Blah blah blah Man of Steel movie, blah blah blah Comixology running massive sale of around 200 Superman comics, blah blah blah runs until 20th June, blah blah blah my carefully considered recommendations. All these issues are either 99c (69p), or flat out FREE, meaning there are some quality bargains to be had. You know the drill by now: shall we crack on?
Best of the Best
Readers may recall that a short while ago, I already recommended five major Superman books or arcs that I feel give a good primer on the character. Happily, four of them – All-Star Superman, Secret Identity, Birthright and The Man of Steel are all included in this sale. So the immediate recommendation (assuming you’re willing to splurge around $35/£25 on Superman books) is to buy all of those.
If you’re only looking to check out a couple of issues here and there, then as much as I love Birthright I’d suggest skipping that (as you do really need to read all twelve issues – it’s one big story). All-Star Superman, just about the greatest Superman series there has ever been, also works best as a medium-form narrative, but again, if you want to just sample it, then there are a couple of issues that make for good standalone stories. Quite aside from issue #1 being available for free, issue #6 is very much a highlight, and very accessible for newer readers; while issue #10 is basically my favourite single superhero issue of the last couple of decades (but is a bit more reliant on your buying into the myth of Superman in the first place).
Secret Identity, meanwhile, is an utterly delightful series, and at under four dollars/three quid for the entirety of it, it absolutely demands your attention.
(In that previous article I also warned readers off Azzarello and Lee’s Superman 204-215, so I’ll reiterate that, too!)
John Byrne (et al)
If you like what you see from Byrne’s Man of Steel miniseries, then the obvious next step is to sample some of his ongoing run that immediately followed. As part of this sale, DC have put the bulk of his run on Comixology for the first time, so it’s a great opportunity to snap up some otherwise often overlooked issues. As this material follows a page-one reboot, it’s all generally very accessible material that relies on little prior knowledge of the character.
Tread carefully, though, as there’s also some dodgy stuff in there (such as the time a mind-controlling alien called Sleez forced Superman and Big Barda to make porn films together. No, really.) As a general rule, I find the issues of Superman he did to be of a higher quality than those on Action Comics. He also took over Adventures of Superman for a little while, but prior to that, issues were usually by Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway. Anyway, here are some picks from that run:
Superman #1 – Superman battles the new Metallo. Not an amazing first issue, but as it’s free, you can’t argue with the price.
Superman #2 – This, by contrast, is one of my favourite ever Superman stories. Luthor devotes considerable manpower (and computer power – hey, it’s the ’80s!) to trying to figure out what the link is between Clark Kent and Superman, and comes to a startling conclusion. The ending to this issue is one of the best character beats that the Lex/Superman dynamic has ever been given.
Adventures of Superman #424 – Wolfman and Ordway’s first post-Crisis issue is also one of their strongest, introducing Professor Emil Hamilton and Cat Grant.
Superman #11 – Mister Mix Yez Freaking Pittle Ik. That is all.
Superman #12 – The Post-Crisis reimagining of the Lori Lemaris story which – surprisingly – follows more of the beats of the original than you might expect. Reviewed in further detail by me here.
Superman #13 – Despite being tied to the beginnings of a best-forgotten crossover, this has some good stuff about Clark’s relationship with Lana.
Superman #8 & Action Comics #591 – A two-part story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes that attempts to explain how Superboy can can exist post-Crisis when Clark was never actually him. Works surprisingly well, and features lots of bonus Krypto the Superdog.
Superman #21, Adventures #444 & Superman #22 – Byrne’s last arc introduces post-Crisis versions of Supergirl and General Zod, and features a genuinely shocking denouement that carried significant long-term weight for the modern version of the character.
Action Comics #592 & #593 – Oh, alright then. If you’re really curious, this is the “Super Sex-Tape” story…
Superman For All Seasons
Four-part miniseries. From when Jeph Loeb was good! With gorgeous art by Tim Sale, this is a charming – if slightly lightweight – take on Clark’s early life in both Smallville and Metropolis. Don’t expect Long Halloween levels of quality, but this is a world away from Loeb’s Marvel work.
