Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
25. “Return to Krypton” (Superman Volume 1 #141) (1960)
Jerry Siegel, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye came together to tell one of the highlights of the Silver Age for Superman comics, with the incredibly bittersweet return to Krypton. The story opens with Superman being sent to check out an alien creature and in a slight fracas, he is sent back in time. He ends up on a pre-exploded Krypton. Robbed of his powers by Krypton’s sun, Superman ends up getting involved as an extra in a science fiction film (where he catches the eye of the female star of the film) and then meeting his own parents, who had just gotten married. They set him up with the aforementioned actress and after a number of attempts to help his father save Krypton, Superman eventually accepts his fate and decides to live out the rest of his time on Krypton with his parents and his new love. This is not to be, of course. Such a beautiful tragedy. It is filled with such rich pathos for a Silver Age comic. One of Siegel’s very best works.
24. “Of Thee I Sing” Hitman #34 (1998)
Garth Ennis, John McCrea and Gary Leach tell this story of Tommy Monaghan, of all people, talking Superman out of feeling blue when Superman is going through one of the lowest points in his life. Ennis is not known for being a big fan of superheroes, but he clearly at least has an affinity for Superman a bit.
23. “Superman wrestles an angel” (JLA #6-7) (1997)
Grant Morrison clearly did not want to tell stories with Superman and his new energy powers, but damned if Morrison didn’t do a great job with it in this two-part JLA story that opens with Superman doubting himself and his ability to inspire now that he was so different in appearance and power set and closes with Superman, you know, wrestling an angel (not before he MOVES THE MOON!). Art by Howard Porter and John Dell.
22. “Must There Be a Superman?” Superman #247 (1971)
Elliot S! Maggin’s VERY FIRST comic book story is an utter classic (Maggin famously notes he got the idea from a young Jeph Loeb). The Guardians of the Universe suggest to Superman that his presence on Earth may actually be HINDERING the people of Earth rather than helping them (Marv Wolfman would later have Destiny tell Superman much the same thing). You know, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a night, teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime” style. It is a heavy trip for Superman and was definitely a mind-blowing concept for most readers of Superman at the time. The issue mostly leaves it up for debate and doesn’t actually firmly say one way or the other if Superman IS hindering social change or not, but just getting Superman (and readers) thinking is a powerful thing (although the Guardians don’t have to pat themselves on the back so much like they do in the issue).
21. 78. DC One Million #1-4 (1998)
In this epic time travel tale, Grant Morrison, Val Semeiks and Prentis Rollins have the Justice League of the 853rd Century come to our Earth to invite them into the future to celebrate the return of Superman Prime, who has been exiled inside the sun for 15,000 years. However, Vandal Savage and Solaris, a villain from the future, are trying to use this celebration as an attempt to destroy all their enemies, both in the present AND in the future! When Superman finally emerges from exile, though, things get a lot crazier.
20. “Funeral for a Friend” (Justice League America #70, Adventures of Superman #498-499, Superman #76-77, Superman: Man of Steel #20-21, Action Comics #685-686) (1992-93)
This touching send-off to the world’s greatest superhero was done over a couple of months in all of the Superman titles, by the same creative team as the Death of Superman (Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern and Louise Simonson on story, Jurgens, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice and Jon Bogdanove on pencils and Rick Burchett, Brett Breeding, Doug Hazelwood, Denis Rodier and Dennis Janke on inks).
19. “Brainiac” Action Comics #866-870 (2008)
Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and Jon Sibal re-introduced the villainous Brainiac by making him a greater threat than ever before. Superman takes on Brainiac but things are so tough that he is unable to prevent a tragedy that hits him very close to home. A powerful story that set up DC’s New Krypton storyline.
18. “Superman’s Race With the Flash!” Superman #199 (1967)
Superman and the Flash race for charity but soon get caught up in foiling the plot of some gangsters! Jim Shooter, Curt Swan and George Klein were the creative team on this one.
