It had to happen.
Every geek site must have at least one top ten list. It just has to be there. Without rankings to debate about, what kind of fans are we?
I’ve often said on this site that Superman, perhaps more so than any other fictional character, has gone through so many interpretations over the years that we all have in our minds who the character is and what he must be. If a story oscillates from what we as fans believe is THE norm for him, heaven help us (or at least, heaven help a creator’s Twitter account 😉 ). Those “norms,” if we can even call them that, have taken many, many forms over the last eighty years: Joe Shuster, Curt Swan, Christopher Reeve, Hanna-Barbera, Dan Jurgens, Zack Snyder, Bruce Timm and many, many others.
It probably goes without saying, but of course this list is my own. I have no doubt that some will applaud, while some will close their tabs immediately. Nevertheless, these are my favorite stories of not only what I believe are the best takes on Superman, but also stories that have moved me to love the character as I do.
Here we go!
15. Infinite Crisis (“This Is Your Life, Superman”) Infinite Crisis 1-7, Superman 226, Action Comics 836, Adventures of Superman 649; Geoff Johns, Joe Kelly, Jeph Loeb (writers), Phil Jimenez and a bunch of others (artists)
I’m honestly surprised that this story isn’t on more Superman Top Ten lists I read. At the core of Infinite Crisis is the relationship between Superman (Earth-2), Lois Lane (Earth-2), and Lex Luthor (Earth-3). At the beginning of this story, it is revealed that the survivors of the first Crisis (the above three plus Superboy-Prime) have been observing the current DCU since the cataclysmic event that merged all universes into one, and are not happy with what they see- heroes acting like villains, tragic events left unaddressed, blurred lines between good and evil, all the way down to the current Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman- all mortify the quartet from their place of observation. An aging Earth-2 Superman then takes it upon himself to right all the wrongs that the heroes of our universe have left to fall by the wayside, and a new, awesome Crisis ensues.
Even if I were only considering Infinite Crisis 1-7, I would still probably put the book somewhere on this list, but I should also point out how much I loved the side story which took place in the Superman books. Prior to the death of Earth-2’s Lois and during the fight between the Supermen of Earths 1 and 2, a three issue “between the panels” story took place in all three books called “This is Your Life, Superman.” This brilliant little story offers a look back at the early life of Earth-2 Superman, and at some point becomes a “road less traveled” story of sorts, asking the question of what would each Superman do in the other’s shoes. Although a little hard to follow at times, this story, written by Joe Kelly and drawn by a slew of artists – including Dan Jurgens, Tim Sale, Jerry Ordway, Matthew Clark, Adam Kubert, Howard Chaykin and many, many others- offers a nice little introspection into the character’s mind, and is a wonderful tribute to the Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2.
We’ll cover more of this later on this list, but sometimes a great way to find out what makes a character tick is to put him in a completely different context than they’re used to, or in this case, juxtaposed against a different version of themselves. Whether you count it as a DCU story, exclusively, or a Superman story as well, in my book Infinite Crisis is a nice love letter and fantastic tribute to the Golden Age Man of Steel.
14. It’s a Bird It’s a Bird GN; Steven T. Seagle (writer), Teddy Kristiansen (artist)
“It’s A Bird” is a wonderful one-shot graphic novel about a real comic book writer trying to wrap his head around Superman. Steven T. Seagle writes the book about his own experience of being contacted by DC and asked to write Superman, who by his own admission he has no connection to. As he struggles in the book to comprehend what makes the character so popular, he also reflects on simultaneous challenges in his own life, such as relationships with his family and dealing with the loss of his father at a young age.
Accompanied by the beautiful drawings of accomplished Danish artist Teddy Kristiansen, the book is a wonderful introspection and an examination of how the message of Superman can inspire us on a personal level. The book is a very personal statement by Seagle, who by its end appreciates and understands the character of the Man of Steel and what he means to the audience he writes for.
I honestly wish more comic books were like this. Comic book creators at times might make a prose novel about their experience or something similar, but why not a graphic novel (it’s not like they don’t have the experience)? I enjoyed the heck out of this book when I first read it, after I found it peppering other Superman lists. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as it is easily the artsiest book on this list, I’d say. Still, you can learn a lot from other people’s personal stories like this, even when told in graphic novel format. In terms of quality, I’m hoping that the upcoming graphic novel “The Joe Shuster Story” by Julian Voloj and Thomas Campi might be in a similar vein to this one.
