Top 5: Superman Origin Stories in Comics

5. Superman (Vol. 1) #53 (1948)

Ten years after Superman debuted, this is the first full version of what readers today think of as Superman’s origin. It synthesized all of what came before and expanded upon it. Many of the now traditional Superman origin elements were there including Jor-El and Lara, Krypton’s destruction, and the Kents, although they were then called John and Mary. This was also the first time that the idea of Clark being raised on a farm was introduced. It’s also got some beautiful Wayne Boring art.

 

4. Superman: Secret Origin (2010)

Instead of focusing solely on Superman’s developing years on Krypton and in Smallville, this miniseries stretched into Clark’s move to Metropolis. Combining elements from origins pulled from prior Superman origins in various mediums, this story examined Superman’s relationships with all of his supporting cast members including Lex Luthor. Gary Frank’s art is tremendous and his use of Christopher Reeve as the basis for his Superman drawings is almost unnervingly accurate. Surprisingly, this is the only version of the origin on this list to include Superboy somewhere in the mix.

 

3. Action Comics (Vol. 1) #1 (1938)

Short, simple, and to the point, this origin told you all you needed to know before jumping into Superman’s first adventure. He was an alien from a dead planet who wanted to help out humanity. That’s all readers at the time were given. It was the barest of bare bone plots. Its simple story of an immigrant wanting to do well for his new country would resonate for years to come.

 

2. The Man of Steel (1986)

Charged with making Superman someone whom modern readers could relate to, John Byrne set about creating a new origin for Superman in the wake of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Instead of being the planet juggler he’d been only months earlier, this new Superman had a reduced power set, a complicated relationship with his high school sweetheart, and parents who both lived to see Superman become the world’s greatest hero. This more grounded Superman was especially influential on his appearances in television for the next 20 years.

 

1. All-Star Superman #1 (2006)

Distilling Superman’s origin down to just eight words and four pictures is quite a feat. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely nailed it.

Comments

  1. That All-Star Superman page gives me little chills every single time I look at it.

  2. It’s kinda amazing how fast the Superman: Secret Origins came and went as the official origin. It didn’t even make it two years.

  3. With Superman In John Byrne I trust.

    Matthew

    • Mickey (@GeeksOfChrist) says:

      I don’t think any creative team ever working on a Superman book ever quite matched Byrne’s 2 years. Before or since.

      The closest came in the years immediately following Bryne’s departure, when you had Kerry Gammill, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Bob McLeod all contributing to Superman comics. Even then, not quite up to Byrne’s standard.

  4. My favorite origin is the one where Luthor steals forty cakes.

  5. I’m glad this did not include the god darn awful birthrights.
    Agree with 1-4.
    Haven’t read Superman #53. But anyhows, I believe Action comics would soon be included in the list.

    • That’s Ironic. I just refreshed the page and logged in to express my dismay at Birthright being excluded. I thought it was a terrific mini-series that showed the best young Clark Kent of any series listed and his progression to becomming superman. Mark Waid just flat out understands the character and the mythos. I definately would have replaced Secret Origin with it.

      As for Morrisons Action Comics… Issue 1 was a great new take on a young Clark and I could see that single issue being included on a list such as this. But the story arc has derailed since then. Especially with the groan inducing enclusion of the Legion.

  6. Haven’t read a couple of these, but my personal pick is Superman for All Seasons.

  7. No Superman Birthright Jeff?

  8. Mickey (@GeeksOfChrist) says:

    These are all good. I echo the dismay at the omission of Birthright. It’s not my favorite, but it was a pretty big deal at the time. Also, JMS’ origin story was worth a read.

    These are all very different aesthetically, but their basic structure is all pretty much the same. The most daring change was only suggested by Byrne; DC wouldn’t let him go through with it. He wanted Lara to make it to Earth, give birth to Kal-El, and die.

    • I had never heard of Byne’s idea to have Lara make it to earth and die giving birth but I LOVE IT. It immediately explains the connection the Kents have to Clark and a vow to raise him to his dying mother.

  9. Umm sorry but man of steel will always be number one. And birthright was far better than secret origins.

  10. Good choice for #1. Superman has a great origin because it’s not complicated, so it’s told best when told simply. (That said, I still love the super-convoluted take on his origin in the ending of Superman: Red Son.)

  11. I’m very happy to see Man of Steel high on this list. I’ve heard a good deal of Byrne-bashing over the years but his take on the character is still “my” Superman. I also think Morrison’s Action Comics take had the potential to make it on the list before he let the narrative get derailed under a ton of ideas (Morrison’s Achilles heel).

  12. i guess i am the only one who likes superman”birthright”? its my favorite superman origin:) No one else seems to have enjoyed that one though.

    • Mickey (@GeeksOfChrist) says:

      I love the story; the art didn’t really do it for me. Lenil Yu (sp?) has a great hand for motion, his characters’ faces all look they just smelled something stinky, which I don’t like very much.

