There are a few notable Superman stories that benefit from an existing familiarity with the characters. So, this is the stuff to check out when you’ve seen the Superman 101 list.
I’m splitting this into two categories. The 102 list is for the shorter self-contained storylines. There will be a later reading list dealing with longer crossovers, complete runs by certain creative team runs, as well as new version of tales you’ve seen before, and stories that are referenced in better material.
Superman: Speeding Bullets
This one-shot is a great introduction to DC’s Elseworlds comics, which typically featured self-contained storylines placing familiar heroes in new settings, or with completely different spins. The twist here is that DC merged their top heroes, so the last son of Krypton is adopted by the Waynes, and Lex Luthor deals with the aftermath of a nasty fall into a vat of chemicals.
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel
In this five issue mini-series (a predecesor to their best-selling Joker OGN), Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo explore things from Lex Luthor’s point of view. He has a certain predilection that was later incorporated into other writer’s takes on the character.
The Impact of Superman
It would usually be a bit indulgent for the publisher to write a story about the impact the character has had. But Superman is different. This strategy has resulted in at least two excellent self-contained stories that you could show people who don’t usually follow comics.
The elseworlds mini-series Secret Identity by Kurt Buisek and Stuart Immonen follows a young man named Clark Kent, who realizes that he has super powers in a world in which no one else does. The Vertigo graphic novel It’s A Bird…by Steven Seagle and Teddy Kristianson is an autobiographical as the writer of the Superman monthly deals with the possibility that he may have inherited Huntingtons Disease, and compares that to the alien experiences of Superman.
Action Comics #507-508, 510-512
These give issues include two great stories from the Cary Bates Curt Swan era shortly before Crisis on Infinite Earths, revealing that a major charm of the comics was the sense that anything could happen. So Clark Kent’s deceased father returns from the dead, while a young hippie develops the power to make anyone over thirty do as he says. Then, Lex Luthor seems to have reformed, claiming that the love of a good woman has set him straight. These stories informed Grant Morrison’s take on the character in All-Star Superman, and show why some readers preferred the Pre-Crisis Superman.
Superman: Red Son #1-3
There is a particular type of story that DC is quite good at, imagining what it would be like if their characters grew up in different environments. And the strongest of these stories is the mini-series by Mark Millar and Dave Johnson, which imagines what it would be like if Superman was raised in Soviet Russia, with Batman as a rebel whose parents will killed during a purge, Lex Luthor as an American scientist who develops an obsession with the Russian superhero, and poor Lois as his wife. This three-parter has gotten more publicitly recently thanks to an appearance of the Red Son Superman in DC’s Injustice video game, which has even been featured in television advertisements.
Superman VS Muhammed Ali
This one-shot, recently praised by Tom Spurgeon, is simply one of the best looking comic books ever published, with possibly the most impressive artwork by the legendary Neal Adams, in his sole take on the man of steel.
With Man of Steel, General Zod will have been depicted by a second Academy Award nominated actor in a blockbuster Superman film. It may be more than the character deserves, although unlike Mandarin, you can easily find some good comic book adventures with the villain. Steve Gerber and Gene Colan’s four-issue Phantom Zone mini series revealed the origins of the Phantom Zone, as a distinctive collection of Evil Kryptonians escaped, trapping Superman inside. A sequel of sorts could be found in DC Comics Presents #97.
For a long time, you didn’t see much of the evil Kryptonians as DC felt that it would be much better if Superman was the only remaining survivor of Krypton. But eventually, they went in a different direction. Last Son from Action Comics #844-846, 851, Annual #11 was a solid self-contained story that started with Superman discovering a Krpytonian child, and ended with him forced to side with some of his greatest enemies against Zod and his minions.
Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Action Comics
Geoff Johns was joined on Action Comics by artist Gary Frank, and they worked together on several mostly self-contained stories, each with an accessible standalone premise. Superman and the Legion of Superheroes from Action Comics #858-863 was my favorite of these, building on Superman’s relationship with the superheroes of the future, as he found himself in a 31st Century in which his legacy was tarnished, and he had lost his powers. Brainiac from Action Comics #866-870 may have also been Supergirl’s finest hour, although it was a hell of an introduction to the real Brainiac, after the revelation that all of Superman’s previous battles against the monster had been against probes.
Obviously, there are a few single issues worth hunting down. Superman #76 features the first team-up between Batman and Superman. Superman #53 is the definitive Golden Age origin. Action Comics #252 introduced Supergirl. Superman #416 was another solid Lex Luthor story, with an interesting twist with a future version of the man of steel.
Superman #149 is one of the most notable imaginary stories, as Lex Luthor kills off the man of steel. It’s also written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. “How Superman Would End the War” was the first of the imaginary stories, as Siegel and Shuster imagined how Superman would really respond to World War Two. Superman #199 was the most notable of his races against the Flash.
Superman #141 was the famed Return to Krypton. Superman #247 was Elliot S Magin’s “Why Must There Be a Superman?” Superman #400 is a great anniversary issue, showing the impact of the character over the generations.
Superman Volume 2 #2 and #8 are two highlights from John Byrne’s run on the title focusing on what makes Lex Luthor tick. Superman Adventures #41 has a clever trick by Mark Millar, as he tells 22 one page stories set in the world of the 1990s Superman cartoon. Hitman #34 features a different view of the character, as he has an inadvertent conversation with a professional killer.
Comic Book Resources leaders selected their favorite Superman stories. How does my selection stack up?
- 75. The Mightiest Team in the World- Superman #76
- 74. “22 Stories in a Single Bound” Superman Adventures #41
- 73. Phantom Zone the Final Chapter (DC Comics Presents #97)
- 69. “The Miraculous Return of Jonathan Kent” Action Comics #507-508
- 68. Speeding Bullets
- 67. How Superman Would End The War
- 64. “The Living Legends of Superman” Superman #400
- 58. It’s a Bird…
- 56. “The Origin of Superman!” Superman #53
- 51. “The Einstein Connection” Superman #416
- 48. “Superman Takes a Wife!” Action Comics #484
- 42. The Phantom Zone
- 34. “The Supergirl from Krypton!” Action Comics #252
- 29. “The Secret is Revealed!” Superman Volume 2 #2
- 25. “Return to Krypton” (Superman Volume 1 #141)
- 24. “Of Thee I Sing” Hitman #34 (1998)
- 22. “Must There Be a Superman?” Superman #247
- 19. “Brainiac” Action Comics #866-870
- 18. “Superman’s Race With the Flash!” Superman #199
- 17. “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” Action Comics #858-863
- 16. Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
- 10. “The Death of Superman” (Superman Volume 1 #149)
- 9. Secret Identity #1-4
- 6. Superman: Red Son
- 25. Brainiac (Action Comics #886-890)
- 22. Superman: Speeding Bullets
- 21. Last Son (Action Comics #844-846, 851, Annual #11)
- 17. Superman Adventures #41
- 15. The Mightiest Team in the World- Superman #76
- 14. Must There Be a Superman?
- 13. The Race Between Superman and the Flash
- 12. “The Origin of Superman!” Superman #53
- 10. It’s a Bird…
- 4. Superman: Secret Identity