13. Up, Up, and Away! Action Comics #837-840, Superman #650-653; Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns (co-writers), Pete Woods, Renato Guedes (artists)
I’ve always loved the look of Clark Kent in a suit and a fedora. Clark Kent in a letterman’s jacket and a fedora?
Here you have exactly what I love about “Up, Up, and Away!”, the sequel to Superman’s story after “Infinite Crisis.” At the end of “Crisis,” Superman is flung through a red sun and meteorite field of kryptonite and temporarily loses his powers. One year later, we find that Superman has not been seen in Metropolis since and has seemingly disappeared. What we do find is a Clark Kent who is firing on all cylinders as a reporter, a husband, and all around, laid back, normal guy. He has never spent this much uninterrupted time with Lois. He actually goes to meetings in the city newsroom and doesn’t have to create some kind of lame excuse to skip out. He stops every morning to enjoy a warm pretzel with mustard at his favorite cart. All of Clark’s friends, his boss, his wife and most importantly himself, have never been happier without the burden of Superman’s powers and the responsibilities they bring.
Eventually of course, his powers do come back, and that transition is what’s interesting about this story, as we see Clark Kent asking questions other heroes do (but without the angst)- how much does the city need me? Have I been selfish in taking time for myself and my marriage? How will Lois respond, and how much will it effect what we have now? Typically questions that you’d find at the heart of a Spider-Man story, not a Superman story.
Certainly my favorite “life in the big city” Superman story, and, aside from maybe the next two on this list, probably my favorite Clark Kent story ever. It’s too bad more “One Year Later” stories, DC’s “brand” during this time, weren’t this good!
12. Secret Identity Superman: Secret Identity 1-4; Kurt Busiek (writer), Stuart Immonen (artist)
Prior to the return of the Superboy of Earth-Prime in “Infinite Crisis,” Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen put together this amazing story, inspired by the first appearance of Superboy-Prime in DC Comics Presents #87. In that book, we are introduced to a world in which there are no superheroes who exist outside of comic books. The lone exception to this, of course, is the appropriately named Clark Kent, who discovers during the course of his adolescence that he shares many of the same powers as his namesake, a fictional character he grew up reading about. What follows is a very grounded, realistic story about what would happen if a superhero existed in the real world: how people would react to seeing this and the challenges of balancing a normal life with whatever responsibility, if any, would come with such abilities. Over the course of four issues, we follow Clark’s entire life through career, relationships, and family as much as any battle he fights in a cape and longjohns.
The brilliance of this story, which I admit I didn’t fully appreciate until a recent second reading, is just how realistic Busiek makes all his characters. He does an incredible job using caption boxes for Clark’s inner thoughts and coupling them really well with the stunning art of Stuart Immonen (who penciled, inked and colored this book- for me the best of his career). Call me crazy, but who doesn’t love seeing a double page spread of Superman majestically floating over the earth at night with a few captions with his thoughts on the side? Too often for my taste, writers leave all the storytelling to the artist, forgetting that one of the great abilities that comic books have is the power to peak into a character’s brain and allow the readers to “hear” their thoughts. Busiek has used this in almost all of his stories to great effect, and this one is no exception.
“Superman: Secret Identity” might be the best Elseworlds type Superman story ever made, and a great examination at what makes Superman who he is.
11. Superman For All Seasons Superman For All Seasons 1-4; Jeph Loeb (writer), Tim Sale (artist)
If Norman Rockwell were to ever draw a Superman comic, it would be this.
“Superman For All Seasons” is a charming, beautiful story is about Clark Kent more so than Superman, and the character’s transition from Smallville to Metropolis over the cycle of (you guessed it!) four seasons. But even more so than that, it was perhaps the most honest, genuine attempt to capture the spirit of middle America that Superman grew up in, perhaps more than any other Superman story ever written. The result is a book that is equal parts inspiring, captivating and exhilarating all at once, and completely different from anything else ever told in Superman’s history.
Loeb and Sale are at their finest when working together, and their lone foray into a full length Superman book was well worth it. Their work blends so seamlessly together in a way that few creators I can think of can even match. Unlike other comic book collaborations where a story doesn’t move well, or the writer assumes that the art will convey a key detail when it doesn’t, these two have demonstrated the exact opposite. In all their books, Jeph and Tim seem to know exactly what the other is thinking.
