Saturday, February 12, 2011
On February 22, 2011 the Direct To Video Feature All-Star Superman will be released. In honor of the new animated short film I'll be doing this list of my top ten favorite comics on the lead hero of the piece, the Man of Steel himself, Superman!
10. Superman v2 #12
"Lost Love" by writer/artist John Bryne features a story that I thought they should have covered early on in the tv series Smallville, but sadly never did. Superman is recounting his Senior Year at the University of Metropolis where he meets and falls in love with a wheelchair bound girl named Lori Lemaris.
Clark and Lori share a sweet romance, but unfortunately their love is just not meant to be. The two both have secrets that they need to keep from one another.
For she is actually a telepathic Mermaid from the lost city of Tritonis and Clark of course was a Kryptonian with abilities far beyond those of normal men. Clark would eventually find his destiny as Superman, while Lori comes to find her own husband, Ronal, a young doctor, after Superman delivers her to his care. Clark isn't exactly thrilled that Lori's fallen in love with another man, but he respects her decision and goes on to share his own life with Lois Lane.
Shortly thereafter Lori perishes fighting in the Crisis on Infinite Earths and we learn from the story's bookends that Superman and Ronal have put aside their differences and come together to reminisce in honor of the fallen Lori's memory.
9. JLA/Hitman #1-2
"On The Darkside" by Garth Ennis and John McCrea is a bookend of sorts to the DC comic series called Hitman. The Hitman book is quite possibly the only good thing to come out of a really awful Summer Annual Crossover called Bloodlines.
The simple version is that Hitman is Tommy Monaghan, who was already a contract killer for hire, when the Bloodlines incident provided him with the convenient super powers of Telepathy and X-ray vision.
Though Tommy was a Hitman in Gotham City, he was a pretty good guy, and had his own sense of the lines he would and wouldn't cross. The sardonic nature of this title (as well as Ennis' Punisher) involved most Super Heroes that guest appeared getting pwned in one form or another (unless you were Catwoman).
Batman got thrown up on by Tommy; Kyle Rayner looked like a cheapskate; Lobo was royally fragged (heh); and when Tommy met an upset Superman on a rooftop, he provided him with a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm.
Then after Superman flew off, Tommy finished his contract.
I love this story because it successfully explains how a guy like Tommy and a guy like Superman could have such a strong respect for one another.
Even if the primary vein of Hitman was to show what goofballs all Super-Heroes are and can be, there is still an extreme amount of appreciation and admiration for Superman's character. When I first read this, I was probably down in the dumps over the latest manhole cover to foil Superman over in the Justice League animated series.
But after reading this book, much like Tommy provided to Superman, my own faith was renewed that there are actually still people out there that care and respect the character I love.
8. Superman: Secret Identity #1-4
This four issue mini-series by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen falls under DC Comics Elseworlds imprint. I'll just let the official company press release do the work for me:
"In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places - - some that have existed, and others that can't, couldn't or shouldn't exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow."
This particular elseworld is kind of based on the original concept of Superboy-Prime from DC Comics Presents. The idea is that the world is very much like ours and a family living in Kansas with the last name of Kent gets the cutesy idea to to name their son Clark. Instead of being something cool, in the real world of course, this leads to teasing, bullying and loads of unwanted Superman presents from family members.
The twist comes when in this real world scenario, young Clark Kent discovers he indeed has the same abilities as the fictional hero whose name he feels he has been saddled with.
Each issue tracks a different stage in the young man's life from childhood, to adulthood, to fatherhood and finally elder-hood. It's a beautifully written coming of age story that continues a complete journey all the way up to the protagonist's twilight years. I find this Elseworld to be much more stand-alone and authentic to modern sensibilities than something like Marvel Comic's Ultimates.
Instead of coming off as grim or chock-full of shock value or button pushing, the weight and gravity of the real-world dynamics in the story are handled quite successfully yet remaining optimistic and bright. Even if you aren't a fan of Superman, I recommend giving this one a read.
