By: Mark Cormier
The Man of Steel is hitting theatres this summer. To celebrate what I’m sure everyone hopes to be Superman’s triumphant return to the big screen, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take a look at the best of Superman has to offer in his original medium, comic books. This is my personal list of Superman’s Top 25 Best comic books, referring specifically to graphic novels, prestige format books, and trade paperbacks.
This wasn’t easy to compile. Keep in mind that this isn’t an official list in any capacity. This will just be my personal opinion of what I consider to be Superman’s essential stories. If some of your favourite books don’t show up on this list, rest assured that this does not necessarily reflect the quality of those books. This post covers positions #25-20…
The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (2004): Believe it or not, there was a time when comic books weren’t collected in trade paperbacks or graphic novels (I know!!) More often than not, single issues were self-contained stories. While certain individual Superman issues have been truly exceptional, the fact that they haven’t been collected into trade paperbacks kind of disqualifies them off this list. Luckily, there are volumes like The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, which truly lives up to what it’s advertising. This particular volume includes personal favourites like “What if Superman Ended the War” (Look Magazine), “Must There Be a Superman?” (Superman #247), and my personal favourite “What’s so funny about Truth, Justice and the American Way?” (Action Comics #775).
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman: One of the key elements present in Superman’s lore is his romantic relationship with Lois Lane. Invariably, it has been depicted as a love triangle between Lois Lane, Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent. As a promotional material to the 1993 television show of the same name, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman is a compilation of single issues drawn from Superman’s post-crisis continuity, showcasing the highlights of his courtship with Lois Lane that inspired the television show in the first place, from their first meeting, to their first date, all the way to their eventual engagement.
Superman: Kal: One of my personal favourite Elseworlds storylines, Superman: Kal tells the story of the Man of Steel had his rocket ship landed in medieval Europe. Discovered and raised by farmers, Kal grew up to become a blacksmith. He falls in love with the noble Lady Loisse, who is courted by the dreaded Baron Von Luthor. It’s a simple story that reinterprets the signature characters into medieval clothing. There are clever applications of Superman’s lore in this storyline, such as Kal converting the metal from his rocket ship into a sword and suit of armor.
Superman: Our Worlds at War: The entire universe is threatened by Imperiex, the living embodiment of entropy itself. While Superman will rely heavily on the Justice League in this fight, additional help will come from the unlikeliest of places. Lex Luthor as President of the United States coordinates Earth`s forces; Darkseid offers the vast resources of Apokolips at a price; and Brainiac brings the advanced technologies of Warworld to the table. With the fate of the universe itself at stake, Superman will be forced into unprecedented alliances with own greatest super-villains if he is going to save the day.
Superman: Action Comics, Volume 1 – Superman and the Men of Steel: Ushering the Last Son of Krypton into the New 52 continuity is Superman and the Men of Steel by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, and Andy Kubert. While it may be the latest in a plethora of rebooted origins, Morrison’s take on the Man of Steel is a break from tradition. His Superman is more akin to the rebellious social crusader from the golden age, gradually settling into his role as champion of humanity. Considering that there are several different versions of Superman’s origin to choose from, this may not exactly be a first choice. For new readers, however, this would be the ideal starting point from the New 52 relaunch onwards.
25) SUPERMAN: SPEEDING BULLETS
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Eduardo Barreto
“I … don’t have it in me to do that. Be that.”
DC’s “Elseworlds” has always given us stories that ask the question “What if” in ways that I feel Marvel has never quite been able to achieve. They allow us to see our heroes from a completely different perspective, by changing major details of the setting and the origins of the character. And yet, despite all of those changes they still manage to retain the mythos and preserve those characters to remain the heroes we know and love.
An excellent example of this would be Superman: Speeding Bullets, which asks what if Superman’s rocket ship landed in Gotham City instead of Smallville. He is discovered by Thomas and Martha Wayne, who raise the infant as their own son and name him Bruce. When a mugger guns down his parents, Bruce discovers that he has begun to manifest vast superhuman abilities. Donning the disguise of Batman, Bruce uses his powers to strike fear into the hearts of criminals.
