"The Reign of the Superman" (January 1933) is a short story written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by Joe Shuster. It was the writer/artist duo's first published use of the name Superman, which they later applied to their archetypal fictional superhero. The title character of this story is a telepathic villain, rather than a physically powerful hero like the better-known character. (Although the name is hyphenated between syllables due to it being broken between pages on the story's opening spread, it is spelled Superman in the magazine's table of contents and in the story's text.)
High school friends Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster tried selling stories to magazines in order to escape Depression era poverty. With their work rejected by publishers, 18-year-old Shuster produced the duo's own typed, mimeographed science fiction fanzine titled Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization, producing five issues.
Siegel wrote "The Reign of the Superman" in 1932. Inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's idea of an Übermensch, it featured a meek man transformed into a powerful villain bent on dominating the world. It appeared in issue #3 of the fanzine, with accompanying artwork by Shuster. Siegel published it under the pen name Herbert S. Fine, combining the first name of a cousin with his mother's maiden name.
The term "Superman" derives from a common English translation of the term Übermensch, which originated with Friedrich Nietzsche's statement, "Ich lehre euch den Übermenschen" ("I will teach you all the Superman"), in his 1883 work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The term "Superman" was popularized by George Bernard Shaw with his 1903 play Man and Superman. The character Jane Porter refers to Tarzan as a "superman" in the 1912 pulp novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Siegel would later name Tarzan as an influence on the creation of his and Shuster's Superman.
A mad scientist, a chemist named Professor Ernest Smalley, randomly chooses raggedly dressed vagrant Bill Dunn from a bread line and recruits him to participate in an experiment in exchange for "a real meal and a new suit". When Smalley's experimental potion grants Dunn telepathic powers, the man becomes intoxicated by his power and seeks to rule the world. This superpowered man uses these abilities for evil, only to discover that the potion's effects are temporary. Having killed the evil Smalley, who had intended to kill Dunn and give himself the same powers, Dunn cannot recreate the secret formula. As the story ends, Dunn's powers wear off and he realizes he will be returning to the bread line to be a forgotten man once more.
Siegel reconceived the character in 1933, as a hero bearing little resemblance to his villainous namesake. When he saw the 48-page black-and-white comic book titled Detective Dan, Secret Operative No. 48, he decided that a Superman who was a hero could make a great comic character. He wrote a crime story which Shuster drew in comic format. Titling it "The Superman", they offered it to Consolidated Book Publishing, the company that had published Detective Dan. Although the duo received an encouraging letter, Consolidated never again published comic books. Discouraged, Shuster burned all pages of the story; the cover surviving only because Siegel rescued it from the fire. Siegel and Shuster compared the character to Slam Bradley, a private detective the pair later created for Detective Comics #1 (March 1937). "We had a great character," Siegel later said, "and were determined it would be published." Siegel and Shuster would next use the name in June 1938's Action Comics #1, featuring the superhero Superman.
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Few intact copies of Science Fiction #3 survive. Collectors value it both because of its rarity and because of its importance in the history behind the development of the superhero Superman. In September 2006, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, auctioned a copy for $47,800.
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