7. Superman: Panic In The Sky
Action Comics #674 - Superman The Man of Steel #9 - Superman v2 #65 -
Adventures of Superman #488 - Action Comics #675 - Superman The Man of Steel #10 - Superman v2 #66 - Adventures of Superman #489
By Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Lousie Simonson, Roger Stern, Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Bob Mc Leod, and Brett Breeding.
"Panic In The Sky" is an eight-part event that ran through all the Superman titles published at the time. The title is taken from an episode from the second season of the George Reeves television series, The Adventures of Superman. This was back when there were 4 different Superman titles: Action Comics, Superman, The Adventures of Superman, and The Man of Steel. Every week one of these Superman titles would come out from a different creative team, but they were all arranged in the proper continuous order which readers could easily see from the numbered triangle-shaped shield on each cover.
The basic premise of this somewhat continuity-heavy mega-crossover is that Brainiac has taken over the alien planet Warworld in the wake of the fall of its previous ruler Mongul. Both Draaga and one of my favorite characters, Maxima, have pledged allegiance to Brainiac. Maxima, after he has conquered her home-planet of Almerac, and Draaga, after Brainiac mind-controlled Supergirl to best him in combat. With all three at his side, he plans to bring Warworld to earth to begin his invasion.
I think one of the great things about this particular story is that it puts Superman back into a position of leadership in his Post-Crisis tales. Luckily, this duty is not one that he ends up avoiding like many previous writing teams have had him do since the Byrne reboot.
Superman also knows he's going to war, and that's why the first person on his list to recruit is Deathstroke The Terminator as his tactical advisor.
Keep in mind this is before Morrison's JLA, so Batman actually stayed on Earth and didn't just pull victory with prep-time out of his ass...
Anyway once Wonder Woman and Aquaman sign up for the fight, pretty much the whole DC Universe becomes involved. There are cool little details like Superman using Kryptonian code words like Commander Riker saying Riker-Alpha to commence various plans of attack.
This set up the groundwork for Superman's return as leader of the Justice League in the pages of Justice League of America. Maxima also joins the team by his side.
Also the fact that Tom Grummett is one of my favorite artists ever doesn't hurt either.
If fun mega-crossovers are your thing then this one's for you. Even if Superman isn't your favorite DC Comic's super-hero, more than likely you will still find someone in this group assembled to battle Brainiac's Warworld who is your favorite hero.
6. Legion of Super-Heroes v3 #37 - Superman v2 #8 - Action Comics #591 - Legion of Super-Heroes v3 #38
This 4-part tale by Legion creative team Paul Levitz and Greg Larocque
("A Twist In Time" and "The Greatest Hero of All") along with then current Superman writer/artist John Bryne ("Future Shock" and "Superman vs. Superboy:Past Imperfect") came about as a way to explain how a team dependent on the very existence of Superboy could continue to function when history was altered Post-Crisis.
Among other things, in Byrne's Superman reboot after the Crisis, it was decided that Superman needed to remain an individual. Special. Unique. Because of this the powers that be wanted no Supergirls, Kandors, or Streakys. No Kryptos, Zoners or Flame Dragons. Certainly they didn't want any Superboys.
When Byrne crafted his new take on the back story of Superman in the Man of Steel limited series in 1986, there were none of these things. Clark Kent was a young boy who grew up in Smallville and only took the costumed identity of Superman as an adult.
While they were busy patting themselves on the back for their ingenuity, probably whoever was handling the Legion of Super-Heroes books at the time, cleared their throat and said, "Ahem, but we've got this high-selling team book whose entire existence is based on Superboy! What do we do about that?" At first, like a lot of things in comics, it was ignored. The Legion continued to hang out with Superboy, even though according to the Superman comics of the day, there was no Superboy. There never had been a Superboy.
So eventually, this Legion/Superman crossover is what they came up with.
For a very long time in my life these Legion comics were one of my Holy Grail's. I got the Superman and Action issues easy enough, but the Legion issues, man!! It took me 9 years before I found the Legion bookends to this piece.
