The Brains On crew is hard at work on our next batch of episodes, and we'll be back in your feed on January 16, with an electrifying episode about lightning.

Until then, check out our history show: Forever Ago. It's hosted by our friend Joy Dolo, and it looks into the fascinating past of things we take for granted.

In this episode, Joy invites Molly on to the show to share the origin story of Superman that you've probably never heard. Take a listen!

To hear the entire episode, search for “Forever Ago” wherever you listen to podcasts or head to

Audio Transcript

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MOLLY BLOOM: Hi, friends. Molly here. The Brains On crew is hard at work on our next batch of episodes, and we'll be back in your feed on January 16th with an electrifying episode about lightning. Stay tuned.

Until then, I hope you'll consider checking out our history show, Forever Ago. It's hosted by our friend, Joy Dolo, and it looks into the fascinating past of things we take for granted. In fact, Joy invited me to come on the show to share the origin story of Superman that you've probably never heard. Let's take a listen.

ALLIYAH: In a world where history is always happening, where donuts are good and mayonnaise is disgusting, one woman dares.

JOY DOLO: Da-da, da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da

ALLIYAH: One weird woman dares to host a history podcast.

JOY DOLO: Aluminum, linoleum, aluminum, linoleum.

ALLIYAH: A podcast that is more powerful than a locomotive.


Faster than a school bus on a Monday morning.


JOY DOLO: [GASPING] Slow down. Wait. Please, hold the door.

ALLIYAH: And more factual than your uncle at the dinner table.

UNCLE: I'm telling you, Bigfoot is out there and I know, because I saw him.

ALLIYAH: One strange woman, along with her trusty co-hosts, will bring you a brand new batch of episodes, where they explore topics like Thanksgiving, libraries, and gum.

JOY DOLO: Look how big I can blow my bubble gum. Alliyah, look at me. Are you watching? Alliyah.

ALLIYAH: One woman who is desperate for attention--

JOY DOLO: Hey, Alliyah. Look-- look at me. Alliyah. Alliyah. Alliyah. Alliyah. Alliyah. Alliyah. Alliyah.

ALLIYAH: Will use her special superpowers to chart the uncharted. Superpowers like reading really fast.

JOY DOLO: If your daddy's name is Jim, and if Jim swims and if Jim's slim, the perfect Christmas gift for him is a set of Slim Jim Swim Fins. [GASPING]

ALLIYAH: Drinking really spicy soup.

JOY DOLO: [SLURPING] That's soup-er spicy. Get it? Soup-er. Soup-er?

ALLIYAH: And pulling the popcorn out of the microwave at just the right time.

JOY DOLO: And [BEEP] done.


ALLIYAH: Joy, hold on. These aren't special superpowers. These are just weird things that you're good at.

JOY DOLO: I know, but I wanted to make a trailer because you do that dramatic movie voice so well. Maybe that's your superpower. We are both super. Let's end this really dramatically.

ALLIYAH: Let's do it. Never a bore, uncovering lore, two plus two is four.

JOY DOLO: It's time to explore the before.


Hello. You're listening to Forever Ago from APM Studios. I'm Joy Dolo, and my cohost today is Alliyah from Tennessee. Hi, Alliyah.

ALLIYAH: Hi, Joy. I'm so happy to be back

JOY DOLO: Alliyah, in honor of the first episode of our fourth season--

ALLIYAH: Hooray for us!

JOY DOLO: Hooray indeed. I've decided to create a superhero who has all the powers of a Forever Ago episode.

ALLIYAH: Ooh. So, they're super curious?

JOY DOLO: Yeah, and super smart. Also, they have X-ray vision to see into the dusty forgotten corners of history, and super strength to carry all these books I checked out from the library for research. [THUD] Oof. Heavy.

ALLIYAH: I love it. What's the superhero going to be named?

JOY DOLO: I'm thinking Forever a Girl? Mm. Or maybe the Fantastic Forever. Or a History-Podcast-for-kids-and-Families Woman.

ALLIYAH: Mm, doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

JOY DOLO: That, it doesn't. No. Mm-mm.


MOLLY BLOOM: Hi, friends.

JOY DOLO: Oh, hey. It's Brains On host Molly Bloom. What's up, Molly?

