Why do we celebrate Superman’s birthday on Leap Day?
Making Superman’s birthday “Leap Day” could be a sideways reference to his ability “to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Since February 29th is barely a “real” day at all as far as most people are concerned, it makes sense that a fictional character’s birthday doesn’t even exist during most calendar years. It’s also a handy way to explain why a guy who has been fighting crime since 1938 doesn’t appear to age.
February 29th, 1988 was Superman’s “official” 50th birthday celebration, marked by a special edition of Time Magazine and a nearly unwatchable “comedy” special that aired on network TV. More importantly, February 29th is the date that “For the Man Who Has Everything,” one of the greatest Superman stories ever told, takes place, which is clearly marked as Superman’s birthday.
The thing is, in the comics, his birthday is far from a consistent thing. You have to keep in mind that as far as his two sets of parents are concerned, Superman would have two different birthdays. Whatever Kal-El’s actual birthday would be on Krypton depends on how you want to interpret the intricacies of the Kryptonian calendar.
A Kryptonian “year” is known as a “zetyar,” which is equivalent to roughly 500 Earth days. By the reckoning of the Kryptonian calendar, Kal-El was born on 38 Eorx 9998. The weirdness of the Kryptonian calendar might offer a possible explanation here, so maybe 38 Eorx 9998 fell on the equivalent of February 29th on Earth. Then again, it’s best not to think too hard about this.
On the other hand, Clark Kent’s birthday would have to be the day his foster parents found his rocket. Superman: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank put Clark Kent’s birthday on December 1st. Some comic book accounts place it in October, while others put it on June 18th. June is significant since Action Comics #1 has a June, 1938 cover date. You can’t put too much stock in that, though. Because of the weirdness of comic book cover dating practices (they were competitively dated months in advance), it probably actually hit newsstands in late February or early March of 1938. Also, there was no February 29th in 1938.
Here are a few ways you can celebrate Superman’s birthday today, too…
Listen to The Adventures of Superman radio show from the 1940s. This series was responsible for giving us some of the most enduring elements of Superman mythology, including Jimmy Olsen and Kryptonite. Hundreds of hours are available for you, legal and free, at Archive.org.
In particular, check out “Clan of the Fiery Cross” in which Superman takes on a fictional version of the Ku Kux Klan, something that had a negative effect on the real world Klan as well. We could use Superman right now, now that I think about it.
Perhaps coincidentally, the June 18th date mentioned above happens to be the birthday of Bud Collyer, the voice actor who portrayed Superman on the radio show and the excellent Max Fleischer cartoons.
Watch Superman: The Movie. No seriously, go ahead and watch the superhero movie that all others have tried to live up to, featuring Christopher Reeve’s incredible performance as the Man of Steel. Crank that John Williams score up, too.
Check out this awesome article over at Comic Book Resources detailing some forgotten Superman tales from the Bronze Age. It’s a terrific read.
Most importantly, though, try and do something small today to make the world a better place. Call a friend or a loved one. Do someone a favor. Pay something forward. You might even consider a donation to The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, to aid their work to help cure spinal cord injury and paralysis.
Mike Cecchini knows too much about Superman. Throw Kryptonite at him on Twitter.