17. “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” Action Comics #858-863 (2007-08)
In this six-part arc, Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and Jon Sibal brought back the Levitz-era Legion of Super-Heroes as Superman finds himself on a futuristic Earth where the planet has been turned away from all aliens, including most of the Legion of Super-Heroes! Can Superman, an alien himself, turn the tide?
16. “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali” All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-56 (1978)
Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano and Terry Austin gave us this unforgettable team-up/match-up of Superman and the famed boxer Muhammad Ali, as the two must fight each other in order to protect the Earth from an alien invasion.
15. “Final Crisis” (Final Crisis #1-7, Superman Beyond #1-2) (2008)
I initially planned on including just the Superman Beyond part of Final Crisis, but I realized that that doesn’t make sense since Superman Beyond is just part of the overall Final Crisis story and a big part of Final Crisis is Superman essentially saving both the Multiverse as well as all the people on Earth, so I guess I should just lump them all in as one story. Grant Morrison wrote it and JG Jones and Doug Mahnke drew the Superman parts of the story.
14. “Reign of the Supermen” Action Comics #687-691, Adventures of Superman #500-505, Green Lantern Volume 3, #46, Superman Volume 2 #78-82 and Superman: The Man of Steel #22-26 (1993)
Superman is dead! Long live…Superman? And Superman? And Superman? And Superbo…Superman? In this epic tale by the entire Superman creative team (Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Karl Kesel, Jerry Ordway and Roger Stern on the writing side and Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Jon Bogdanove, Dennis Janke, Tom Grummett, Doug Hazelwood, Jackson Guice and Denis Rodier on the art side), the seemingly dead Superman is replaced by four different mysterious men all claiming to be his replacement as Superman. A cyborg, a killing machine, a man in armor and a clone of Superman. They all take their place on the world stage but then things turn tragic when one of the four turns out to be eeeeeevil. Luckily, as it turns out, it takes a lot more than beating him to death to kill Superman!
13. Superman Birthright #1-12 (2003-04)
Mark Waid, Leinil Yu and Gerry Alanguilan retold Superman’s origin in a fascinating combination of various Superman origin stories of the past. I especially love Waid’s tributes to Elliot S! Maggin’s stories.
12. “Death of Superman” Superman: The Man of Steel #17-19, Superman Volume 2 #73-75, Adventures of Superman #496-497, Action Comics #683-684 and Justice League America #69 (1992)
Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson and Roger Stern (writers), Dan Jurgens, Tom Grummett, Jon Bogdanove and Jackson Guice (pencilers) and Brett Breeding, Doug Hazlewood, Dennis Janke, Denis Rodier and Rich Burchett (inkers) all combined to tell one of the most famous comic book stories of all-time, as the murderous creature known as Doomsday comes charging towards Metropolis with only Superman able to stop him. We know Doomsday means business because we see him tear apart the entire Justice League. Only Superman can save his adopted city and the woman he loves and he finds a way to save the day and kill Doomsday, but in the process, he gives up his own life. You don’t get much more dramatic than actually killing off freakin’ SUPERMAN.
11. Crisis on Infinite Earths #1-12 (1985)
The (temporary) end of the Multiverse, Crisis on Infinite Earths was a particularly important story for Superman, as the Golden Age Superman and Lois Lane left reality with this story and Superman saw his cousin Supergirl sacrifice herself to save her cousin. Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Dick Giordano and Jerry Ordway were the creative team on the series.
10. “The Death of Superman” (Superman Volume 1 #149) (1961)
Possibly the greatest Imaginary Story, Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan and Sheldon Moldoff show Lex Luthor getting his final victory over Superman, although things do not end up going the way Luthor had planned in the end.
9. Secret Identity #1-4 (2003-04)
Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen take a different look at the Superman mythos by showing a man named Clark Kent who grew up in a world where Superman comic books existed but superheroes did not. So when Clark finds himself suddenly with super powers, well, things change in his life dramatically. He evens has his own Lois! This comic is touching and well-thought out and beautifully drawn by Immonen.
