TOP 25 SUPERMAN GRAPHIC NOVELS – PART 1: 25-21 – by Mark Cormier

Last year marked the 75th anniversary of Superman, one of the most celebrated super-heroes in comic book history, as well as one of my personal favourites. While I may be late in the celebrations, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take a look at the best of Superman has to offer in his original medium, comic books.

This is my personal list of Superman’s Top 25 Best comic books, referring specifically to graphic novels, prestige format books, and trade paperbacks. This wasn’t easy to compile. Keep in mind that this isn’t an official list in any capacity. This will just be my personal opinion of what I consider to be Superman’s essential stories. If some of your favourite books don’t show up on this list, rest assured that this does not necessarily reflect the quality of those books.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years: Believe it or not, there was a time when comic books weren’t collected in trade paperbacks or graphic novels (I know!!) More often than not, single issues were self-contained stories. While certain individual Superman issues have been truly exceptional, the fact that they haven’t been collected into trade paperbacks kind of disqualifies them off this list. Luckily, there are volumes like the recently-published Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years, which truly lives up to what it’s advertising. This particular volume includes stories like “What if Superman Ended the War” (Look Magazine), “Must There Be a Superman?” (Superman #247), and my personal favourite “What’s so funny about Truth, Justice and the American Way?” (Action Comics #775).

Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years: One of the key elements present in Superman’s lore is his romantic relationship with Lois Lane. Invariably, it has been depicted as a love triangle between Lois Lane, Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent. Published simultaneously with Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years, this volume provides a wide variety of single issues drawn from Superman’s long history, showcasing the highlights of his courtship with Lois Lane, from their first meeting, to their first date, their eventual engagement and marriage. While some of the stories collected chronicle her campy silver age antics, it also includes a number of stories that offer unique insight into Lois’s character.

Superman: Kal: One of my personal favourite Elseworlds storylines, Superman: Kal tells the story of the Man of Steel had his rocket ship landed in medieval Europe. Discovered and raised by farmers, Kal grew up to become a blacksmith. He falls in love with the noble Lady Loisse, who is courted by the tyrannical Baron Von Luthor. It’s a simple story that reinterprets the signature characters into medieval clothings. There are clever applications of Superman’s lore in this storyline, such as Kal converting the metal from his rocket ship into a sword and suit of armor, or Luthor wearing a talisman made of Kryptonite.

Superman: Our Worlds at War: The entire universe is threatened by Imperiex, the living embodiment of entropy itself. While Superman will rely heavily on the Justice League in this fight, additional help will come from the unlikeliest of places. Lex Luthor as President of the United States coordinates Earth`s forces; Darkseid offers the vast resources of Apokolips at a price; and Brainiac brings the advanced technologies of Warworld to the table. With the fate of the universe itself at stake, Superman will be forced into unprecedented alliances with own greatest super-villains if he is going to save the day.

Superman: Action Comics, Volume 1 – Superman and the Men of Steel: Ushering the Last Son of Krypton into the New 52 continuity is Superman and the Men of Steel by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, and Andy Kubert. While it may be the latest in a plethora of rebooted origins, Morrison’s take on the Man of Steel is a break from tradition. His Superman is more akin to the rebellious social crusader from the golden age, gradually settling into his role as champion of humanity. Considering that there are several different versions of Superman’s origin to choose from, this may not exactly be a first choice. For new readers, however, this would be the ideal starting point fom the New 52 relaunch onwards.

 

25) SUPERMAN: SPEEDING BULLETS

Writer: J.M. DeMatteis

Artist: Eduardo Barreto

“I … don’t have it in me to do that. Be that.”

–Superman


DC’s “Elseworlds” has always given us stories that ask the question “What if” in ways that I feel Marvel has never quite been able to achieve. While Marvel normally alters the circumstances of their past history, DC allows us to see our heroes from a completely different perspective, by changing major details of the setting and the origins of the character. And yet, despite all of those changes they still manage to retain the mythos and preserve those characters to remain the heroes we know and love.

An excellent example of this would be Superman: Speeding Bullets, which asks what if Superman’s rocket ship landed in Gotham City instead of Smallville. He is discovered by Thomas and Martha Wayne, who raise the infant as their own son and name him Bruce. When a mugger brutally guns down his parents, Bruce discovers that he has begun to manifest vast superhuman abilities. Donning the disguise of Batman, Bruce uses his powers to strike fear into the hearts of criminals.

The result is a fascinating amalgamation of the two iconic characters. It shows us what Superman would have been like if he had lived in Gotham City, as well as what Batman would have been like if he had Superman’s powers. however, it also illustrates how Superman’s powers are irreconcilable with Batman’s methods. As if to illustrate this, the Lois Lane of this world tries to persuade Bruce Wayne that a more hopeful super-hero is needed over his dark and violent Batman persona.

 

24) SUPERMAN: ESCAPE FROM BIZARRO WORLD

Writer: Geoff Johns & Richard Donner

Artist: Eric Powell

“Bizarro reign of happiness am over.”

–Bizarro Clark Kent

 

Bizarro, the backwards duplicate of Superman, leaves planet Earth and travels into outer space in order to make a new home for himself, a Bizarro World. Under the influence of a blue sun, Bizarro develops the ability to replicate lifeforms and populate the cube-shaped world. However, his people wind up fearing and hating him. Desperate for answers, the confused behemoth kidnaps Jonathan Kent, hoping to gain what Superman received but Bizarro never did: guidance.

