Superman is one of my favorite heroes. Yet my Superman collection is somewhat sporadic. There are so many issues from so many titles over so many years that it’s bewildering to know where to start reading. Even so, there are covers, stories, creative teams and occasional re-launches that catch my attention and convince me to give ‘em a try.
Here is a sampling of some of the Superman stories I’ve bought over the years.
Action Comics #584 (January 1987): There are two excellent reasons to buy this issue. One, it’s the first issue of Action Comics following John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” reboot. Two, it guest stars the New Teen Titans, and I’m about as big a Titans fan as you’ll find. The cover combination of Superman fighting the New Teen Titans and a “first all-new issue” banner made this an issue I couldn’t pass up. Happily, the issue is as good as the cover. Though it’s a fairly straightforward body-switching plot, there are a number of elements that raise the level of this story. The John Byrne art is excellent, with Dick Giordano on inking duties. Byrne wisely uses only half of the Titans, providing for a more focused story and fight. The plot is treated as a mystery and only revealed well after the fight begins. And Byrne smartly uses Jericho’s own body-switching powers as the key to solving the situation.
Action Comics #647-649 (Nov. 1989-Jan. 1990): Once again, there are two excellent reasons to buy this arc. First, it’s drawn by George Perez. That’s usually enough of a reason on its own. Second, it features Brainiac as the super-villain. But not just any Brainiac. It has my favorite version of Brainiac: the robot version with a skeleton face and an opaque skull (you can blame the Kenner Super Powers toy line for my preference, if you like). Even better, George Perez and Roger Stern throw multiple robot bodies and Brainiac’s skull ship at us, as well. It’s a big story with a big bad guy and the biggest hero of them all. And oh yeah, as I mentioned in passing, the story is Roger Stern. I may not have known much about Stern when I first bought this story more than 15 years ago but since then, I’ve discovered that he’s a reliable, entertaining story-teller thanks to his work on Amazing Spider-Man, the Legion of Super-Heroes and yes, Superman.
The Death of Superman (Dec. 1992-Jan. 1993): The cover date is confusing due to comics’ custom of labeling later dates so as to stay on the news-stand longer, but the Death of Superman was the event of the summer. I had just graduated from high school, I was getting ready for college and Superman’s death was a major topic of conversation. I remember the excitement, the covers, the posters and the Crash Test Dummies song. And, yes, I like the story, too. I like the way in which various friends and allies take their turns helping Superman before being knocked out of the fight one at a time. I like the way Doomsday’s costume slowly disintegrated before our eyes making him even scarier as the story went along. I like the reaction shots from Superman’s friends, insuring that this story has a significant personal element to it. I like that the final issue was all splash pages and the death itself a double-splash. “The Death of Superman” was a story-telling tour de force. And it was even more impressive if you were turning 18 at the time.
Superman: The Wedding Album (Dec.1996): I admit it. As an occasional Superman reader, I show up for the big events. You can go ahead and blame me now for everything that’s wrong with comics today. In this case, I’m glad I bought the book. This is one of my favorite wedding stories (as I mentioned a couple of years ago in my article “My Big Fat Geek Wedding”). I like that the story simply focuses on the wedding. It’s significant enough that you don’t need a super-villain. I like the collection of artists past and present, from Gil Kane to Stuart Immonen, and the creator cameos in the wedding party. Yet there is one scene that is better than the rest. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes in any comic. Superman is talking to Batman and mentions that he’s worried about Metropolis. Batman tells Superman not to worry, he’s made arrangements. Then, Batman points up. Superman looks upward and sees a host of heroes streaking across the sky ready to protect Metropolis while Lois and Clark enjoy their honeymoon.
That shot brings a smile to my face every time.
Superman #147, The Adventures of Superman #570, Superman in Action Comics #757, Superman: The Man of Steel #92 (August-September 1999): It’s always a good sign when you can remember exactly where and when you bought a certain comic. It was the summer of 1999. Ana and I were celebrating our first anniversary and living in Hamilton, Ontario. We had fun going out and exploring the different comic book stores in the area. One had a basement game room for Pokemon players. And, upstairs, I found this four-part arc on the wall of new comics. The Walt Simonson covers and the high-concept pulled me in. Superman was going from planet to planet and taking a turn as different heroes: Green Lantern, Adam Strange, Hawkman and Martian Manhunter. It reminded me of the Silver Age stories that I read as a kid- when Superman would have to pretend to be a rich man, poor man, beggar and thief, or what Superman would have been like if he had been sent to a planet other than Earth.
Superman #151-157, Superman in Action Comics #760-767 (Dec. ’99-July 2000): This was the first time that I really gave the Superman line a chance. The entire line was being revamped and I was intrigued by a couple of the creative teams: Jeph Loeb and Mike McKone on Superman (I liked Loeb at the time thanks to his work for the X-office), and Joe Kelly and German Garcia on Action (two more X-alumni). The initial Phil Jimenez covers were also a plus. Looking back, I enjoyed quite a few of the stories: Superman and Wonder Woman stranded on a war-torn planet for 2000 years, a Christmas classic with the Demon. I think there was a great blend of interesting guest-stars and villains like Mongul, Imperiex, the Joker and Harley Quinn and Deathstroke. Unfortunately, there were a couple of reasons why I dropped out after half a year. I had tuned in for specific creative teams but they didn’t stay constant. Ed McGuinness stepped in from Mike McKone (which was alright with me), but German Garcia was replaced by first Kano (not nearly as good) and then Duncan Rouleau (who I couldn’t stand at the time). Even worse, the Superman office promised that each title would be predominantly self-contained and that simply wasn’t the case. Cliffhangers from one title were resolved in the other. And while I was willing to give two new titles a chance, I wasn’t ready to sign up for all four.
Action Comics #806 (October 2003): Sometimes a good cover is all you need. The cute picture of Girl 13, the promise of more than one Supergirl and the witty slogan (“Abrakadizzle… that’s street magic, yo.”) combined to convince me to buy this book. I remember it being a lot of fun. I thought Girl 13 was spunky (I have a soft spot for goth girls, shhh, don’t tell Ana). And I liked Pascual Ferry’s art. However, I also remember being disappointed at the time that the other Supergirl in the comic was actually Natasha Irons as Steel and not Linda Danvers from the Peter David title. That doesn’t bother me as much as it once did which means I enjoy the actual comic more now than I did when I first purchased it.
Superman: Secret Identity #1-4 (2004): This out-of-continuity story is simply incredible. It follows the life of a young boy named Clark Kent whose friends make fun of him for sharing Superman’s name. However, to his surprise, he begins to develop powers of his own. He becomes Superboy and then Superman. He falls in love, gets married, becomes a father and grows old. It may sound simple, but the story is told with amazing depth.
It’s written by Kurt Busiek, whose drawing on the same depth of inspiration that gave life to Astro City. And it’s drawn by Stuart Immonen, bridging the disparate styles he brings to superhero comics and less-traditional fare. And it’s highly recommended.
That takes us from Crisis on Infinite Earths to Countdown to Infinite Crisis. Since then, I’ve been much more consistent in my Superman collecting. So come on back soon for “Selected Superman Stories from the Past 5 Years.”