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, I couldn't help overhearing that you're trying to create a brand new superhero.

JOY DOLO: Molly, we've talked about this-- the eavesdropping.

MOLLY BLOOM: But Joy, I can't help it that I have such excellent hearing and that you talk so loud.

ALLIYAH: It's true. My mom just texted me from the parking lot with a suggestion for a superhero name. She heard us all the way through the building's double-paned windows and her super thick windshield.

JOY DOLO: OK, fine. It's actually pretty special come to think about it. Let's add super loud voice to my list of super powers.

MOLLY BLOOM: So, your superhero has lots of cool powers, but what's their origin story?

JOY DOLO: Well, um, mm, you see, it's actually--


ALLIYAH: Uh, what's an origin story?

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, Alliyah, I'm so glad you asked. An origin story is the story of how your superhero came to be so gosh darn super in the first place.

JOY DOLO: Ooh, fun. OK, let's start brainstorming.

ALLIYAH: How about, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away?"

JOY DOLO: Oh, I've heard that one before. Oh, I've got a super original one. "In West Philadelphia, born and raised."

MOLLY BLOOM: I'm pretty sure I've heard that one, too. What if you look to your own stories for inspiration?

JOY DOLO: Oh, I don't know. I'm just a normal super talented and charismatic podcast host. Not sure if that translates into a superhero.

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, what if I told you that the very first superhero was created and inspired by the lives of two regular kids in the 1930s?

ALLIYAH: I'd be very interested to hear that story.

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, that's great news, because that's what this episode is all about.

JOY DOLO: Wait, did you say the very first superhero?

ALLIYAH: That's got to be--


MOLLY BLOOM: That's right. Superman was the very first costumed superhero. If you like Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Batman, or any other caped, masked, or Spandexed superhero, you have Superman to thank for paving the way.


JOY DOLO: Superman! He wears a tight blue shirt and a pair of blue tights with a red pair of underpants on top.

ALLIYAH: He has matching red boots and a long flowing red cape.

JOY DOLO: Emblazoned on his chest is a giant red S.

ALLIYAH: His powers are super strength, super speed, laser eyes, freezing breath, and he can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

JOY DOLO: Born on a distant planet, he was sent to earth as a baby and raised by a kind human family.

ALLIYAH: In order to live a normal life, he hides his super self behind another identity. That of Clark Kent, a shy, nerdy reporter at the local newspaper. No one knows he is Superman!

MOLLY BLOOM: Wow. Chills. So good, you two.


ALLIYAH: But how was that story inspired by two normal kids?

JOY DOLO: Were they aliens? Oh, my gosh. They were aliens? From Krypton?

MOLLY BLOOM: Um, no, not aliens. They were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and they lived in Cleveland.

JOY DOLO: Cleveland? They lived in Cleveland? In Ohio?

ALLIYAH: Not sure that needs the same astonishment as the alien idea, but I like your enthusiasm, Joy.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yes. Jerry and Joe lived in Cleveland. They met in high school there in the early 1930s.


ALLIYAH: In the early 1930s, people didn't have computers or cell phones.

JOY DOLO: Right. There were phones that plugged into the wall. They had a base with a round dial and a piece you held in your hand and put it up to your face. One end for your ear, the other for your mouth.

ALLIYAH: There were no TVs or video games. But there were magazines and newspapers and radios and movie theaters.

JOY DOLO: It was also the beginning of the Great Depression, a time when many businesses were struggling and it was hard to find jobs. A lot of people didn't have much money.

MOLLY BLOOM: Absolutely. And both Joe and Jerry's families struggled to make ends meet. The two boys helped where they could. And, in their free, time they threw themselves into their passions. For Jerry, it was writing, and specifically, writing science fiction. He was always churning out stories.

JERRY SIEGEL: Antares was a cruel and unyielding world to any soul unfortunate to land there.

MOLLY BLOOM: And for Joe, it was drawing. He would pore over the Sunday comics that came in the weekly newspaper. Inspired by the gorgeous art, he'd draw for hours.


Now, as anyone who's been to school knows, you're often alphabetized by your last names. Definitely in the yearbook, but maybe your locker or your desk, too. Well, Jerry and Joe found themselves alphabetized together.

JOE SHUSTER: Hi. I'm Joe, Joe Shuster.

