The version of Superman from The Golden Age Of Comic Books was also the very first version of the character. While all versions of Superman use Action Comics # 1 as their first appearance, this one literally did appear there first, and is as close to the original intentions of Superman's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as it is possible to get.
In one form or another, this version endured for seven decades, and is the direct inspiration for two of the most iconic screen versions of the character, the Fleischer Cartoons version of him shown in movie theaters in the 1940's, and the venerable George Reeves' version, in the six-season long TV series. In 1969, the distinct elements of this earliest era were separated out and made into a new character with his own unique history.
Superman was born Kal-L (His family name had no E in this version) on the planet Krypton, which at least in the very first stories, was located in or near Earth's solar system (Later retconned to as far away as another galaxy, which is the default origin for almost all modern origins). No mention was originally made of the resistance his father, Jor-L, met in seeking to escape Krypton's destruction, and even Kal-L's foster parents were merely alluded to, without given names (They were later known as Eben and Sarah Kent, names taken from an early novel about Superman and then used in the George Reeves TV series as well). In fact, until 1948, Superman himself had no idea of how or why he had powers, thinking himself merely a freak of nature, with no clue that he was not from Earth, since apparently his foster parents died before he started his career. Very little of what we would come to know as basic truths of the character's origins were even in mind when he first appeared.
Seeking to use his powers to do good and wanting to be in a position to know where he was most needed, Clark Kent sought a position at the newspaper, The Daily Star, but was at first rebuffed by its editor, George Taylor. (Another later retcon had a young Perry White as a fellow staffer to Kent and Lane, and a rival to replace Taylor when he retired). Determined, Kent made his first public appearance as Superman, stopping a lynch mob from hanging a man condemned for murder. Oddly identifying himself as a reporter, Superman was told by the man he saved that not only had he not done it, but that a girl framed as his accomplice was innocent as well. The victim, a labor leader named Jack Kennedy (a name which would later haunt Superman comics, being the nickname of fallen President John F. Kennedy, who was favored by and connected to organized labor) had in fact been killed by a jealous girlfriend, who Superman forced to confess, just in time to get a reprieve from the Governor for the girl who was about to be executed.
In this simpler era, Superman also thrashed an abusive husband, implying that he had corrected this situation entirely. Also reflective of the ideals of the time was Superman bringing two warring foreign leaders together to fight it out themselves, rather than have their troops die. The two men found they really had no conflict, and the war in their fictional countries ended. Superman in these times was a vigilante who sometimes even executed criminals or allowed them to die from their own schemes ; he was actually pursued by the police, for all the good it would have done. This Superman was at first limited in his powers ; It was said that he could leap a quarter of a mile, was very strong in an undefined way, and that nothing "short of a bursting shell" could penetrate his tough skin. The early stories also included a primal part of the legend, Lois Lane, his fellow reporter at the Daily Star. Originally, she was cold, shallow, and even petty, though she came to finally respect Clark Kent's ability to get a story.
While Lex Luthor (called Alexi Luthor in his earliest appearances) did not appear right away, Superman faced a bald scientist (Alexi had red hair) named Ultra, who would evolve over time into a ubiquitous villain called The Ultra-Humanite. These earliest, unsettled stories began to see more commonly known plotlines and arcs when Lois first began to suspect that Clark, who in this was widely seen as a sniveling weakling, was in fact Superman's secret identity. Not having the gadgets that his Silver Age self relied upon for this challenge, Superman relied on his wits alone to thwart Lois' quest to "unmask" him.
The 1940's and World War Two
Even before the bombing at Pearl Harbor, DC's heroes began to take a wartime stance, and one non-canonical short featured Superman capturing both Hitler and Stalin, to be tried for their war crimes. Superman's main enemies tended to veer towards the fantastic, with the now-bald Luthor taking the place of the vanished Ultra. Superman's mythos started to take on several iconic elements, three of these from a radio show that started around 1940. An enthusiastic cub reporter named Jimmy Olsen migrated to the comic books and became a fixture of the supporting cast, even getting his own long-running comic series later on. Superman's voice actor on the radio (and the cartoons), Bud Collyer needed a vacation, so two pillars of the character were born to serve this need.
