With the release of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel just a few short weeks away, I figured I’d collect an article of my personal favorite Superman comics and story arcs. With the character being around since the late 30’s, I decided to keep it relatively recent in my choosing. I’ve gotten some crap on my lists before, so if you have anything to say, sound off in the comments below.
Superman: Birthright (2003-2004)
Writer – Mark Waid
Artist – Leinil Francis Yu
When it comes to redefining characters, this team definitely knows how to do just that. Just last year they made Hulk enjoyable once again with their run on Indestructible Hulk for Marvel Now. But not so long ago, they teamed up for a 12-issue revamping of Superman’s origins that would later go on to inspire the very movie this article is being written about.
Birthright covers the early voyage of Kal-El from Krypton to Earth, where he is raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Yeah, everything is pretty much the same for the most part, but the real difference comes in the way he introduces himself to the world. Kal-El, now known as Clark Kent, is a young, 20-something freelance reporter writing on two feuding clans in West Africa. He befriends, and saves, one of the political leaders of the clans, named Kobe Asuru. Asuru teaches Clark the ways of his ancestors, through wearing symbolic clothing and fighting for human rights. Later, Asuru is killed by an assassin who was working for the opposing clan, and his sister takes up the fight for her clans rights.
Clark returns to Smallville and unearths the spaceship that brought him to Earth when he was a child. He finds a data tablet that teaches him about his alien heritage, and he and Martha begin shaping the look of Superman. A key point in this story, for me at least, is when Martha tells Clark that the disguise he has to wear is that of his human self and not his superhuman self. I know, it’s been done before, just not this well. They really sell you that Clark is Superman, and not vice versa (if that makes sense). All this knowledge drop of Superman: Birthright, and I haven’t even covered the first five books. For more story, like alien invasions and a revamped mini-origin of Lex Luthor, plus the brilliant art of Leinil Yu, go and check out Superman: Birthright.
Superman: Red Son (2003)
Writer – Mark Millar
Artist – Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett
Writer Mark Millar had an idea when he was just 6 years old, and read Superman #300. The issue was practically a “What If” question that asked what would have happened if the space craft that brought Superman to Earth would have landed between the US and the USSR, around the time as the Cold War. Well, the answer can be found in Millar’s three issues of Superman: Red Son.
Somewhere around the 1950’s, the Soviet Union reveals that they have their Superman, which causes mass panic in the United States. Jim(my) Olsen is a CIA Agent who recruits Lex Luthor to come up with a contingency plan for Superman. After hijacking Sputnik 2 and sending it flying towards Metropolis, Luthor steals genetic material from Superman in order to create a clone. Luthor sends his Bizarro after Superman, but the clone is defeated when their battle ends up accidentally deploying a nuclear missile from Great Brittain, and Bizarro sacrifices himself to save millions.
While you think this story may be just another Luthor/ Superman stand off, I assure you that it is not. A lot of characters can be seen throughout the story, like Brainiac, Lois Lane, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan and the Green Lanterns, and even Doomsday! For being only three issues long, this story definitely delivers and is easily one of the most recognizable variations of Superman.
Superman: For Tomorrow (2004-2005)
Writer – Brian Azzarello
Artist – Jim Lee
Shortly after The Vanishing (an event in DC Comics that saw a million people [including Lois Lane] mysteriously disappear from the planet), Superman is shown going to confession at a church ran by a man named Father Leone. A lot of the story revolves around his confessions, and we find out that Superman feels guilty for going to the aid of Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) at the same time The Vanishing occurred.
Not too long after that, Superman traces the signal that caused The Vanishing to a country in the Middle East. There, Superman finds and fights against the forces of General Nox and his supersoldier, Equus. During the battle, Equus creates another Vanishing which vanishes himself, Nox, and 300,000 others, using the Vanishing Device. Now, with the Vanishing Device in hand, Superman takes Father Leone to the Fortress of Solitude to better understand the technology and see if there is a way to reverse it and return everyone home.
Upon hearing that Superman has the device, Wonder Woman decides to go after Superman before he does something stupid, and get’s there just in time to fight with him a bit, before he does what she fears and he vanishes himself.
Superman soon finds himself in a world that he forgot he made. Metropia, where all the people went to, is a world that Superman created in order to save the people of Earth from the same fate as Krypton. However, after creating it, he felt it was not his place to decide the destiny of a planet, and erased the creation of Metropia from his mind. What made me want to read this story when I first heard about it? Metropia is located in the Phantom Zone, a prison dimension that was created, by Superman, to contain his most dangerous villains. ie- General Zod.
Superman For All Seasons (1998)
Writer – Jeph Loeb
Artist – Tim Sale
Shortly after this creative team finished Batman: The Long Halloween, they began work on Superman For All Seasons. While the artwork isn’t as epic and/or brutal as some of the aforementioned collections, this story makes up for it in heart. The story is broken up into four separate seasons, with four separate narrators, and although it’s not a retelling of his origins, it’s a way to dive deeper into the character known as Superman. Below, I’ll write a brief summary of each season.