On a Forensics trip to UC Berkeley, I managed to find Legion #37 when I walked down to a comic shop on Telegraph Ave (against the rules of the field trip, what a rebel) and I didn't find a copy of #38 until I was going to Loyola Marymount University. There was a little shack of a comic store that used to be behind what was called the Airport Marina Hotel, then called the Furama and now I think it's just expensive condos and the store is long gone. So this gets a spot just for having 9 years of anticipation to read the death of Superboy.
The explanation of the Time Trapper forging a "pocket-universe" to explain the Legion still having interacted with a Superboy when the current post-Crisis Earth has only a Superman in it's past history may be chock-full of what friends and I have designated "Byrne-Clever-Clever" writing.....
Despite that I still enjoy the story for the way it quite clearly delineates the Post-Crisis Superman from the Pre-Crisis Superboy. Superboy's speed, strength, ability to travel through time far surpassed Byrne's re-imagined Superman. Hell, Krypto's even surprised when Post-Crisis Superman's cape rips.
There's even a little nod from Paul Levitz to explain away all the times The Wonder Twins kicked the Time Trapper's ass over in Super Friends.
Stupid malfunctioning Doombot! *shakes first menacingly*
The fight between Superboy and Superman is still a great treat for Super-Fans. As the Legion and Superboy courageously confront the Time Trapper for what would be Boy of Steel's final battle, you can still observe Superboy being "the bestest" as my good friend Michael Vargas would put it.
However, when Superboy finally does go down, it's a worthy and noble sacrifice.
Between this and poor Krypto exposing himself to Gold-K, it tends to have some truly touching moments.
5. Superman #141
"Superman's Return To Krypton" by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel
and penciler Wayne Boring is one of those classic Superman stories that has all the great staples of Science Fiction. Superman returns to his alien home planet of Krypton by means of time-travel.
While pulling a Back To The Future and witnessing the origins of his parents relationship first hand, he stumbles into being Jor-El's lab assistant.
Pre-Crisis stories are pleasing to me, if for no other reason than Superman's scientific genius can be fully exploited and he doesn't have to depend on Emil Hamilton or Chloe Sullivan to do all his heavy thinking for him.
Jor-El and Lara would later introduce the Man of Steel to a movie star named Lyla Lerrol. Of course Superman knows her home world is destined for destruction and a tragic romance ensues.
Jonathan and Martha also manage to get in on the Marty McFly action as Superman secretly helps his adopted parents get together as well by exposing Jonathan's rival suitor for the young Martha as a nogoodnik.
"Hey you, get your damn hands off her!"
Seeing the adverse effect he's had on the time stream, Superman decides that he must try to save his people before Krypton explodes. What he didn't count on was that Brainiac then shows up to shrink and abduct the city of Kandor. Now all the hard work that Superman did to build an interstellar Noah's Ark has been pulled out from under him like an old throw rug.
Superman of course eventually escapes Krypton's destruction and manages to return to his own time, but now has an added dimension to the heartbreak of losing his entire world. I remember back when J.J. Abrams was supposedly writing a script for a new Superman trilogy.
The synopsis I read of it on Ain't It Cool News was pretty awful, with Krypton having never exploded and "Agent" Lex Luthor being from Krypton as well--with Super Powers even....but I recall thinking they should do a modern update with this classic story as the basic framework. You could get your Kryptonian setting for the duration of the movie, have a star-crossed romance and Brainiac as a built-in villain. "Superman's Return To Krypton" would make for a great Superman flick or at the very least a kick-ass cartoon with a more strict interpretation done in the Batman: Brave and The Bold style.
4. Action Comics #544-546
This is probably a cheat as these comics feature two different stories, but I grew up with both of these George Perez and Ed Hannigan character redesigns as Super Powers Toys, so I'm including them both in one slot.