Taking nothing away from his talent as an artist or the quality of this work, the only reason this book isn’t a lot higher on this list is because I’m not crazy about Sale’s design for Superman, who in some panels looks like a blimp at a parade. Then again, there is something to be said about developing your own signature style as an artist without copying others.
Either way, a solid entry into any top/greatest Superman stories list.
10. World’s Finest World’s Finest #1-3; Dave Gibbons (writer), Steve Rude (artist)
Any time Steve Rude draws Superman, for me, it’s an event.
Dude just knows how to draw a confident and classy Man of Steel, not mention cityscapes and whatever else you could possibly want. His Clark Kent is always in a sharp suit and a fedora. His Superman is probably the greatest ever tribute to Joe Shuster, with the buff but lean physique and squinty eyes typical of the 1940s. Rude’s clean, nice art goes perfectly with Superman’s world. He knows how to tell a story, draw characters and action sequences alike, and this story might be his best work ever.
I MUST purchase a commission from him someday.
Aside from the beautiful art of Rude the Dude on the Man of Steel (and everyone else in this story, for that matter), World’s Finest is great for a number of reasons. For one, it was the first post-Crisis team up of Batman and Superman (“Man of Steel” #3, for me, felt less like a team up and a bit too antagonistic to count), and, following the blueprint left by Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns,” did a wonderful job juxtaposing the two characters and their worlds. From their villains, to their cities, to their supporting casts, a really neat way to get to know what Superman is really like is to put him next to a character who is his total opposite on a number of levels, as I mentioned earlier.
I would venture to say that this story was the basis for every Batman-Superman team up from here on, most notably Jeph Loeb’s hugely popular Superman/Batman series from the mid-2000s.
Oh, and for anyone at DC who might be reading this, a Superman book set in the ‘40s and drawn by Steve Rude would be an INSTANT buy for me.
9. For Tomorrow Superman (Vol.2) #204-215; Brian Azzarello (writer), Jim Lee (artist)
This story came along at an interesting time for Superman and for DC Comics. Superman’s status quo was shifting radically from John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” miniseries towards Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s “Birthright,” which had brought back more Silver Age aspects of the character. Jeanette Khan had also recently retired from DC and the Dan DiDio era was just beginning. Jim Lee had just come off the smash hit Batman story “Hush,” which saw him return to monthly penciling duties for the first time in the better part of a decade. Superman was in a place of transition. For my money, the character was killing it on miniseries and events which now had a bit more wiggle room to experiment with the character, as opposed to the ongoing titles, which were floundering.
In “For Tomorrow” (which reads like a standalone maxi series, even though it took place in the regular title), Superman begins an ongoing “confession,” if you will, with a Catholic priest after being unable to save Lois and thousands of people all over Metropolis from a sudden disappearance. His guilt is played up quite a bit more heavily than usual in this story, due to the typically dark writing of Brian Azzarello. Even so, for me it really worked (maybe because I also happen to be a priest ;)).
While normally a very positive and uplifting character, as he should be, Superman is miserable for most of this story. He has lost his wife, despite hearing her cries for help, not to mention those of so many others, both very good reasons to take the character to a much more solemn and dark place. This also lends itself perfectly to Catholic themes and imagery, which I wonder just how much Azzarello added from his own upbringing. Along the way, questions are asked about how far Superman is willing to go to do what is right without compromising what he believes, a wonderful theme to a typically bright character.
In addition to the solid story and character work, Jim Lee absolutely shines as the rock star artist he is in this arc. Many scenes demonstrate how extraordinary he is at drawing character moments and big action sequences, such as the debate with the Justice League, the underwater standoff with Aquaman, the fight with Wonder Woman and climactic battle in the Phantom Zone.
Let me be very clear about this: Superman should never be represented as dark, but once in a great while, if done properly, it can work. This story is one such example.
Henry Cavill has said that “For Tomorrow” is his personal favorite Superman story. I can absolutely see why.
8. For the Man Who Has Everything Superman (Vol.1) Annual #11; Alan Moore (writer), Dave Gibbons (artist)
You’re not going to find too many pre-Crisis stories on this list, as I heavily lean toward the more grounded Superman stories of the post-Crisis DCU. That said, this story, which was released right on the cusp of DC’s pre/post Crisis transition, is an absolutely brilliant example of the master craftsmanship of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. In the early ‘80s, both men were in their heyday, and both were part of the “British invasion” that swept through comics that decade. Their collaboration was always an event, and a superb example at what the artform of comic books could be.
