Where to Start Reading Superman Comics

Joshua Lapin-Bertone

Joshua Lapin-Bertone

April 23, 2019


Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a humongous collection of Superman comic books! Now that DC Universe has expanded its digital library to over 20,000 comics, there are enough Superman issues to fill the Fortress of Solitude. If you’ve always thought about reading the Man of Steel's adventures, but have never known where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here are some recommendations to get you started on your journey with the Last Son of Krypton...


The Man of Steel


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THE STORY: In 1986, writer-arist John Byrne (of X-Men and Fantastic Four fame) left Marvel for DC, and wrote and illustrated a brand-new take on Superman’s origin. Learn about Clark Kent, his friends and his enemies in the limited series that reshaped Superman for the Moden Age of comics. Byrne also developed the evil businessman persona of Lex Luthor (conceived by Adventures of Superman writer Marv Wolfman), which has become the character's standard interpretation, and reintroduced Jonathan and Martha Kent as living, vital presences in their son's life. In the span of six issues, readers are given a crash course in Superman’s world as Byrne (ably assisted by inker Dick Giordano) sets up a new continuity that would define the character for the next two decades, including the generation-defining "Death of Superman" storyline.


FOR FANS OF: If you’re a fan of the Christopher Reeve-starring Superman movies, you’ll be pleased to know that John Byrne was too! Byrne took the best elements from the Reeve films (including Margot Kidder's sharp-tongued Lois Lane) in building a new mythology for the Man of Steel.


WHAT'S NEXT: If you enjoy John Byrne’s take on Superman in this limited series, then check out his run on the monthly Superman (1987) title that followed it, as well as the concurrent Action Comics (also written and illustrated by Byrne) and Adventures of Superman (written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Jerry Ordway).


WHERE TO FIND IT: The Man of Steel #1-6


BONUS: TV's Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman ran from 1993 to 1997. Many aspects of this series, such as Clark Kent’s persona, his parents designing his suit and living to see him marry Lois, and Lex Luthor’s businessman characterization, were inspired by the Man of Steel limited series. 1996's Superman: The Animated Series also took a number of its cues from Byrne.


All-Star Superman


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THE STORY: Lex Luthor has finally gotten his revenge on Superman, as the Man of Steel finds himself poisoned by the same solar radiation that gives him his powers. With only days to live, Superman looks back on his life, takes care of unfinished business, and tries to make sure the world will be safe in his absence. Can Superman cheat death? And what else has Lex planned? Grant Morrison’s heartwarming tale breaks Superman down to his bare essentials in this beloved tale. Morrison’s emotional script is beautifully enhanced by Frank Quitely’s striking illustrations, both odd and familiar in their depiction of Superman's world, making All-Star Superman an unforgettable comics masterpiece.


FOR FANS OF: If you loved the 2009 Batman & Robin series then you’re luck, because the creative team of Morrison and Quitely are behind this masterpiece as well. Grant Morrison's offbeat Doom Patrol comic inspired many of the stories and characters in DC Universe's live-action Doom Patrol series. So if you can’t get enough of that, then you’re going to love this.


WHAT'S NEXT: If you like writer Grant Morrison’s take on the Man of Steel, then check out his run on Action Comics volume 2 (#1-18), in which he revamped Superman for DC’s New 52 relaunch, and his celebrated run on JLA, which partners Supeman with DC's other A-list champions, including Batman and Wonder Woman!


WHERE TO FIND IT: All-Star Superman #1-12


BONUS: After you finish reading the comic, check out 2011's All-Star Superman animated adaptation featuring the voice of James Denton as Superman.


Superman: Birthright


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THE STORY: How did Clark Kent go from farmboy to hero? Award-winning writer Mark Waid and artist Leinil F. Yu present a fresh take on the Man of Steel’s origin, as Clark Kent struggles to find his place in the world while dealing with his enemy Lex Luthor. In Superman: Birthright, writer Mark Waid took the best pieces from John Byrne’s 1986's Man of Steel limited series, and added elements from his encyclopedic knowledge of the Silver Age while giving the legend new relevence for the 21st century.


FOR FANS OF: If you love the 2013 Man of Steel film, this is the Superman origin for you. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman’s beginnings, including the line about S standing for “hope,” took some of its cues from this series.