Superman became incapicitated and needed someone else to save the day and himself. But what could render Superman helpless, and who could save him? The radio show's guested episodes had Superman locked in a closet, made helpless by the first piece of Kryptonite in history, while his guest heroes and eventual rescuers were none other than Batman and Robin, marking both Superman's first crossover and the establishment of his partnership with the Dark Knight Detective. While many later interpretations had the two at odds on some level, their Golden Age friendship was second only to their Silver Age sibling-like one in closeness. Both Superman and Batman appeared in World's Finest Comics, but only much later stories would see them appear together on a regular basis. Both heroes were also honorary members of the Justice Society Of America, though they only appeared in one of their adventures.
Superman aided the war effort in limited ways (limited by the fact that even he could not stop a real life war) and kept the homefront safe. Clark Kent himself was flatly declared 4-F, due to his eyesight. The war's end meant a demobilization for heroes as well, and without the steady audience of entertainment-starved soldiers, comics sales plummeted, something which even Superman could not change. This was the first sign of the end of the literal Golden Age of the character.
The next came in the form of what started as a story gimmick, telling the tales of Superman during his boyhood in Smallville, and introducing the Kents as Jonathan and Martha, proper characters in their own right. Superboy comics began to be published, which confused the prior history of Superman bursting on the scene as an adult. About the same time, Superman's origin was re-told and expanded (minus any reference to Superboy) and gave names to Superman's birth parents, Jor-L and Lara, on a world full of people already nearly superhuman due to evolution and science, but doomed by its hubris when it dismissed Jor-L's warnings of planetary doom. Months later, the first comics appearance of Kryptonite led to Superman taking a time journey in a ghostly form, tracing the mystery rock back, and finally learning of his true origins.
Unlike other Golden Age heroes in DC Comics, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman had no definitive dividing line between their Silver Age and Golden Age incarnations, since their books were never cancelled, and their characters never left the public eye. Instead, a slow accumulation of odd plot elements and devices slowly remade the characters. In 1949, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were, perhaps infamously, dismissed from DC Comics, though their influence on the comics had already diminished quite a bit.
Superboy's influence on Superman's backstory began to accumulate, largely making it him who had aided America in World War Two. Childhood sweetheart Lana Lang appeared as an adult in Metropolis, and the rainbow of different Kryptonites (including Rainbow Kryptonite itself) began to appear. The final nail in the coffin of the rougher, breakout character from 1938 could be said to have come in 1955 and 1956, when the George Reeves' show was cancelled, and when Martian Manhunter and the Silver Age Flash first appeared. By this point, any ideas that had been unique to the Golden Age version of Superman had long since vanished.
Pre-Crisis Earth Two
When the Justice Society was revived after the first meetings between the Jay Garrick Flash and the Barry Allen Flash, it was at first largely unclear as to whether or not there even was an Earth-2 Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But continuity demands meant that eventually, hints began to emerge, which were finally fulfilled during one of the then-annual JLA/JSA team-ups, which prompted a then-obligatory fight between the two titans, because the Earth-2 Superman was brainwashed. As these team-ups recurred, the differences between the Silver Age Superman and this new character meant to represent the Golden Age Superman slowly multiplied. In fact, his first appearance can really be said to be in the late 1960's in Justice League Of America # 73. Despite being a retcon, Earth-2's Superman became the embodiment of that vanished Golden Age.
In his history, Krypton (or Krypton-Two, to be precise) was a planet of superbeings already capable of many limited feats and so advanced, four-year olds took calculus. A time differential existed in this universe, placing its events well before those of any modern version of the DC Universe. As a result, when Jor-L sent his son away from the doomed world, the rocket-ship arrived in Kansas in 1915, just before the United States entered the First World War. His powers developed more slowly than they did in other versions, and he never had a career as Superboy. In one Superboy 1980's story, this version of young Clark was met by the time/space-displaced Silver Age Superboy, who convinced him not to use his powers to join a circus.
Clark's foster parents, John and Mary Kent, died when he was a young adult, and so, in 1938, he moved to the city of Metropolis and had many if not most of the adventures had by the Golden Age Superman in the comics. In most depictions, his powers were still developing as he first used them to fight crime. This Clark Kent was fully aware that the Nazis had appropriated the term "Superman" or UberMensch, from a twisting of the works of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, but he appreciated the irony and it only increased his resolve to oppose that sort of evil. He also had a slightly less frosty yet still contentious relationship with his Lois Lane.