8. “What’s So Funny about Truth, Justice & the American Way?” Action Comics #775 (2001)
Joe Kelly used this “anniversary” issue to take on the idea that perhaps Superman’s ideals were out of date in the 21st century. He did this by pitting Superman by a new superhero team called The Elite who were recklessly killing bad guys and causing widespread damage but were gaining a good deal of popular acclaim in doing so. They mocked Superman and repeatedly challenged him to fights before Superman finally agreed to take them on and in doing so, gave them a taste of their own bitter medicine. The art was by Doug Mahnke, Lee Bermejo and a host of inkers.
7. Superman for All Seasons #1-4 (1998)
In this breathtakingly beautifully drawn series by Tim Sale, writer Jeph Loeb uses the seasons to depict different points in Supermans’ life. Along those lines, each issue is narrated by a different person who has a different take of who Superman is. Jonathan Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Lana Lang all have wildly different views of Superman (especially at the various points in time that they tell their respective stories) but when you put them together you have a fascinating picture of Superman as a whole.
6. Superman: Red Son #1-3 (2003)
Simply put, what if Superman landed in the Soviet Union instead of the United States? That’s the question that Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong try to answer in this Elseworlds mini-series that also sees a Soviet version of Batman and also a taste of what Lex Luthor would be like if the rest of the United States was actually on his side!
5. Man of Steel #1-6 (1986)
John Byrne and Dick Giordano relaunch the Superman mythos in this excellent mini-series that re-establishes the entire Superman mythos ahead of the Superman titles all relaunching with a new status quo. What was so shocking about Byrne’s reboot was how much he kept the same. Superman and his supporting cast were largely the same, with the biggest changed being Lex Luthor now as a respected businessman, no Superboy, Krypton was a cold and desolate place, Superman was no longer “born” until he landed on Earth and Jonathan and Martha Kent still being alive with Clark as an adult. Clark Kent, I suppose, also saw a change as he was no longer so mild-mannered. In each of the six issues, Byrne re-established some part of the Superman status quo. #1 saw Clark gaining his powers for the first time, #2 introduced us to Lois Lane, #3 has Superman and Batman meet for the first time (in a standout issue), #5 introduced us to Lex Luthor, #5 gave us Bizarro and #6 had Clark learn about his Kryptonian heritage.
4. Kingdom Come (Kingdom Come #1-4) (1996)
After a horrible tragedy sends him into seclusion for a decade, Superman is pulled out of retirement by the behavior of the “superheroes” of the DC future, but soon Mark Waid and Alex Ross are testing Superman’s very beliefs as he find himself acting more and more like the world’s “Big Brother.”
3. All-Star Superman #1-12 (2006-08)
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely produced this epic maxi-series that opens with Superman realizing that he has just one year left to live. The series follows that year as Superman does as much good as he can before he dies. This series features call backs to pretty much every era of Superman comics, including acclaim spotlights on Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Bizarro and Lex Luthor (who is behind the plot to kill Superman).
2. “For the Man Who has Everything?” (Superman Annual #11) (1985)
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons celebrate Superman’s birthday in style by having the villainous Mongul showing the Man of Steel a reality where Krypton DIDN’T explode and Kal-El is a middling bureaucrat. Can Superman’s visiting friends Batman, Wonder Woman and Robin help save him? And how will he react when he wakes from this fantasy (hint: he will be none too pleased with Mongul)?
1. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” Superman #423/Action Comics #583 (1986)
Alan Moore helps close out Superman and Action Comics as the John Byrne reboot is about to commence. Along with artists Curt Swan, George Perez, Kurt Schaffenberger and Murphy Anderson, Moore reveals the final days of Superman and his allies in this tragic, but clever and heartfelt story. There are so many cool moments in this two-parter that I can’t even list them all here. I’ll pick one – Jimmy Olsen and Lana Lang giving themselves powers for one last time so that they can go out and help defend their friend Superman from a siege of supervillains, claiming to the world one last time that they held a special place in Superman’s heart – “Nobody loved him better than us. Nobody!” So great.
That’s the list! Agree? Disagree? Let us know!
Happy 75th Anniversary, Superman!
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