I can’t say DC Comics did NOTHING for Superman’s 85th anniversary, but I can say they didn’t do a lot. I didn’t even know about it until Tuesday night when I saw posts about it on Facebook. I can barely keep track of my own life lately so remembering Action Comics #1, the debut of Superman and Lois Lane, came out this month just went by me. I put a note in Google Calendar so I won’t forget again.
I didn’t have time to replace yesterday’s article in time for posting so the rest of this month I’m going to shove in as much Superman material as I can without driving you all nuts. The question is what to do? I’ve talked about Superman so often on this site, even collecting my favorite intros of the show, and discussing why I love Superman, so coming up with new topics isn’t easy. Then I realized that in all this time I never really did my own “must read” list of Superman comics, the ones that come highly recommended from me. If you want to know my favorite Superman stories, then this is the article for you. Or rather articles, since I’ve reviewed so many that even when trimming them down to the must reads it’s going to take at least two articles to do the full list. I’ll put links to the old reviews, some more in-depth than others. So…here we go………!!!!!!!!!!!!
DC Comics Presents #50
“When You Wish Upon A Planetoid”
Let’s get the one any long time reader knows is coming out of the way right now. This is one of my absolute favorite stories. Writer Dan Mishkin gives us a story in which Superman and Clark Kent are separated thanks to a prototype Miracle Machine granting Superman a passing thought wish. What follows is exploring what makes Superman who he is and that something being Clark. Without Clark, Superman is just saving people because he’s Superman. He’s clearly overworked but the point of the wish was that Superman could save all the people and Clark could do his thing.
Except over the course of the story his thing turns out to be being Superman. Superman is an influence on Clark’s life and the people he knows. He needs Superman as much as Superman needs Clark, and the two personas bonding over the one thing Superman’s powers couldn’t do is one of my favorite scenes in Superman comics.
Superman: War Of The Worlds
People like to talk about Red Son but this is one Elseworlds tale that is sadly overlooked. Playing on 1939 being both the debut of Superman and the Orson Wells War Of The Worlds radio drama, this story imagines Superman being there for the Martian invasion as described in the show. It uses Superman, Lois, and Lex Luthor well, and uses their earlier appearances. Luthor is still a criminal scientist, who makes a deal with the Martians but eventually regrets it. Superman’s power levels are what they were back then. No juggling planets, no flying, and no supervisions. It’s just the original jump high, hit hard, and nothing short of a bursting shell can pierce his skin.
It’s an interesting look at how Superman operated back then, how people react to him in the midst of an alien invasion, including Lois, and yet Superman fights to protect them anyway. There’s even a moment he has to control his own “battle lust” during the final battle, proving he’s still our Superman, just a little lighter in the power set. It’s not the greatest ever but more people need to check it out.
You’re probably wondering why Action Comics #1 isn’t on this list. Well, Superman #1 is a more refined and completed version of that story. Originally it was supposed to be a newspaper strip, which we would see later on, and that’s reflected in the Action Comics version. This one includes the Kents rather than the orphanage, though it would take a while longer for us to meet Kal-El’s parents. The story spread out at least through the first few issues of the anthology is put here in one spot, plus two more stories.
If you really want to go over Superman’s early years this is an easier place to start. You don’t have to worry about going through a bunch of other characters, only one of whom would actually play a role in what would become the DC Universes. It’s just Superman’s origin and early adventures. That makes it worth starting here first, then go back to Action Comics for the history.
I’ve only read the first issue and seen the animated adaptation but I do know this is a great story. Superman is dying but his focus remains on leaving the world as a better a place as he can. This involves adventures not adapted into the movie but even what I saw there was incredible. He even manages to reform Lex Luthor, who Grant Morrison wrote closer to his old criminal scientist form rather than the evil businessman that John Byrne turned him into.
