Today is February 29th, leap day. It like most days is host to many significant historic and pop culture events. The Salem Witch accusations began, Christopher Columbus Scammed the Jamaican Indians, Korea pulls its forces out of Vietnam, and on a lighter side of things The Lord of the Rings The Return of The King wins best picture and enters a three-way tie for the most Academy awards given to a single film. What many people don’t know is it is also the (semi) official birth date of the last son of Krypton Kal-El.
It’s said that having Superman’s birthday be on leap day was a joke. That since he never seems to age his birthday must come around only once every four years. But whatever the reasoning it stuck. It seems it was not the first potential date given or by no means the only. In truth several other dates have been given by writers who either wanted to retcon that date or didn’t bother to check. Despite this February 29th has stuck likely in no small part due to the Alan Moore and David Gibbons (the creative team behind Watchmen) story For The Man Who Has Everything.
Published in Superman annual 11 in 1985 For The Man Who Has Everything, is centered around the events of Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman Stopping in on Superman on his birthday (given as February 29th very directly) and finding him entranced by an alien plant. Superman finds himself in a fantasy of a what his life may have been like on Krypton had he never left and it not met its demise. Aside from its well deserved acclaim it became a fairly influential Superman story and was even adapted in a fairly faithful (if different in key places) episode justice League Unlimited that premiered on August 11th 2004. According to rumor this episode has the unique honor of being the only adaptation of Alan Moore’s work that he actually likes, while this is unconfirmed he did approve it which is more than any other adaptation of his works can claim.
While For The Man Who Has Everything is one of the last Pre Crisis Superman stories, having been published the same year as the universe rebooting Crisis on Infinite Earths, the date of February 29th had carried over into the new DC universe (oft called the iron age or New Earth) and has been the most cited date for Superman’s actual birth date. Time magazine even featured an article about it in 1988. In an amusing note many authors have had Superman celebrate two birthdays one being his Kryptonian one that seems more personal and reflective and another that he spends with his family celebrating the day the Kent’s found him when he arrived on earth. Thus June 18th is given as Clark Kent’s birthday.
So how do you celebrate the birthday of one of the most iconic figures in fiction, the first and greatest superhero? I am not entirely sure. But a good start would be to check out the recommended reading and viewing section below, grab some Beef Bourguignon, Apple Pie, Orange Soda or Milk and think about Truth Justice and the American way.
Superman Annual 11 1985 For the Man Who Has Everything by Alan Moore and David Gibbons
In this legendary and influential Superman tale Superman receives an unexpected gift on his birthday.
At Christmas Superman meets a starving homeless girl in Metropolis and is inspired to take action against world hunger. With incredible art by Alex Ross and wrote by Paul Dini the often overlooked writer that helped Bruce Timm craft the DC animated universe this is one of the most under appreciated Superman stories.
Superman For all Seasons 1998 by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
A coming of age story about Superman’s earlier years told from the perspectives of his supporting cast. This highly acclaimed and sentimental tale is a must for superman fans.
All-Star Superman 2005-2008 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly
Taking elements from various takes on Superman’s history Grant Morrison delivers the best work of his career telling the tale of how Superman spends the last year of his life.
Action Comics 775 2001 What’s So Funny About Truth Justice and the American Way? By Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo
Darker and slightly less feelgood than the other recommendations here What’s So Funny About Truth Justice And The American Way? asks if Superman and his non lethal methods are what is needed in the modern world. Putting Superman up against a group that embody the direction comics have taken since the 80s the story effectively looks at the potential good and bad of Superman’s ideals and why they still matter.
And Adaptation of the Alan Moore and David Gibbons Story appearing in Superman Annual 11. This is the most appropriate viewing material for Superman’s birthday. The episode takes the premise from the comic and manages to in most ways improve it creating a far more emotional ending.
Detailing Jor-El’s attempts to stop Krypton’s destruction and save his son through Clark Kent’s teen years, discovering his alien origins and his first encounters with Lois Lane and Lex Luthor in Metropolis these episodes set the stage for the best adaptation of Superman in his 78 year (as of this article) existence.
The animated Film adaptation of Grant Morrison’s and Frank Quitely’s comic masterpiece. Due to running time it omits portions of the original (including sadly the best scene) but still manages to tell the quirky, affectionate and mythic story while managing an ending that even by Grant Morrision’s admission surpasses the original.
Based on Action Comics 775 What’s so funny about Truth Justice and the American Way? the animated film tells an expanded version of the story. Joe Kelly the original author was brought on to write and having more time to explore the themes work out nicely. The art style is iffy but the story is more than worth it.