In “For the Man Who Has Everything,” Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin come to the Fortress of Solitude to bring Superman a gift for his birthday. What they find however, is far more than they bargained for, as the Fortress has been overrun by the alien warlord, Mongul, with Superman under the spell of an alien plant known as the Black Mercy. As Superman’s friends fight to defeat Mongul and rescue the Man of Steel, Superman himself undergoes an incredible, vivid dream of what life would have been like for him had Krypton never exploded. The dream is a hallucination brought on by the Black Mercy, which allows whoever it has in its clutches to visualize their heart’s desire.
In this beautiful one-off, we are given a story which is heartwarming and gut-wrenching all at the same time, typical of Alan Moore’s deft storytelling. What we the reader benefit from mostly though, is a brief window into Superman’s deepest thoughts and dreams, a kind of “road less travelled.” Would things have been better if Krypton hadn’t exploded, and the House of El hadn’t died? Alan Moore flips that question on its head, counter to many Silver Age Superman stories with a similar theme.
I challenge anyone to read this story and not walk away with a tear in your eye, and a great deal of love and sympathy for the Man of Steel.
7. Superman in Exile Superman (Vol.2) #28-30, 32-33, Adventures of Superman #451-456, Action Comics Annual (Vol.2) #2 and Action Comics #643; Dan Jurgens , Jerry Ordway, George Perez, Roger Stern (writers), Kerry Gammill, Dan Jurgens, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, George Perez, and Curt Swan (artists)
The first thing that jumps out at me as I type the credits for this story is WOW, what a lineup!! That group of talent on any book today would be just as big of a splash as “Superman in Exile” was in 1989 when it was released. Perez. Jurgens. Mignola. Hall of fame caliber creators all, which gives you an idea of what we the readers enjoyed for the better part of a decade.
Digging through a bargain bin many years ago, I stumbled onto a copy of Action Comics Annual #2, a chapter halfway through “Exile.” In it, Superman, stripped of much of his power, grizzled, bearded, and axe-wielding, has been captured by slavers and forced to fight in intergalactic gladiatorial battles on Warworld.
Umm… do I even need to say more?
As if that weren’t enough, while Superman is in his self-imposed exile in outer space, he also encounters the cleric, an ancient Kryptonian priest who relates to Kal-El the story of his people and their epic struggle with birth and Kryptonian life (more on that later). The cleric also shows Superman a relic which is meant to preserve the essence of Krypton itself, the Eradicator, which would come into play much later in several stories down the road, including the epic “Reign of the Supermen.” And, amidst all THIS, I’m not even including the equally awesome “Hostile Takeover,” which starred Lex Luthor in events occurring simultaneously on earth.
Ultimately, this was a great, great story and very influential for many that followed it in the years to come.
6. Lois and Clark Lois and Clark #1-8; Dan Jurgens (writer), Lee Weeks (artist)
In “Lois and Clark,” the pre-Flashpoint Superman is revealed to have been a clandestine savior whom no one has ever seen throughout the New-52 universe timeline. In doing so, he is able to delicately maintain the integrity of his family life as a husband and now father, and to not steal the show from the current universe’s Superman. Pre-Flashpoint Lois has also adapted to this brave new world by publishing books and exposes as simply “Author X,” another intriguing storyline, especially when she begins following the trail of Intergang. Mix in a little Jonathan Kent in his breakout role as a character, and I’d go as far as saying you now have the makings of an instant classic.
I cannot stress enough how refreshing “Lois and Clark” was for me. It was the Superman we all knew and loved in a beautiful story about the progression of his and Lois’ life. Personally, I have ALWAYS loved when characters are allowed to go through their life as the rest of us do: age, start a family, and everything else life throws at us. I was thrilled to see Superman given that opportunity in this book.
The fact that all of this newness was orchestrated by the creator who has been associated most with the Man of Steel in my lifetime, Dan Jurgens, made this book something really special. Its success was what eventually led to the real Superman once again taking his rightful place in the DCU during DC Rebirth, where he has resided ever since.
In many ways, this was the book that made me want to start this blog. All I can say is thank you.