Kal-L/Clark was originally not part of a strike force assembled by federal agents in order to stop a Nazi invasion of Great Britain, but came to aid them when the mystically-enhanced Nazi forces reached Washington, DC. In this version, Kal-L prevented an Asgardian Valkyrie from assassinating President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This adventure saw the formation of the Justice Society Of America, with Kal slightly more active in the team's adventures than was his inspiration. In 1981, Roy Thomas created a catch-all Allied superhero group, The All-Star Squadron, which itself contained several other superhero teams, including the JSA. This group was itself a retcon, and Thomas made use of the fact that, while comics' lore had Superman limit his time with the JSA, no one ever said he was not active in the Squadron.
Thomas also made it clear why heroes of Superman's level did not simply take Berlin and capture or kill Hitler, since the Nazi leader used an artifact called the Spear Of Destiny to cast a spell putting any Allied superhero under his control if they entered Nazi-controlled lands. Since Superman, like Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, The Spectre and others were vulnerable to such primal magic, it meant the war had to be won by men on the ground, fighting it out, though the heroes could aid once the lands involved were re-taken. Once the war was won, Superman expanded his basic protection to the entire world, not just Metropolis. He learned his true origin just as the 1948 story told, but in 1950, the Earth-2 Superman would embark upon his greatest adventure, even though Superman himself would vanish for over a year.
Love and Marriage
In late 1949, Superman would be briefly overpowered by the villainous Wizard, who tried to destroy him by wishing that Superman would cease to exist. Superman did, but Clark Kent, now amnesiac to his own secret, still existed and now saw no need to act like a fool, fop or weakling. His aggressive reporting and new, stronger personality netted him several big stories and the attention of Lois Lane, who found herself falling in love with the man now self-confident enough to ask her to marry him, which she accepted. But the absence of Superman still troubled her, till one night at last she made the connection she had long suspected.
But though she had achieved her dream of marrying Superman and found a real man (as opposed to the fantasy ideal of a godlike hero) to love as well, Lois knew the world needed Superman, and so resolved to reawaken his memories, even if it meant the end of her marriage and newfound happiness. When she succeeded, she offered to let him have the marriage annulled, since it was under false pretenses and besides which, a Superman with a wife could be controlled by those seeking to harm him by threatening her. But to her delight, he instead asked that they renew their vows in the Kryptonian fashion. Though the marriage never produced any children, it lasted over fifty years and exists as a dramatic counterpoint to most superhero marriages, driven apart by editorial need for conflict.
In the late 1970's, the anthology comic Superman Family ran the series "Mr. and Mrs. Superman", telling stories set during the early years of their marriage. Highlights included a meeting with the Earth-2 Lana Lang (who was from Smallville but had never met Clark prior to this), confrontations with Alexei Luthor (who still had a full head of hair and also had no childhood connection with Clark), and attending the wedding of Bruce Wayne and his reformed foe, Selina Kyle, while stumbling across a plot to murder the equally reformed Two-Face, known as Harvey Kent (no relation) in this version, and who apparently never was disfigured again.
Due to his status, Superman was not forced to retire in 1951, when the Justice Society was targeted as enemy sympathizers by reactionaries within the US Congress. Those members who did retire asked him not to speak out on their behalf, as the world still needed himself, Batman and Wonder Woman to keep it safe. It is likely that Clark Kent, who replaced George Taylor as Editor-In-Chief of The Daily Star in 1952, subtly paved the way for the ultimate return of his fellow heroes in the 1960's through editorial influence. Not much is known of those intervening years, and it seems likely that Superman's alliance with Batman and Wonder Woman (who also married her Steve Trevor) kept the world safe and damped down any major ambitions on the part of their foes.
Re-emergence and His Independent Cousin
Unknown to all his fellow JSA members, The Flash (Jay Garrick) was waylaid by a trap set by three of his foes which ultimately caused his hometown of Keystone City to vanish from both the map and people's memories. It may also have trapped the villains themselves, until the new Flash of parallel Earth-1, Barry Allen, accidentally vibrated into Earth-2 and helped Garrick defeat the villains and free his city.
Perhaps the intervening years had finally redeemed the JSA in the minds of the American public, because Garrick resumed his career, which was followed by other JSA members like Green Lantern (Alan Scott) also meeting his Earth-1 counterpart, until the entire core membership of the JSA began teaming up with the Justice League once a year. Yet for the first several years of these team-ups, Kal-L was nowhere to be seen, and his possible existence only hinted at.
Sometime during this period, Kal-L met the third most important woman in his life - his fellow Krypton survivor and cousin, Kara Zor-L. But her history would be as different from Supergirl's as Kal-L's was from the Earth-1 Kal-El.