WHAT'S NEXT: If you love how Mark Waid writes the beginnings of Superman’s career, be sure to check out Kingdom Come, his tale (illustrated by Alex Ross) of an older Superman coming out of retirement to fight a new generation of villains.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Superman: Birthright #1-12.


"For the Man Who Has Everything"


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THE STORY: Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin arrive at the Fortress of Solitude to celebrate Superman’s birthday, but find the Man of Steel in a trance. Superman’s enemy Mongul has trapped the Last Son of Krypton with an alien plant known as the Black Mercy. While under its effects, Superman imagines a life in which Krypton never exploded and he’s happily married with children. The bright fantasy, however, soon turns dark, and Superman’s friends struggle to free him. The final act of this story features one of Superman’s most unforgettable battles, as he goes after Mongul with white-hot fury... Writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, the duo behind Watchmen, team up to tell a Superman story that captivates after more than thirty years.


FOR FANS OF: This is a great tale for fans of DC’s Trinity and Justice League Unlimited, as well as all who love the work of acclaimed writer Alan Moore.


WHAT'S NEXT: If you loved the battle between Superman and Mongul, read DC Comics Presents #27 to see their first brawl. And be sure to read Moore's unforgettable two-part tale of Superman's final battle in "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" (in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583) as well as his Superman-Swamp Thing team-up in DC Comics Presents #85.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Superman Annual #11


BONUS: This comic was brilliantly adapted in the Justice League Unlimited episode “For The Man Who Has Everything


Superman For All Seasons


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THE STORY: Writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale come together to tell a Superman story focusing on family, home, and heroism. Set during the early days of Superman’s career, readers learn how Clark’s childhood in Smallville defined the superhero he would become in this beautiful coming-of-age tale.


FOR FANS OF: Fans of the live-action Smallville series will love this Norman Rockwell-esque look at Clark Kent’s early years. If you’re a Batman fan who enjoyed The Long Halloween or Dark Victory, you’ll love seeing the team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale reunite for an equally gripping Superman story.


WHAT'S NEXT: Superman/Batman #26 reunites Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale for a tale in which Clark reminisces about a high school friend who died of cancer. This emotional story was written as a tribute to Loeb’s late son Sam. Bring some tissues, because you may find yourself shedding a few tears... Sale returns to Superman's early days once more in the "Kryptonite" storyline featured in the first five issues of 2007's Superman: Confidential


WHERE TO FIND IT: Superman For All Seasons #1-4


Superman #1


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THE STORY: Experience how the legend began. 1939's Superman #1 reprints the Man of Steel’s first appearance from June 1938's Action Comics #1, along with issues #2 through 4 and new pages detailing his origins for the first time. See how writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster changed the cultural landscape and defined a genre of storytelling, as Superman meets Lois Lane and becomes a champion for the oppressed.


FOR FANS OF: Pop culture history, Golden Age comics, and 1930s and '40s crime and adventure movies. As well as all who fight for social justice. 


WHAT'S NEXT: If Superman’s Golden Age persona appeals to you, check out more of his adventures in the early years of Action Comics, Superman, and World's Finest comics. 


WHERE TO FIND IT: Superman (1939) #1


BONUS: Check out animation producer Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons to see how the Golden Age Superman was first translated to the screen. The cartoons are from the 1940’s, but they remain among the most beautifully animated films of all time, and mark the first time that Superman flew -- in any medium!


Superman: American Alien


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THE STORY: This Elseworlds tale (one in a long-running series of "imaginary" stories feauturing DC's heroes) focuses on a young Clark Kent as he tries to make his way in a world he wasn’t born on. When he’s too human to be a Kryptonian, but too alien to be a human, where does that leave him? How does a confused alien teenager grow up to become Earth's greatest hero? Screenwriter Max Landis's script earned him an Eisner Award nomination.


FOR FANS OF: This story will be fun for fans of Landis’ TV shows and movies, including the superhero fable Chronicle. It's also great for fans of alternative Superman stories and contemporary coming-of-age tales.


WHAT'S NEXT: If you’re a fan of DC Elseworlds stories, check out Superman: Red Son. This limited series (written by Kick-Ass and Kingsman creator Mark Millar) imagines a timeline in which baby Superman’s rocket landed in Russia instead of Kansas, and Kal-El is raised to become a hero for the U.S.S.R.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Superman: American Alien #1-7


BONUS: Max Landis is currently developing a sequel titled Superman: Agent of Batman.


