Hot on the heels of doing a Gambit list we move on to Kal-El, Clark Kent, Superman and although old Supes is a far more popular and famous character I have never been his biggest fan. That’s said there are several stories from over the years that have resonated with me and when a writer gets it right he can be an utterly compelling character. Unlike with Batman, my fandom doesn’t really reach back to many golden age stories as I find a lot of them insufferable and just have no affection for them so the majority of this list will be from the last 30 years which will no doubt annoy some hardcore fans. Well, with those warnings and typically sunny disposition let’s get started.
This arc makes it in on the strength of the first half as it really falls off the rails later on. Greg Pak writes a Superman who has lost a lot of his powers but still feels the need to continue saving people as much as he did before. Obviously it’s much much harder for him as he can’t use his powers properly and can be hurt. It actually surprisingly turns him into a bit of an arsehole which is jarring as we know him as the do gooder boy scout. Aaron Kuder produces some lovely art to compliment the story.
28. The Origin Of Superman-1948
After ten years of lore building and story telling Bill Finger put all the pieces of Superman’s story (minus the Superboy stuff) together for definitive origin story from his landing on Earth up until becoming the man of steel we know and love today. Short, sharp and concise, it gets the job done well.
27. 22 Stories In A Single Bound-2000
Mark Millar celebrated his last issue of the kid friendly Adventures series by writing 22 short wee stories and getting a whole host of artists like Darwyn Cooke, Ty Templeton, Cam Stewart, Min. S. Ku and more to illustrate them. Millar learned his trade in the British scene where you are taught to write short, concise and impactful stories in the pages of 2000AD etc so this was right up his street. Lots of fun wee stories exploring several villains, comrades and background characters from the history of the comics.
Well here we are, surely the most famous first issue of all time? The comic that is credited as starting the superhero phenomenon was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and like most of these things at the time was a wee story used to fill some pages but ended up becoming a pop culture behemoth. It’s just unimaginable to have this wee idea in your head, write it done, get paid a little bit as part of your job and watch that idea spin off into one of the most famous and popular characters of all time. Incredible really. There’s was a rather sad story as they’d go on to be rather unsuccessful with their following comics and didn’t make nearly the money they should have from Superman becoming so big. Ownership disputes would go on to be a massive issue in the industry and saw many writers and artists working independently where they can own their creations.
25. The Death And Return Of Superman-1993
I’m counting the omnibus edition that lumps a huge amount of issues and arcs together covering the entire saga as one entry. It’s hard to imagine just how huge this event was at the time. I was only 9 and wasn’t reading American comics at the time so I can’t talk from personal experience but especially in America the hype is insane. The 90s was filled with gimmicks like this hyping up an event that kills a main character off and this one caught the imagination of readers (the promises and letdowns weren’t at the extremes they are now) and it became a big success. The first part of the story in which Superman goes up against a new threat known as Doomsday is by far the better part and is a simple but exciting brawl between Supes and the nigh unstoppable villain that results in both dying in the streets of Metropolis in front of a shocked public. The following arc looks at the world’s reaction to the death of Superman before four new heroes step forward claiming to be the new Superman.
24. The Living Legends Of Superman-1983
The 400th issue of Superman saw DC celebrate by bringing in a whole cavalcade of top artists to compliment Elliot St. Maggin’s stories, although there’s also a couple of guest writers and an introduction by the legendary sci fi writer Ray Bradbury. The artists include Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Al Williamson, Jack Kirby, Bernie Wrightson and more in one big celebration of The Man Of Steel.
23. Lex Luthor: Man Of Steel-2006
Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo team up again after the success of their Joker graphic novel to bring this dark, noir examination of Superman’s greatest foe. The best part of the writing is the way it paints Luthor as a complete sociopath who is utterly convinced he’s the good guy and his actions are just. He truly believes what he is doing is the right thing despite his actions over years causing untold damage to the world. His fear that Superman could snap and destroy the world is perhaps a fair one but how he acts on those fears is insane and that’s what makes him such a great villain. Azzarello gets to the core of him as a character. Bermejo’s art is as gritty and stunning as usual.
22. Speeding Bullets-1993
J.M Dematteis who wrote some cracking stuff in the 80s and 90s delivered this Elseworlds alternative universe tale in which it is imagined that Kal-El actually landed in Gotham as a baby instead of Metropolis. He was found and brought up by Thomas and Martha Wayne in an interesting amalgamation of Batman and Superman. The Waynes are gunned down in this tale as well and we see how things would have worked out if Kal-El had gone through that instead of Bruce Wayne. Great cincept well executed.
21. The Secret Revealed-1987
Part of John Byrne’s celebrated run on the character this issue looks deep into the psyche of Lex Luthor and the horrendous lengths he will go to to determine Superman’s identity. He send goons to hassle and attack anyone who he believes to be involved with Superman with Lana Lang’s treatment being particularly brutal. Luthor gets the answer as to who Superman is but doesn’t believe it…it couldn’t be a simple office boy could it?. It’s an incredibly dark issue especially as readers had become accustomed to the comic being light and cheery for the most part over the years.