Kept in a virtual reality world while in transit from Krypton, Kara emerged several years older than Supergirl had, and was very much disoriented. While her cousin became more active in the renewed JSA, Lois and Clark became like foster parents to a woman whose age difference to them was much greater than that of their Earth-1 counterparts. Like Supergirl, Kara wanted to join her cousin in protecting their world. Unlike Supergirl, her powers took time to charge, keeping her at superhuman and yet not godlike levels enjoyed by Earth-1 Kryptonian survivors. In talks with his younger Earth-1 self, Kal-L determined that, while his father Jor-L had never discovered a Phantom Zone, the Jor-El of Earth-1's universe had tried to reach Earth-2's universe as a possible place to escape to, only to find the time differential meant Krypton-2 had already blown up.
A plot of the villain Brainwave that placed the JSA on high alert gave Kara her chance to emerge from the shadows. But her lack of confidence led to several changes from Supergirl's established history. One of these became a defining mark of her character. One, she chose the name Power Girl, not feeling quite equal to her cousin's legacy, and two, she could not choose a chest emblem like he did, and meant to fill it in later. She never did, leading to the sometimes-infamous "chest window" on her costume. She also began to exhibit a snarky attitude to hide her lack of self-confidence, something she kept even when her confidence increased. She did not tell Kal/Clark about her choice, but months later, she convinced him she was ready to do this.
Despite his openly sexist attitudes (and to a lesser extent, those of the old-fashioned men of the JSA), she became best friends with Ted Grant, aka Wildcat. Ultimately, she started to do so well, Superman actually dialed back his superhero career, only emerging if a crisis threatened. Like the Superman/Batman team before them, Kara joined in a sisterly relationship with Helena Wayne, daughter of Bruce and Selina Kyle Wayne, who called herself the Huntress, and who Kara aided in avenging her mother's murder, something now-Police Commissioner Wayne felt he could not do. Kara was also trained in non-powered combat by Grant and the adult mature Dick Grayson, who wore a different Robin costume than he had in his youth. In 1979, Superman was not only forced to mourn his friend and ally Bruce Wayne, but not long after, he and the JSA faced accusations of treason during wartime, which turned out to be a scheme by rogue time-traveler Per Degaton.
The Last Good Times
Despite a clash of egos, Alexi Luthor met with and teamed up with Earth-1's Lex Luthor for a worlds'-shaking scheme involving the heroes' evil counterpart Ultraman, a thuggish version from Earth-Three. Two Luthors meant that this was a job for two Supermen. The scheme, while deadly, ultimately went nowhere, when it turned out that while Alexi was willing to destroy both Earths, Lex was not, an odd reversal of a non-canon team-up between Superman and Spider-Man, when it had been Lex willing to see the Earth die and his ally Doctor Octopus the objector. The mission did play up the differences between the two Kals, and the elder made the younger nervous when he tried to urge him to settle down and marry his Lois Lane. Given that Earth-1 Superman was the main version at that time and the status quo didn't allow for it, it was advice he was all but destined to ignore.
In a final scheme by the dying villain Brainwave, Superman and other JSA members were seemingly killed and then raised up as corrupted versions of themselves, having been drowned in a mystic river, taken from the only actual Golden Age JSA adventure that Superman and Batman played a part in. Power Girl and her new allies in the legacy hero team, Infinity, Inc., were forced to confront and stop their fallen mentors, with the clash between Kryptonians so fierce, it even affected Superman's reputation in Metropolis. After this, Superman increasingly pulled back from superhero life, especially as age began to affect the health of his wife, Lois. Earth-2 was a world protected by multiple generations of heroes, including those who had cut their teeth fighting Hitler himself. If life was good, it could not last forever.
Crisis On Infinite Earths
At last, the entire DC Multiverse came under assault from a wall of Anti-Matter that annihilated whole universes in its wake. Kal-L was once more drafted back into action by a mysterious being known as the Monitor, to participate in a plan that would save creation, but at a hideous cost to Kal-L and many others. Heroes, villains and characters of all stripes died right and left, including the villainous Crime Syndicate on Earth-Three, led by Ultraman, who actually chose to die a hero. Sent off like the Kals' were by Jor-L/El, by that world's heroic Lex Luthor, young Alexander Luthor, Jr., would become a major player in this and another crisis. Ironically, he was also the son of that world's Lois Lane.
