Top 20 best Superman comics of all time

20 Superman comics and graphic novels you must read before Man Of Steel

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Action Comics 8

20. Superman In The Slums
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Joe Shuster
Run: Action Comics issue 8 (1939)
Buy: Pick up Superman Chronicles Vol 1 for £9.22 from Amazon.co.uk

This early Superman is still a Super Liberal: deciding that society is to blame for juvenile delinquency he physically demolishes the slums of Metropolis with his bare hands. City Hall rehouses the poor in “splendid housing conditions” and kids are no longer forced into crime. Problem solved – in twelve raw, primitive, socially-conscious pages. AR

Top 20 best Superman comics of all time

19. The Girl Who Didn’t Believe In Superman
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Wayne Boring
Run: Superman issue 96 (1955)
Buy: Pick up Superman In The Fifties for £12.86 from Amazon.co.uk

Alice Norton won’t believe Superman exists unless she sees him with her own eyes. Only problem is: she’s blind. A charming little fable about faith, healing and growing up, which hints at the religious overtones of the Superman legend without rubbing our noses in it. AR

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18. Superman’s Return to Krypton
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Wayne Boring
Run: Superman issue 141 (1960)
Buy: Pick up Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told Vol 2 for £13.94 from Amazon.co.uk

“The flames within the planet are like cold glaciers compared with the mighty love blazing between Superman of Earth and Lyla Lerrol of¬†Krypton…” Superman accidentally goes back in time, meets his parents, falls in love, knowing all along that the planet is doomed. Totally tragic melodrama, plus silly costumes and pink fire-breathing monsters. AR

1086837-lex_luthor_man_of_steel___cover17. Lex Luthor: Man Of Steel
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Run: Lex Luthor: Man Of Steel issue 1-5 (2005)
Buy: Pick up Lex Luthor: Man Of Steel for £9.43 from Amazon.co.uk

Lex Luthor: Man Of Steel, or Luthor as it’s been rebranded in more recent collected editions, is a Superman story from the point of view of his greatest enemy. Brian Azzarello allows us to see the true logic of Lex Luthor as a political thinker, and why Superman’s existence is such a destructive contradiction to his interpretation of the world; it’s a convincingly bleak look at the iconic character that is tonally very different to the other books on this list.

Thankfully, this is a portrayal of the more effective scheming genius Lex Luthor as opposed to the snarling maniac in a green power suit, with Lee Bermejo’s hyper-detailed artwork bringing Superman down to our level in memorably cynical fashion. Also of note in this volume: Bruce Wayne’s appearance for a brief fight with Superman offers a fantastic, spot-on contrast between his Dark Knight and billionaire playboy personas. SR

Top 20 best Superman comics of all time

16. Superboy Meets Supergirl
Writer: Otto Binder
Artist: Curt Swan
Run: Superboy issue 80 (1960)
Buy: Currently unavailable in collected form.

Superman confides to Supergirl that his childhood was sad because he didn’t have a Superplaymate ‚ÄĒ so Kara goes back in time to visit him in back in Smallville. They playing hide and seek in the asteroids and “catch” with lunar satellites, and then she has to go home. Touching, magical, innocent…and sad. Like Peter Pan with X-Ray Vision. AR

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15. The Old Man Of Metropolis
Writer: Otto Binder
Artist: Curt Swan
Run: Action Comics issue 270 (1960)
Buy: Pick up Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol 1 for £8.96 from Amazon.co.uk

What will the world we like when Supergirl grows up? Well, Lois will be a bitter old maid; Jimmy will have no time for his Superfriend; Superman will be a broken down has-been…And then the dog catcher will take Krypto off to the pound. OK, it turns out to be a dream, but it’s still the bleakest Superman story ever. AR

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14. The Phantom Zone
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artist: Gene Colan
Run: The Phantom Zone issue 1-4 (1982)
Buy: Pick up Superman Presents The Phantom Zone for £9.79 from Amazon.co.uk

A baffling bit of Jungian landscaping from the one of the oft-overlooked power duos of the late Silver Age, Steve Gerber and Gene Colan, bundles together all of the previous decade’s Kryptonian supervillains as they torment the Daily Planet’s¬†Charlie Kweeskill like spectres from the Phantom Zone. Poor Kweeskill sets into motion a chain of events that drags Superman into this hellish otherworld, while the Kryptonian villains unleash havok on earth.

Last seen over a decade early, Kweeskill is in fact the wrongly imprisoned Kryptonian scientist Quex-Ul who has a pretty poor history in terms of being a dupe for more powerful villains. Fantastic Seventies sci-fi dreamscapes Colan, and spectacularly bleak and ponderous writing from Gerber make this a deranged classic that pre-empts Grant Morrison for mining the obscure history of the Man of Steel. JH

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13. Superman For All Seasons
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Run: Superman For All Seasons issue 1-4 (1998)
Buy: Pick up Superman Presents The Phantom Zone for £9.79 from Amazon.co.uk

An evocative and nostalgic sort-of origin story for Clark Kent, this gorgeous book essentially tracks Superman’s journey from a young man coming to grips with his powers to the fully-matured Man Of Steel, told across the four different seasons by the various key people in his life. There’s an aching sense of longing to For All Seasons, particularly in its opening Smallville-set chapter, where Clark’s parents are contemplating their son’s finite days in his innocent country town bubble.

