Created by two high school students in 1933, Superman comics have shaped the world forever. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation has become the world’s most iconic superhero.
While everyone might not be a fan of the DC’s New 52 Superman (he dropped his undies, changed his attitude and dumped Lois for Wonder Woman) or the Rebirth Superman (an older bearded Superman who is married to Lois and has a son named Jon), there are many other comic books written over the last 75 years worth catching up on.
Here are 10 essential Superman comics you need to read.
10. Superman: Earth One – 2010
“You’ve been hiding your whole life, Clark. But if you do anything other than what I think you were meant to do, you’ll still be hiding, because you’ll never be able to show people who you really are, and what you can do. Life was meant to be lived full measure, flat out, pedal to the metal, don’t live the rest of your life like a Porsche that never leaves the garage because somebody’s afraid to scratch it. Live, Clark. Follow your passion. Show the whole world what you can do. Fly, Clark…” — Jonathan Kent
Written by J. Michael Straczynski with artwork by Shane Davis, Superman: Earth One is one of the most recent iterations of Superman’s origin story. Going into a lot more detail, we get to see Superman’s early life, his arrival in Metropolis and the last moments of Krypton before its destruction.
9. Superman: Secret Origin – 2009
Lois: “Are you a man or an alien?”
Superman: “I’m Superman, Lois”
If you’re looking for a more traditional Superman origin story (similar to the early 70s/80s movies), Secret Origin seems like the perfect place to start. The series begins with one of Clark’s “earliest memories” and then continues with a story of Clark’s self-discovery to become Superman (who looks a lot like Christopher Reeve here).
8. Superman: Secret Identity – 2004
“Maybe I had a “secret identity”, but then when you think about it, don’t we all? A part of ourselves very few people ever get to see. The part we think of as “me”. The part that deals with the big stuff. Makes the real choices. The part everything else is a reflection of.” — Kurt Busiek, Superman: Secret Identity
Unlike most Superman stories, Secret Identity is set in the real world. It examines the life of a young Kansas writer with the unfortunate name of Clark Kent. In his world, Superman is a fictional character and, unfortunately, his daily life is filled with bullies comparing him to the comic book Clark Kent — the one with super-powers. As fate would have it, one day he awakens to discover that he can fly and that he has developed super-strength, like Superman. But where did these powers come from? This 208-page trade paperback, written by Kurt Busiek with art by Stuart Immonen, received critical acclaim for its original and relatable story.
7. Lex Luthor: Man of Steel – 2005
“Those red eyes, I’m sure they look right through me, like I am nothing more than a nuisance. But when I see you? I see something no man can ever be. I see the end. The end of our potential. The end of our achievements. The end of our dreams. You are my nightmare.” — Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel is a five-issue miniseries published in 2005, written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Lee Bermejo. It focuses on Lex Luthor as an extremely human protagonist and tries to show him in a much better light than his traditional villain role. Although Superman only appears here and there, this comic is a great insight to how the world and Lex perceive him – as an alien-like god patrolling the skies. Lex’s interactions with Bruce Wayne (Batman) are also quite interesting to read. He presents Batman with a gift — Kryptonite. This ultimately results in a fight between Superman and Batman. Also, Bermejo’s art is beautiful throughout.
6. Action Comics: “Brainiac” – 2008
They call you Superman. Why would they call you that — when you are not a “man” at all? And “super”? There is nothing super about you. — Brainiac
This run of Action Comics retells Superman’s first run-in with Brainiac. Before he came to Earth, the people of Krypton battled Brainiac, a cold and callous alien obsessed with the control of knowledge. Now, Brainiac has set his sights on destroying Earth and finishing off the Last Son of Krypton once and for all. This epic battle will change Superman’s world forever. Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank, this comic has a fair amount of graphic violence and is a somewhat darker Superman than some audiences may be comfortable with.
5. The Death of Superman – 1992
Yes, the unthinkable once happened — Superman died. Well, sort of. Can Superman stop the unstoppable creature called Doomsday? Superman finally meets his match here, which results in his death (after killing Doomsday, of course). The story is emotional, told superbly and the art is worth framing. The Death of Superman remains a seminal moment in the history of Superman comics. It is still one of the best-selling graphic novels of all time.
4. Superman: Last Son of Krypton – 2006
Written by Geoff Johns and Superman: The Movie‘s Richard Donner, Last Son of Krypton harkens back to Christopher Reeve’s embodiment. When a rocket lands in Metropolis containing a boy, Superman is convinced he is from Krypton. Will Superman be able to protect him against both Lex Luthor and his new Superman Revenge Squad, as well as the Phantom Zone criminals General Zod, Ursa and Non? The results are charming and the comic reminds us about the true values of the Man of Steel.
3. Superman: Red Son – 2003
What if the rocket that brought Superman to Earth had crashed in Soviet Russia instead of Kansas? What if insane genius Lex Luthor was employed by the US government to develop their own countermeasure against the Man of Steel? Acclaimed writer Mark Millar answers those questions in Superman: Red Son. Starring a host of familiar superheroes, including Batman and Wonder Woman, this superb graphic novel offers a Superman you’ve never seen before.
2. All-Star Superman – 2006
Considered the pinnacle of Superman comics, All-Star Superman is an example of great writing and great art. Grant Morrison attempted to strip the character down to his very basics and tell a Superman story without needing to worry about continuity. And he succeeded. Superman goes toe-to-toe with Bizarro and faces the final revenge of Lex Luthor. If you love Superman, you’ll love All-Star Superman. It’s a must-have and a must-read.
1. Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? – 1986
Alan Moore writes Superman. Need we say more? Moore teams with Curt Swan, the definitive Superman artist from the 1950s through the 1970s, to tell the final adventure of the Man of Steel featuring his last stand against Lex Luthor, Brainiac and a few other foes.
Moore wanted his plot to honour the long history of the character and to serve as a complete conclusion to his mythology. The story is a frame story set ten years after Superman was last seen, where Lois Lane recounts the tale of the end of Superman’s career to a reporter from the Daily Planet. Her story includes numerous violent attacks against Superman by his enemies, the public revelation of his secret identity of Clark Kent and a number of deaths of those closest to him.
Alan Moore is a master of this kind of superhero story. A public vote of the users on the website “Comic Book Resources” named it the 25th best storyline in comics of all time. It definitely deserves a place on this list as one of the best Superman comics ever.
Other notable Superman comics:
Superman: Peace on Earth
Superman for All Seasons
Superman: Speeding Bullets
For the Man Who Has Everything
Superman and the Men of Steel