By: Mark Cormier
As of this posting we are 11 days away from the release of the new Superman film, “Man of Steel.” To celebrate the upcoming release, we continue to countdown the Top 25 Superman Graphic Novels as seen by Mark Cormier. Here are books #9-5:
9) SUPERMAN: BRAINIAC
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
“You’ve told me Lex Luthor is everything bad about humanity. Well, Brainiac is everything bad about aliens.”
Aside from Lex Luthor, Brainiac is arguably Superman’s most recognized super-villains. This book is a perfect explanation of why that is. What we have left is a super-intelligent alien cyborg from the planet Colu, cold and calculating, completely devoid of emotion and compassion. His goal is to expand his knowledge by securing samples of various intergalactic civilizations, before wiping them off the face of the universe. He has done this to Kandor, possibly even connecting him to the destruction of Krypton. And Earth is next!!
In Superman: Brainiac, Geoff Johns gives Brainiac the same retroactive treatment he gave General Zod, bringing the character back to his roots. Supergirl’s words say it all: “Brainiac is everything bad about aliens.” This Brainiac is not only an intellectual rival of Superman, but a physical rival. He towers over Superman, and he is able to match him in battle. Brainiac is an allegory for every negative, evil aspect of aliens in science fiction. He is the Martians from War of the Worlds, the robots from The Day the Earth Stood Still, the xenomorphs from the Alien films, the Borg from Star Trek, and the sentinels from the Matrix.
Superman: Brainiac has recently been adapted into a direct-to-video animated film by Warner Premiere and Warner Bros. Animation. It has been retitled Superman: Unbound, and it is scheduled for release on May 7th, 2013.
8) LUTHOR (a.k.a. LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL)
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
“You’re wrong … I can see your soul.”
As the old saying goes, “a hero is only as good as his villain.” This could be why some of the most popular super-heroes boast some of the most colourful rogues galleries. While Superman may have a wide variety of foes, none of them quite hold a candle to Lex Luthor, who is widely regarded as Superman’s greatest super-villain, if not his most recognizable. He is in many ways Superman’s antithesis whereas Superman is a selfless and compassionate benefactor to all of humanity, Lex Luthor is a selfish and uncaring megalomaniac.
Luthor, however, would have you think differently. Originally titled Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, Luthor is a story told through the perspective of Lex Luthor himself. Lex sees himself as the pinnacle of human perfection, the ideal that everyone should strive to achieve. In contrast, Lex views Superman as a threat to humanity growth as a species, an alien invader who could become a ruthless tyrant at any given moment, whose never-ending fight for truth and justice is meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Therefore, Lex’s ongoing confrontation with the Man of Steel is a philosophical one.
Lex’s true nature, however, is revealed between the lines. For all his posturing, he is not above resorting to extortion, bribery, blackmail or deceit to suit his needs. In his quest to rid the world of Superman, he creates a super-powered android of his own design.
Brian Azzarello does a fantastic job establishing Lex Luthor as a sympathetic protagonist. Luthor’s indefatigable ego seems to permeate the pages of the book itself, warping the artwork to suit his own perspective; indeed, Lee Bermejo seems to have intentionally depicted Superman as a menacing and at-times demonic figure in accordance with Luthor’s assessment of the Man of Steel.
7) THE DEATH AND RETURN OF SUPERMAN
Writers: Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel, William
Messner-Loebs, and Gerard Jones
Artists: Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens, Dennis Janke, Denis
Rodier, Walt Simonson, Curt Swan, and M.D. Bright
“Trouble isn’t the word, Superman! I’m telling you right now … it’s like Doomsday is here!”
This entry may not be the best on this list, but it is by far the most famous. Widely regarded as one of the best-selling comic book series of all time, the death of Superman received an unprecedented amount of media attention, which contributed to its high sales and popularity. Its unforetold success arguably inspired similar storylines throughout the comic book industry, including Batman’s Knightfall or Green Lantern’s Emerald Twilight. This entire storyline is collected into three separate trade paperbacks, which are described as followed:
a) The Death of Superman: A hulking monstrosity of unknown origins (whom Booster Gold appropriately names “Doomsday”) rampages across America, leaving a senseless path of destruction in its wake. The Justice League of America are sent to stop Doomsday, but even their combined might proves ineffective against the monster’s unstoppable brute force. It soon becomes apparent that only Superman can stand against Doomsday. Battling their way throughout America, the two fight to a standstill as they reach the heart of Metropolis, where Superman gives his life to bring an end to Doomsday’s rampage once and for all. This fight was the metaphor of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object brought to life, with Doomsday emulating a destructive force of nature, and Superman being the only one who could match its power.
