Selected Superman Stories from the Past 22 Years

584-1 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.

Death-of-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.

Xweddingbells 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.

73802-3816-70851-1-superman_super 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.

Sup151 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.

Actioncomics806 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.

Secret-identity-cover 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.”

Views: 136

Comment by Eric L. Sofer on July 15, 2009 at 8:03am
Re: "The Death of Superman", and your mentioning of Doomsday's garb slowly tattering. Something I had noticed - and it might not even have been accurate - is that he started out as this big, ugly, super strong monster that got around by leaping - and as the story progressed, he got meaner, madder, able to speak only a word or two, got around by jumping, and turned gray.

I couldn't help but think that somebody was putting Superman against a version of the Hulk.

I remain,
Eric L. Sofer
The Silver Age Fogey
Comment by Figserello on July 16, 2009 at 3:24am
Always good to get another Superman post.

Although I'm a big fan and I have my own piecemeal collection from then like you do, I don't think Superman was very well served in the period you cover. Certainly not in the regular series.

The Death of Superman and the Wedding of Superman and Lois are historically interesting and important events in the 'life' of this fictional character. As comic-stories the Death stands up in a 'soap-opera' kind of way but the Wedding is a bit weak. As for the other regular titles, they are generally outmatched by far superior stories that appeared in either out of continuity stories such as Secret Identity, which you cite, or Superman stories in other titles.

Here's my top 10:

Superman: Peace on Earth

Beautiful art. A great story placing Superman in a real-world context. Showing his big heart and essential vulnerability. This is a fine example of Superman as fallen Christ figure. This and the next entry converted me to being a Superman fan for life. (Reading the Silver Age stuff just sealed the deal)

Kingdom Come

I was amazed when I read this that a hero could be walk-out-of-a-nuclear-explosion indestructible yet still so vulnerable. Quite a feat. Having read the recent JSA arc featruring this Superman though, I’m not convinced he’s the real Superman. Too sombre and world-weary. Superman should always be optimistic and fun.

JLA One Million

Like the previous example, this seems to be an ensemble piece, but it is actually Superman who gives it its beating heart. The whole thing leads up to the inspirational ‘first hero’ Superman’s return from his long sojourn at the heart of the Sun itself. Superman as myth!

Hitman issue 34, "Of Thee I Sing".

This was created by my compatriots Garth Ennis and John McCrea and won the 1999 Eisner Award for best single issue. This is as good a Superman story as you will get on the theme of what he means to his world, and how even he has trouble living up to his own standards.

Superman/Madman – Hullabulloo

This was a 3-issue crossover. Allred’s art makes it. Basing him quite explicitly on the few drawings of Superman by Kirby that weren’t mauled by editorial was a stroke of genius. Writing-wise the stripped down out-of-continuity Superman we see here is very close to what he should be all the time. (All that continuity diminishes him, somehow.)

Hulk vs Superman

By Roger Stern and Steve Rude. This isn’t up there with the others on my list, but the art is beautiful. Like Allred, Rude goes to Kirby for his Superman ‘look’ but mixes it with the excellent 40’s cartoon. Its out of continuity, with these guys meeting and all, but at the same time nicely fitted into both of the main characters’ then-current continuity. Superman’s happy marriage to Lois is counterpointed with Banner’s recent loss of his wife.

JLA 1- 4

I could have picked the whole run, as he’s handled so well by Morrison throughout. Because of the nature of this comic, Superman is generally doing mighty mythic things most of the time instead of the sometimes petty little episodes he gets involved in in his own ongoing series. Also his relationship with Batman is beautifully realised in the JLA stories. That relationship is a defining feature of Superman, and part of their ying/yang dynamic. Each completes the other! But I pick this opening arc because of a little speech Superman makes at the end of the concluding part. He declares that the JLA aren’t there to interfere in human affairs. Instead they are there to accompany humanity as it struggles to climb to a better world, and just to be there ‘to catch them if they fall’. It’s a fundamental difference of outlook Superman has compared to similarily powered heroes like Miracleman or the Authority’s Apollo. Unlike them he is not interested in using his powers to force humanity into a different shape. As I get older, I see that he’s a bigger guy than Miracleman, and these few lines show why.

I’ve been wracking my brains trying to think of issues of the ongoing comics from this period that I really liked as much as I liked the others above. I have lots of the issues from this period, but I have mainly put bits and pieces of different runs together from bargain bins, or bought knock-down TPBs of the early post-Crisis stories. That is telling you something right there.

I’d like to read the One-Man JLA arc you mention, based on your recommendation, and I have ‘For Tomorrow’ sitting in my collection at home which I intend to read some day, but generally the longer stories tended to be a bit weak.

There were a few one-off issues that might belong to periods you cite above. They are buried away in my longboxes somewhere. One had Clark Kent obsessing over the disappearance of a lowly newspaper seller and showed what a great reporter he was in tenaciously hunting down the story, even when there didn’t seem to be much of a story there. (There wasn’t. Although gangsters were involved in his death, it wasn’t a big scoop.) Clark still had to do justice to this acquaintance of his by finding out the truth.

Another had a variation on the vulnerable/indestructible theme that I seem to like in Superman. A young member of the Royal Flush gang obsesses about trying to find a way to hurt Superman. Along the way he foils her attempts, but given her youth and his idealism he tries to get her a new life away from crime. When Superman discovers she is back working for the Royal Flush gang at the end of the story he is very upset! She’s found out how to hurt him!! Great little story.

I’m trying to think of other issues that I liked, but I keep getting flashes of Kenny Braverman (Eeauugh!) and stories about some numpty in a Superman suit hashed out by Joe Kelly, so I’ll stop now.
Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on July 16, 2009 at 5:35pm
...but I keep getting flashes of Kenny Braverman (Eeauugh!) ...

Be afraid. His is one of the names on the caskets interred under JLA HQ, as seen in Blackest Night #1.
Comment by Figserello on July 16, 2009 at 5:44pm
God, Noooo!

Is Superman's mullet down there too?


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