Must-Read Comics: 'Superman'
"For this is a day that a Superman died."
Superman stories may not always be considered as thought-provoking or realistic as the tales of DC Comics' Dark Knight, but the Man of Steel has his own library of memorable and monumental storylines to choose from which date back even before readers were lucky enough to flip through the pages of Mark Waid and Alex Ross' Kingdom Come (1996) and Mark Millar's Red Son (2003).
Here are 5 must-read classics for Superman fans.
1. How Luthor Met Superboy! (1960)
Adventure Comics No. 271 (1960) presents the ground-breaking story which ultimately proves to be the precursor for the WB and CW’s immensely popular television series Smallville (2001-2011) some 40 years before Tom Welling donned young Kal-El’s bland, plaid attire. As the show features the friends-turned-foes Clark Kent and Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), How Luthor Met Superboy! gives DC fans a glimpse of what might have been if the teens remained friends.
Teenage Luthor is the Boy of Steel’s biggest fan, and the youth seizes the opportunity to meet his idol when he rescues Kal-El from Kryptonite exposure. Brilliant, even at such a young age, Lex then deduces he can create an antidote for Clark’s sickness to Kryptonite. Unfortunately, during the attempt to create the cure, a freak fire threatens to destroy the lab, obliterate the research and burn Lex Luthor alive.
Superboy swoops out of the sky and quickly uses his Super Breath to put out the fire, and save his friend, but the gust of wind knocks over the cure and some acid which combine into an unexpected gas. The expanding substance quickly envelops Lex and makes Luthor’s curly, red hair fall out leaving him bald and bitter.
Friends no more, and swearing to get even with Superboy, Luthor employees Kryptonite to trap the Boy of Steel and seemingly kill him! Fortunately, Clark manages to inhale the final drops of the Kryptonite antidote, and Kal-El survives the attack. Rather than take Luthor to jail, Superboy shows mercy for his friend turned foe, but an embittered Luthor remains steadfast: He will become more popular than Superboy, and Luthor vows one day he will destroy the Boy of Steel!
2. Beyond The Silent Night (1985)
Written by Marv Wolfman, and penned by George Perez, Beyond the Silent Night appears in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths No. 7 (1985). The crossover event leaves fans of DC Comics in a state of shock, but Superman fanatics take the story particularly hard as Kal-El’s cousin Kara falls in battle against the dreaded Anti-Monitor!
Even Superman seems no match for the Anti-Monitor, as the Man of Steel screams out in agony during their fierce battle, but Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) hears her cousin’s cries and races to his aid. Before the Anti-Monitor can kill Superman, Supergirl rips away the villain’s footing, and the fatal anti-matter blast misses its intended target.
Enraged, Supergirl unleashes on the Anti-Monitor with all her speed and strength! Thrashing him without mercy, it appears the Girl of Steel will triumph over the Anti-Monitor. Unfortunately, Kara becomes distracted by Doctor Light who is caring for Superman and is supposed to get Kal-El to safety. When Doctor Light hesitates to flee, and she offers to help Supergirl, Kara turns her head for a fleeting moment, as she orders Doctor Light to stay away.
Suddenly, the Anti-Monitor gains the upper hand, grabs Supergirl, and shoots her point-blank with his anti-matter blast which is arguably even more crippling than Darkseid’s Omega beams. With the Girl of Steel fatally wounded, the Anti-Monitor manages to make his escape as an injured Superman takes hold of his fallen cousin.
Beside himself with grief, Clark begs Supergirl not to leave him, but Kara dies in his arms after she tells her cousin she loves him. Afterward, Supergirl’s memorial is attended by thousands of people and superheroes including Batman, Lois Lane and an inconsolable Brainiac-5.
In the final panels of the comic book, Superman leaves the Fortress of Solitude with Kara’s swathed body, and he flies into space with her. On a trajectory for the sun, Superman sorrowfully soars toward his cousin’s final resting place.
3. The Greatest Hero Of Them All (1987)
For better or worse, Crisis on Infinite Earths allows DC writers to take certain liberties with all of the comic book universes’ characters, and the Superman family is not exempt from such treatment. In 1987, the four-part storyline titled The Greatest Hero of Them All introduces the notion Superman was never Superboy.
While this remains a boneheaded decision by the powers that be, it allows for the creation of one of the most intriguing and poignant Superman/Superboy stories ever told. The Greatest Hero of Them All not only includes a team-up with the Legion of Super-Heroes, but it allows the Boy of Steel to meet the Man of Steel face to face!
