Superman can be considered one of the most famous superheroes ever created. For proof, look no further than the fact that he set the standard for what a superhero should be, with the result that his influence can be seen throughout superhero comics. As such, the Superman logo is very recognizable, which is helped out by how it has managed to remain more or less consistent over the course of its existence.
What Does the Superman Logo Mean?
It is worth mentioning something about the meaning of the Superman logo. The simplest and most straightforward meaning would be S for Superman. However, it is amusing to note that various creators have come up with other explanations as well.
For instance, there are a lot of Superman stories that claim that the S inside a shield is a Kryptonian symbol that represents his Kryptonian family. The most common explanation is that the symbol means "hope" in Kryptonian culture. However, other stories have offered other explanations, with examples ranging from the claim that it stands for "Stronger together" to the claim that it is a stylized representation of a coiled snake to remind the beholder to not return to a very bad time in Kryptonian history. Amusingly, it should be mentioned that there is even a story in which the S inside a shield is supposed to have come from the Kent family rather than the House of El. Apparently, that one claimed that the Superman logo came from a medicine blanket that a Native American tribe had presented to a Kent ancestor in thanks for him having helped them with an infectious disease. Something that was meant to present Superman as a metaphorical healer because of the tribe's belief that snakes possessed healing powers.
Out of setting, the Superman logo is iconic when it comes to superheroes. For an example, it is the source of the common practice of having superheroes wear their symbols on their chests. As such, the Superman logo is very influential, which in turn, makes it very valuable as well.
In any case, the Superman logo has seen a fair number of changes over time, though its core characteristics have remained consistent for the most part:
From 1938 to 1940
The Superman logo showed up in the very first Superman comic. However, while it consisted of a S in a shield, it was much more reminiscent of what one might expect from a police officer's badge. Besides that, it is clear that the people behind Superman hadn't settled down on a single design at this point in time, as shown by a succession of Superman logos that experimented with the look of the S, the shape of the shield, and on one occasion, even the colors of the logo.
As for why the Superman logo consisted of a S in a shield, that seems to be a simple and straightforward matter. The S is meant to stand for Superman. Meanwhile, the shield is a common sight in heraldry. For those who are unfamiliar, most pre-modern warriors didn't wear uniforms, meaning that they need some way to make themselves known to other people on the battlefield. In the case of the High Middle Ages, the warrior elite started using individualized designs on their shields as well as other components of their gear. This became the basis of heraldry, which in turn, continues to influence the media of the western world. The Superman logo being a S in a shield is an excellent example of this influence.
By the 26th issue of Action Comics, the Superman logo had started using the diamond-shaped shield that has become the standard. It is interesting to note that heraldry has used a very wide range of shield shapes over the course of its existence. Some of these shields were based on real shields. For instance, a lot of people will be familiar with the heater shield, which was named by the Victorians because of their rough resemblance to a clothes iron. Such shields were very manageable, with the result that they were used both on foot and on horseback. However, heater shields became smaller and smaller as plate armor became more and more common until eventually there was a point in time when they saw tournament use and nothing but tournament use. Meanwhile, other shields used in heraldry have been much more fanciful, particularly once shields stopped being of practical use on the battlefield.
The diamond-shaped shield isn't something that saw regular use in heraldry. Still, one can see why it would become iconic for the Superman logo. In short, diamonds are famous for being one of the hardest substances that can be found out there, which when combined with their appealing appearance, have caused them to be associated with a wide range of magical abilities. As such, a diamond-shaped shield is suggestive of certain characteristics that are very appropriate for Superman, though it is unclear whether this was intentional or not.
Whatever the case, the S in a diamond-shaped shield continued to see use in the subsequent decades with minimal change until the mid 1990s. Those who are curious should know that this was a very volatile period in the comic books industry that saw a lot of experimentation. Some of that experimentation produced interesting results; others, well, suffice to say that there is a reason that the 1990s are considered to be one of the most hated decades by comic book fans. In any case, there are a couple of very noticeable variations on the standard Superman logo from this time. One would be a black-and-red version from Kingdom Come with a central component that is more the suggestion of a S than an actual S. The other would be the so-called Electric Blue version, which features a more stylized S in the shield rendered in blue and white.
Since that time, the most stand-out Superman logo might be the one from Smallville, which started out as a vertical infinity symbol in a diamond-shaped shield that was meant to give the whole thing a more alien feel. However, it wasn't too long before the series started using something much more familiar. Otherwise, the Superman logo has been quite consistent in more recent times, though it seems safe to say that more radical reinterpretations will continue to appear in the times still to come.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn