One of the greatest fictional characters ever was introduced to the world 85 years ago this week, as Superman made his debut in Action Comics on April 18, 1938.
Following his arrival, The Man of Steel has been at the forefront of pop culture, and for good reason. Whether it is the Christopher Reeve movies, the ’90s animated series or even Tom Welling’s Smallville, Superman’s success knows no bounds.
It’s important to remember where it all comes from, though, and that’s the comic books. Sure, Richard Donner’s 1978 movie is fantastic and Smallville does a wonderful job introducing an entirely new generation to the Last Son of Krypton, but there is nothing like a good Superman comic book.
All his best stories come from the pages, and we’ve seen some great ones over the years. To celebrate the Man of Steel’s big 85, here are the five best Superman stories ever told:
Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? is a wonderful conclusion to his story
What do you get when you pair one of the greatest comic book writers of all time, Alan Moore, and one of the greatest comic book characters of all time? You guessed it, one of the greatest comic book stories of all time, and easily one of the best Superman stories ever.
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? is an incredibly moving story that manages to close the book on the Silver Age version of Superman. With Crisis on Infinite Earths breaking ground at the time, DC decided it was time to say goodbye to this iteration of the character, and they manage to do so in a satisfying, yet haunting way.
Featuring some of the Man of Steel’s greatest foes, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Metallo, Bizzaro and more, the story, told through a Lois Lane interview 10 years later, follows the Last Son of Krypton’s final days before he disappears forever. It is a love letter to the entire mythos of Superman and is a fitting end to that era of the character. Curt Swan and George Perez really knock it out of the park with some gorgeous artwork throughout the two-issue story.
Kingdom Come is a Superman story at its core
On the surface, Kingdom Come is a Justice League story that follows an aged iteration of the team, coming out of retirement in a world they don’t quite recognise. Don’t get it twisted, though, it’s a Superman story at its core.
The Man of Steel is the heart of the story and without him, it doesn’t quite work. It is his decision to retire that causes the rest of the Justice League to hang it up, and it is his decision to return that brings the gang back together.
Taking on a much more ruthless, new generation of heroes, the story follows a number of other heroes as well as the Man of Steel. By and large, though, it’s a story about him and the impact he has on the world, told excellently by Mark Waid and illustrated magnificently by Alex Ross in an art style that has never been replicated since.
The Death of Superman is one of the biggest and best Superman stories
You can’t talk about the best Superman stories without mentioning the one that really rocked the industry. The Death of Superman does just that, and kills the Man of Steel. It instantly became one of the most sought-after comic books in the world.
Sure, it can be looked at as a cheap ploy to increase sales, but killing a character as iconic as the Last Son of Krypton is unheard of, so it caught the attention of comic book fans, and the national media.
Not only do we see the death of the iconic character, but we are also introduced to Doomsday, one of the most destructive and ruthless villains of all time. The story is so iconic, we’ve seen it adapted into two animated movies and even included in the DCEU’s Batman Vs. Superman.
Sure, the decision to bring the Man of Steel back from the dead not too long after lessens the impact a little, but there is no denying it is still one of the best Superman stories.
Superman for All Seasons is an incredible look at the Man of Steel through the eyes of others
Shortly after DC Comics released Batman: The Long Halloween, a Dark Knight tale that covers all the major holidays, they decided to try something similar with the Man of Steel, but spanning all four seasons.
However, the story couldn’t be more different, and while The Long Halloween is a dark, thrilling mystery, Jeph Loeb’s Superman for All Seasons is a heartwarming look at the Man of Tomorrow’s legacy and importance in the lives of those around him.
The story spans four issues, with each covering one of Earth’s seasons, and each issue is narrated by someone who holds a significant role in Clark Kent’s life. The first is narrated by his father, Jonathan Kent, the second by Lois Lane, the third by Lex Luthor and the final issue is narrated by Lana Lang. It’s an incredible story about Kal-El and the impact he has on the world, that even serves as inspiration for the TV show, Smallville.
The Norman Rockwell style of art that Tim Sale brings to the series sets it apart from any other comic book series at the time. It still holds up today, with some truly breathtaking imagery used throughout.
All-Star Superman is the perfect Superman story
I may have said this list is in no particular order, but I absolutely saved the best until last. All-Star Superman is the perfect Superman story. Told to perfection over its 12 issues by Grant Morrison, it manages to nail why Superman is such an iconic character.
After he saves an exploration mission in space, Superman consumes massive amounts of solar radiation and is given just one year left to live. Facing his mortality for the first time ever, the story follows the Man of Steel as he works to make the world a better place before his time runs out.
Morrison does a fantastic job showcasing the essence of Clark’s character and how his humanity makes him the world’s greatest superhero, not his abilities. Featuring distinct artwork from Frank Quietly, All-Star Superman is the definitive Man of Steel story and is not just one of the best Superman stories, but one of the best comic books of all time.
There are so many more that could be considered the best Superman stories
With 85 years worth of storytelling, one thing is for sure, there are way more than five great Superman stories. From Superman: Red Son, to For The Man Who Has Everything, there are so many more that deserve a lot of love and wouldn’t feel out of place on a list of his greatest ever tales.
What other tales do you think we should have included in our list of the best Superman stories? Let me know on Twitter, here!