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Superman, also known by his real name, William Dunn, was the earliest-known person to carry the mantle of Superman.
He originated as a poor man who had to wait on a bread-line each day for food. He was approached by a man named Professor Smalley, who offered him a hot meal. Upon following the strange professor, our poor man became a lab rat and was subjugated to a strange meteor rock, which-- it was later revealed-- gave him superpowers.
His superpowers-- which, unlike the modern Superman's powers, are mainly mental in nature: Telepathy and the ability to control human minds, and telescopic vision-- quickly corrupted the poor man, and he became an evil supervillain, quickly dubbing himself The Superman.
After experimenting with his powers, he decided to take over the world; He began sowing discord between nations to prepare for this. Professor Smalley, however, wanted the powers for himself, and the two had a final battle, of which Dunn was the victor. Unfortunately, Dunn's powers wore off soon after.
Although Dunn's reign as Superman was short-lived, he is remembered as being the first to use the name Superman. The name was later adopted by The Superman, and finally by Kal-El.
Behind the Scenes
The Superman was the first version of Superman ever to appear in print. His story was told in Jerry Siegel's sci-fi short story, 'Reign of the Superman'.
This early version of Superman was depicted almost entirely different than the modern version. First and foremost, he was a villain.
Secondly, his powers were mainly mental in nature.
And thirdly, he was originally human, while the modern version was an alien raised on Earth.
Ironically, his physical appearance by the time he gains his powers strongly resembles that of the modern Superman rogues Ultra-Humanite and Lex Luthor.
There were two primary sources for the creation of this character. The first was the advent of the Great Depression, occurring in 1932 when Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster were being affected by it in terms of not being able to find a job. The second was the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, more specifically his concept of the Ubermensch (which was German for "Superman", or more accurately "Overman") from his philosophical tract Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which both Siegel and Schuster criticized.
Powers and Abilities
Superman possess Telepathy, and the ability to control human minds. as well as telescopic vision.