The result is a fascinating amalgamation of the two iconic characters. It simultaneously shows us what Superman would have been like if he lived in Gotham and Batman would have been like if he had Superman’s powers. however, it also illustrates how Superman’s powers and Batman’s methods shouldn’t mix. As if to illustrate this, the Lois Lane of this world tries to persuade Bruce Wayne that a more hopeful super-hero is needed over his dark and violent Batman persona.
24) SUPERMAN: ESCAPE FROM BIZARRO WORLD
Writer: Geoff Johns & Richard Donner
Artist: Eric Powell
“Bizarro reign of happiness am over.”
–Bizarro Clark Kent
Bizarro, the backwards duplicate of Superman, leaves planet Earth and travels into outer space in order to make a new home for himself, a Bizarro World. Under the influence of a blue sun, Bizarro develops the ability to replicate lifeforms and populate the cube-shaped world. However, his people wind up fearing and hating him. Desperate for answers, the confused behemoth kidnaps Jonathan Kent, hoping to gain what Superman received but Bizarro never did: guidance.
Bizarro’s World itself is also a novel throwback to the Silver Age, which is basically a polar opposite of Earth to comedic effect. The planet is cube-shaped instead of spherical. crime is encouraged, while do-goodery is punished. Bizarro World is protected by the Bizarro Justice League, whose members include Batzarro (the world’s worst detective); Bizarra (or Bizarro Wonder Woman, whose magic lasso compels people to tell only lies); Yellow Lantern (a cowardly Sinestro Corps member); and Bizarro Aquaman (who cannot swim).
As strange as this tale might be (it’s a Bizarro tale, so they’re all pretty strange), it serves as one of the most excellent character pieces for Bizarro himself, illustrating that he is not truly evil, but simply misunderstood. The artwork is by Eric Powell, whose talents in the horror-comedy “The Goon” make him an appropriate choice for a Bizarro story.
23) SUPERMAN: KRISIS OF THE KRIMSON KRYPTONITE
Writers: Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, and Dan Jurgens
Artists: Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Bob McLeod, Dave Hoover, Kerry Gammill, Curt Swan, John Byrne, Brett Breeding, Dennis Janke, Art Thibert, and Scott Hanna
Mister Mxyzptlk is one of Superman’s more … unusual super-villains. He’s a magical trickster from the Fifth Dimension who enjoys tormenting Superman once every 90 days. Traditionally, the only way to get rid of him is by tricking him into saying his name backwards. While most of his encounters involve harmless pranks, on rare occasions he has proven himself to be a formidable threat to Superman.
On this particular visit to Metropolis, Mister Mxyzptlk approaches Lex Luthor with a mystical substance known as Red Kryptonite. Mxyzptlk claims this mysterious new form of kryptonite will rob Superman completely of his super-powers, as long as Luthor never reveals to Superman how he lost his powers.
Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite most heavily deals with Superman’s predicament rather than Mister Mxyzptlk himself. This is the first time in Post-Crisis continuity that Superman loses his powers on a long-term basis. While it certainly shows him struggling with the loss of his abilities, it also shows him adapting to the situation, both as the Man of Steel and the mild-mannered reporter. This storyline features a significant milestone in Clark Kent’s relationship to Lois Lane; as evidenced by the cover, Clark proposes to Lois.
22) SUPERMAN: NEW KRYPTON
Writers: Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Sterling Gates, and Greg Rucka
Artists: Pete Woods, Gary Frank, Renato Guedes, Jamal Igle, Pere Pérez, Travis Moore, Julian Lopez, Jamal Igle, Javier Pina, Bernard Chang, Eduardo Pansica, Ivan Rodriguez, Eddy Barrows, and Cafu
“They’ll be careful. They’ll be friends to Earth. Like you.”
Superman has often been called the Last Son of Krypton, allegedly being the last survivor of his home world’s destruction and all. As Superman’s supporting cast expanded, however, that status became less and less accurate. Among the other survivors include the entire population of Kandor, the former capital city of Krypton, which was abducted and miniaturized by Brainiac prior to the planet’s destruction.