Bizarro’s World itself is also a novel throwback to the Silver Age, which is basically a polar opposite of Earth to comedic effect. The planet is cube-shaped instead of spherical. crime is encouraged, while do-goodery is punished. Bizarro World is protected by the Bizarro Justice League, whose members include Batzarro (the world’s worst detective); Bizarra (or Bizarro Wonder Woman, whose magic lasso compels people to tell only lies); Yellow Lantern (a cowardly Sinestro Corps member); and Bizarro Aquaman (who cannot swim).

As strange as this tale might be (it’s a Bizarro tale, so they’re all pretty strange), it serves as an one of the most excellent character pieces for Bizarro himself, illustrating that he is not truly evil, but simply misunderstood. The artwork is by Eric Powell, whose talents in the horror-comedy “The Goon” make him an appropriate choice for a Bizarro story.


23) SUPERMAN: KRISIS OF THE KRIMSON KRYPTONITE

Writers: Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, and Dan Jurgens

Artists: Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Bob McLeod, Dave Hoover, Kerry Gammill, Curt Swan, John Byrne, Brett Breeding, Dennis Janke, Art Thibert, and Scott Hanna

 

Mister Mxyzptlk is one of Superman’s more … unusual super-villains. He’s a magical trickster from the Fifth Dimension who enjoys tormenting Superman once every 90 days. Traditionally, the only way to get rid of him is by tricking him into saying his name backwards. While most of his encounters involve harmless pranks, on rare occasions he has proven himself to be a formidable threat to Superman.

On this particular visit to Metropolis, Mister Mxyzptlk approaches Lex Luthor with a mystical substance known as Red Kryptonite. Mxyzptlk claims this mysterious new form of kryptonite will rob Superman completely of his super-powers, as long as Luthor never reveals to Superman how he lost his powers.

Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite most heavily deals with Superman’s predicament rather than Mister Mxyzptlk himself. This is the first time in Post-Crisis continuity that Superman loses his powers on a long-term basis. While it certainly shows him struggling with the loss of his abilities, it also shows him adapting to the situation, both as the Man of Steel and the mild-mannered reporter. This storyline features a significant milestone in Clark Kent’s relationship to Lois Lane; as evidenced by the cover, Clark proposes to Lois.


22) SUPERMAN: NEW KRYPTON

 

Writers: Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Sterling Gates, and Greg Rucka

Artists: Pete Woods, Gary Frank, Renato Guedes, Jamal Igle, Pere Pérez, Travis Moore, Julian Lopez, Jamal Igle, Javier Pina, Bernard Chang, Eduardo Pansica, Ivan Rodriguez, Eddy Barrows, and Cafu

“They’ll be careful. They’ll be friends to Earth. Like you.”

–Zor-El


Superman has often been called the Last Son of Krypton, allegedly being the last survivor of his home world’s destruction and all. As Superman’s supporting cast expanded, however, that status became less and less accurate. Among the other survivors include the entire population of Kandor, the former capital city of Krypton, which was abducted and miniaturized by Brainiac prior to the planet’s destruction.

In this storyline, Superman has defeated Brainiac and restored Kandor to normal size. This results in over 100,000 Kryptonians living on Earth, each possessing the same powers as Superman. Meanwhile, General Sam Lane (incidentally Lois Lane’s estranged father) organizes a covert operation called Project 7734, designed to preemptively strike against the Kryptonians before they can pose a threat to humanity.

Admittedly, New Krypton’s place in this list is dubious at best. It was a storyline that lasted over two years and spanned across several different monthly issues. Nevertheless, New Krypton had a lot of elements working for it. It features a diverse cast of supporting characters, including Supergirl’s parents Zor-El and Alura leading the ruling council, General Zod released from the Phantom Zone to direct New Krypton’s military guild, and even the dreaded Brainiac who is looking to finish what he started.

New Krypton focused on Superman’s conflict between his Kryptonian heritage and his Human upbringing. The society and culture of Krypton is fleshed out in this series, implementing artistic interpretation of Superman’s homeworld from the Silver Age to the present. Kryptonians in this story are divided into several different guilds, which effectively determine an individual’s occupation and social status, something Kal-El struggles to tolerate.

New Krypton is collected in several volumes, which include Superman: New Krypton, Volumes 1-4, Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton, Volumes 1-2, and Superman: War of the Supermen. Although there are other books that are considered part of the New Krypton saga, they are merely supplementary titles that are not necessarily part of the main storyline.

 

21) SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI

Writer: Dennis O’Neil

Artist: Neal Adams

“Superman … WE are the greatest!”

–Muhammad Ali


An alien race known as the Scrubbs threatens to invade the Earth by way of trial-by-combat, challenging Earth’s greatest champion against the Scrubbs’ most menacing fighter. Superman volunteers himself as the obvious contender; however his claim is challenged by none other than the boxing heavyweight champion of the world himself, Muhammad Ali. Intrigued, the Scrubbs leader decides that Superman and Ali should fight one another to determine who will become Earth’s true champion.

Released in 1978, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali was made by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, a legendary duo during the Bronze Age of the comic book industry. As campy as the premise may sound, this is a surprisingly solid book. It pays equal homage to both Superman’s mythology and Muhammad Ali’s status as a cultural icon. The book itself is a veritable piece of hisory. The cover alone hosts a variety of late 1970s celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, and the Jackson Five. Astute fans might even spot Noel Neill and Jack Larson from The Adventures of Superman television series, not to mention Christopher Reeve (in his Clark Kent disguise) from the Superman films.

Article submitted by Mark Cormier

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