While Jeph Loeb’s dialogue relays a strong and passionate knowledge of Superman’s cast of characters, it’s the extraordinary artwork by Tim Sale and colourist Bjarne Hansen that gives this a lost American Golden Age quality ‚Äď undoubtedly some of the best Superman imagery you will ever see. A superb story that reaches all the major touchstones of the character’s DNA. SR

Top 20 best Superman comics of all time

12. The Amazing Story Of Superman Red And Superman Blue
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Artist: Curt Swan
Run: Superman issue 162 (1963)
Buy: Currently unavailable in collected form.

Superman loves Lois Lane…but he also loves Lana Lang; he is human…but he’s also Kryptonian. Solution: split him into two heroes, who together defeat Lex Luther, abolish crime, find a solution to all known illnesses, return Kandor to full size, reconstitute Krypton, and live happily ever after. The sort of bonkers universe-bending yarn that “imaginary stories” were invented for. AR

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11. Superman Vs The Amazing Spider-Man
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: Ross Andru
Run: Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man one-shot (1976)
Buy: Pick up Superman Presents The Phantom Zone for £9.79 from Amazon.co.uk

The first, and best, Marvel/DC crossover. No jiggery pokery about parallel worlds: just take it for granted that Supes and Spidey end up and the same conference. Cool to see Doctor Octopus and Lex Luther sharing a cell; cool to see Superman stopping a tsunami; but supercool to see Jonah Jameson and Perry White moaning about their staff. (“Clerk Kent…sounds like Peter Parker. Good but…unreliable.”) AR

Must There BE A Superman

10. Must There Be A Superman?
Writer: Elliot S Maggin
Artist: Curt Swan
Run: Superman issue 247 (1972)
Buy:  Pick up Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told for £9.59 from Amazon.co.uk

It’s easy to think of the superhero deconstruction as something that entered comics with Alan Moore, but a decade earlier anxiety about changing American society had spilled over into the way that artists, writers and readers saw their superheroes.

Playing with a theme that would later come to the fore with books like Kingdom Come, Elliot S Maggin and Curt Swan brought Superman before the Green Lantern Corps’ Guardians of Oa who accuse him of stunting mankind’s growth by making them dependent upon their all-powerful, all-seeing Kryptonian guardian. Stung by their criticism, Superman returns to Earth and brushes off several cries for help, telling a a group of immigrant workers protesting against their abusive treatment and living conditions that “What you really need is a super-will to be guardians of your own destiny.”

It’s an uncomfortable prelude to the scroungers-vs-strivers self-sufficiency of the coming Reagan/Thatcher era,¬†simultaneously¬†showing the conflict at the heart of a character this powerful, and positioning as the ultimate moral arbiter. It’s hard to read the Superman in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns¬†or Mark Millar’s Red Son without thinking of Must There Be A Superman? JH

Top 20 best Superman comics of all time

9. World’s Finest
Writer: Dave Gibbons
Artist: Steve Rude
Run:¬†World’s Finest #1-#3 (1990)
Buy:¬†Pick up¬†World’s Finest¬†for ¬£13.25 from Amazon.co.uk

A perfect primer to not just the world of Superman, but Batman too, as Dave Gibbons – then well and truly in ascent thanks to Watchmen and Give Me Liberty – accompanied by the evocative splash pages of Steve Rude (Nexus, The Moth), bring something of an outsider perspective to the Dark Knight Detective and the Man Of Steel, distilling them to their basic commonalities and differences as Lex Luthor heads to Gotham, and the Joker causes chaos in Metropolis, forcing the DC Universe’s leading lights together for the first time.

Once you see that incredible introduction showing night falling in Gotham just as the sun rises in Metropolis on the opposite close, a cloud of bats in the former and doves in the latter, while the Batman chases down a mugger and Superman stops a crashing bus, it’ll stick with you for the rest of your life. JH

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8. For The Man Who Has Everything
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Dave Gibbons
Run: Superman Annual #11 (1985)
Buy: Pick up DC Universe: The Stories Of Alan Moore for £6.99 from Amazon.co.uk

That bloody British Invasion, eh? Johnny Yank spends 50-plus years working on Superman, and the mad monk of Northampton swans in with frequent collaborator Dave Gibbons, and with an equal helping of Silver Age filings (there’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-em cameos from Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Brainiac, Adam Strange, Hyathis, Bolphunga the Unrelenting, and Warworld)¬†and pulp sci-fi weirdness tells pretty much the best self-contained Superman story of the Pre-Crisis era.

Superman’s closest Superfriends – including Superchum-era Batman and Robin – gather in the Fortress Of Solitude to present him with birthday gifts, but one of them is a plant – literally and figuratively – from alien warlord Mogul, that intoxicates him with dreams of his heart’s desire – a Krypton that hadn’t exploded.