JERRY SIEGEL: And I'm Jerry, Jerry Siegel.

MOLLY BLOOM: They realized they both loved reading science fiction magazines.

JERRY SIEGEL: Hey, Joe, I got to show you this thing I wrote.

JOE SHUSTER: I have a few sketches you might want to see.

MOLLY BLOOM: They quickly became best friends and, pretty soon, also a writing team. Jerry described it in a later interview as--

JERRY SIEGEL: When Joe and I first met, it was like the right chemicals coming together.

JOY DOLO: OK. So it's always wonderful to meet a friend who gets you, especially in high school. But Molly, where is my superhero inspiration? I need help with my origin story.

ALLIYAH: Yeah, origin stories don't grow on trees, Molly.

MOLLY BLOOM: You're right. You're right. OK. So, when Joe and Jerry met, they realized they both loved sci-fi and they both loved to tell stories. So, they teamed up. Jerry would write the words and Joe would create the images.

JOY DOLO: And then, they came up with Superman?

MOLLY BLOOM: Not quite yet. The first comic strip they made together was called Interplanetary Police.

ALLIYAH: Let me guess. It was about police who fought crime in space?


JERRY SIEGEL: 2000 years hence, fantastic aircraft soar overhead. It is the year 3000 AD.

JOE SHUSTER: With interplanetary travel came a new menace-- space pirates. And in their wake--

JERRY SIEGEL: Policemen of the sky!


MOLLY BLOOM: They were still figuring it out. While they were in high school, they printed a magazine called Popular Comics, full of comic strips the two created together, such as the Comedy Duo, Snoopy, and Smiley.


SNOOPY: Smiley, when that lady dropped her handkerchief, you permitted her to retrieve it herself. Now why didn't you pick it up?

SMILEY: I had one of my own.

MOLLY BLOOM: There was a Tarzan parody called Goober The Mighty.

JERRY SIEGEL: Goober slips and falls. The bee zooms down for the death thrust.

JOE SHUSTER: Will the princess be too late to save Goober? Of course, she won't. Next, Goober's Revenge.

MOLLY BLOOM: And there were lots more. "Inko," "Public Pests," "Louisville Lil," "Gloria Glamor." I could go on, but I won't.

ALLIYAH: I was going to ask how that went for them. But since I haven't heard of any of those comic strips, I'm guessing not great?

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah. People weren't buying popular comics.

JOY DOLO: I do appreciate that name though. Definitely trying to manifest their dreams through words. Like, if I started calling myself Chili Cook-Off Winner Joy or Olympic Gymnast Joy or Beyoncé-level Famous Joy.

MOLLY BLOOM: But then, in 1933, before their senior year of high school, Joe and Jerry came up with the idea that would make them famous--


JOY DOLO: Finally, the origin story.

MOLLY BLOOM: The way Jerry told the story later in life makes it sound like something out of a dream. Here's how he remembered it.

JERRY SIEGEL: The air was still and heavy. Clouds drifted past the moon. Up there was wind. If only I could fly, if only. And superman was conceived. Not in his entirety, but little by little throughout a long and sleepless night.

MOLLY BLOOM: As the legend goes, Jerry plotted out this new character story and rushed over to his friend Joe's first thing in the morning. They sketched out a pitch for his new comic idea and sent it to some comic book publishers in Chicago.

JOY DOLO: And then, overnight success. Superman cereals, Superman lunchboxes, Superman underwear.


JOE SHUSTER: The pitch failed.

JERRY SIEGEL: We were both so mad.

JOE SHUSTER: How could they look at such brilliance and just cast it aside?

ALLIYAH: How could they?

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, the comic wasn't quite there yet. It was a bit rushed and missing some of the crucial elements we would come to know as important parts of the Superman backstory. A lot of that would come when Joe and Jerry added a little bit of their own backgrounds into Superman's origin story.


To hear the rest of the episode, including an interview with my grandpa, search for Forever Ago wherever you listen to Brains On. I hope you enjoy it. Again, that's Forever Ago, a show where we explore the before. Thank you so much, everyone. We'll be back next month with more Brains On. Bye.

(SINGING) Ba-ba, ba-ba, ba-ba, ba-ba-ba, ba-ba Brains On.

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