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Thursday, June 13, 2013

10 Superman Stories You Should Read Part 2

With "Man of Steel" hitting cinemas tonight at the stroke of midnight, we continue our look at what we consider to be essential reading in order to gear up for the film, or to pick up after you see it and want to get more into the character and the property's various takes and incarnations. In Part 2, I cover some of my favorite, more off the wall suggestions, including a couple of "Elseworld"-esque tales.

Secret Identity 

Written by Kurt Busiek, Art by Stuart Immonen
What if Superman existed in the real world? While this is a question that is seemingly at the forefront of Zack Snyder's new film, its one that has already been posed by Busiek and Immonen here to wonderful results. Secret Identity tells the story of a young man coincidentally named Clark Kent who grows up in a world where Superman is an already existing fictional character. Clark cannot stand this name he's been cursed with and the sheer mass of Superman related gifts he's given because of it. All of this changes when on a camping trip, he discovers that he has the same powers as his namesake. What follows is a tale that follows Clark from adolescence to late adulthood, as he learns to become a hero, start a family, and look at possible retirement. It's Superman grounded in a way that's so poignant, it easily could be considered the finest Superman tale ever written, it is definitely a better story than the now much-maligned character of Superboy Prime ever deserved. Busiek, with his landmark series Astro City, had proven himself to be an able master of relatable superheroics and its in Secret Identity where he crafts his masterpiece. It doesn't hurt that Immonen put together the best work of his storied career here.

Supreme: Story of the Year

Written by Alan Moore, Art by Joe Bennett and Rick Veitch
This isn't a Superman story, but it really is. Created in the mid 90's by Rob Liefeld, Supreme was a white-haired, ultra-violent Superman knock-off that epitomized alot of what was wrong with 90's comics. At some point, Liefeld got the brilliant idea to bring on Alan Moore, he who may be comics greatest writer, to take on the title, who would only do it if he could chuck out everything Liefeld had written to that point. In doing so, Supreme became Moore's love letter to the Silver Age of Superman. Working with Joe Bennett on the present day tales of the character and Rick Veitch (some of the finest art work of his career) on flashbacks that contain almost downright trademark infringing homages to classic DC Comics moments, Moore created arguably the finest Superman tale of the 1990's without even a hint of the deconstruction that made his career in books like Miracleman and Watchmen. There are analogues to every major character in Superman's life including Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and Batman and a ton of layers of metafiction. It's perhaps the most post-modern thing Moore has ever done and a clear inspiration for All Star Superman. It isn't perfect, particularly in Bennett's art style which looks a little too on the "extreme" side, but it's the closest we'll probably ever get to Moore taking on the character in an extended storyline and its utterly brilliant in its construction. 

Red Son

Written by Mark Millar, Art by Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett
DC has a history of putting their characters in unfamiliar situations, such as Batman in the days of Jack the Ripper, or the Justice Society as secret agents in World War II, or the Justice League as medieval knights. There's a whole swath of :"Elseworlds" stories in their line, but in terms of what are generally considered the best: There is The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, and finally, Red Son. Mark Millar's take on what would happen if Kal-El's rocket crashed in the Cold War era USSR is a fascinating look at the sheer power of Superman and the fear that kind of power could strike in people were he ever turned against "the American Way". The story features scope that surpasses even Secret Identity in that each of its three issues looks at three very distinct ages of Superman's existence in this world, his becoming a living weapon for the Soviets, his taking over as President and how his abilities enhance the Communistic ideals of the Socialist Republic, and lastly his final days during an all out assault by Lex Luthor and a literal army of Green Lanterns. While there's one character representation that slightly bothers the continuity nut in me, there's no denying that Millar crafted a cracker-jack of a story and it has an ending that may be the greatest thing (written by Millar or Grant Morrison, depending on who you ask) ever contributed to the modern day Superman mythos. It also features my favorite take on Lex Luthor, ever.

Superman and the Legion of Superheroes

Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Gary Frank
Geoff Johns has a long history with Superman, having worked as an assistant to Richard Donner (director of the first Superman film, and some of the second) and in the early 2000's became an incredibly popular comic writer for DC. It was only a matter of time before they put him on a Superman book and in 2007, the company did just that, placing him front and center in Action Comics. Most of his run was entertaining, if a bit unspectacular, with stories ranging from good (Last Son, Escape from Bizarro World) to iffy (Brainiac, New Krypton), but in the middle of his take, he and Gary Frank crafted perhaps the best Superman story of the 2000's that took place in a regular Superman title (aka: not counting All Star). Superman and the Legion of Superheroes takes a look at just what Superman's legacy has produced in far flung future, and it isn't pretty. The plot is based around Superman slowly remembering the impact the 31st Century Legion of Superheroes had on his development as a teen and the hero he would eventually become. They need his help in the 31st Century for the first time in decades from a threat inspired in Superman's name. Unfortunately, the sun is red, and Superman is powerless when they get there. This is the closest thing I can think of as a "wide-screen Superman story", the action is exhilarating, with Johns and Frank utterly pouring it on every single page. The final battle between Superman and Earth man is maybe the most exciting page sequence I've ever seen in a Superman comic, and utterly defines his heroism in the face of something that has perverted it. Johns has many detractors (much like Brian Michael Bendis) but this is one story that just about grants him a lifetime pass with me.

Grant Morrison's Action Comics

Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Rags Morales and Brad Walker
While All Star Superman is probably my favorite Superman story of all time, Grant Morrison's short tenure with the character was lengthened when DC assigned him to relaunch Superman in the New 52 reboot of their entire line. This was a stroke of genius, as Morrison created something that was a thematic antithesis of his work in All Star. Whereas that aforementioned work focused on Superman's Silver Age weirdness and made it work in a modern context, here Morrison sought to hone in on Superman's Golden Age roots. Instead of the sci-fi hero, we are exposed to Superman the social crusader, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with his symbol. This is Superman righting the wrongs that afflict the oppressed, including corruption and domestic violence. It's a different take than we're used to and for some it rubbed them the wrong way, but I found it utterly refreshing. While Morrison's work in All Star focused on Lex Luthor, the Parasite, and Bizarro, Morrison elects to focus on Metallo, Brainiac, and variations on Mr. Mxyzptlk and Zod. It's the former that allows a good deal of Morrisonian weirdness to also creep in. Not everything works, but this is Morrison at his most unrestrained and if you allow his brilliance to soak in, you'll find alot to love here. It gave the New 52 Superman a tremendous start, unfortunately it's floundered since with bad writer after bad writer taking their shots. Luckily I'm about to crack open Scott Snyder's Superman Unchained, bringing this series full circle! Here's hoping for 75 more years of wonderful storytelling!!

Check out Part 1
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