Thursday, 23 June 2011

Top Ten Best Superman Stories Ever!

Ten not enough? Click here for the Top 25 Best Superman Stories Ever!

Click here for my Top Ten Best Batman Stories Ever!


Next year Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel will be hitting our movie screens! You may want to prepare for what will no doubt be a spectacular cinematic event by boning up on some of Superman’s comic book adventures. But where to start? After all, the character’s been around for over seven decades, that’s a lot of catching up. Well, fear not, this article is your guide to the Top Ten Greatest Superman Stories of all time!
Honourable Mentions:

'Captive of the Red Sun'
 Action Comics #300 (1963)
This is a surprisingly grim Silver Age tale of Superman trapped in a post-apocalyptic future. Robbed of his powers, Superman takes a long walk across a dried up ocean in order to reach his Fortress and find a way home. He encounters a variety of bizarre, mutated creatures along the way and is accompanied by a robotic duplicate of his boss, Perry White! The final panel of the story features a brooding Superman looking out over Metropolis and hoping that he will never again find himself the last man on Earth. Considering most stories from this period ended with Lois Lane getting annoyed while Superman winked at the reader, this ending really stands out.

'The Challenge of Terra Man'
 Superman #249 (1972)
This fantastically daft Bronze Age tale features Superman suffering from the annual birthday depression that all Kryptonians must endure.  As a result our melancholic Man of Steel is woefully unprepared for an attack from Terra-Man, a cowboy villain wielding expanding, atomic bullets and killer cigar smoke. Superman is having a super freakout and his powers are behaving unpredictably. In one brilliant bit his X Ray vision is reversed and he is forced to stare in horror at his own brain! I don't know about you but Superman fighting a Super-Cowboy with Killer Cigars while he flies upside down and stares at his own brain sounds pretty entertaining to me.

These stories are both great, but they didn't make the list.  What then, are the Top Ten Best Superman Stories Ever? Let's take a look!

10) The Death of Superman,
 Superman #149 (1961)

This is one of the all time greatest Lex Luthor stories and also one of the most famous "imaginary" stories of the sixties. This story imagines what would happen if Luthor pretended to turn good and then zapped Superman with a Kryptonite lamp while his guard was down. For a start, this story is great because it features Luthor's Lair, which is always a treat. It's in an abandoned museum full of waxworks of Al Capone, Atilla the Hun and other famous baddies. You have to shake hands with a statue of Julius Caesar to get in. The other high point of this story is the nastiness of Superman's death. Luthor fries him slowly under the aforementioned lamp and forces Lois, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen to watch. In Luthor's own words, "He wriggled and twisted like a worm on a hook! He sweated and turned green and the last thing he ever saw was my grinning face!" It’s grim stuff, at least by the standards of sixties Superman comics, but also very entertaining.

9) The Return of Superman (1993)

While Superman's other death is the most famous Super-story of the nineties, it doesn't amount to much more than a big cross country punch up. Superman's resurrection was far more interesting. Following the death of the Man of Steel four Super-pretenders turn up. A Cyborg, a grim vigilante, a super-teen and a man in super-armour. How nineties is that!? Neither the armoured guy (Steel) nor the teen (Superboy) were really claiming to be the real deal but the other two were strong contenders. At the time I was convinced it was the Cyborg. Boy, did I back the wrong horse! Turns out the Cyborg was the big baddy. That was my first shock. The next one came when the Cyborg blew up Green Lantern's home town, Coast City. This was the first time I'd ever read a comic and thought "Did they just do that!?" The story gave us two strong characters that have become important parts of the DC Universe, John Henry (Steel) Irons and Conner (Superboy) Kent. This almost makes up for the fact that this story was also the first appearance of Superman's short lived nineties mullet. 
8) Why Must There Be A Superman? Superman #247 (1972)


 A friend of mine once asked me, why doesn't Superman feed the starving of the world, or end all war? This was the first story to provide anything approaching an answer to such questions. Superman walks a fine line between helpful super-powered pal and scary alien invader, hell-bent on imposing his will on the world. In a way, the fact that he's so powerful is his greatest weakness. If he does too much he emasculates the human race and removes them of their drive to help each other achieve a better world. If he's always there to help them, why should they bother? In this story Superman begins to consider this for the first time, paving the way for the more sophisticated superhero stories of the subsequent decades.

7) Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow, Superman #423/Action Comics #583 (1986)

Beardy comics genius Alan Moore has written three of the most acclaimed Superman tales ever and they're all on my list. This is one of 'em.  Just before John Byrne rebooted the character in 1986, Moore wrote this legendary two part tale to close the book on Superman's Silver age adventures.  The story depicts Superman defending himself and his friends from a final ruthless attack from all his greatest foes.  The whole story has a tragic air of finality about it as Superman sees parts of his myth break away one by one like pieces of an iceberg.  The fact that it's pencilled by Curt Swan, the man who defined the look of the Silver Age and Bronze Age Superman, adds to the poignancy of the whole thing.  This story genuinely feels like the end of an era.  Every legend needs an ending.  Robin Hood was killed by a treacherous prioress, King Arthur was clobbered over the head by Mordred and Batman has Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.  Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow is a worthy ending to the legend of Superman.
6) The Jungle Line, DC Comics Presents #85 (1985)

Next on the list is another Alan Moore classic.  Superman has caught a deadly Kryptonian virus. He rents a car and drives South to die. There he encounters Swamp Thing while in the midst of huge super-powered fever driven freakout. The reason this story is so effective is that it paints a vivid picture of a god confronting his own mortality and pretty much crapping his pants. Moore does this by contrasting Superman's moments of fever induced physical weakness with beautifully detailed descriptions of his awesome powers. For example, "Once he bathed in the heart of the sun, careless of the mile high geysers of flame that spat at him in frustrated outrage. Now, for his impudence, it cooks him by degrees." Superman's fear at confronting pain, death and helplessness for the first time in his life is tangible. In one darkly humorous moment Clark Kent gets a paper cut and artist Rick Veitch has drawn him reacting with a perfect look of confused horror.
5) For the Man Who Has Everything, Superman Annual #11 (1985)

Here's the third Alan Moore story in my list. Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman turn up at the Fortress of Solitude to celebrate Superman's birthday. Unfortunately Mongul has got there first and ensnared Superman in a Black Mercy, a parasitic plant that grants it's victims a vision of their heart's desire as it drains their life. Moore figures that Superman's heart's desire is to live as an ordinary Joe on Krypton surrounded by family. I love the idea that Superman, the perpetual outsider, the alien super-god, would just want to be a regular normal slob living in a place where he felt he truly belonged. As Superman fights the influence of the killer plant his fantasy world starts to go tits up. Superman's dad, Jor-El is depicted as a crusty old racist who is the laughing stock of Krypton ever since the planet failed to explode as he predicted. Jor-El and his clan are also pretty unpopular due to the protest movement against the Phantom Zone. Moore was probably the first writer to acknowledge that the Zone (an extra-dimensional dumping ground for criminals that was discovered by Jor-El) was pretty cruel and pretty unusual, as punishments go. This was also the first time, at least to my knowledge, that Krypton was depicted as anything other than a scientifically advanced Utopia. As well as all this brilliance the story also features Wonder Woman and Mongul in a huge scrap, a really, really pissed off Superman, and at the end, Robin saves the day!

4) Superman and the Legion of Superheroes,
 Action Comics #858-863 (2007)

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have produced some of the best Superman stories of recent years. This is one of them. Superman goes back to the 31st Century to reunite his old teenage gang, the Legion of Superheroes. While there he battles super-powered, alien-hating human supremacists. This story is very accessible, despite the fact that it draws on decades of continuity to return the Legion to their roots. The getting-the-band-back-together plot and the array of colourful characters would make this a perfect basis for a Superman movie (if you’re reading Zack Snyder, take note). This story is absolutely littered with moments so cool that I literally punched the air with joy while reading them. The best thing about the tale is that Superman is without his powers for most of it but you hardly notice because he's such a badass. Towards the end a powerless Superman pushes the main baddy, Earth Man through the window of a space station in order to battle him while plummeting through the atmosphere. Balls of Steel.

3) Superman: Red Son (2003)

This is the story of what would have happened if Superman's rocket landed in Soviet Russia and Superman became "the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact." It's written by Mark Millar, a brilliant writer that has written depressingly little in the way of Superman stories considering he obviously loves and understands the character so much. Earlier I mentioned that Superman walks a fine line between helpful super-powered pal and scary alien invader, hell-bent on imposing his will on the world. In Red Son, he crosses that line. Despite this Superman is never depicted as an evil power mad Commie. Throughout the whole book he's driven by the same desire to help and make the world a better place that drives the regular Superman. This story shows us what would happen if Superman, removed of the American value for individual freedom, took that desire to its extreme. This is also one of the best Luthor stories ever. Luthor is the Western world's only hope but, like regular Luthor, he is driven by the same petty obsession to rid the world of the one man who could be perceived as superior to him. It also features Russian Batman in an adorable little Bat-eared deer-stalker hat.

2) The Man of Steel (1986)

This is the story that got me, at age eleven, into Superman.  I'd read Superman comics before but I'd always viewed Superman as a bit stuffy and po-faced and I had always preferred Batman.  That was until I read
 Man of Steel.  Byrne took an approach to the character that had never been done before.  He made Superman a bit less powerful and a bit more vulnerable, he could no longer move planets but he could be hurt.  Byrne emphasized this vulnerability by having Superman's cape get visibly torn whenever he found himself in a particularly challenging battle.  This effective little artistic trend continues to this day.  But Byrne did much more than make Superman physically weaker.  He strengthened Superman's ties to Earth.  As a man who was born in England and yet spent most of his life in the United States, Byrne felt that Superman would be proud of his Kryptonian roots but wouldn't constantly pine for his lost world in the way the Silver and Bronze Age versions of the character had.  Byrne also figured that as Superman never wore a mask, then people would have no reason to suspect that he had a secret identity.  This gave Clark Kent the freedom to shed his meek, mild mannered image and live his life without holding back his courage and charm.  To Byrne, Superman was the disguise and Clark Kent was very much the real person. This made for a character that was very easy for the eleven year old me to relate to.  After all, this Superman was much more human than Batman, the aloof millionaire. Byrne's very human Superman was my gateway into the wider world of the Superman myth, and it's for this reason that I've placed this story at number two.