Spring – Narrated by Jonathan Kent. This is a deeper look at Clark Kent growing up in Smallville. It shows Clark eavesdrop on his worried parents, break a barber’s scissors with just his hair, and save a man from a gas station explosion. Clark reveals to Lana Lang that he can fly, and then he leaves for Smallville where he becomes a reporter for the Daily Planet.
Summer – Narrated by Lois Lane. This story takes the perspective of a reporter who throws out all of her rules the day Superman appears. We see Superman save Lois from a submarine terrorist, a brief return to Smallville, and Superman’s first run-in with Lex Luthor’s armor-clad “Guardians of the Sky”, who come to the aid of a factory on fire. As they leave, feeling they’ve done their job, Superman notices they have forgotten a woman by the name of Miss Vaughn. It is revealed that she is a Superman fanatic, which interests Luthor.
Fall – Narrated by Lex Luthor. Luthor actually considers this story a love story between himself and Metropolis. Luthor drugs Miss Vaughn, to where she can see nothing but nonstop images of Superman. After that, Luthor gasses the Daily Planet. After thinking about who could possibly do that, Superman narrows the list down to Luthor, and goes for a visit. Luthor tells Superman that the only way he can save the people of Metropolis from the gas, is by taking Toxin (a doped out Miss Vaughn) and spreading the antidote through the rain clouds. Upon the successful return from their mission, Toxin dies and Luthor tells Superman that no matter what he does he will never be enough to save everyone. Clark then returns to Smallville.
Winter – Narrated by Lana Lang. This season is where things start to look a bit gloomy for Clark Kent. But the help of his parents, and the return of Lana Lang into Clark’s life, bring him around. A flood hits Smallville, and Clark crawls back into his cowl to stop the town from crumbling into the mud. We then see Superman return to Metropolis to fend off the Guardians and to warn Luthor that he’s back. Superman saves a child, who introduces himself as Trevor, and the book ends with Superman saying “Folks call me Superman.”
Superman: Earth One (2010 – ????)
Writer – J. Michael Straczynski
Artist – Shane Davis
Superman: Earth One was created similarly in style to Marvel’s Ultimate line, where creators can be creative with characters, while also being free of continuity and create heroes for a new generation to follow. With that being said, there has already been two volumes of Superman: Earth One that have been released, and I must say that they’re easily two of my favorite stories involving the Man of Steel.
In the first volume, we get to know the Earth One version of Superman and Clark Kent. There’s a brief description on how Martha and Jonathan Kent find the young Kal-El and how the government wasn’t too far behind on covering up the crash site. Back in the present day, Clark moves to Metropolis and applies for work at many notable Metropolis locations. Clark then reveals Superman to the world once an alien leader, named Tyrell, comes to Earth looking for the last Kryptonian. Superman inevitably defeats Tyrell and his forces and ends up taking a job at the Daily Planet after falsifying an interview with Superman. The first volume ends with the rebirth of the Daily Planet due to their coverage of the alien invasion and Superman.
In the second volume, Clark starts dating his neighbor, Lisa Lasalle. We also get introduced to the Earth One version of Parasite, who becomes the main antagonist of the second book. Parasite roams the streets of Metropolis trying to satiate his endless hunger for power by draining people of their life force, and eventually comes to the conclusion that the only way to end his hunger is by draining Superman. The two battle in a power plant, where Parasite weakens Superman to the point that he has to flee the battle. During all of this, the Fortress of Solitude is created by Kryptonian technology in the Arctic, and using that technology, Superman creates armor that will allow him to defeat Parasite. During their final battle, Parasite’s sister shows up and he accidentally drains her life force and kills her. Blaming Superman, Parasite continues his assault but is put down when Superman punches him with all of his might. Parasite is taken in to custody. After the battle, Clark goes back to his apartment, where he hears his neighbor/ girlfriend being attacked. Clark ends up flying the attacker to Alaska and warns him to never see Lisa again. When he returns to Lisa, he finds out that she’s a prostitute, and the two break up, but remain friends.
Adventures of Superman #2 (2013)
Writer/ Artist – Jeff Lemire
This is kind of a curveball in the greater idea of this article, but I can’t help but talk about it. While this issue is digital-only for now (I think?), it’s one of my favorite original stories that involve Superman. But then again, everything Jeff Lemire has done in the recent past leads me to believe that he is one of the best things to happen to DC Comics in quite some time. This issue is an ode to Superman.
It shows two children using their imagination to fight battles between Superman and his rogue gallery, and plays it off as the kid who drew the villain card not being able to decide which villain he wanted to be. This concept lets Lemire play around with different villains, which is a gift for any fan of Lemire’s art. We get to see Brainiac, Bizarro, Lex Luthor, Parasite, General Zod, and even Mister Mxyzptlk, all in one comic! What more could any Superman fan want?