By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


Has Man of Steel made you hungry for more Super-stories? Then read on, for the five essential Superman graphic novels, in reverse order:


5. Superman: Red Son ($17.99) is a play on words; as every Super-fan knows, Kryptonians lose their super-powers under a red sun. But the title is also reference to the book’s fascinating concept: What if baby Kal-El’s rocket ship landed in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas?


Written by the endlessly inventive Mark Millar, Red Son posits the eternal question of nature vs. nurture, while still telling a rip-snorter of a story. Here we see the Man of Steel raised as the right-hand man of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (whose last name, incidentally, comes from the Russian word for “steel”). The story runs through the real events of the Cold War, and is peopled by many historical figures.


In addition, we see what effect the absence of Superman has on a United States that turns to Lex Luthor for a way to offset the U.S.S.R.’s greatest strategic asset. Even more interesting is what becomes of characters like Batman and Wonder Woman without the influence of Superman’s greatest super-power: His character.


If nothing else, Red Son tells you why, without jingoism, Superman must be American. Superman’s creators have always depicted him as representing what our country stands for when we’re at our best, and Red Son demonstrates that if American ideals aren’t the driving force behind the Superman, we’re in for a world of hurt.


4. Superman for All Seasons ($17.99) is a coming-of-age story that emphasizes the “man” in Superman. Writer Jeph Loeb demonstrates how a super boy becomes the most admirable of men in the course of four seasons in Smallville, in what amounts to a love letter to one of our greatest myths.


Once again the big guy’s character shines through. Superman may be technically a strange visitor from another planet, and have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, but Superman for All Seasons reminds us that he’s the most human hero of all.


3. Kingdom Come isn’t technically a Superman story, as it features a huge cast of DC characters, both familiar and brand new. But the Man of Tomorrow – and, once again, his character and influence on other people – is the beating heart of this tale, which asks “what is a hero?”


Kingdom Come ($17.99) is set in a near future where a disillusioned Superman has retired to a farm, after the Daily Planet staff (including Lois Lane) has been killed by The Joker, and the public has turned from Superman’s idealistic approach and embraced a new heroic ideal: Violent super-heroes that fight each other for fun, and end most super-villains’ careers permanently. But Wonder Woman entreats the graying Man of Steel to suit up again, because these new super-heroes – many of them the children and grand-children of the Justice League – are out of control, and a frightened United Nations is gearing up to put them down permanently. So Superman leads a new League to clean up the mess.


Batman – now crippled from years of combat – fears the fascism underlying the methods of Superman’s group and recruits his own team, while the remaining super-villains flock to Lex Luthor for protection. The finale that results when these three groups and the UN come into conflict remains shockingly brutal to this day. But when the dust clears, we see the why the ideals of Superman are so necessary, for human and super-human alike.


Kingdom Come is also notable for the amazing artwork of Alex Ross, who painted every page using live models. The result is stunningly gorgeous, and makes even super-heroes look plausible.


2. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? ($14.99) is an unusually sad Superman book, one that it has been known to make grown men tear up (including me).


First, some background: What pops into most people’s heads when they think of Superman comic books, are the stories and concepts that were developed in what is called the “Silver Age” of comics, which coincided with editor Mort Weisinger’s time on the Super-books (1958-70). It was during Weisinger’s tenure that Superman went from the Last Son of Krypton to pater familias of a huge, sprawling cast that included a Supergirl, a Superdog, a Supercat, a Supermonkey and a Superhorse. It was a time when hundreds of Kryptonian criminals found alive in the Phantom Zone, and Supergirl’s parents found alive in the Survival Zone, and millions of Kryptonian citizens found alive in the Bottle City of Kandor, began to suggest to some wags that nobody died when Krypton exploded except Jor-El and Lara. It was also a time when Superman’s friends and family had adventures in their own books, including the Legion of Super-Heroes in Adventure Comics, Supergirl in Action Comics, and Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane in their own books.


But all that came to an end in 1986, when DC Comics decided to reboot their entire superhero line. With a new version of Superman in the wings, DC allowed legendary writer Alan Moore (“Watchmen”) and long-time Superman artist Curt Swan to craft a story that, essentially, wrote “The End” to the Silver Age Superman. It’s a wonderful and poignant farewell, but a farewell nonetheless.


1. All Star Superman ($29.99) is another story focusing on the human aspects of the Metropolis Marvel, but at the same time restores something I hadn’t felt reading a Superman story since I was a child: A sense of wonder.