In this storyline, Superman has restored Kandor to normal size. This results in over 100,000 Kryptonians now living on Earth, each of them possessing the same powers as Superman. Superman tries to aid the Kryptonians in their assimilation, something very few Kryptonians seem interested in. Meanwhile, General Sam Lane (incidentally Lois Lane’s estranged father) organizes a covert operation called Project 7734, designed to preemptively strike against the Kryptonians before they can pose a threat to humanity. Superman will be torn between his home and his heritage, as he struggles to keep the peace between Earth and New Krypton.
Admittedly, New Krypton’s place in this list is dubious at best. It was a storyline that lasted over two years and spanned across several different monthly issues. Nevertheless, New Krypton had a lot of elements working for it. It features a vast and diverse cast of supporting characters, including Supergirl’s parents Zor-El and Alura leading the ruling council, General Zod released from the Phantom Zone to direct New Krypton’s military guild, and even the dreaded Brainiac who is looking to finish what he has started.
Most especially, New Krypton focused on Superman’s conflict between his Kryptonian heritage and his Human upbringing. The society and culture of Krypton is fleshed out in this series, implementing virtually every artistic interpretation of Superman’s home world from the Silver Age to the present. Kryptonians in this story are divided into several different guilds, which effectively determine an individual’s occupation and social status, something Kal-El struggles to tolerate.
New Krypton is collected in several volumes, which include Superman: New Krypton, Volumes 1-4, Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton, Volumes 1-2, and Superman: War of the Supermen. Although there are other books that are considered part of the New Krypton saga, they are merely supplementary titles that should not be considered part of the main storyline.
21) SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Artist: Neal Adams
“Superman … WE are the greatest!”
An alien race known as the Scrubbs threatens to invade the Earth by way of trial-by-combat, challenging Earth’s greatest champion against the Scrubbs’ most menacing fighter. Superman volunteers himself as the obvious contender; however his claim is challenged by none other than the boxing heavyweight champion of the world himself, Muhammad Ali. Intrigued, the Scrubbs leader decides that Superman and Ali should fight one another to determine who is Earth’s true champion.
Released in 1978, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali was made by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, a legendary duo during the Bronze Age of the comic book industry. As campy as the premise may sound, this is a surprisingly solid book. It pays equal homage to both Superman’s mythology and Muhammad Ali’s status as a cultural icon. The book itself is a veritable piece of history. The cover alone hosts a variety of late 1970s celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, and the Jackson Five. Astute fans might even spot Noel Neill and Jack Larson from The Adventures of Superman television series, not to mention Christopher Reeve (in his Clark Kent disguise) from the Superman films.
20) JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA: THY KINGDOM COME
“I am Superman .. but not the Superman you know. I’ve come here from another world — another time — that is no more. I know this may sound crazy to you, but I feel that I’m responsible. I fear that I may doom this world by being here. And I wonder … how did I wind up being the bad guy?”
The Superman from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come (officially designated Earth-22) makes a prolonged guest appearance in the official DC Universe after a freak occurrence has thrown him across the multiverse. Seeing a connection between the villain Gog of this world and the vigilante Magog of his world, the Superman of Earth-22 and the Justice Society of America must work together to prevent this world from going the way of his.
Alex Ross has stated before the he did not intend for Thy Kingdom Come to be a sequel, since it would negate the purpose of the original story. If anything, it’s more of a prequel. Even though the story revolves around alternate dimensions rather than time travel, the parallels between this universe and Kingdom Come’s universe that move the story forward.
The position of Thy Kingdom Come on this list may be tenuous, considering it is a Justice Society of America title. However, the central focus of the plot revolves around Earth-22’s Superman, whose presence and past experiences effectively make him an unwitting prophet of doom. This is a stark contrast to the more messianic role he plays in Kingdom Come.
Thy Kingdom Come is collected in three separate trade paperbacks, specifically Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come, Books One-Three.