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Monday, June 10, 2013

10 Superman Stories You Should Read Part 1

You may not know this, but 2013 is the 75th Anniversary of Superman's creation.  That's right, for three quarters of a century, the entire world has become enamored with the continuing adventures of the Last Son of Krypton.  Everywhere you go you can find Superman or his emblem on a seemingly random assortment of merchandise.  Though the character's image may be popular, not a lot of people really know about Superman's adventures outside of his origin and the stories which have made it to film and television.  Even among comic fans, Superman is a polarizing character of sorts due to the fact that most writers who attempt to tackle the character get it wrong.  When a writer and an artist are able to successfully tell a Superman story, however, a lot of magic can happen.  At his core, Superman is much more than a superhero, he is a symbol for the goodness that is inherent in all of us and an example of the morality we should seek to attain.  With the impending release of the film Man of Steel as well as the upcoming comic books Superman Unchained (cover art featured above) and Superman/Batman, a vastly growing interest in the adventures of Clark Kent is beginning to take place.  It is for that reason that Kyle and Shane have decided to take the time to compile a list of ten Superman stories we feel are absolute must-reads.  This is by no means a complete list, but it will be more than enough to quench your thirst for Superman stories.  To see the first half of our list of what comics you should read, find out more after the jump!

Kingdom Come

Written by Mark Waid, Art by Alex Ross

While it may not strictly be a Superman story, Kingdom Come is an absolute must-read for anyone who is a fan of superheroes.  This story contains so many characters from the DC universe, many of them being the children/grandchildren of DC heroes, that it is almost impossible to identify them all (though the trade does contain a bonus section outlining who everyone on the covers is).  Kingdom Come tells the story of a future where the spawn of superheroes are on constant patrol of the world.  Due to the abandonment of Superman and most of the Justice League, these super-humans have taken it upon themselves to enforce their own moral code onto the world, often blurring the line between good and evil.  With the encouragement of Wonder Woman, an older Kal-El (he rejects the name Clark Kent) decides to step back into the role of Superman to attempt to save the world once again.  What follows is a story which mixes Silver Age-style superhero pathos and modern superhero action with nostalgic imagery and religious undertones.  Although the comic was only a four issue mini-series, there is a lot to deconstruct from this story and its characters.  The reason this story is included here is that the focal point of the entire narrative deals with Superman's morality and whether or not it is an outdated concept that only worked at a certain time in history.  With utterly beautiful artwork from Alex Ross, this Elseworlds title is one that should grace every reader's bookshelf, even if they are not a comics fan. 

Superman For All Seasons

Written by Jeph Loeb, Art by Tim Sale

Superman's origin is a story which has been done and re-done a number of times in comics.  In fact, a number of the stories on this list are origin stories.  What makes Superman For All Seasons unique, however, is the way it handles said origin.  The basic details of baby Kal-El arriving on Earth and being raised by the Kents are glossed over.  In fact, there is absolutely no mention of Krypton at all in this comic.  Instead, this story focuses on Clark's decision to leave Smallville for Metropolis and use the powers he has to step into a larger role as a protector of mankind.  Much like what Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale did with Batman in The Long Halloween, Superman For All Seasons takes a look at Clark's first "year" as Superman: his leaving Smallville, getting a job at the Daily Planet, and even his first encounters with Lex Luthor.  What makes this a unique Superman story is not only its place in Superman's origin, but also the fact that Superman provides no narration throughout the entire comic.  Instead, the book goes through the four seasons of the year, with each chapter being narrated by a different person in Clark's life: Jonathan Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and Lana Lang.  This narrative decision allows for Loeb to explore some of the characters who have stood at the fringe of Superman's career in a brand new way, with the Lois Lane chapter being perhaps the strongest of the bunch.  As with any of his work, Tim Sale does a beautiful job with the art.  In this comic, Sale's art is done in a manner to represent more of the Norman Rockwell-esque view of Americana, which aligns perfectly with the more Smallville-centric story.  Not only is this a great take on these characters, but the comic clearly became an inspiration of sorts for the television series Smallville.  If you are looking for a story which examines Superman's origins from a different angle as well as expanding on the important people in his life, look no further than Superman For All Seasons.

Superman Earth One (Volumes 1 and 2)

Written by J. Michael Straczynski, Art by Shane Davis

Much like what Marvel did with their Ultimate universe, DC was looking for a way to reboot their characters in a more modern setting, but without interfering with their main universe.  Enter: Earth One.  Set up as a series of stand alone graphic novels, the Earth One books are meant to be modern re-tellings of the origins of DC's most popular characters that seek to be friendly to long time fans and new readers alike as there is no pre-established continuity involved.  Before you roll your eyes at the idea of simply re-doing Superman's origins, but with cell phones and Facebook jokes, do not worry.  While this is very much so a modernization of the classic Superman legend, Superman Earth One takes enough liberties establishing its own version of the Superman mythos that it avoids feeling anything like a re-hash.  Although Superman Earth One is an incredibly fun read, it does have some draw backs in that it has to spend much of its time setting up the changes to the Superman origin as well as having Clark learn more about Krypton and the reason it was destroyed.  Not to mention, the villain is a bit forgettable.  That being said, Straczynski has an excellent eye for character with this at times feeling like more of a character driven piece.  It is at these moments where the book becomes something more, making it a must-read.  Superman Earth One Volume 2 is able to expand upon much of the things established in the first installment while also introducing a better villain (Parasite) as well as important Superman characters like Lex Luthor.  Though Volume 2 does not give Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen nearly as much focus, it is still a worthy companion.  If you have ever wondered what it would be like if Superman arrived on Earth today, you should definitely check this out as the great story is coupled with beautiful art by Shane Davis.  With a third volume on the way soon and much of the upcoming film Man of Steel borrowing from it, Superman Earth One is an important read for the Superman fan.

All-Star Superman

Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Frank Quitely

As has been mentioned on this list, any number of writers/artists have tackled the challenge of putting a new spin on Superman's origins.  Very few, however, have ever attempted to tell the story of how Superman's career would end.  While The Death of Superman was one of the most popular/controversial comic book stories of the 1990's, no story about Superman's end can hold a candle to All-Star Superman.  The story begins just like your typical Superman adventure: a group of space adventurers run into trouble while exploring our sun, only to be rescued by Superman.  Sadly, there is a catch: due to his prolonged exposure to the high amounts of radiation from our yellow sun, Superman makes the discovery that he is now dying from the very thing which has given him strength.  What follows is an excellent story which sprawls across a 12-issue run that tells of the final labors which Superman must complete before his time is done. Since this is Grant Morrison writing, of course there is some experimentation in terms of narrative and setting.  For instance, the types of technology around in this story obviously implies we are still a while away from Superman's death as it appears to be slightly in the future.  A chapter where Superman writers his will is a particularly moving aspect to the story as a whole that also does some very interesting things with the narrative structure.  Lex Luthor is the primary antagonist, but other Superman villains such as Parasite and Bizarro make appearances, including the introduction of Zibarro, the only intelligent being on Bizarro's world.  There is a reason that many consider this to be the pinnacle of Superman stories.  Morrison and Quitely make All-Star Superman a beautiful tale which uses the end of the hero's journey to show us just how amazing Superman truly is.  No Superman collection would be complete without this.

Check out Part 2
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