1) All Star Superman (2005-2008)


This is it. The ultimate Superman story. It's written by Grant Morrison, one of the best writers in comics today and it features everything that's good about Superman, and I mean EVERYTHING! Despite this it's not just a greatest hits package. Every aspect of the Superman myth is taken to its next logical extreme.  Morrison's handling of Bizarro World contains a beautiful example of this.  In All Star Superman Bizarro World contains not only imperfect duplicates of Superman and Jor-El but also an imperfect duplicate of Bizarro himself, Zibarro!  Zibarro is the sensitive, poetic and intelligent opposite of Bizarro in every way, trapped on a world of mindless monsters.  Morrison has taken the story of Bizarro and pushed it just that little bit further, just as he does with every aspect of the Superman myth contained in this series.  This is Superman Plus! 

Lois Lane is beautifully depicted as the very flawed human woman who captured the heart of a god.  Under the influence of alien chemicals a paranoid Lois admits to herself that she fears she couldn't love Superman if any part of him was actually like his oafish and bumbling Clark Kent persona.  Seeing this ugly but very human side of Lois exposed makes her seem more of a real person and makes Superman's love for her even more special.

Lex Luthor is absolutely perfect, a super genius utterly consumed by hate, just as he should be.  At one point Clark Kent takes off his glasses and shouts in Luthor's face and yet, blinded by his own -arrogance, Luthor fails to recognise what is literally staring him in the face.  Luthor is contrasted with the character of Leo Quintum, head of P.R.O.J.E.C.T, a lunar-based scientific laboratory performing advanced genetic testing.  With his presence in the story Quintum spells out the tragedy of Luthor, representing what Luthor could accomplish if he wasn't so obsessed with destroying Superman.

The plot of the story revolves around a dying Superman's attempts to perform twelve Herculean super-feats before he passes away.  Like
 Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow it serves as an effective and poignant ending to the legend of Superman.  But it's not all doom and gloom.  All Star Superman is fun!  It contains, among other things, a cross dressing Jimmy Olsen, an arm wrestle with Samson and Atlas and an ape called Leopold in a Superman suit.

There's a lot more I could write about
 All Star Superman, but I just wouldn't do it justice.  The only other thing I can say is READ IT!!!!!!

So there's the list. The Top Ten Best Superman Stories Ever! What do you think? What was left out? Does anything not belong there? Leave a comment and let us know!




(A version of this article appears on WorldofSuperheroes.com)



6 comments:

  1. I tend to consider Superman for all Seasons as even better than Morrison's All-Star Superman--not that that story isn't great, just maybe second best. Written beautifully by Jeph Loeb, it makes you fall in love with superman all over again, while at the same time creating a nostalgic yearning for the past and times long vanished. And Tim Sale's drawing really makes it; his version of superman has this just-barely exaggerated feel to it that makes supes really feel alive, as a super man.

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  2. The art and color effects in _All-Star Superman_ are a real turn-off for me. I just haven't been able to read the story yet because of the visuals. I didn't know about Moore's work in
    _DC Comics Presents_ and _Superman Annual_. I will have to check those out. Thanks for the list.

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  3. Although these were good pics, I think that this was written by someone who was too young to have read the classics of the silver age (and golden age).
    Some great notables that were forgotten were Superman #43 (the case of the living trophies). First time, I believe, that SUperman faced against another extra-terrestrial..and one as powerful (or, more so) than Superman.
    Superman #17, and Action 47 (original series). The first 'contined' stories, where Luthor becomes more powerfaul thatn Superman. A great read.
    There was a modern issue (in the 90's), I don't have the issue at hand, in which Cat Grant's child was killed by the toyman. Superman is helpless in the face of such loss.
    Emporer Joker !
    Action comics 369. Superman messes up...bigtime...and we all pay the price for it...endof story !

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  4. I agree that the list has a youthful touch but many of the "classics" of Golden and Bronze are all read in trade, not the comics themself...this list at least is what the writer has read and compiled his favorite stories, you can tell by the personal attachment he comments about...eithe way good stuff but no ACTION COMICS: LAST SON

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  5. Wonderful and timely post! Have seen the MoS trailer and am pumped for next summer! Inspired me to get back into reading the comics, and this was just the post. The comments are helpful, too!

    I am currently working through your Top Ten Batman Stories, and am having a blast! Thanks so much for all of this!

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  6. Man of Steel (by Byrne), Kingdom Come, and Birthright have been my favorite Superman stories to date.

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