In the 31st century, a Pocket Universe Superboy exists independently of the Superman DC fans know and love, and this younger version of Kal-El is created by the devious Time Trapper. The Boy of Steel and Man of Steel cross paths in the past, and they even come to blows in the pages of Action Comics No. 591 (1987). Despite the creativity and ingenuity of Superman vs. Superboy, the real bombshell unfolds in the final pages of Legion of Super-Heroes No. 38 (1987).
Notwithstanding being created and manipulated by the Time Trapper, Superboy still exhibits the innate good and kindness which are the key characteristics of the true Superman. In an act of selfless sacrifice, as the Time Trapper attempts to destroy both the Pocket Universe and the Legion of Superheroes, Superboy uses his own body, as insulation in the Time Trapper’s deadly machine, to move the Pocket Universe out of harm’s way!
The enormous energies needed to move the entire Pocket Universe are absorbed by Superboy, and they fatally overwhelm him. Once the Boy of Steel makes sure the Legion’s transport is safe, he falls silent in the Legionnaire Mon-El’s arms.
Despite not being the true Superboy, whose origin is carelessly wiped out following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Boy of Steel’s death still resonates and sends shockwaves through the DC Universe.
4. Execution 2001 (1991)
One of the most underrated and enjoyable crossover events in DC Comics remains the unprecedented Armageddon 2001 (1991). In the bleakest of futures, the tyrannous Monarch reigns, and he is an all-powerful supervillain who wipes out all of Earth’s mightiest heroes, including Superman!
However, Monarch is preoccupied with time travel experiments and during these trials the scientist Matthew Ryder accidentally becomes endowed with both the ability to traverse multiple timelines and to see the futures of those he touches. As a result of his new gifts, Ryder becomes the superhero known as Waverider.
In an attempt to learn the secret identity of Monarch and thwart his plans, and the deaths of all Earth’s heroes, Waverider travels to the past and touches Superman in the story titled Execution 2001. Appearing in the pages of Superman Annual No. 3 (1991), the story reveals Lois Lane is killed in a nuclear explosion which is caused by Intergang’s Mannheim.
10 years after Lois’ death, and now married to Lana Lang, the Man of Steel has turned into a merciless tyrant hellbent on ridding the world of all nuclear weapons, which is not to be confused with the inferior Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).
A weary, fearful government begs Batman to step in, and stop Superman, but Bruce Wayne dispatches Martian Manhunter, Fire and Booster Gold to try and talk some sense into the guilt-ridden Man of Steel. Rather than coming to a peaceful understanding with Batman’s emissaries, the Man of Steel engages them in battle, and Clark actually kills the Martian Manhunter!
Batman is then forced to do the unthinkable, The Dark Knight must kill Superman! Batman sports a Kryptonite ring, and he reluctantly brings down Earth’s mightiest hero with Robin (Tim Drake) standing by his side. Clark’s tragic death will undoubtedly have lasting repercussions, but it also means Superman cannot become Monarch, so Waverider must continue his time-traveling journey.
5. The Death And Return Of Superman
The writing teams responsible for producing the four Superman titles appearing on shelves in the early 1990s (Superman, Action Comics, Superman: Man of Steel, and the Adventures of Superman) need to come up with a meaningful story to supplant their planned wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane: A love affair spanning over 50 years.
The writers and editors of the four titles gather for a meeting in which they discover they must put off the wedding storyline because a television show titled Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997) is in the works, and those showrunners will also marry Lois Lane and Clark Kent.
Problem: The television show gets dibs to tell the wedding story first.
So, in the now infamous editorial meeting, the writers must come up with a completely different tale to tell in the comics. That’s when the Adventures of Superman writer, Jerry Ordway, says:
“Let’s kill him!”
On November 18, 1992, almost two months prior to its cover date, the Man of Steel is killed by the hulking creature known as Doomsday in the pages of Superman No. 75 (1993), and his death is by far the most radical change following the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In addition to the fantastic storytelling, comic book readers are given a mountain of memorable moments spanning the massive three-story arc in which Superman dies (Doomsday!), is laid to rest (Funeral for a Friend) and is resurrected (Reign of the Supermen):
The big-mouthed Guy Gardner gets a face full of asphalt when Doomsday grabs him and smashes his head into the street, the dreadful Supergirl clone turns into goo with one punch from the Kryptonian killing machine, the cocky Superboy clone Kon-El is introduced, Coast City is destroyed by Cyborg Superman and Mongul, and Kal-El rises from the grave, dons his famous Black Suit and returns to full strength!
All of these recommendations are fantastic reads, but which classic Superman stories are your favorites? Share your thoughts and favs in the comments!