Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s…! Well, we all know how that goes, right? But have you ever wondered why? What is it that actually makes Superman so recognizable? Is it the red cape and blue suit? Is it his invincibility and uber-cool super powers? As the Man of Steel just turned 75, let’s take a look back at the history of what is arguably the world’s most popular superhero.

Superman made his debut in 1938 on the cover of Action Comics #1. His creators, Joe Schuster and Jerry Segel had a lot of trouble taking this character off the ground, as they initially imagined him like a bald villain intent on world domination. Eventually, they settled for the tall, dark and strong alien superhero who stops at nothing when it comes to saving the world.

Happy Birthday, Superman!

And that is exactly what Superman was like in his early days: a man of action who had no problem fighting villains and the authorities as well in order to accommodate his idea of justice being served. He also did not have a problem killing the baddies or threatening to wipe them out if they stood in his way.

But that didn’t last long. Despite being from an alien planet, Krypton, the character soon became an American icon and over the years, underwent the same changes the American society went through. A symbol of patriotism during the war, then a family man reflecting the values of the expanding U.S. middle class in the 1950s, a post-modern superhero who was explored in alternate incarnations or variations in the 1960s-1970s, and so on.

Superman’s popularity dwindled several times over the years, but somehow, he always managed to get back to the foreground. He is perhaps one of the most reinvented superheroes out there and if you expected that to kill a character, it actually seems to have made the Man of Steel stronger.

And when the much anticipated “Man of Steel” feature film is released this summer, Superman will probably be reinvented again, as a raw, gritty and more conflicted superhero. This is a major break from the original light hearted, yet not-to-be-messed-with American icon, but it’s only fitting given the times we live in.

In the end, despite so many re-stylings and reinventions, despite so many changes of costume and abilities, what makes Superman so popular and recognizable is his core attitude: someone who believes in the good humankind and will never give up fighting to protect what he loves, someone who always has hope. Just like every single one of us.

Check out the ‘Man of Steel’ trailer below

[Image via comicvine]