20. Superman vs Muhammad Ali-1978
As a huge fan of boxing and it’s history I would have loved to have been around during the height of Muhammed Ali’s fame. Hated by many for his brash personality and refusing to fight in the Vietnam war and kill people he’d never met, loved by others for the exact same reason. He was one of the most incredible humans of the 20th century. So of course he starred in a comic with Superman in which they have to box in order to save the world…….fine by me!. The art by Neal Adams is fantastic and the great cover features many celebs from the time in the crowd.
19. Dark Knight Over Metropolis-1990
It’s not the most well known story in the world but it’s a huge one for the development in the Batman/Superman relationship. batman brings the grime to the pages of Superman as we get a street level story about organised crime that leads to Superman entrusting Batman with a Kryptonite ring which is a huge jump forward for them as a bromance. It’s different for a Supes story and reads more like a typical Batman tale which is great and the dialogue is dense but strong.
This fun three parter was on my list of top Joker stories as well so check that out. Dace Gibbons writes this Superman/Batman team up and Steve Rude’s art is spectacular. It also features the rarely used Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as villains which is a lot of fun. Obviously the main villains are The Joker and Lex Luthor which means the stakes are high.
This arc from Geoff Johns ended with one of the most talked about gut punches in recent Superman history. A massive development in the mythos as a major character dies. Brainiac is brought back in a more sinister and imposing way than ever with his army of robots as he invades Earth. Gary Frank is on artistic duty and for most part it’s good but his emaciated Supergirl is just creepy. A power punch of a story that brought real consequences to the world of Superman…..until the inevitable reboot that came a couple of years later.
16. It’s A Bird-2004
A brilliant piece of writing from Steven T. Seagle and one of those comics that pretentious arseholes will point to as “examples of comics being a true art form” as if the rest of them aren’t. It is an autobiographical book from Seagle not long after his short run on the main Superman series which he had initially turned down as he felt no connection to the character.After some deliberation he started to see the connections as he faces struggles in his personal life, most notably his fears over Huntington’s disease which runs in his family and his father going missing. Artist Teddy Kristiansen uses various styles as Seagle explores different eras and interpretations of Superman. It’s great stuff.
15. Up, Up And Away-2006
After losing his powers in Infinite Crisis (a hugely overrated mess of a universe rebooting event) we get to see Clark Kent using his powers as a journalist to protect the city of Metropolis from Lex Luthor who had recently been ruined, disgraced and became broke. The best parts though, deal with Calrk and Lois and their relationship and the joy of having what is essentially a normal relationship for a while. When Supes gets his powers back though Lois knows she has to give her man back to the city for the greater good.
14. The Jungle Line-1985
I love me some Swamp Thing and Alan Moore really made the character his own during that classic run. This issue of DC Comics Presents sees Supes being affected by a weird Kryptonian fungus so he flees civilisation for a while and ends up all messed up, delirious and wandering around a swamp. I have a few mates who have ended up in that situation after a night out but here Supes runs into Swamp Thing who tries to help him despite Clark attacking him in his tripped out state. It’s up to Swampy to calm him down and help and it’s a great wee issue showing everyone’s favourite swamp monster at his sweet best.
13. Of Thee I Sing-1994
An excellent one and done issue from Garth Ennis’ entertaining Hitman series in which Ennis does what he often does and uses his main character to just basically throw his opinion on the world out there. We get an excellent conversation between the last son of Krypton and Hitman who are polar opposites but somehow find common ground and end up really liking each other. Hitman gushing about Superman’s greatness as the ultimate integrating immigrant is a genius piece of writing and Superman signing an autograph for Hitman and his mates in the pub is just an incredibly sweet moment in an otherwise nihilistic and violent series.
12. Camelot Falls-2006/2007
Part of Kurt Busiek’s entertaining and heart warming run on Superman, this arc looks at what it’s like to be in a relationship with a superhero….and not just any superhero, we’re talking about THE superhero.Busiek also posits the question of Superman’s actions on Earth holding back human evolution. It’s interesting and heart warming stuff with the best parts examining what it’s like to be in a loving relationship with a Supe.
11. Peace On Earth-1999
Alex Ross and Paul Dini worked together on three one shots focusing on the DC trinity of Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman. I’ve talked many times about Alex Ross’ art being stunning but often rather inexpressive but here his work is out of this world and Dini’s usually solid standard of work is here. Superman is deeply upset by the poverty he sees across the world and so sets off to use his powers to help in a thinly veiled religious allegory. Obviously he’s met with resistance by self serving and meddling governments which makes his confusion about humans even more pronounced. It’s an emotional and thought provoking prestige one shot.
