dangerous enemies to live, choose to forgive, choose to give a second chance, choose to see the best in people... because he is strong enough to find a way.
If, for example, Zod is destroying the city, and threatening to kill everyone if Superman doesn't kill him first... this is an ideal way to challenge him. There doesn't seem to be any way to end this conflict without stooping to the bad guy's level, without choosing the easy path. Superman wins this scenario by finding a way to save everyone. The people, sure, but also Zod. Maybe he throws him into space and traps him inside the moon. Maybe he somehow sends him back into the phantom zone. It might not be the sort of dark, edgy storytelling that we're supposed to want to read, but there should always be a place for a character that shows us that there's a better way. That's what Superman is.
Our Superman Story
Superman is a major structural element of any version of the DC universe, no matter what. There are a few elements of his story that vary from one version to another, and which one of those elements you pick always has long-lasting effects on the rest of the larger DC mythology. We kept largely to John Byrne's post-crisis reboot of his story, although there are certain elements we left behind; Byrne's insistence that Clark be the ONLY surviving Kryptonian sometimes led to some pretty ridiculous workarounds (the 'Matrix' Supergirl or the Russian Zod being some examples). For the most part, if a story element seemed like the writers had to struggle to make it happen, we left them out. Often, the solution was to go with the Superman Animated Series version of the story, which did a great job of simplifying the Superman mythos.
So, Superman's story becomes an exercise in simply selecting certain versions of his mythology. One of the most important elements that HAS to be there, as it has come to define the character, is his relationship with Lois. While he was able to hide his identity from her for many years, ultimately he came to understand that he needed her, that she represented everything he loved about humanity; it's strength and tenacity, it's vulnerability, and it's capacity for love. His marriage to Lois, although not part of the character's ORIGINS, becomes one of the most important elements of the Superman. Leave it alone.
It's very easy to say that Superman's costume is set in stone and that any attempts to change it are pointless, but the fact is there are a few changes that have stuck over the years. The most obvious change is the shape and style of his shield, which started out yellow with a more contoured shape. The new design came from his early serials. It's been slowly widened over the decades, and even spent a while in black instead of yellow. His overall body type took on a more bodybuilder shape when John Byrne's series began.
There have been attempts at more drastic changes over the years. His 90's era mullet comes to mind, as well as the infamous blue electric-powered Superman. the New 52 cast aside his classic red shorts in favor of just blue pants and a red belt, but even that came back once DC; Rebirth rolled around.
I very much doubt that everyone will agree that this one costume (right out of the 70's and 80's era versions of the character) is THE definitive version, but that's how it feels to me, and I'm the one with his hands on the keyboard. I don't think he needs to be hugely over-muscled (how would he even build that sort of muscle mass?), but this is what *I* think of when I think of Superman. Why would you ever want to change it?
There's been a number of versions of the "end of Superman", and while it's taken a lot of shapes, one element is almost always there; he retires to raise a child with Lois.
I honestly don't know how realistic the idea of Clark retiring is. He does what he does because he's CALLED to do it. The notion that he'll ever feel like he is no longer called doesn't feel genuine. However, with Kara and Connor in the world. as well as a whole community of people that he trusts in the Justice League and beyond, it actually feels more truthful for him to simply step back and allow them to take the bulk of responsibility. Superman will likely ALWAYS answer the call when he's needed, but if he and Lois were to have a child it's easy to imagine him stepping back for his new and even greater calling; being a father. We ended our timeline with Lois and Clark being held on Warworld by Mongol as Zod heads to Earth. It's meant to be part of the setup for the new Watchtower team, but it also gets this couple off-planet and away from Earth's Sun for a few months... which just happens to make a certain usually-not-possible thing possible...
Now, obviously, whether or not Lois can even carry Clark's child is a constant nerd argument thanks to Mallrats, but Clark didn't develop his powers until he was 16. An infant in his mother's womb wouldn't have powers yet. We happen to think this is the next grand adventure for the first and grandest superhero of them all. We'd get to watch him teach all the lessons he's learned about being a good person and a great hero to his son, and give us a whole new window into what it means to be a Superman.