Superman: Where Do I Start?

Ask anyone who Superman is and they'll tell you. From your mailman to the dear old lady lived down the street from you as a child. They've learned it from movies, television shows, and yes, comics. But do they really know the Man of Steel?

Superman has been featured in at least one comic each month going all the way back to his debut in 1938. There's more stories in print featuring him than perhaps any other in history — inside comics and out. But with all that material, it becomes hard to pick the definitive texts that best represent the character.

But iFanboy is here to help.

As part of our weekly series "Where Do I Start", we're delving into the the best of the big blue boy scout. This is a list for a hardcore comics fan who's looking for a better appreciation of the character, and it's also a cheat sheet for someone new to comics wanting a list to start with.

Superman For All Seasons: Superman's origin has been told and retold more than anyone else in comics. But this tome by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale recounts the seminal moments of the super-heroes early years through a new lens — not looking at the landmarks of time but more on how they shaped the hero he was to become.

Superman: Birthright: This modernized retelling of Superman's origin puts the classic chain of events that took an alien orphan and turned him into an American hero into a 21st century context. Writer Mark Waid knows Superman like the back of his hand, but he's not afraid to question and recontextualize some moments in a modern light. Artist Leinil Yu, who went on later to illustrate Marvel's Secret Invasion, brings a roughly honed illustrative style to the piece that gives it a modern impactful energy without sacrificing the emotions at play in Waid's story.

Superman: Secret Origin: Written by DC's head writer and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, this approach to Superman's origin focuses not on his birth but more on his awkward teen years. Johns takes from the scraps of teenage Superman stories from years past and weaves it into a cohesive narrative that highlights moments that most other origin stories overlooked. Of particular interest is Superman's recruitment into the Legion of Super-Heroes from the far-flung future.

DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore: Although he's only written a handful of stories, Moore's primary two stories have stood the test of time and are collected in this volume. "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and "For The Man Who Has Everything" are both seminal tales — for the character, and for comics in general.

Kingdom Come: This ensemble piece posits a future where Superman, Batman and others have passed the torch — or had it taken from them — by a new group of heroes that are more vigilantes than protectors.With greying hair and a more resigned nature, Superman is pulled back into duty one last time.

Luthor: Originally published as a miniseries titled Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, this book takes a look at super-hero from one of the most unusual vantage points — his arch nemesis Lex Luthor. Told from the viewpoint of Luthor himself, it paints the Kryptonian in a harsh light but still reveals new insights into the character. They say heroes are made by the quality of their villains — this one proves that to an unexpected degree.

Absolute All Star Superman
: The most recent comic in our list, but arguably the most timeless. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's twelve-issue series doesn't seek to retell the character's origin, but moreso tell his ultimate fate. All Star Superman charts a trajectory that pushes it outside of known territory into a new realm of stories while revisiting the classic tropes of the character's 70+ year history.

Comments

  1. Heroville Heroville says:

    I love that “Where Do I Start?” has become a series.

  2. wangman31888 wangman31888 says:

    I think i’ve read and enjoyed all these books, i would also include Superman and the Legion by Geoff Johns since it really sums up the great relationship he has with the Legion and how important superman really is.

  3. BBretall BBretall says:

    I love the All-Star Superman recommendation, HOWEVER, since it’s a “Where do I start” maybe better to refer people to Vol. 1 & 2 of the TPB instead of a $100 Absolute edition….

  4. dkpwv says:

    I personally own them all and love them all. I began reading Superman, Action Comics and The Justice League in the early seventies and still, all these years later, can’t get enough of his adventures. I think Superman has a hard time interesting today’s young readers because of the perception of his being the “big blue boy scout”. That is why I like him. Truth, fairness, and his committed desire to do the right thing.

  5. all of your recommendations are pretty contemporary, and while they are nice titles, might not give new readers the best overview. 

    “Whatever happened to the man of tomorrow?” is a nice bridge from the Silver age into now with Alan Moore and Curt Swan…you really get a good sense of the character as he was handled in a classic way. Just a really fun story too. Is this full story included in that Alan Moore compilation that you list? There are some other fun trades out there like Bottle City of Kandor and Superman vs Luthor. I really have a good time with some of that older stuff. Its just classic superhero comics. 

    As far as an elseworlds, Superman Red Son is a great alt universe story.  

  6. MikeG MikeG says:

    For me, John Byrne’s Man of Steel is Superman. That Post Crisis revamped Superman is THE Superman to me and probably always will be. Absolutely love it.

  7. Great list. I’d add Red Son written by Mark Millar and Secret Identity by Busiek and Immonen as two more excellent Superman titles that are very easy to pick up if you want to try the character out.

  8. Ilash Ilash says:

    @davidtobin100  @MikeG  Agreed on all three recommendations. Those aside and that I still need to get Superman For All Seasons, that’s a very solid list of great Superman stories. Though it should probably be mentioned that you don’t have to buy the very expensive Absolute edition of All Star. You can get it in issues, in two trades, in two hardcovers, in the Absolute edition and apparently a single volume paperback edition is coming soo as well. 

  9. JoseRivera83 JoseRivera83 says:

    Birthright? …seriously? I mean, no offense to the story but BIRTHRIGHT?! I mean, what, was your copy of The Man of Steel in a box or something?