5. Kingdom Come Kingdom Come #1-4; Mark Waid (writer), Alex Ross (artist)
I remember going to bookstores in high school and college before I ever owned a collected edition of anything, just to find a copy of Kingdom Come and thumb through it. The concepts and art were mind-blowing, considering that virtually no superheroes had been depicted in serious live-action adaptations up to that point. This is far and away the best work of Alex Ross’ stellar career and one of the greatest comic books ever made. The themes of noble superhero vs. violent anti-hero was perfectly placed in its day, and really spoke to the state of comics in the mid-‘90s.
At the heart of this story, of course, is an aging Superman and his story of coming to grips with who he is and why he matters. The opening finds Superman cloistered in the Fortress of Solitude, working on his family’s farm in “Kansas” (a hologram created by the fortress). It is implied that a great tragedy has occurred, and Lois has been killed in a moment in which he was unable to rescue her. Despite the immense guilt and sorrow which drove him into hiding, the Man of Steel must rise up to inspire a new generation of heroes, and the world, once again. How he does it is just as interesting as anything else in this book, and perfectly suited to Mark Waid’s able talents.
There’s a case to be made (and often is) that this can be considered THE best comic book storyline of all time. However, given the fact that this list is specifically for Superman stories, for me it definitely makes the cut but is not quite at the top spot. Even so, the reason this book is so excellent and a great Superman story is because, for me, the best Superman stories always deal with the question of “what does Superman mean to the world (MUCH more of that later on in this list)?” A story about an aging Superman who must be convinced to come out of retirement because of his “inability to see himself as the inspiration he is” is incredibly awesome. It’s a perfect vehicle for exploration of him as a character, aided mightily by arguably one of the greatest Superman artists of all time.
Classic, epic stuff!
4. World of Krypton World of Krypton #1-4; John Byrne (writer), Mike Mignola (artist)
John Byrne’s run on Superman is heralded as one of the greatest takes ever on the Man of Steel, and rightfully so.
While most would point to the original “Man of Steel,” “The Supergirl Saga,” or perhaps “The Secret Revealed,” as being his best work, for me it will always be this. “World of Krypton” was an incredible exploration into the DNA of the culture that birthed Superman over the course of many decades and centuries, as told to first Jor-El and then Superman himself through Kryptonian holographic records. Throughout these four amazing issues, we are shown wars, ethical dillemas, feuding houses and much more. Byrne does his best Star Trek impression and gives us each of these themes in a very intelligent, linear manner, while still having a solid group of characters- headlined by Superman’s great grandfather Van-L- anchoring the reader through each time period.
Mike Mignola’s art on the book really needs no explanation, so I’ll just say it’s a shame that DC didn’t hold onto him for a little longer before he went off to Dark Horse to become a superstar. Thankfully, we got a few great Superman stories out of him before he did, stories which all others drew from when exploring Krypton’s past.
Not to mention a cool new TV show. 😉
3. Camelot Falls Superman 654-658, 662-664, 667, Superman (Vol.2) Annual 13; Kurt Busiek (writer), Carlos Pacheco (artist)
In terms of sheer freshness, range, and originality, no one even comes close to Kurt Busiek, in my opinion. A lot of writers might be talented in one area, and have one genre that’s in their “wheelhouse,” so to speak (Frank Miller, hardboiled; Chris Claremont, melodrama; Brian Michael Bendis, slice-of-life; Neil Gaiman, macabre, etc), but very few are good, let alone great, at many (Alan Moore being perhaps the only other). Fresh off of his highly successful runs on superhero team books (Avengers, Thunderbolts), fantasy (Conan), and superhero-POV (Marvels, Astro City), Busiek brought his talents to Superman, and for me, went a long way to proving his sizable range as a writer. Kurt Busiek’s entire run on the Man of Steel was all too brief and hugely underrated, in my opinion. I’d love to see an omnibus one day of all his Superman work, and I’m not even counting Secret Identity, an altogether different type of story and equally brilliant.
Maybe a blog post for another day.
“Camelot Falls,” in its own way, is once again a story about what Superman means to the world, but this time in a very different form and fashion. The story begins when Arion of Atlantis appears to Supes from the distant past and informs him that there is basically a gigantic tidal wave of evil coming. If he continues to try to hold it back now by fighting crime and supervillains in their many forms, he will only create an even worse tidal wave a hundred years from now, whose darkness will engulf the planet for far, far longer than it otherwise would. The only solution, Arion says, is to let civilization, the “Camelot” of Superman’s day, fall to the forces of evil and allow a relatively smaller dark age to come. This of course, creates many a dilemma for Superman, whose very nature is to save people, and all life, wherever he goes. The story is about the choices the Man of Steel may or may not make, and what possible future this may usher in.