Though Kal-L and his allies would save many lives, campaign after campaign to turn back the anti-matter wave failed, until the Monitor himself was slain. though in his passing, several remaining Earths were shielded from the efforts of the true enemy, the Monitor's dark counterpart. The Monitor's team, including a rapidly-grown Alexander Luthor, Jr., came up with a plan to unite all the Earths into one, but even this desperate plan had consistently high costs, and among those who paid with their lives were Barry Allen, The Flash Of Earth-1, and Kal-El's young cousin, Supergirl. Kal-L stood by his younger counterpart when he was devastated by her sacrifice, done in part to save Kal-El's life. In the course of events, another ally was found as well : The Superboy of Earth-Prime, a version of Kal to whom Superman was merely a comic book character, despite somehow existing in that world as well.
The remaining heroes, and many of the remaining villains, united in a scheme to stop the Anti-Monitor from destroying creation at the dawn of time. With the aid of Kal's JSA teammate The Spectre, total destruction was averted, but for Superman, the first of all heroes, a fate worse than death awaited as the re-merged creation had no place in it for him.
Awakening in his apartment and then attempting to go to work, he found a Lois who was much younger, not his wife and who worked for the Daily Planet, not Star. Kal-El stepped in and told everyone that Kal-L was in fact his namesake Uncle Clark and rushed him out. A reunion of the heroes present at the dawn of time confirmed Kal-L's worst fear : Earth-One had been the template for the new, singleton universe, and Kal-El was the one and only Superman. Earth-Two and almost all of its inhabitants--including Lois Lane Kent--had been retroactively erased from existence. Kal-L's grief was incomprehensible, but just as he had stayed with Kal-El when Supergirl died, so did Kal-El stand by his older friend.
There was no time to grieve, as the Anti-Monitor began a final assault upon the remaining Earth. Making Kal-El promise to watch over Power Girl, Kal-L went all out and in fact provided the final blow that destroyed the Anti-Monitor. Escaping the villain's base on Qward, Superman, Superboy-Prime and Alexander Luthor were joined by Lois Kent, who had been protected by Alexander. Escaping to what was supposed to be a paradise dimension, the quartet left the new existence behind, supposedly forever.
But while Earth-One was supposedly the template for this New Earth, it would not be so happy a place, and from their perch, Kal-L and his allies watched with concern.
In the new creation, there was no Superman in World War Two, and his absence from the JSA's origin forced the Spectre to beg his master to ressurect slain US President Roosevelt, killed by the Valkyries that Kal-L had stopped. Just before the JSA was forced to prevent a Hitler-induced Ragnarok through locking themselves in a time-loop, they saw a world where they and Kal-L-who they still remembered at this point--died in 1945 via Hitler's use of the Spear Of Destiny. A young man named Arnold "Iron" Munro became the resident strongman of the All-Star Squadron, ironically being the son of the hero of Philip Wylie's novel "Gladiator", which was among Superman's inspirations.
But even more confusion reigned for Power Girl, whose re-origins became a legendary mish-mash, even by comics industry standards. Now, her arrival on Earth (the Post-Crisis universe had no Kara Zor-El character for an extended period) had her believing she was a survivor of Krypton as well, until Superman (a new history character, not the Earth-One version) was able to confirm that he in fact was the only survivor. Power Girl later learned that her 'true' origin lay in ancient Atlantis, with her grandfather, its hero sorcerer Arion. But as time went by, this makeshift origin made less and less sense, and Power Girl was often a character adrift.
As for the modern Superman, from time to time, he encountered aspects of his vanished Golden Age Counterpart as well.
As a proxy between two cosmic beings, one of whom had played a part in his Post-Doomsday resurrection, Superman bounced between alternate timelines, one of which was a grittier 1930's, wherein this Depression-Era Superman opposed Nazi Bundists (Fascist-leaning Americans who believed America should enter World War Two on the side of the Nazi Germans) who were preaching open rebellion against the US government and committing terrorist acts.
In another instance, a writer's dreams of a simpler America became real and included a Superman who looked like he'd stepped out of Action Comics # 1 in 1938, and who had the rougher attitude towards justice of the Superman of that era, and speaking in his anachronistic style,
In the storyline "The Issue At Hand", the modern Superman encountered a scene like the one from his earliest story, seeking to stop an abusive husband from beating his wife. As one might expect, the issue was not as simple or as easily solved as it was when Superman first appeared.
