Superman, the hero that kick-started the Golden Age of comics has become one of America’s greatest pop culture icons. As a character, he represents everything we aspire to be. He is good, just, and altruistic. Some even argue that his story draws parallels with biblical characters like Moses and Christ, although that’s a conversation for another day. I always get annoyed at people for writing Superman off as an outdated boy scout. People complain about him being too good, or having too much power to be identifiable with. I think that is a load. For all the power the character has when he is distilled down to his most basic, it is his humanity that defines him. I will agree that Superman isn’t an easy character to write well, as seen with DC’s current struggles with the character in the New 52, but when he is written well it’s always amazing. If you’ve never been a big Superman fan, due to writing the character off or just not knowing where to start, here are some great Superman stories that can be enjoyed by anyone.
Superman for All Seasons-This is a story by the Batman: The Long Halloween team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Like that book this story progresses over a year’s time, this time focusing on the four seasons rather than holidays. This book’s strength lies in the importance of Clark Kent’s time growing up in Smallville. There’s a really great small town feel in this book that instantly makes me feel at home.
All Star Superman-If I could recommend just one Superman story to every person in the world, it would be this story. Over 12 issues, writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely distill every single aspect of what makes Superman such a good character into one concise story. You could jump into this story with the most basic knowledge almost any American has about the character and do fine. All Star Superman does not take place in the main DC continuity and is a complete story from start to finish. If this book does not stir some kind of emotion in you somewhere, then I say you have no heart. Read this book.
Kingdom Come-This is an absolute classic. In an alternate future, a cataclysmic event brings Superman out of a long retirement. His wife, Lois Lane, was killed years ago by the Joker leaving this Superman bitter and disillusioned with humanity. This is a big story involving dozens of DC characters, but at its heart it is a Superman story. This is the second graphic novel I ever read and I was able to get through fairly easily even with the large cast. This book will likely act as a springboard into other DC characters, I know it was for me. This is a story about a Superman who has doubts and has experienced great loss, making him extremely easy to identify with.
Superman: Earth One-DC launched its Earth One initiative in 2010 with this original graphic novel. Predating the New 52, Earth One is a line of graphic novels that re-envisions DC heroes for a contemporary, bookstore audience. Many have called this book Superman for the Twilight crowd and while I would not categorize Superman: Earth One as anything like Twilight, I can see where they are coming from. In this story you’ll get a revamped telling of Superman’s origin and see him become a hero for the first time. While this isn’t the best Superman origin story in comics, it’s a great starting point for new readers, especially with vol. 2 coming in November of this year.
Superman: Red Son-This story asks the question, “what is it that really defines Superman?”, by tweaking his origin just slightly. Instead of landing in Kansas as baby, Red Son tells the story of what Superman would be like if he had landed in Soviet Russia. That’s right, the Superman is real, and he’s Russian. This is a fun twist on classic DC characters and it leads to some really great character moments.
These are just a few great Superman stories for a new reader to latch onto. I would also recommend tracking down Action Comics #775, a single issue that’s already a decade old. It contains a story called “What’s so Funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” that is a great treatise on why the morality of Superman is still relevant even in a postmodern world. It’s also collected in Justice League Elite Vol. 1. All the stories that I picked where out of continuity, one and done stories, but there are some great in continuity stories as well. If you want to dig a bit deeper, check out Superman and the Legion of Superheroes and Superman: Brainiac by Geoff Johns.