This story is impressive to me for a number of reasons. First, Busiek creates a challenge for Superman without limiting his considerable power, which some writers feel they have to do in order to make the character interesting. He also does not fall into similar story tropes that other writers less comfortable with the character use as a crutch: General Zod, Lex Luthor, kryptonite, etc, none of which appear in this story. Perhaps best of all though, is how wonderfully human Superman is here: lots of heart while very strong, introspective but never brooding. Couple all this with the great art of Carlos Pacheco, a frequent collaborator of Busiek’s, and you can see why this book is so high on my list. In many ways, I think Kurt’s Superman could be a blueprint that many writers would do well to follow.
I’m going to guess and say the reason this is probably not on more people’s top ten lists for Superman is because of the publication challenges it went through when it was released. Geoff Johns’ storylines in Action were happening concurrently with Busiek’s, and had huge status quo changes which Kurt had to juggle within his story (see the excellent Last Son to see what I mean). Many writers do this, yes, but because of the IMMENSE delays of Johns’ first arc, the juggling was an enormous challenge. Also, I counted no less than EIGHT fill in issues during the publication of “Camelot,” pretty hefty considering it’s a ten issue story. As such, it does not read as well as a graphic novel in and of itself but more like part of a monthly book.
Nevertheless, Kurt took it all in stride, and when it was all said and done, we were left with what for me was the most original, refreshing Superman story I’ve read in perhaps my whole life. “Camelot Falls” was the main overarching storyline throughout his two years on the book and the heart of the entire run, and will be a favorite Superman story of mine for a long, long time.
2. Peace on Earth Superman: Peace on Earth; Paul Dini (writer), Alex Ross (artist)
The premise of “Peace on Earth” is one that seems so simple and yet works so well, that you read it and wonder why no one thought of it decades before. This story is so absolutely perfect for Superman, who always seems to address symptoms but, admittedly, rarely the problems themselves. Dan DiDio once called Superman the “fireman of the DCU,” in that he is the one stamping out fires after they start and before they get worse. If that’s the case, then this book is about Superman taking one, gigantic stab at stopping all fires in the world before they begin, a daunting task to consider, even for him.
After a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Metropolis one cold night in winter, Superman spots a young girl dying of starvation in an alleyway. He tries getting her help by taking her to a homeless shelter, where a social worker tells Superman that the need in the city greatly outweighs their ability to help. After a lot of soul searching, and reflecting on lessons he was taught in the past by his father on the family farm, Superman decides to do something about this subtle epidemic sweeping through his city’s streets, and eliminate all the world’s hunger for one day.
Yes, ALL the world’s hunger. For one day.
What other superhero could possibly ever even attempt this in a story? Aside from maybe Wonder Woman, this premise would seem too far fetched, corny, or unnecessary. And yet for Superman, who has a heart of gold and powers to match, it makes perfect sense. Paul Dini, who had already shown he could write the Man of Tomorrow on the Superman animated series of the ‘90s, in my opinion deserves to be mentioned with all the other great Superman writers from any era just for this story, even if he were to never write another one ever again. Maybe he created a sweeping epic because he knew his collaborator on this book, the great Alex Ross, could handle something this massive. If so, he was right.
This book is just perfect. It works on so many levels, and touches me so deeply every time I read it (see my comments about this, specifically, on my other blog here). I am so utterly blown away by this story, and inspired by it on a level that no other superhero story could ever hope to match. The incredible visuals, the land and cityscapes around the world, the dialogue, the flashbacks, the subtle nods to other Superman stories that Dini and Ross include. This is a story that is perfect as an introduction for anyone looking to start reading Superman, or if you’ve been reading him your whole life. It encapsulates the essence of what I love about the character maybe better than any other story I’ve ever read.
My two favorite Superman stories happen to be one long storyline, and one one-shot graphic novel. Both deal with similar themes of the inspiration Superman provides, but in hugely different ways. If there was a way I could have a “1a” and “1b” on this list without it feeling like a cop out, that’s exactly where “Peace on Earth” would be.