Top 20 best Superman comics of all time

7. Kingdom Come
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Alex Ross
Run: Kingdom Come #1-4 (1996)
Buy: Pick up Kingdom Come for £9.31 from Amazon.co.uk

Superman and the rest of the Justice League return to a world thrown into chaos by a swell of warring vigilantes, devoid of the values that the original heroes pioneered. While this isn’t strictly just a Superman story ‚Äď indeed, it deals with the entirety of the DC Universe and its possible end ‚Äď the Man of Steel is at the crux of the tale, with his values challenged by both his allies and enemies. Alex Ross richly reinterprets DC’s cast of icons, with Superman’s reappearance early in the story marking an especially visually stunning portrait of the character, as well as a moment fans of the superhero are unlikely to forget. Despite its ambitious scope, Kingdom Come intimately explores the motivations behind Superman, as well as feeling like the final word on the DC Universe by its closing pages. SR

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6. Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Curt Swan
Run: Superman #423, Action Comics #583 (1986)
Buy: Pick up DC Universe: The Stories Of Alan Moore for £6.99 from Amazon.co.uk

The final two episodes of Superman before the first Crisis reboot, presented as if they were the last two Superman stories ever – every dangling Silver Age plot thread is resolved, and our hero finally dies. (Yeah, right.) As the fellow said: “This is an imaginary story: aren’t they all?” AR

Top 20 best Superman comics of all time

5. Superman: Red Son
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Dave Johnson
Run: Superman: Red Son #1-3 (2003)
Buy: Pick up Superman: Red Son for £13.50 from Amazon.co.uk

An Elseworlds story that sees Clark Kent growing up on a Ukrainian farm in the Soviet Union rather than Kansas, Red Son shows us what happens when Superman’s influence is transposed to another part of the world, as well as the implications this has for mankind.

Red Son is a sweeping epic, exploring Superman’s political implications in these circumstances and the conflict his existence creates, while also shedding light on the evolution of the bitterly obsessed American Lex Luthor by contrast. A well-conceived, definitive vision of Superman by Mark Millar, with an extremely concentrated narrative ‚Äď and you’ll never predict the ending. SR

Top 20 best Superman comics of all time

4. Legends From The Dark Side
Writer: John Byrne
Artist: John Byrne
Run: Superman (Vol 2) #3-4 (1987)
Buy: Pick up Legends: The Collection for £19.99 from Amazon.co.uk

John Byrne’s Superman reboot is still controversial today (Clerk Kent as an 80s yuppie; a Superman who summarily executes General Zod). But he sure could pick villains and orchestrate battles: here, Superman confronts ultimate evil deity Darksied on his home turf, and actually dethrones him. Epic heroic stuff worthy of the man of steel, for a change. AR

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4. Superman: Birthright
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Run: Superman: Birthright #1-#12 (2003)
Buy: Pick up Superman: Birthright for £9.59 from Amazon.co.uk

A deft, streamlined reimagining of Superman’s classic origins, Mark Waid – the bard of superhero mythology – and the effortlessly dynamic Leinil Francis Yu’s Birthright reconciled all the competing elements of the character’s beginnings into one tight package.

Waid brought the Kryptonian aspect of Superman to the fore, reinventing Jor-El as a noble warrior scientist who made the ultimate sacrifice, and Lex Luthor as a wounded, driven maniac whose desire to be recognised pushes him further and further over the edge.

Waid’s Superman is a man who makes mistakes and can be beaten, Waid’s Clark is someone who allows himself to be belittled and ostracised to preserve his identity, Pa Kent is a man frustrated and worried about his son’s search for meaning and his alien identity, and Luthor’s ruthless intellect is every bit the match for Superman’s godlike powers.

A very real and emotionally complex retelling, though Birthright was written out of canon by Infinite Crisis and the New 52, it remains an inspiration for Man Of Steel which is more than the reality punching Superboy Prime managed, eh? JH

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2. The Man Of Steel
Writer: John Byrne
Artist: John Byrne
Run: Superman: The Man Of Steel #1-6 (1986)
Buy: Pick up Superman: The Man Of Steel for £9.49 from Amazon.co.uk

Establishing the rules for a post-Crisis On Infinite Earths Superman, the fundamentals of the character’s contemporary lore basically stem from John Byrne’s influential series (though Geoff Johns’ Secret Origin gave us an updated version), abandoning the more complicated elements and streamlining the icon’s back story.

It was an entertaining and effective story that reignited interest in Superman at a crucial time, and for many readers acted as their entry point into comic books involving the boy scout. SR

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1. All Star Superman
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
Run: All Star Superman #1-12 (2005)
Buy: Pick up Absolute All Star Superman for £48 from Amazon.co.uk

Cities in bottles, bizarro worlds, a virtually omnipotent hero: Grant Morrison lovingly reinstates all the bonkers Silver Age super-paraphenalia that multiple reboots and “crises” had abolished… “Doomed Planet…Desperate Scientist…Last Hope…Kindly Couple” says the first page… Which says it all, really. AR

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