Three-part miniseries. The Superman story that many people who don’t actually seem to like Superman all that much cite as the best Superman story. Which should tell you a lot about it. Not that there’s not plenty of merit to it, just that it’s a fun “what if” (the premise, as one-line high-concept as all Mark Millar’s best are, is that Kal-El’s rocket landed in Soviet Russia) that doesn’t really go too much into the actual character of Superman. Generally good, but not an earth-shattering masterpiece, largely due to some of the usual Millar flaws.
Superman #423 & Action Comics #583 – Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? – the official “last ever story” of the pre-Crisis Superman – is pretty much the greatest Superman story, but it is also very heavily reliant on an existing love for the character and his trappings (as they existed pre-1985). So it’s an odd one to try and recommend off the bat – yes, it’s magnificent, but if you need to be told that it’s good, you’re probably not ready to read it; and if you are ready to read it, you probably already know that it’s important.
Superman Annual #11 – While not as good as Whatever Happened…, For The Man Who Has Everything is actually easier to recommend as a Moore Superman story. More stand-alone, less weighed down by baggage, has Dave Gibbons on art and a terrific “What if Krypton hadn’t exploded?” dream-induced premise. Oh, and it’s got Batman in it.
Six-part miniseries. Well, look, right – the writer of this retelling of Superman’s origin seems to have so little faith in it that when he took charge at DC, he was involved in a continuity re-scrub that wiped it out less than two years after it had been published. That’s an even shorter timeframe than the one between this and the far superior Birthright, which it replaced as the “official” Superman origin. So what does that tell you? As a story in and of itself, it’s not bad – and Gary Frank’s art is lovely if a little stiff, with a fine line in making Clark look like Christopher Reeve – it’s just one that’s been done better. But if you don’t want to spend eight quid on Birthright, this is about half the quality for about half the cost.
Four-part miniseries. It’s funny, I wouldn’t really think of this as a Superman story first and foremost, as it covers basically the entirety of the DC canon – but of course, that’s exactly what it is. Predominantly, it’s an exploration of what happens when the kind of “heroes” that were edging out Superman in popularity in the early ’90s become the norm, and serves as a reaffirmation of the original superhero’s power and impact. Well, at least, until things all go a bit tits-up. Anyway, it’s an absolutely brilliant “alternate future” story, with art by Alex Ross that’s arguably even more stunning than his work on Marvels, and features a Batman-related twist/reveal that’s among the character’s finest ever moments.
Honestly, the “Death” part of the Death/World Without/Return trilogy is probably the least interesting bit of it (you’re talking to an unashamed JurgensSuperman fanboy who genuinely loves the Return arc, so believe me when I say this isn’t just anti-1990s snobbery), but if you want to give it a read, then the order of issues (a bit tricky to pick out the way the Comixology sale is ordered, unfortunately) is:
Superman: The Man of Steel #18
Justice League of America #69
Adventures of Superman #497
Action Comics #684
Superman: The Man of Steel #19
Have a bit of fun by counting the number of panels on each page as the story gets closer and closer to the end…
Also from roughly the same era (but slightly earlier), and not really fitting into any other grouping, is Action Comics #662, by Roger Stern and Bob McLeod, in which Clark reveals his identity to Lois. It’s quite good, but Stern’s Superman work is generally pretty under-served by Comixology so far, so it’s always worth grabbing what little bits are available.
And The Rest
Geoff Johns/Richard Donner’s Action Comics? Best avoided. Johns’ solo Action with Gary Frank on art? Has its fans, but I’m not really among them – Secret Origin is probably the best stuff they did together. Lex Luthor: Man of Steel? I haven’t actually read, but am checking out myself as part of the sale. Wagner’s Trinity? Pretty, but Zzzzz. The New 52 Superman, Action and Justice League? Best avoided. Loeb and McGuinness’ Superman/Batman? Only if you like BIG PUNCHY DUMB stories. Anything else that’s free? Well, you might as well grab it, mightn’t you?
There. Phew. Anything I’ve missed?