There are several longer Superman stories worth hunting down for someone who has come to like the character enough to read a 40+ issue arc. There are also a few notable creative runs worth reading in their entirety, as well as some smaller stories referenced in Superman’s most notable adventures which might not otherwise be essential reading.
Let’s start with the best known of the mega-arcs…
The Death and Return of Superman
A major crossover from the 1990s, this months-long crossover helps define the public’s perception of the Superman comics, even though—as Max Landis noted in a Youtube video with 2 million+ views—it’s not actually that great. The story introduced Doomsday, who went on to be one of the major Superman foes, as well as the clone Superboy and Steel. And for about an year, it made it impossible for a fan of the Superman comics to just follow one of the four monthlies.
It has since been collected in multiple formats. You can get it as a series of three trade paperbacks: The Death of Superman, Funeral for a Friend and The Return of Superman. It’s also available in a giant omnibus The Death and Return of Superman. Or you could try to hunt down the original issues: Man of Steel #17-26, Superman #73-82, Adventures of Superman #496-505, Action Comics #683-692, Justice League of America #69-70, The Legacy of Superman #1 and Green Lantern # 46. It’s still going to be 43 bucks if you found it all in a dollar bin, or if comixology has it on sale.
Come to think of it, the Landis video is also worth your while.
The Saga of the Golden Age Superman
A better storyline—although probably not the best choice for beginners—is the story of the Golden Age Superman. This one came with a complicated history. At some point during the Silver Age, DC decided that the Superman introduced in Action Comics #1 was set in a different universe than the main DC titles. That world was referred to as Earth-Two, while most of the books were set in Earth-One.
Action Comics #484 features Superman’s wedding, and a controversial swerve which required the existence of multiple Earths. DC Comics Presents #87 introduced the Superboy of Earth Prime, who becomes important to what came next.
Crisis on Infinite Earths #1-12 was a major crossover which attempted to simplify the DC Universe, as all of the universes were merged into one. For a long time, it seemed to be the final story of the Earth-Two Superman. But then, Infinite Crisis #1-7 brought him back to the DC Universe, as he struggled with the changes with the modern world. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best Event book published by Marvel and DC. Because it is so satisfying to see two Superman teaming up to smack down Doomsday.
John Byrne’s Superman
One of he most prolific artists in comics, John Byrne essentially produced several issues a month of Superman comics for a two year period. Action Comics #584-600 was a team-up title with memorable encounters with heroes from all corners of the DC Universe. Superman #1-22, Annual #1 was the main book, possibly most notable for a definitive take on Lex Luthor. Byrne was also joined by artist Jerry Ordway for Adventures of Superman #436-444, and Annual #2.
DC has collected these as the Man of Steel series of Trade Paperbacks, along with Marv Wolfman’s brief run on Adventures of Superman. Byrne also wrote three mini-series building on the Superman Mythos: The World of Smallville, The World of Metropolis and The World of Krypton.
Byrne returned to the character in the Elseworlds series Superman/ Batman: Generations, which explored what would happen if Superman and Batman aged in real time, with eight installments set ten years apart. And things didn’t always go too well for their children. He also illustrated a brief run with writer Gail Simone in Action Comics #827-835, notable for returning Lois Lane’s father to the title, and introducing a comic book version of Livewire from the Superman animated series.
Grant Morrison’s DC One Million crossover introduced a future version of Superman as well as the villain Solaris the Tyrant Sun, both of whom made appearances in All-Star Superman. The gimmick was that it would show what the DC Universe was like when Action Comics #1 reached its one millionth issue in the 853rd Century.
Superman’s origin has been told quite a few times, so certain judgments have to be made on which versions to recommend first. If either Superman: Birthright or Secret Origin was the only TPB-length version of the iconic story of Superman’s first year, it would probably be in the Superman 101 list, as well as comic book Top 100s. But these compete with Superman For All Seasons and Man of Steel.
Superman: Birthright was a twelve issue mini-series by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu. Waid’s love of Superman is well-known, and it’s likely that he has an excellent run on th character in him. His version of the origin includes a few things that have been borrowed for Man Of Steel, such as the S being a Kryptonian symbol for hope, and the public treating Superman with suspicion when his alien origins become known. The major problem with this version of the story is that a major point (Lex Luthor spending his formative years in Metropolis) was dropped, and that DC soon had a new official version of Superman’s earliest adventures.
Superman: Secret Origin is another accessible and self-contained Superman story by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It established Sam Lane as one of the major Superman villains, and featured the origins of villains Metallo and Parasyte, as well as the initial clash between the Man of Steel and Lex Luthor. This was dropped after Flashpoint, when it was time for a new version of Superman’s first year.
Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics #1-18, 0 reimagined Superman from the days he was a crusader for justice and equality. It’s currently the official version of Superman’s origin, but it never quite lives up to the initial promise. There are some great moments, and some developments that reveal the amount of thought Morrison put into the project. It’s an interesting experiment, even if a plot involving time travel and alternate dimensions gets rather convoluted. The zero issue and ninth issue can be enjoyed as standalone stories, depicting a version of Superman suspiciously similar to President Obama, and an early mission that doesn’t go all too well for the inexperienced man of tomorrow.
There are a handful of single issue stories referenced in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? that may be worth checking out. Action Comics #544 revamped Lex Luthor and Brainiac, while Superman #167 featured their first team-up. The Legion of Supervillains were introduced in Action Comics #147.
“Return to Krypton” from Superman #141 had an influence on “For the Man Who Has Everything.” “The Girl in Superman’s Past” from Superman #129 introduced Lori Lemaris, which became a ridiculous but oft-referenced part of the character’s history. Action Comics #254 introduced Bizarro.
Comic Book Resources leaders selected their favorite Superman stories. How does my selection stack up?
- 71.The Cosmos-Quaking Origins of The New Luthor And Brainiac!” Action Comics #544
- 63. “The Team of Luthor and Brainiac!” Superman Volume 1 #167
- 60. “The Battle With Bizarro” Action Comics #254
- 49. “The Legion of Super-Villains!” Superman #147 (1961)
- 48. “Superman Takes a Wife!” Action Comics #484 (1978)
- 36. Infinite Crisis #1-7 (2005-06)
- 32. Superman: Secret Origin #1-6
- 25. “Return to Krypton” (Superman Volume 1 #141) (1960)
- 21. DC One Million #1-4 (1998)
- 20. “Funeral for a Friend” (Justice League America #70, Adventures of Superman #498-499, Superman #76-77, Superman: Man of Steel #20-21, Action Comics #685-686) (1992-93)
- 14. “Reign of the Supermen” Action Comics #687-691, Adventures of Superman #500-505, Green Lantern Volume 3, #46, Superman Volume 2 #78-82 and Superman: The Man of Steel #22-26 (1993)
- 13. Superman: Birthright #1-12
- 12. “Death of Superman” Superman: The Man of Steel #17-19, Superman Volume 2 #73-75, Adventures of Superman #496-497, Action Comics #683-684 and Justice League America #69 (1992)
- 11. Crisis on Infinite Earths #1-12 (1985)
IGN did a Top 25 list, just in time for Man of Steel.
- 23. Action Comics #9
- 16. Superman: Secret Origin
- 9. The Death and Return of Superman
- 7. Birthright