"Luthor Unleashed" by Cary Bates and Curt Swan introduces Lex Luthor's new Warsuit. Luthor retreats to the planet Lexor where he is worshiped as a hero instead of treated as a criminal. Although he begins a family and tries to abandon his bitter feud with the Man of Steel, he just cannot let the old grudges and hate die. He soon grows bored of his "idyllic" life with his wife, Aurora, and his son, Lex Jr, so he takes up criminal activity on Lexor, the only world where he is hailed as a hero!
So when Superman finally shows up on the planet with a red sun, ready to extradite Luthor, we can see that you just can't take the crime out of this criminal.
The Luthor-Superman War continues and leads to the destruction of the entire world. Luthor's warsuit starts a chain reaction under the red sun, so that not even Superman can prevent Lexor from exploding. Of course Luthor blames Superman for his planet-sized toe stubbing and rededicates himself to obliterating Superman from existence for all time.
Meanwhile the second story "Rebirth" by Marv Wolfman and another favorite Superman artist of mine Gil Kane features the debut of the robotic character design of Brainiac.
So while Superman is off in space containing a Supernova after it has erupted, (You see why I like this story already? Containing erupting stars is far better than asphyxiating in space or getting electrified by a manhole cover!) it turns out that the original "want a decent pair of pants" Brainiac actually triggered the Supernova. Brainiac wanted to secure enough raw energy to release him from being trapped in his self-created computer planet core. Since Superman stopped the Supernova and Brainiac does not have the energy he needs to even stay corporal, his essence travels throughout space and time evolving into the All-New Brainiac.
After this point Brainiac refers to his two greatest enemies as Superman and the Master Programmer. A lot of people wonder who Brainiac means when he says this and why it just comes up after his rebirth. My opinion is that Brainiac having traveled to the dawn of time as part of his rebirth initiation encountered The Hand of The Presence. Basically that is how Brainiac refers to God: He is the Master Programmer and Superman is his Angel of Death.
I also love the design of Brainiac's ship introduced here for the first time. The stern image of his face with the groping mechanical tentacles that will reach out to crush any life they find is menacing even when floating dormantly through the cold of space. Brainiac's Modus Operandi has also changed, where before he would merely steal cities from alien worlds and shrink them for his collection, now he is on the warpath and to be on Brainiac's collection list now means the devastation of all life on that planet.
"With But A Single Step" and "Showdown" continue the new Brainiac saga as Superman is nearly killed by red solar energy torpedoes and Brainiac's subsequent experiments.
Superman manages to escape and avoid more assaults by flying through a nearby star.
So with Brainiac headed for Earth and in his seemingly unstoppable new form, Superman is forced to look to the Justice League of America and the Teen Titans for assistance, much like an early precursor to the Panic In The Sky storyline.
3. Superman Ann. #11
"For The Man Who Has Everything" is brought to you by the writer-artist team famous for asking you "Who Watches The Watchmen?", Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin have come to the Fortress of Solitude to give gifts to Superman on his Birthday.
What they discover is a paralyzed Superman, trapped in the bliss of a perfect world, created by the rare hypnotic plant coined the Black Mercy.
In his ideal life Kal-El's home planet never exploded, he is a geologist who is now married to Lyra Lerrol though Superman's subconscious is trying to fight off the deadly plant's effects. Every bit of physical and emotional turmoil represents Superman's struggle to break free of the Mercy's control.
Soon enough the culprit who delivered the Black Mercy to an unsuspecting Man of Tomorrow is revealed as Mongul who with Superman out of the way has no viable opposition to his whims and will.
Meanwhile in Kal-El's faux-reality, political protesters of the Phantom Zone have beaten Kara Zor-El to within an inch of her life, while Jor-El and the Sons of Rao preach of a return to the old ways of Krypton. Every one from the House of El is in extreme danger including Kal-El's young son.
Back in the real world, Wonder Woman is holding her own against Mongul, but she won't be able to hold out forever.
When Superman's subconscious finally helps him break free of the effects of the Black Mercy he is none too happy about it.
If you'll remember from my Favorite Jason Todd stories, Robin is the one who finally turns the tables on Mongul by subjecting him to his own gift of bliss.
