Superman’s iconic ‘S’ symbol famously stands for hope, but when it’s inverted, the Kryptonian sigil takes on a whole new meaning.
While even casual fans know that Superman‘s iconic ‘S’ symbol is the Kryptonian symbol for hope, there’s a second meaning to the Man of Steel’s logo which takes effect once it’s flipped upside down. While some symbols take on an opposite meaning when inverted, interestingly Superman’s symbol isn’t one of them, and its alternate meaning actually builds on the concept of hope with a new significance that’s tied to the Man of Steel’s most famous story.
In 52 #2 – from Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Griffen, Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, Alex Sinclair, and Travis Lanham – fans encounter Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark, who has created a Kryptonian altar in honor of Superboy. The young hero was killed by his otherworldly doppelganger Superboy-Prime in DC’s Infinite Crisis, and Cassie is praying for his return using the customs of the lost civilization. It turns out she’s chosen the right practice, as when super-detective Ralph Dibny turns up, he reveals that the iconic ‘S’ becomes the Kryptonian symbol for ‘resurrection’ when inverted.
Superman’s Inverted Symbol Stands for Resurrection
This makes sense, as the concept ties into Superman’s own death and resurrection following the iconic Death of Superman story, where Kal-El was slain in battle with the monstrous Doomsday. In the aftermath of that story, Superman was placed in a Kryptonian healing device which restored him to life – the same device which would later be used to resurrect Superboy, thanks to a time-travel mission carried out by the Legion of Superheroes. It seems that far from being a coincidence, Kryptonian society had a deep and profound belief in the concept of resurrection, as well as the technology to make it a reality.
How Superman’s Symbol Got Its Meaning
In real life, Superman’s iconic symbol originally stood for his codename, canonically designed in childhood when he took on the name ‘Superboy’ (Clark went on previous adventures as Superbaby, but was depicted without the symbol.) This has since been retconned, with later stories such as Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu’s Superman: Birthright explicitly stating that the symbol is the Kryptonian sigil for hope, and a final gift from his parents. Meanwhile, the 1978 Superman movie established in public consciousness that the ‘S’ was the emblem of the El family, while 2013’s Man of Steel cemented the idea that it stands for ‘hope’ in the public consciousness. The ‘S’ became a family symbol, signifying the hope Superman embodies and passes on to others.
Superman’s Symbol Predicted His Future (And Krypton’s)
While the symbol’s ‘resurrection’ meaning has yet to achieve the same fame, it proved to be truly prophetic within DC’s reality. Not only were Superman and Superboy both resurrected from death, but Krypton itself has undergone several resurrections thanks to Kal-El seeking out the few remaining Kryptonian survivors – most recently freeing an ancient offshoot of his species from the fascistic Warworld, and bequeathing his symbol to each of them. Despite the death of a world, the House of El lives on – and Krypton with it – experiencing a cultural resurrection thanks to Superman‘s place as the universe’s greatest exemplar of hope and heroism.
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