b) World Without Superman: The true impact of Superman’s death is felt in this follow-up, in which the people of Metropolis struggle to cope with the loss of their champion. It especially dealt with the emotions felt by characters central to Superman’s world, including Lois Lane, Clark Kent’s parents, and even a number of super-villains. A mausoleum is built in Metropolis in honor of the Man of Steel. His funeral is presided by many of Superman’s fellow heroes and friends, including most of the Justice League of America. With Superman gone, the remaining costumed heroes of Metropolis rise to fight the unprecedented rise in crime. Meanwhile, Project Cadmus has stolen Superman’s body in an attempt to clone him, and it is up to Lois Lane and Supergirl to stop them.
c) The Return of Superman: Just when the world has finally come to terms with Superman’s death, four new super-heroes arrive in Metropolis, each claiming to be Superman in some form or another. The first is a energy-powered alien who dispatches criminals with lethal force; the second is an ironworker who fashions a suit of armor to honor Superman’s memory; the third is a cyborg constructed from advanced Kryptonian technology; and the fourth is a reckless teenage clone of Superman. One of them, however, is the herald of an alien invasion determined to destroy Earth in Superman’s name. Only the one, true Superman will have what it takes to save the world from annihilation.
The Death and Return of Superman has been adapted into several different mediums, including a novel (The Death and Life of Superman, by Roger Stern), a video game (The Death and Return of Superman, by Blizzard Entertainment), and a direct-to-video animated film (Superman: Doomsday, by Warner Premiere and Warner Bros. Animation.)
6) SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH
Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Alex Ross
“I look upon my powers as a gift, not mine alone but for anyone who needs them.”
With the reluctant approval of the United Nations, Superman makes a concentrated effort to end world hunger. He travels to impoverished and starving countries all over the world, carrying with him giant tankers filled with food. Even with his vast superhuman powers, however, this task proves to be more difficult than he anticipated. Throughout his journey, his arrival is met with varying levels reactions. Some greet him with gratitude and reverence, while others meet him with suspicion, fear, and even outright hostility.
With a character as powerful as Superman, one of the hardest questions posed about his character is why he doesn’t use his abilities to bring about real change in the world, such as ending world hunger. It’s a question that has plagued the Man of Steel since his inception. This book illustrates that even Superman has limitations that he can’t be everywhere at once, and that even he can’t completely overcome human adversity. It’s the same problems that real-life heroes struggle with in order to make a difference in the world without the benefit of super-powers.
Superman: Peace on Earth is collected in The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, which also includes Batman: War on Crime, Shazam!: Power of Hope, Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth, JLA: Secret Origins, and JLA: Liberty and Justice.
5) SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
“Pa. I’m scared.”
Yet another origin story!! What are the chances?! Don’t worry, this is the last one, I swear … Naturally, I have saved the best for last.
Hot off the success of their critically acclaimed success Batman: The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale brought us Superman For All Seasons, a true coming-of-age story about the Man of Steel, describing not only how the man became a Superman, but more importantly how the boy became a man. Superman has often been described as one of the most human super-heroes of all, which is ironic considering his extra-terrestrial origins. This is the book that best illustrates this, showing us a Superman who can be nervous and awkward, who can doubt himself, who can make mistakes and learn from them.
The focus revolves around Clark Kent’s upbringing in the small town of Smallville, Kansas, how his adoptive parents have helped shape the values that led him to become Superman, and how he still considers it home even after he has made a life for himself in Metropolis. It should be no surprise that Superman For All Seasons was a significant source of inspiration for the television show Smallville.
Superman For All Seasons is divided into four chapters, each representing one of the four seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.) Each chapter is narrated by a central character in Superman’s life (Pa Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Lana Lang, respectively.) It’s an unusual approach, considering that the story revolves around Clark Kent and Superman, but it definitely works here. The book doesn’t just show you what it means to be Superman, but also what it means to know Superman through the eyes of a father, a lover, a rival, and a friend.