Comics superstar Grant Morrison wrote the 12-issue story collected here, a standalone about the final days of a Superman dying from solar radiation poisoning. That sounds pretty depressing, but honestly, Morrison writes a Superman whose calm optimism and joie de vivre reassure everyone around him (and the reader) that everything will be all right.


And in those final days, a joyful Superman enjoys a number of small, charming moments with friends and foes alike that are both organic to the story and somehow iconic. Meanwhile, Superman is just – super, topping one super-feat after another in logical extensions of his powers. That led to gasps from this long-time reader, and rekindled the excitement I had about Superman as a child, a sense that anything was possible and that the universe was just waiting for us to try.


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Comment by Kirk G on June 17, 2013 at 9:16pm

No arguement on those selections.  Your list should be widely publicized.


Comment by Wandering Sensei: Moderator Man on June 17, 2013 at 9:35pm

Indeed, those are five incredibly good pieces. Well chosen, Cap!

Comment by John Dunbar on June 17, 2013 at 9:46pm

Comixology is having a 99 cent sale on 200 Superman comics, including all 5 of Cap's recommendations.  Just to clarify: Red Sun is 3 issues, For All Seasons is 4 issues, as is Kingdom Come, Whatever Happened? is Superman 423 and Action 583, and All-Star Superman is 12 issues.  There's a lot more good Superman stuff there too, but I've shilled enough, check it out!

Comment by Figserello on June 17, 2013 at 9:49pm

Hopefully the fine people at Scripps Howard will do just that.  :-)   Nice list.  Moore trumped by Morrison in shock final!


I loved Man for all Seasons.  Whatever happened to Jeph Loeb? (If he aint with Tim, you can forget about him!)


Funny that there aren't any normal ongoing Superman/Action stories there.  It'd make you think they've got something wrong with the way they publish those monthlies? "Whatever happened to.." was published in them, but wasn't quite a normal story.


I'm fairly unhappy with "For the Man who has everything" being off the list.  It was superlative, and offered something from the ongoing series, but I can see that the balance of the list as a whole would be thrown off by it.  I'd say that pound for pound, it is a better Superman story than, eg Man for all seasons, as good as that is, and probably Kingdom Come, which is remarkable, and wonderful, but deeply flawed.  (Superman retires because people don't like him anymore?  Supes sets himself up above the law of us poor slubs, and our representative systems of governance and justice?)


Red Son is the only one I haven't read, but I've heard nothing but good things about it.  I was going to buy it for $3 off Comixology yesterday, but I think I'll get a copy from the Library instead!  You can't beat old-fashioned wood-pulp sometimes!

Comment by Figserello on June 17, 2013 at 10:30pm

Ah!  I see it is a list of GNs instead of Superman Stories  mmmm per se, so my 'plaints about 'Man who has everything' doesn't stand.  It comes bundled with "Whatever Happened to..."  (great story titles, but hardly snappy, are they?)  On Amazon, Dave Gibbons gets creator credit with Moore for 'Whatever', and Curt 'definitive Superman' Swan gets nothing.


Incidently, I never thought much about it, but the tendency for the word Man to pop up so often in the titles, seems to back up Luke's claim that Superman has to be specifically overtly masculine somehow.  Even Red Son plays into this pattern.

Comment by Figserello on June 17, 2013 at 10:31pm

My reference to Scripps Howard was in answer to Kirk, btw.

Comment by Wandering Sensei: Moderator Man on June 17, 2013 at 10:42pm

Almost makes me wish I didn't already own all those in some collected form. Almost!

Reading comics digitally is my new preferred way, but I just can't part with the paper forms. I buy my Marvel books in printed form and use the digital when available.

I bought up many issues from that sale, though, including a whole bunch of John Byrne issues of Action Comics and Superman, especially the team-up issues.

Comment by Figserello on June 17, 2013 at 11:27pm

I've read a lot of really good stuff from Comixology sales.  But then the trouble is that if I really like them, I want to own them in paper form to reread them and immerse myself in them more comfortably (if that makes sense.)  But even though I've only paid a small price for them, I can't justify buying them again. 


I suppose I know what to look out for in book sales now...

Comment by John Dunbar on June 18, 2013 at 12:12am

Makes sense to me Figs.  Reading them online takes getting used to, and I'm so set in my ways I may never fully embrace it.  Hard to let a 99 cent sale go by, though.

Comment by Figserello on June 18, 2013 at 12:43am

I couldn't enjoy reading them on a laptop or desktop at all, but I now have an android pad that is very like an ordinary comic to read.  It's not too bad, but you can't really do the flick thing.



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