10.What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice And The American Way-2001
This Joe Kelly penned issue looks at Superman’s ideals in an increasingly nihilistic world and if he’s outdated. A new superhero team who are more akin to The Punisher appear and gain a huge public following with their violent and destructive ways, killing bad guys and smashing buildings in the process. They taunt and mock Superman for his supposedly antiquated ways and try to goad him into fights. Supes eventually reluctantly agrees and the new boys regret it almost instantly.
Mark Waid takes on yet another look at the origins of The Man Of Steel in this 12 part series with art from Leinil Francis Yu. We see a young Clark working at the Daily Planet and delve into his relationships. It actually started out as a non canon story meant to act as an updated version of an origin story but it was so popular that it replaced John Byrne’s The Man Of Steel which had previously been considered the true origin story.
8. The Man Of Steel-1986
After Crisis On Infinite Earths gave the DC universe a reboot John Byrne was brought in to deliver a modern origin story for Superman and he delivered with a critically acclaimed smash. He teamed up with artist Dick Giordano whose art on Batman stories I have gushed over several times on these lists. Together they brought us a more grounded and less campy origin story after the silver age had come to an end and readers were craving more serious storytelling. For most of my life this was THE origin story until Birthright came along and replaced it as the canon origin.
7. Secret Identity-2003/2004
Kurt Busiek is a cracking writer that I feel doesn’t get the credit he deserves and this team up with artist Stuart Immonen is an emotional and incredibly interesting look at an alternative origin for Superman. It looks at a world where Superman comics exist but he’s just a fictional character like in our world but a young man named Clark Kent develops powers similar to Supes things get incredibly interesting. It’s a love letter to the character and a really sweet one with some stunning panels from Immonen.
6. Kingdom Come-1996
Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ futuristic Elseworlds epic sees Superman going into seclusion for a decade after a tragedy makes him question his place in the world of heroes. After witnessing the world’s so called heroes acting out of control he is brought out of retirement and the world rejoices. That is until he starts acting as an Orwellian big brother type of figure, enforcing his beliefs and laws on the world. Alex Ross is on painting duties again and provides what is probably his most celebrated work.
5. For The Man Who Has Everything-1985
The Watchmen creative team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons have Wonder Woman, Batman and Jason Todd Robin going to the Fortress Of Solitude to celebrate Superman’s birthday. Once they get there they find him incapacitated by the black mercy, a plant that grants illusion to whoever it latches onto. It turns out Mongul is showing him a fantasy world where Superman’s planet of Krypton didn’t blow up and he has a family and kids in an unassuming normal life. It’s interesting that the plant grants it’s wearer the illusion of their perfect life and Clark chooses a life where he isn’t even Superman. Mongul is in some serious shit when he snaps out of it.
4. Superman For All Seasons-1998
It seems like every character list I do features the superstar creative team of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale!. I think this is the last collaboration I’ll be doing I think…..can’t think of any others off the top of my head anyway. Loeb is a strange writer who sometimes writes in a nihilistic, sexist and kind of nasty style and when he gets together with Sale he writes some of the most beautiful, romantic and sweet comics in the game much like here. Four oversized issues each covering one season of the year and told through a different perspective each. It gets to the heart of who Superman is through completely different perspectives which is a great touch. Sale is on banging form here and it might be some of his best work.
3. All Star Superman-2006-2008
Here in Scotland the hype for this 12 part series was incredible as the promise of a story in which Superman dies (again) was being taken on by the Scottish superstar creative team of the hugely popular Grant Morrison and friend of this website, artist Frank Quitely. It was on the news, in the papers and buzz was palpable.It starts with the reveal that Superman has a year to live after flying too close to the sun. The series then follows him throughout that year as he spends it doing as much good as he can before he passes on. In typical Morrison fashion the series of call backs to pretty much every era of the Superman comics which for hardcore fans of the character was real treat.
2. Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?-1986
Just before the post crisis reboot of the DC universe Alan Moore and Curt Swan saw out his last days in this sweet but tragic story told through Lois Lane a decade after Clark’s death in an interview with The Daily Planet. It’s a wonderful send off with as much mythos as Moore could cram into this two parter. There’s a warmth in the writing that shows what Superman meant to the people around him….and Krypto the dog of course. In fact the shot of him crying with Krypto has been etched into my memory.
1. Red Son-2003
Scottish superstar writer Mark Millar is left leaning in his politics so this 3 issue mini in the alternate reality Elseworld series imagines a world in which Superman landed in the Soviet Union instead of America sees him having loads of fun. Instead of Superman fighting for American ideals he is used as a propaganda tool for the working man, the betterment of the union and the expansion of socialism. My politics are quite far to the left so this series was right up my street and a lot of fun. Alternative versions of Stalin and Jfk are involved and the story spans a few decades from the 50s to the early 00s. It’s funny seeing a Lex Luthor who has the majority of the states on his side as Superman isn’t fighting for them so they fear him. Russian Batman also kicks arse!.
There you have it, my favourite Superman stories. Let me know your thoughts on what you’d have in here and what you wouldn’t etc. Thanks for reading and join me here again for the next list. Catch me @swing_kinker.