With some obvious differences, Superman or versions of him were a staple of DC's graphic-novel like 'Imaginary Stories' called 'Elseworlds'. Some were a bit closer to the Golden Age version.
Red Son - Kal-L's rocketship landed in Russia in 1908. and for a time served Joseph Stalin, till taking over the Soviet Union himself. His only obstacle in trying to take over the world : Egotistical American genius Lex Luthor.
War Of The Worlds - The Martian invasion of Earth occurs just as a limited-power Superman begins his career in 1938. He finds that human perception of aliens is altered forever by this attack, which his presence may end up aiding.
Generations - In an extended Batman/Superman story, the two heroes' friendship begins in 1919 and extends millennia as they and their heirs live and age (or not age) in real time. (Three Series)
The New Frontier - In this story, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman really do end up serving in both the World War Two JSA and the 1960's Justice League, while inbetween dealing with the world of the late 1950's, an era both idealistic and deeply fearful.
But as the main DC Universe seemed to grow grimmer and progressively darker, and its heroes corrupted and ineffectual, the first of all heroes made a fateful choice he only thought was his own : to return to existence and set things right.
From their perch in a dimensional 'paradise', the four refugees from the Crisis on Infinite Earths had reached their limit. An older woman in failing health, Lois Kent was facing her end. Kal-L was determined to save her, but was disheartened by what the world he'd helped to save had become in his absence. Unknown to either of them, the isolation had driven Alexander Luthor, Junior and Superboy-Prime to the brink of insanity, and they took steps to make Superman believe he had decided to return on his own. Their actions would once more shake all of creation, and in fact already had.
Believing that Alexander was merely trying to remake the New Earth with Earth-2 as its new template, Kal-L attempted to recruit heroes to his cause. One major failure in this was the modern Batman. He came close, emphasizing how he and the Earth-2 Batman had always managed to get along well, despite their differences. But a pivotal crack in Kal-L's resolve came when Batman asked if Dick Grayson was also a better man in the history of Earth-2. The Earth-2 Dick Grayson, who had survived the merger of worlds but then died in the Anti-Monitor's final assault, had never given up being Robin, at one point even adopting a garish costume that merged his old one with that of his retired mentor. He had never become his own man as Nightwing.
Another crack came when Power Girl, her memories revived, started questioning her cousin's methods and the need to revive Earth-2. Kal-L clashed with the modern Superman as well (at no time was the Silver Age-Earth-1 version brought up) until a strange resonance between them showed each the other's life and times, with altered decisions showing firmly that each had done their best in their own way. Returning to Alexander Luthor, he was given back his precious Earth-2, a shining but empty Earth where Lois Kent finally succumbed to old age. A shattered Kal-L discovered what Alexander and Superboy-Prime were really up to, and the hideous cost involved.
The powers and lifeforces of heroes and villains (including, without Kal-L's knowledge, Power Girl) were being drained to power an interdimensional tuning fork that could revive past Earths and their universes. Alexander wanted to create the perfect Earth, but Kal-L no longer believed in this idea, since as the modern Superman had pointed out, a perfect world would never need a Superman. Throwing a further spanner into their plans was the increasingly unstable Superboy-Prime, who wanted his home of Earth-Prime back, and who had become a murderer as well. The modern Superboy gave his life to stop the fork, but while the heroes fought on every front and plane of existence in the universe, Alexander and Superboy-Prime seemed to be wholly unstoppable. Joining with the modern Superman, Kal-L turned back an army of villains set up by Alexander, who had pretended to be the modern Luthor. Their powers joined, the two even stopped Doomsday itself with ease.
In a final battle with Superboy-Prime, the two Supermen beat down and tasked the psychotic teen, even taking him through the core of a Red Sun. The modern Superman was weakened, while Superboy-Prime had reserves, but Kal-L was now simply a very old man being pounded by a weakened but insane young man. After Superboy-Prime was finally defeated and Alexander Luthor killed by the modern Luthor and Joker, Kal-L was held by his cousin Kara and the never-ending battle came to an end. Once more, the original Superman had saved everyone, this time at the cost of his life.