Later this tale would be loosely adapted on the animated series Justice League Unlimited.
The first time I ever read this story was inside my copy of The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told. Great character moments, revealing insight into the psyche of Kal-El, and one hell of a tag-team fight against Mongul by Wonder Woman and Superman. "For The Man Who Has Everything" certainly lives up to expectations, that's for sure.
2. Adventures of Superman Annual #3
"Beyond The Reach of Time" by Louise Simonson and Bryan Hitch comes out of a Summer Annual event called Armageddon 2001 (It was way better than Bloodlines!!). In the far future a malevolent despot called Monarch rules the world with an iron fist after he wipes out all the Super-Heroes in the DC Universe. Matthew Ryder became the time-traveling hero Waverider who was determined to go back to the past, which was our heroes present, to expose which one of them would evolve into the betrayer Monarch.
Waverider simply had to touch his intended target and their future would be revealed to him. Of course Superman and Batman had multiple titles and therefore more than one Annual. This meant these lucky chaps got more than one alternate future each time Waverider touched them. Some double-talk malarkey about the previous encounters having irrevocably altered their futures.
So on the third time Waverider touches Superman, he witnesses a tragic future where Lois dies in childbirth after attempting to bear the offspring of the Man of Steel.
All I can say is Brody from Mallrats must've liked this comic, too.
Anyway this leads to Superman exiling himself in space where he would find comfort in the arms of Maxima. Now I've made no secret about this. She is one of my favorite Superman characters. She's strong, sexy and has a vicious temper. It's kinda like they gave Red Sonja super-powers and put her in charge of an empire in outer space.
The pencils by Bryan Hitch are dynamic and if you loved the man's work in Ultimates, this is more early on in his career, but no less epic. The warships are huge and grandiose, dwarfing our protagonists.
The story by Louise Simonson sets up a believable romance between the two characters whose methods in life clearly counter one another.
Of course every time Waverider touches Superman he is not revealed to have any future where he would become the main villain of Armageddon 2001, Monarch. Instead in this alternate future he would find a new home among Almerac and his new love Maxima. I think I'm a sucker for these kinds of stories about people who shouldn't really end up together, but somehow defy the odds, and manage to be happy together anyway.
1. Superman #423 and Action Comics #583
"Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore, Curt Swan and George Perez is the pinnacle of Superman storytelling. It takes everything that was great about Mort Weisinger's wonderful innovations to the mythos of Superman and ties it all up into a final epic tale with a nice, neat bow.
I actually used to have this pretzel tin that contained a plethora of Superman and Action Comics covers. I used to stare at all the covers and wonder what each of the stories was about. This was when I was really young and before I knew of the existence of Comic Book Stores and Back Issues. The covers for this two-part story were one of the many featured on the tin that I would always wonder about. So when I got a little older, it was one of the first set of Superman back issues I would track down.
The Swan Song to the Silver-Age Pre-Crisis Superman came about as a way to put the finishing touches on that interpretation of the character before the transition to the Post-Crisis, Bryne-penned Man of Steel revision.
Moore tells the tale of the final days of Superman, the family and friends who loved him dearly and his greatest foes who would attempt to destroy him. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry & Alice White, Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Krypto, Kara Zor-El and The Legion of Super-Heroes all make their appearances, while Prankster, Toyman, Bizarro, Metallo, Kryptonite Man, The Legion of Super-Villains, Luthor, Brainiac and Mxyzptlk try to put an end to the Man of Steel once and for all.
There is a great skill in adding a sense of weight and gravitas to something that sprung from the more innocent Silver Age of comics, without spiraling into the grim and gritty craze that swept the late 80's and early 90's. While quite violent and filled with death, each death serves as a touching farewell to many of the greats.
There must come a great deal of freedom in being able to write the final story of any fictional character. Not the unburdening of some magic deal that no one knows the rules of either, but a freedom that honors and cherishes the history which proceeded it.
This story hits all the right beats and is also quite moving and infuses a heartfelt goodbye to a version of Superman many folks have known and loved.