    For the most part, I agree with these choices. I’m just glad we didn’t see Red Son on this list as it’s referenced WAAAY to many times. It’s a good story, don’t get me wrong. But I personally liked Secret Identity better.

    What about Up, Up and Away. It’s basically the starter for the Post-Infinite-Crisis Superman.

  10. KingYoda KingYoda says:

    @JoshRivera83  People’s opnion on Birthright and Man of Steel always seem to be polar opposites.  For example, I love Birthright and can’t stand Man of Steel.  Guess it’s just a matter of personal taste.

  11. drunkyoda drunkyoda says:

    what about earth one superman???

  12. What about Superman: Red Son? The best Elseworld’s story written and just a great idea overall.

    Superman vs Muhammed Ali. Sure it’s not the best representation of Superman but it’s probably the most entertaining story you could find.

    Finally, how about Kingdom Come? It’s more of a Superman story then it is about the JLA coming back together. 

  13. ShonenRafa77 ShonenRafa77 says:

    Woohoo! This is all great stuff :) Great list Chris!!

    Now where’s my “ABSOLUTE SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT” over-sized hardcover, DC??? :)

  14. Superman vs Swamp Thing!!!!!

  15. These are all excellent choices. I’ve not read Birthright, but i’ll be sure to check it out. I’d add Man of Steel to this – even if the writer himself didn’t like the series, as he says some people do love it, and i’m one of those people!

    I’d like to throw the Darwyn Cooke/Tim Sale book Kryptonite into the ring. It’s nothing mind blowing, and falls slightly short of what you might expect from these two but it’s just good fun and the art is awesome. Well worth a read.
    I really want to get into the Geoff Johns stuff like Secret Origin, Braniac, and that new Krypton stuff but there’s so much of it and i spend far too much on comics as it is.

    Also i like that short story about the Guardians arresting superman for not doing enough to intervene and save humanity from itself.

    Didn’t Dennis O’Neil do a run on Superman, anyone know if it’s any good?

  16. I just re read All Star & it just gets better & better with each read.

  17. @TheNextChampion 
    Did you not read the article? Kingdom Come is on the list just above Luthor

    Luthor, by the way, was awesomely cool, I’m glad that’s on there.

  18. deadspace deadspace says:

    This is what I used to love about ifanboy. These days it’s become speculative news stories and junky articles that seem like they’re there just to take up space.  

  19. Ajacks7 Ajacks7 says:

    This are mostly excellent choices. Although i have to disagree with Kingdom come. Its not a great introduction to the character. You can get much more from the story with prior knowledge of the characters and universe.

    Personally if im trying to get somebody onto superman id hand them Secret Origin and Superman for All seasons. If they enjoy that I’d hand them All star Superman and Red Son. Then after that id apologize for not having any other stories to hand them as good as those four.

  20. mguy77 mguy77 says:

    Agrees w. MikeG, In John Byrne Superman I trust.  from the MOS mini to his 2 year run on the title.

    Matthew

  21. Andrew Andrew says:

    Hard to disagree with any of these, but I’d add Action Comics #775 as the cherry on top. It’s what I give to people who say “Superman’s boring; he’s too powerful, etc.”

    I just bought and read the Byrne Man of Steel issues a few months ago after only having the first issue since I was about 9 years old. I can only imagine how thrilling it would have been to read it as it came out! It’s definitely a great place to start and I always prefer Superman origin stories where Pa Kent doesn’t die. 

  22. I would have put Man of Steel instead of Birthright, but otherwise its an awesome list. Red Son gets a lot of attention but I think someone who wants to read Mark Millar doing accessible Superman stories should check out his run on Superman Adventures, yeah yeah it was kind of a kids book since it was based in STAS universe but those were some really fun comics.

    And of course Geoff Johns run on Action Comics was one of the best runs ever, from Last Son, to Legion to Brainiac. And if you’re not afraid of diving into back issues, Greg Rucka had a really great and underappreciated run on Adventures of Superman several years back. I dont think its been collected but he really understands Superman and Lois and all those characters better than most.

  23. John Siuntres wordballoon says:

    Good list, but as great of a story as Alan Moore’s is, I personally wouldn’t recommend it for a first time reader.

    too many questions of how are these other heroes and villians and why should I care about them whould come up IMO.

  24. dkbrain dkbrain says:

    Thank you for the recommendations.

  25. anarkyspidey says:

    what other where do i start have they done?

  26. Conor Kilpatrick conor (@cskilpatrick) says:
  27. anarkyspidey says:

    thanks conor im new 2 this site and only have been listening to ur guys podcast a few months

  28. @Godfrey Ah, so it was. Sorry it kinda got buried and I didn’t notice it at first.

  29. kennyg kennyg says:

    @GloriousGodfrey  Agreed – Luthor is fantastic. If you’re a Superman fan and haven’t read it, you’re doing yourself a disservice. In fact, even if you aren’t a fan, read it. Terrific exploration of the villain who sees himself as the hero. Hate to brag, but I just found the whole mini bagged at a used book store for $4.00. Shwing!

  30. Switch625 Switch625 says:

    Byrne’s Man of Steel reboot is still better than Birthright and is still my go-to Superman origin story with Secret Origin a close second.