Out of the hundreds of superhero characters, seven stand out as most historically important: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Plastic Man.
Superman was the first significant comic-book superhero. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for Action Comics (June 1938), Superman was appearing in six different comic books [including the simply-titled Superman, which began in Summer 1939] by 1941 and had his own radio show, newspaper strip, and animated cartoon series. Superman was drawn by a number of artists after Joe Shuster, notably Wayne Boring in the 1940s and 1950s, and Curt Swan in the 1960s. Part of Superman's success can also be atttributed to the brilliant editing by Mort Weisinger, who perhaps had more influence over the character than any other individual. Weisinger helped develop many of the concepts that Superman is famous for: kryptonite, the Phantom Zone, the planet Krypton, and even Supergirl herself. After Weisinger let the Superman titles in 1970, circulation began declining until the Man of Steel was selling almost at a break-even point by the 1980s. DC revised and updated the character, and began a new series in the late 1980s with Superman (January 1987).
Batman was the first non-super superhero. His only powers came from his self-developed physique and trained detective mind. He supplemented his natural abilities with gadgets from his utility belt... He also was the first superhero to have his own elaborate base of operations, the Bat Cave, as well as an entire line of conveyances, like the batmobile, the Batplane, and even a Batmarine. Bob Kane, the artist, and Bill Finger, the writer, are credited with creating Batman in the May 1939 issue of Detective Comics. [His self-titled series Batman debuted in Spring 1940.] Since then Batman has been drawn by a variety of artists, among them Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino, Marshall Rogers, and Frank Miller.
Wonder Woman [who debuted in her own self-titled series in Summer 1942] was expressly created by a psychologist, Dr. William Moulton Marston, to appeal to young girls. Illustrated by H. G. Peter, Wonder Woman was the first and most successful of the super-heroines. Wonder Woman was a princess and the daughter of Amazon Queen Hippolyte... Her star-spangled costume of red, white, blue, and yellow, along with her golden lasso, were distinctive trademarks... Continually published for more than forty-five years (discounting a short 1986-87 break), Wonder Woman is the most successful female superhero of all time...
Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby [whose input was minimal] and Steve Ditko [who is regarded as the character's co-creator with Lee]. Spider-Man first appeared in the August 1962 issue of Amazing Fantasy and soon received his own book [The Amazing Spider-Man, which debuted in March 1963], which was drawn by Steve Ditko for the first thirty-eight issues. A shy high-school science student, Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and discovers he can climb walls and leap about. He develops a web-shooting device and devises a costume. Spider-Man is perhaps the most truly original superhero of the 1960s. His litany of personal problems - love, financial, and family - made him unique among superheroes and set the tone for dozens of Marvel superheroes to come.
Captain America is the most famous creation of the Joe Simon [writer] - Jack Kirby [artist] comic-book team. [He debuted in Captain America #1 in March 1941.] Although not the first patriotic superhero, Captain America became the most popular, best remembered, and longest-lived. He epitomized American values during World War II, and his comic book lasted until the waning days of the 1940s superheroes. Revived by Marvel for its superhero team, the Avengers (#4, March 1964), Captain America starred with Iron Man in Tales of Suspense [beginning with issue #58, October 1964], and eventually got his own book, Captain America (April 1968). Written and drawn by over one hundred different people, the definitive Captain America was the one drawn by Jack Kirby in botht he 1940s and again in the 1960s.
Captain Marvel, created by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, originally appeared in Whiz Comics (February 1940). [His self-titled magazine Captain Marvel began in January 1941.] The simplicity of Beck's artwork, coupled with the straightforward storytelling, made Captain Marvel the best selling superhero comic of all time. His success spun off other titles, like Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel and Marvel Family. Captain Marvel has been described as the classic example of American naivete, cheerfulness, and undying optimism. Faced with declining circulation figures and a lawsuit by DC Comics over copyright infringement of their Superman character [a lawsuit which is today regarded as completely groundless], Fawcett Comics dropped the Captain Marvel character and the publisher's entire line of comics by the end of 1953... In 1968 Marvel Comics introduced a Captain Marvel character and gave him his own book, Captain Marvel (May 1968), although he bore no relation to the original Fawcett character. DC Comics, now the owner of the original Captain Marvel, brought the character back briefly in Shazam! (February 1973), and gave him a supporting role in their Justice League International (May 1987).
Plastic Man was created by humor artist Jack Cole for Police Comics (August 1941). [The character's self-titled series Plastic Man debuted in Summer 1942.] The first parody of the superhero comics, Plastic Man kept his tongue always in cheek as he stretched and slithered after criminals. Plastic Man was played strictly for laughs, and his adventures were refreshingly different from the deadly serious crimefighters of the day. Plastic Man was so popular that he was the only other superhero, besides Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, to survive the Comics Code. He was published until almost the end of 1956. Since then, DC Comics has revived the character three times, in 1966, in 1976, and again in 1988.
Although comic-book superheroes have been optioned for other media, including radio, television, and movies, they seem to have found their most comfortable niche in the pages of the comic books. Only within the sanctity of the comic book can superheroes with names like Insect Queen and Elastic Lad cavort about in skin-tight color costumes and not appear ridiculous. And, if nothing else, the comic-book superheroes have proivded us with a pantheon and mythology that may rival any previous culture.