Superman – Birthright, Earth One
Before Earth One, before Secret Origin, Birthright was supposed to be the definitive Superman origin, or at least the most definitive since the last definitive Superman origin, which was created only about 15 years before this one. And if anybody had read it, maybe it would have been. But unlike the previous Superman origin story Man Of Steel, Birthright never really captured the imagination of Superman fans. It’s a shame, as Mark Waid and Lenil Yu did a fantastic job here. Although Waid doesn’t add as many new concepts into the Superman mythos as John Byrne did before him, he tells a much more cohesive story than Byrne. It’s an extremely safe interpretation of Superman’s origin, but it’s also very well told, and definitely worth a read.
Earth One, on the other hand, tries to add a lot of new concepts, but writer J. Michael Straczynski is so excited by his new ideas that he forgets to make his Superman interesting, or even likeable. It’s still a decent story, but it’s definitely not the savior of the Superman franchise that is was made out to be when it came out last year.
Superman – The Death Of Superman
While Superman’s birth is retold every decade or so, his death has really only been told once. Which sounds like a lot if you’re you, or if you’re me. But if you’re a comic book character, dying only once is pretty much a mathematical impossibility. Since this story was so overhyped in its day, I was surprised to see how well it held up. This was the comic version of a summer action movie: High on action, high on emotion, short on plot or substance. While in retrospect it might have been nice to have some back story on the villain of the piece (something we would get a few years later), it’s still a fast-moving action story with some pretty effective emotional beats.
Superman – For All Seasons
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are the peanut butter and chocolate of the comic book world: Ok on their own, but magnificent when they’re together. There is nothing they’ve done together that’s not worth reading, and For All Seasons is one my personal favourites of the work they’ve done. Again, it emphasizes pathos over plot, but it’s still a beautiful piece of mainstream comic work.
Superman - Kryptonite
Although Darwyn Cooke has achieved near-legendary status in a relatively short period of time, this was one of the first comics that he wrote, but didn’t pencil. Although I don’t think he’ll be competing with Warren Ellis anytime soon, Cooke put together a solid script here. Tim Sale is one of the few pencillers that could be considered Cooke’s artistic equal, and really elevates the story. In fact, reading Kryptonite is enough to convince me of who really did the heavy lifting in all of the aforementioned Loeb-Sale collaborations. This has some really great Clark and Lois moments, and I think it’s quite underrated.
Superman – Our Worlds At War Vol. 1 & 2
There are two types of cross overs in comics: Cross-Over A has one central story in a finite mini-series, and then has side books that accentuate the original story but DON”T require reading in order to understand the theme, or to get the main plot beats ( A very good recent example of this is Marvel’s Civil War). Cross-Over B has one central story, and then has side books that accentuate the original story but still have key moments that you DO need to read in order to full grasp what is happening in the main story. This isn’t my favourite (Recent example: DC’s Blackest Night). Unfortunately, for Our World’s At War DC went with option C: A dozen different comics all trying to tell important parts of the same story, with what seems to be very little editorial direction in order to make an incomprehensible story. It’s an incredibly ambitious, big-time space epic that had some really great beats, but was very poorly served by some extremely bad editing. This was a big alien invasion story in which all of earth’s heroes team up to repel the invaders. I can’t really tell you more than that, as the extremely convoluted plot that drifted in and out of the different comics involved departed from my brain almost immediately after I read the book. In fact, what does it say about a Superman cross-over when the best story came from a Wonder Woman issue? There are still enough interesting decent character moments (Specifically I’m referring to the Wonder Woman issues) to put it in the keep pile for now, but the next time I need to add some space for new additions, this one is gone.
Superman – President Lex
Making Lex Luthor President of the US was a good idea in theory. In fact, it was such a good idea that Marvel decided to pretty much copy it verbatim for their recent Dark Reign storyline in which Norman Osbourne took control of America’s superheroes. unfortunately, Marvel did a better job with DC’s idea than DC did, and the whole Luthor as President thing is usually discussed as one of DC’s poorer ideas. I liked it though, although as with the Our Worlds At War cross-over, poor editing really hurt the concept, and there’s just as much bad as there is good. Decent idea, poor execution. An other thing this one has in common with Our Worlds At War, is that I’m keeping this one, for now.
Superman - Red Son
This is one of the weirder ideas to come from the DC brain trust in the past decade, and no one was more surprised than me that it actually worked. It’s the Superman story, with the caveat being that the rocket ship that he was sent to earth on landed in Russia. Crazy, right? Da. But still a good story. Although it’s pretty easy to criticize Mark Millar for some of his recent work, no one can say that the guy doesn’t know how to tell a GREAT mainstream comic book action story, and he’s pulling out all the stops here. Although the high concept here is as gimmicky as gimmicks get, Millar still takes the time to stay true to the character he’s riffing on here, and tells an engaging “What If” story that happens to surpass a lot of the past decade’s more mainstream Superman canon. I’ll go on record and say that this also happens to be one of my favourite Lex Luthor stories of all time.
Superman – Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow
A little back story is necessary here. In 1986, DC upset their apple cart and decided to reinvent the origins of several of their key heroes, Superman included. And since that mean that the current run of Superman was coming to an end, Julius Schwartz called up Alan Moore (Post-Watchmen, Pre-bugshit crazy) and asked him to write the final Superman story. He did, got the venerable Curt Swan to do his thing on the art, and then produced one of the greatest Superman stories ever written. I’ve read this a hundred times, and it puts a smile on my face every time. The premise is this: Superman is at the twilight of his career, but his enemies come out of the woodwork to launch one final attack against him and his loved ones. He gathers those closest to him and brings them all to the Fortress of Solitude to try to defend them. Things don’t go well. This is a definitively Silver-Age Superman story, but the interesting thing here is how timeless Moore and Swan make it. 25 years later, it remains one of the great Superman comics, and I think a strong case could me made that it was the last.
Superman – At Earth’s End
A throw-away Elseworlds story that is better than it has any right to be. Though not something I would say was remotely essential, it’s still weird (Future Superman fights an army of cloned Hitlers, as well as the reincarnated body of Batman) enough to keep.
Next up: More Superman, but with a dollop of Batman mixed in.