Which brings us to…
1. The Death and Return of Superman Superman: The Man of Steel #17-26, Superman (Vol.2) #73-82, Adventures of Superman #496-505, Action Comics #683-692, Green Lantern (Vol.3) #46; Karl Kesel, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern (writers), Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens (artists), plus a ton of others
By the 1990s, Superman occupied a much different place in the comic book industry than he ever had before. The emergence of Image Comics, the superstar artist, and the unprecedented rise of violent anti-heroes like the Punisher, Cable, Venom and Wolverine had turned the industry on its head and was a far cry from the days of multi-colored kryptonite and super pet stories. Louise Simonson once said in an interview that because Superman was in a market that now acted as if the character no longer mattered, the creative teams on the Superman books wanted to do a story that showed how much he still did.
What people seem to forget is that the Death of Superman was a cataclysmic event that sold gangbusters, yes, but it was not an event that was editorially mandated, unlike others that followed (“Knightfall,” “Emerald Twilight,” and “Death of an Amazon,” to name a few). On the contrary, it was something that came from the writers themselves long before killing and resurrecting comic book characters had become a fad. As a result, the entire storyline- “The Death of Superman,” “Funeral for a Friend,” and “Reign of the Supermen” felt original, heavy and completely unpredictable (unlike other events which telegraph a character’s return during the death story, or even worse, solicit the character’s resurrection before the “death” even takes place!).
Superman’s death was something that people knew about. It was talked about on the news, it was discussed at school playgrounds (at least it was at mine when I was ten years old or so). People lined up from near and far to purchase a copy, and it wasn’t just because of the speculator boom of the early ‘90s. Fans genuinely wanted to know what was going to happen, especially when four months went by after the last issue of “Funeral for a Friend” without a new Superman comic.
Like “Peace on Earth,” this was a story that I believe could not have been told with any other character, or at least not with the same impact. According to Dan Jurgens, Doomsday was supposed to be a deliberate attempt to create a villain who could go toe to toe with the Man of Steel on a primal, physical level. After decimating the JLA in a mere half issue, and with the action moving faster and faster toward Metropolis with each page, Superman had to lay everything on the line and fall head first into a fight that shook pop culture to its core. Given the Man of Steel’s well established power levels, all of this happening to any other character just would not have had the same impact.
The book ends with Superman’s death and Doomsday’s defeat (something that always bugged me as a kid!), but that is only the end of Act I! For me, the Death of Superman was always where this story merely began. If there ever was a story about what Superman truly meant to the world, and what his example means to those around him (and of course by extension, to we the readers), this is it. The book continues with his coworkers, his parents, his fiancé and the entire city dealing with the aftermath of Superman’s death. After the reality of his loss sinks in, the next question of “how,” or rather, “who” fills the void left by his death is asked, and we are off and running. What follows is a fantastic story whose repercussions are still being felt in the DCU to this day.
Although I could have counted “Death,” “Funeral,” and “Reign” as three separate stories, for me they have always read as one story in three acts. Each one brings so much to Superman as a character and to the mythos as a whole. For me, the fight between Superman and Doomsday in Act I is the best battle depicted between a superhero and a super villain in a comic book ever, and perhaps the best introduction of any comic book villain ever.
Act II contains some of the most heart wrenching, genuinely emotional moments when each Superman supporting character talks about what the Big Man means to them (that scene where Bibbo rescues the puppies? Come on!!!). Among other things, the statue erected by the citizens of Metropolis has now become a staple in Superman books, as well, which is pretty cool.
And finally Act III, in its own strange way, is a brilliant exploration of Superman himself as a character, as each of the four “Supermen”- all of whom are still around today- embody a different quality of the Man of Steel: The Eradicator, Krypton; the Cyborg, strength of science; Steel, strength of heart; and Superboy, youth and energy. Clearly, the people making this book were having a great time, and so were we.
A lot of Superman stories may have more artistic quality or even merit, but this one will always be the greatest for me.
That’s the list! This list took me a while to put together but all in all was such a fun time that I think I’ll put together a subsequent “next ten” in a future post, so that I can end up with a Top 25. 🙂 Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.
CBR is in the middle of their own Greatest Superman and Lois Lane stories here, as we speak, if you’re interested, in honor of both characters’ eightieth anniversaries. A Top 25 list I enjoyed can be found here, as IGN didn’t start reading comics yesterday and seems to know what they’re talking about. 😉
Thanks for stopping by! Talk to you again soon!