  13. I can’t really remember Birthright to be honest. I did read it and I still have the issues, so maybe it’s time I broke it out again. Though since I don’t remember if I liked it or not, that may speak more about whether it was good or not.

    I would have included “Superman for all Seasons” which I consider one of my favorite Superman stories ever.

    “Man of Steel” is great, but some of the dialog is lacking, and being from the 80’s, it feels a bit dated to me. I did like a LOT of the concepts established in it however (Jonathan and Martha still alive, Lex as a evil Corporate douche, etc). I especially love the first meeting between Superman and Batman in that series. Having said all of that, it definitely feels to me like the definitive origin for Supes.

    Morrison/Quietly is simple and beautiful, but maybe it’s a bit too oversimplified. It works in the context of a modern telling, just because you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the Superman origin story. I don’t feel it shouldt be #1, in my opinion. If you’re going to go that route, I’d say the original Action Comics (Vol.1) #1 is better, since it’s the first/original.

  14. Good list. I definitely agree with the top two slots. Bryne did a great job, if you needed to fill a mini-series. Morrison and Quitely did a perfect elegant job, if you had to do it on one page.

  15. Not having the origin that the creators of Superman made at the top of the list just confuses me. Comes down to personal taste I guess. I for one was never really thrilled to Ultimate Superman. Sorry, I meant All-Star

  16. This calls for
    1) Top 5 origin stories in comics
    2) Top 5 origin stories in comics (for characters that don’t end in “man”)
    3) Top 5 origin stories in comics (villains only edition)

  17. Man of Steel is still the definitive Superman orgin for me. I love All-Star Superman but don’t consider it an origin story.

  18. Geoff Johns & Gary Frank nailed it for me. Having stopped reading Superman (one of my top 5 superhero characters) years ago (Superman Red/Blue was the death knell), I picked up Superman/Brainiac at the library. WOW. THAT is Superman. That WHY he’s Superman (Supergirl was so awesome too).

    I haven’t watched Christopher Reeve movies that much since I was a kid (love them but they are a bit hokey and dated) but seeing Gary Frank draw him was…WOW. I immediately bought the trade & also bought Origins. Geoff John’s magic touch & Gary Frank’s amazing art. Epitome of Superman stories and refreshing reminder why Superman has always been one of my favorites.

  19. Gary Frank is greatest artist there is…… Secret Origin wins b/c of this fact alone. Mad respect for Swan, but what GF lays down on paper is like rain from the heavens.

  20. Birthright gets my vote as well.

  21. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Birthright free’s the way to be. Good work, Jeff!

  22. I picked up the Birthright trade just as Secret Origin was between issues. Not to knock any of Geoff Johns’ work, but I think that Waid knocked it out of the park. Much more so than Johns did with Secret Origin. I am (and continue to be) a true believer in Waid’s DC work and although my reading of Birthright was after he had already left, the story confirmed for me his ability to handle DC’s flagship character. It has been decades since I’ve read The Man of Steel. I am glad that it is getting the recognition here that it properly deserves. That being said, many readers at the time could not believe that Clark had to shave using a mirror and his heat vision (the smell of burning hair, anyone?). I believe that Byrne, wisely so, avoided the grooming quickly afterwards. I know that I absolutely hated the loss of Superboy and his ties to the Legion of Superheroes. It was a problem that took many writers years to retcon. And in full circle I return back to Johns’ Secret Origin, which despite its somewhat disjointed, episodic storytelling made it clear that Superboy and the LSH are a fundamental part of Superman’s history.

  23. it’s funny, i have recently read all of these and many others as research for an all superman origin episode of my podcast (i mention this not as a plug so im not naming the podcast, i just want to explain WHY i have read all these recently, i hope to finish the show once the current Action story concludes) so all of these are fresh in my mind.

    I really dont count the page from All Star as an origin story. Its more a recap page at the front of a tale of superman’s end. It works because its clever and because these and all the other origin stories have made the story familiar to us. Its 4 panels and 8 words that remind us we already know all we need to, but on its own, it doesnt communicate much. It;s still very clever and well executed.

    Its interesting that you jump from the golden age to the modern. This is why Superboy isnt mentioned until Secret Origin. Superboy was a part of all the bronze and silver age origins, but he wasnt a part of golden age or modern age cannon. Superman 53 was published after Superboys first appearance and origin in More Fun 101, but does not mention him. Later John and Mary Kent become the parents of the Superman of earth-2 who never had a career as Superboy.

    Superboy is present in Superman 156, really the definitive silver age origin and in Action 500 which is not just the definitive bronze age origin, but a primer on the entire superman mythos.

    And i also like Birthright a great deal. I have never understood the hate it gets. Its strikingly similar to Secret Origin, it really introduces elements of the silver/bronze age mythos to the modern era (lex being in smallville and being a brilliant scientist, krypton not being a cold sterile world) as well as bringing the S shield as a kryptonian symbol into cannon and really introducing Luthors anti alien xenophobia. It blends, old new and other media into the story, something Johns would do with much more fan support later.

    Man of Steel is still my favorite