In the 80 years since his first appearance in Action Comics #1, Superman has become one of the most recognizable mainstays of American pop culture. His slogan "Truth, justice and the American way" has become more than just a catchphrase, but the linchpin of the Man of Steel's identity.
In the hands of legendary comic book writer and artist Frank Miller and current Superman writer Brian Bendis, Superman and his backstory are being reshaped for modern times. The two writers, who are working on different projects for DC Comics, a unit of Time Warner, seek to put their own stamp on the iconic superhero going so far as to strip him of political affiliation and alter his origin story.
These fresh takes on Superman come as the character's commercial appeal has waned following years of film adaptations that didn't quite resonate with audiences even as comic book movies have exploded. Superman's sales haven't quite touched the levels of the early 1990s and the controversial "Death of Superman" storyline. Despite that, he remains DC Comics' second-biggest comic book franchise behind Batman.
That, ironically, makes the otherwise staid character a ripe target for experimentation.
For Miller, Clark Kent began as a character that sought out justice without affiliation. However, after the last few decades, his ideals shifted to be more Republican, he said.
"By the time I was first reading [Superman] as a child, he had just become a status quo hero," Miller said during a panel at New York Comic Con last week. "He wanted everything to stay the same as it was."
Before he was dubbed the Man of Steel, Superman was often referred to as the Champion of the Oppressed, according to Glen Weldon, author of "Superman: The Unauthorized Biography." In the years after his 1938 debut, Superman was "a bit of a bruiser," using his fists to beat up people for picking on the little guy.
"He was kind of a socialist, or at least neo-socialist, ideal of equality," Weldon said. During that time, Superman took on crooked politicians, villainous oil barons and gangsters.
"And then World War II happened," Weldon said. "He went from being this challenger of the status quo, which is what he was created to be, to reinforcing it because America needed belief in the status quo. It was a very scary time. People were worried about America's fate and so he became a patriotic symbol."