"What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?"


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THE STORY: A new group of super-powered vigilantes known as the Elite have captured America’s attention. The group is led by Manchester Black, who doesn’t share Superman’s sense of morality. Superman grows uncomfortable with their violent methods and questionable ethics, bracing the group for a showdown. Can Clark beat the Elite without compromising his moral compass? Has the world simply outgrown Superman? Writer Joe Kelly answers all these questions in a comic that's become of the best arguments for the Man of Steel ever written.


FOR FANS OF: This comic is perfect for anyone who's ever questioned Superman’s relevance. Have you ever wished Superman was more like Batman? Do you prefer violent anti-heroes like Lobo? Then this story might have you rethink everything you thought you knew about the Last Son of Krypton.


WHAT'S NEXT: Want to see what happens with Manchester Black next? See what happens when he’s drafted into the Suicide Squad in Adventures of Superman #593.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Action Comics #775


BONUS: This issue was adapted into the 2012 animated movie Superman vs. The Elite, featuring George Newbern reprising his Justice League Unlimited role as the Man of Steel.


Silver Age Superman


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THE STORY: The 1950s and '60s was the Silver Age of comics, a time Superman ruled the newsstands! His stories blended science fiction, adventure, comedy, and sometimes romance into a mythology that's still with us. It was an era that chronicled the history of Krypton. That gave us Red Kryptonite, Brainiac, Superman's mermaid love Lori Lemaris, the Bottle City of Kandor. That saw Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen receive their own comic series. And that introduced Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes -- Superman's friends from the distant future.


FOR FANS OF: If you’re in the mood for light, fun reading with no continuity hassles, then these are the stories for you. These stories are also great for fans of the 1950s George Reeves-starring Adventures of Superman TV series.


WHAT'S NEXT: If you love Superboy with the Legion of Super-Heroes, check out their adventures together in 1973’s Legion of Super-Heroes, as well as the animated Legion of Super Heroes TV series.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Here are five stand-outs from that time: Superman’s first meeting with Batman in Superman #76, the first appearance of Superman's cousin Supergirl in Actions Comics #252, a typically crazy scheme from Jimmy Olsen in Action Comics #340, the first appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes in Adventure Comics #247, and the first appearance of the Parasite in Superman #123.


BONUS: If you find Silver Age Superman fun, then you’ll love the Batman: Brave and the Bold episode “The Battle of the Superheroes!” in which Superman recreates some of the most outrageous covers from this era of comics.


Superman: Secret Origin


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THE STORY: After the reality-altering events of 2005’s Infinite Crisis, writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank teamed up to give Superman a new origin in this six-issue limited series. Classic elements from the Silver Age like Krypton’s culture and Clark’s tenure as Superboy made their return. See Superman’s life story from his babyhood on Krypton to his teenage years in Smallville to his life in Metropolis as a Daily Planet reporter.


FOR FANS OF: This limited series has the visuals of Superman: The Movie, as well as elements of the Silver Age Superman, mixed in with the best bits of John Byrne’s The Man of Steel.


WHAT'S NEXT: If you love what Geoff Johns and Gary Frank did with Superman’s origin here, check out how they handle a modern version of the Man of Steel in Action Comics #858-863 and #866-870.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Superman: Secret Origin #1-6


Superman: Secret Identity


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THE STORY: Imagine what it would be like growing up with the same name as a famous fictional character. Poor Clark Kent finds himself the butt of every Superman joke in this Elseworlds tale, in which superheroes only exist in comics. Soon, however, young Clark finds he has the powers of his fictional namesake and wants to use those abilities for good. Writer Kurt Busiek tells an inspiring tale exquisitely brought to life by Stuart Immonen's photorealistic art.


FOR FANS OF: Those who love TV's Smallville and the unique flavor of superhero neorealism found in Busiek's Marvels and Astro City will love following Clark on his heroic journey.


WHAT'S NEXT: There are lots more Elseworlds Superman stories to read. For more of Kurt Busiek's Man of Steel stories, check out his run on the monthly Superman book, which ran from Superman #650 to #675.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Superman: Secret Identity #1-4


BONUS: This story was inspired by the tale of "Superboy Prime" (the "real world" Superboy) found in DC Comics Presents #87.


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