Sadly, this tender and heroic moment was not the last seen of Kal-L. During the Blackest Night event, his and Lois's bodies were revived by the Death-demon Nekron as zombies, wearing Black Lantern rings, menacing and taunting the living ala the Deadites from The Evil Dead series. They made attempts to kill the modern Superman, Power Girl and even Martha Kent, till their bodies were destroyed entirely. The series made it clear that their spirits were not truly present, and that the zombies contained twisted copies of their memories and personalities. Since the New 52 reboot-universe seems to have ultimately erased all that came before, this plus DC editorial policy running against the classic JSA make it likely these would be the last-ever appearances of Mr. and Mrs. Superman.
Power Girl later spent time on a reborn version of the Earth-2 she remembered, but was forced to leave when her own counterpart returned from a deep space mission. She later learned that this new Earth-2's Kal-L was still alive, but was never found on-panel.
In the pages of Justice Society Of America, a Superman from an alternate reality turned up, looking very much like Kal-L. He turned out to be the Superman of Kingdom Come, a weary, more violence-capable hero who saw almost all his friends and loved ones die. Despite bonding with Power Girl and his New Earth counterpart, Superman-KC was troubled, especially by the presence of the entities Gog and Magog, who in various forms have haunted the Supermen of many universes. Despite his depression, it is implied that his stay among the heroes of New Earth revived his spirit, and enabled him to go on living when he returned to his Earth, labeled Earth-22.
When the events of Flashpoint created the multiverse of the New 52, yet another version of Earth-Two emerged, with several twists. In this case, the Justice League were the first wave of heroes, slain to a one repelling an invasion by Apokolips, with young heroes Supergirl and Robin (Helena Wayne) sent away to live on the main Earth as Power Girl and The Huntress. In their absence, the new young heroes of the Justice Society begin to emerge in post-modern form. Superman in this case was not a member but one of the new JSA's iconic inspirations.
It seems by and large that the history of the main New 52 Earth has superheroes as a very recent emergence and not a force known of since at least the Second World War. Whether anyone like Kal-L will ever appear in this continuity is unknown, but seems unlikely.
Appearances in other media
As mentioned above, the Golden Age version of Superman inspired many alternate media versions during his time.
A highly successful radio adaptation running in various forms from 1942 to 1951, featuring Bud Collyer as the voice of Clark Kent/Superman. The storylines were unusually inventive, and had Superman coming to Earth already a grown man. The series contributed much to the Superman mythos : Krypton's basic destruction scenario, Kryptonite, Jimmy Olsen and Superman's partnership with Batman all came from the radio series. One memorable storyline had the Man Of Steel taking on the Ku Klux Klan, which many credited with gravely harming the racist organization in the Northern US.
George Lowther, who wrote many of the radio programs, wrote a 1942 novel entitled The Adventures Of Superman, which gave literary flesh for the first time to both sets of Superman's parents, the L's of Krypton and the Kents of Kansas (no town named, and the Kents were named Eben and Sarah). It was what would today be classified as a young adult novel, featuring starker themes than seen in comics of the day.
Fleischer Studios, creators of the first Popeye animated features gave the Sailor-Man a run for his money when they made a series of 17 short features (later taken over by Famous Studios at a lesser quality) featuring animation production values which still inspire both Western cartoons and anime to this day.
Running from 1939 to 1966, the daily and Sunday Superman newspaper comic strips (which was originally the format Siegel & Shuster pitched the character for) often featured more mature themes, such as Superman and Lois marrying, and a darker Mister Mxyptlk scarring a woman who spurned him. With Jerry Siegel contributing right up to the strip's end, it contained many elements of the Golden Age character well into the Silver Age of Comics.
Live Action Television
While actor George Reeves disdained the show's poor production values, he held dear what his work on The Adventures Of Superman TV series meant to the children who were his biggest fans. The show ran for six seasons, some episodes in Black and White, most in color. Running from 1951 to 1957 (including a 1950 feature film with the same cast), there was meant to be a revival, but this was cut short by Reeves' death, called a suicide by the Los Angeles' coroner. This Superman was at first almost a screen-lift from the radio show, and relied on Golden Age elements (Only one type of Kryptonite, no history as Superboy) as its backdrop. Inspector Henderson made his debut on this series.
In its look and style, the 1966 animated series, The New Adventures Of Superman was a throwback to the Golden Age, though a Superboy was part of this series' backstory. The Golden Age connection was greatest in its voice cast, featuring Radio Superman Bud Collyer reprising his role, and, in the first season, aided by Radio Lois Lane Joan Alexander and others from the radio series.
Kal-L has also been a video-game 'Skin' in various Superman video games, though to date never a character as himself.