If you’ve only seen the movie though I do recommend the comic. Frank Quietly’s Superman isn’t so overbuff, which is a design I’ve seen in other Superman stories and never liked. It looks okay for Superman but still rather off, but it’s Clark Kent who really gets hurt by the redesign. And there are stories in the miniseries, collected into a trade, that they didn’t have time to add. So look this one up, but it’s not the only story that involves a dying Superman making his last days important. There was a Silver Age story with the same premise, and then there’s…
Superman Adventures #11 and #12
“The War Within” parts 1 and 2
A Kryptonian virus suspected to have been left on a piece of Kryptonite infects Superman. Not wanting to tell anyone, Superman’s activities have been a bit underwhelming and Lois is ready to chew him out for it until Dr Hamilton lets slip what’s happening to him. Now there’s a race to cure Superman after all he’s done for the planet, and of course every villain on the planet wants to stop that from happening. But they have a tough challenge to deal with: Lois Lane!
Another story where Superman is dying and yet continues to fight crime and help people. It has a happier ending because this is loosely tied to the DCAU, and there will be more stories from this series on the list, but it not only shows Superman still being Superman but how the people of the world appreciate and admire him. Wars stop to get Lois through. All she has to do is let them know what they have and they’ll run to help her. Sure, it’s way out of place given the continuity it supposedly ties to (the DCAU comics had a bad habit of forgetting they weren’t in the main DC universe and this was early in Superman’s super-career) but while in a way it’s Lois’s story Superman still puts on a fantastic showing and reminds us why he’s so awesome. It’s not the “super”, it’s the “man”.
Superman Adventures #18
“It’s A Super Life”
There are actually a few stories in this series that puts the focus on Clark rather than Superman, including another story of them separating. This is one of my favorite Clark Kent stories. Clark’s Superman exploits are cutting into his work as a reporter while he’s trying to look into a new monorail tressel. Things go wrong but while his powers help it’s ultimately Clark Kent’s journalistic instincts that truly save the day.
In the early years Clark only joins the newspaper to keep an eye on incoming problems Superman may need to look into. This was way before the internet, notifications, and text alerts. As time moved on however writers decided that Clark is a journalist and might have become one even if his body wasn’t different under a different sun and gravity. He stands for truth and justice even before “the American way” was added and even after it was removed in a fit of anti-patriotism. As a reporter Clark can do things to help the city that he can’t as Superman, which is true for many of the DC superheroes and one of the reasons I was more drawn to it over the Marvel universe. It’s nice to see stories like this that work on that part of his life.
Superman Adventures #27
“How Much Can One Man Hate”
Technically this is a Lex Luthor story. It shows why this version of Luthor hates Superman so much and why he’ll go broke if it means finally defeating the one threat to his domination over Metropolis. However, it also has a great moment for Superman.
Without spoiling too much, though the linked to review does, a new superhero named Superior-Man shows up and starts doing all the day saving before Superman can. It’s a plot by Lex to make Superman feel unwanted in the hopes he’ll just go away, maybe to Hub City or something. It doesn’t work because Superman doesn’t do it for the praise. Superior-Man is confused when he sees Superman rescuing a cat from a tree, thinking it beneath them but Superman doesn’t care. He wants to help others and he’s not leaving. This is how Superman thinks. He’ll gladly share Metropolis with a fellow hero and he’ll still help everyone, even cats in trees. While primarily being a vehicle for understanding Lex it also gives us an insight to who Superman is and thus should be read at least once.
Superman Adventures #41
Last one from this series and for part one. This one is just posted for pure fun. You won’t get many insights and there’s no really large adventure. As the cover says, it’s 22 stories, one for each page.
There are some really fun moments. Mxyzptlk getting scared off by Batman is my favorite. Each of Superman: The Animated Series’ main cast gets some fun or interesting moment. Some will give you some insight into them, others are just a fun short moment in their lives, and that’s all it wants to be. Just 22 short stories of the cast living their lives, the opposite of the obsession with “epic” stories you get now unless you want to check out the Batman Webtoon. Sometimes a story can just be fun.
Tomorrow we’ll look at yet more of my favorite Superman comics and ones I recommend to anyone wanting to know why us Superman fans love him so darn much. I think that will get you through the day though, so get reading!
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