I wasted far too many of my years as a comic book fan complaining that Superman was “boring” or “vanilla”.
It honestly wouldn’t be until within the last ten years or so that I would start appreciating who Clark Kent is as a character and look to abandon the whole notion that he was boring because he is too powerful.
Superman’s powerset isn’t the defining aspect of the character. His personality and identity are. That’s what stories like The Boys or Injustice miss. There’s no point to “What If Superman Was Evil”. Every supervillain in comics who has powers and uses them selfishly is “What If Superman Was Evil”.
The point of Superman is that he ISN’T evil. That he stands as a immigrant between two worlds, belonging to neither, and knowing he has a responsibility to use his powers to help mankind but not rule them. The best Superman stories aren’t “Superman punches villainy”; they are the character studies of how he stays who he is.
So with my [relatively, given the length of my life] newfound appreciation for The Man Of Steel, let’s look at some of his best arcs.
10. Red Son/Speeding Bullets
Kind of the “Red” headed stepchildren of this list, I like Red Son and Speeding Bullets well enough, but they’re a whole tier down for me as far as Superman stories go. I need more Superman recommendations, folks! Give me more solid #10 story!
Both of these are similar in giving us a look at who Kal-El MIGHT have been under different circumstances. And instead of giving us that whole “What If Superman Was Evil” trope, they show us that the man always has the potential for goodness in his heart.
The biggest problem with each story is the shoe-horning of other characters to fit a narrative. Superman is Russian, so Batman is Russian, too. But why? Or Superman is Batman, so Lex Luthor is The Joker, too. But why? The world changes in ways it shouldn’t just to help the authors out, and I wish they hadn’t altered so much.
That said, they are both very worth a read, and are decent stories. Just not on the level of the rest.
An odd choice, this, but I have always loved this story for the intricacies of what it does. It’s basically a cash grab sequel to Death of Superman (which gives Supes a temporary new costume so they can sell toys!), but Dan Jurgens just GOT Superman and knew just what to add to get the most out of this story.
Hunter/Prey opens with Superman having a nightmare about being a child back in Kansas, afraid of his basement. He works up the nerve to go into it, but then he hears a noise. He turns… and there is Doomsday. Then Superman wakes up in terror.
It’s SUCH AN EFFECTIVE SCENE. When have we ever seen Superman scared before? He has died–Doomsday killed him–and it gave him clear Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And later in the book, when Superman confronts Doomsday once more? That fear returns, and he has to overcome it… even in the face of a Doomsday more powerful than before.
There’s so much more to this story than just a Superman/Doomsday punch up. I really dig it.
8. Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?
This story shows the culmination of events of events that sees the end of Superman, and it’s kind of a love letter to every aspect of the character because you get the return of a bunch of villains… including the unexpected one who is behind the whole mess.
This is the first of two Alan Moore Superman tales on the list, and while it is definitely the weaker of the two, that says a lot more about how great the other is…
7. All-Star Superman
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Elseworlds tale of a Superman who knows that he is dying and is living out his remaining time doing whatever he can is great. It makes me forgive that I’m not typically a big fan of Quitely’s artwork.
All-Star Superman is basically a series of short stories all centered around one looming event, and the way it all comes together.
Morrison is a guy I’d love to see do more Superman. Has it done some that I’ve missed? His work on the character in All-Star and JLA was outstanding.
6. Man Of Steel
Ah, John Byrne’s rebuilding of Superman for a Post-Crisis DC world where the company was determined to have more continuity and be less of a hodge-podge of weird stories. Remember how good the Post-Crisis era was? It was phenomenal. Everything since Flashpoint? Eh, less so!
I read a few collected trades of this for the first time when I was in college working at a library. The graphic novel selection there was very limited (it was only about 2001), but they did have these. I was impressed to see Byrne having rebuilt the Man Of Steel into the character I had pretty much known my whole life. He was more grounded and less silly. His humanity and relationship with the Kents was more at the forefront. And under Byrne, we got a solidified vision of what Metropolis and her major players should be.
As far as rebooting a character goes, Byrne’s work was and still is the gold standard.
5. The Death Of Superman
Obviously I have a soft spot for Dan Jurgens writing Superman punch-ups with Doomsday.
But this story (also the cashiest of cash grabs) has some decent heart to it as Superman starts realizing what he has to do. And while I said it’s not supposed to be the key part of his character people think it is, this story is basically an excellent extended fight scene as far as those go; one of the best in comics’ history. It goes on and on with others coming to the aid of Superman just to be effortlessly defeated and tossed aside by Doomsday. Superman’s desperation to keep the monster from Metropolis the whole time is so palpable.
There is also a humanizing story here of a family whose home is wrecked by the beast, putting Clark in a situation of letting Doomsday to escape to return to save them.
4. Secret Identity
This is barely a Superman story.
What Secret Identity is is a tale of a boy in an alternate world–a “real” world–in which Superman is a fictional character. As a laugh, the boy’s parents named him Clark Kent, and this Clark lives under a constant barrage of jokes about his name.
Until he wakes up one day and actually has Superman-like powers.
There are no supervillains or aliens or monsters to fight (though Clark does have to escape capture at the hands of the military), and this is merely the story of an enormous coincidence and how this character lives out his life while trying to do the best he can to save people from disasters around the globe.
He marries a Lois because of course he does. He has two daughters. And he eventually grows old. It’s all just a perfect character story by the master, Kurt Busiek.
3. What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, & The American Way?
The impetus for making this whole list was that my wife and I watched Superman Vs The Elite on HBO Max, which led to our arguing over Superman as a character.
The cartoon iteration of this story is fine, but it really pales in comparison to the comic, especially in terms of art. Action Comics #775 has disturbing, rough art (by Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo). The cartoon, in contrast, is very bright and clean. So things never quite feel as dire or as dark as the comic does.
This is Joe Kelly’s answer to what Image was doing with The Authority, a book which was showcasing a bunch of extremist, take-no-prisoners heroes just MurderDeathKilling all of their enemies. Kelly’s response is perfect, showing WHY characters like Superman endure and why they still “work” in the modern era. Being murderous doesn’t make The Elite better or morally superior. It just makes them assholes who think they are above whatever laws they are trying to enforce.
2. For The Man Who Has Everything
I’ve talked about this book before and how it took me several readings to really come all the way around to it. When I finally fully got it, though, it was a HUGE “Ah-Ha!” moment for me, as this is the ULTIMATE Superman-As-An-Immigrant story and subtly shows how Superman can never be fully happy in his identity as a human or a Kryptonian.
Even under the spell of an evil flower that’s supposed to give him images of his ideal life, Superman still isn’t happy. He knows in his heart that he can’t be happy without Earth just as much as he couldn’t be without his Kryptonian heritage. And because of that, Mongul’s plan here fails, and he gets an ass-whippin’.
1. Kingdom Come
Kingdom Come is my favorite comic book of all time. And there is a lot more to that than just what the book does to Superman. But let’s talk about that.
Kingdom Come presents us with a Superman who has quit, thinking the world doesn’t need him anymore. And when he comes back after a travesty, he makes mistake after mistake because he’s separated himself from humanity for so long, he’s lost a big part of who he is. This story is about whether he can find that missing piece in time.
Those are mine, but as always, what are yours? GIVE ME YOUR TOP TEN SUPERMAN STORIES OF ALL-TIME! And what are YOUR thoughts on The Man Of Tomorrow? Have they changed over the years (for better or worse)? Do you find him boring or engrossing? Let us know!
Until next time… take care!