- My NYPL
Tools and Services
- Using the Library
I am a...
- Classes & Events
- Support the Library
Stuff for the Teen Age, Biblio File
The Annotated Superman: A Top 10 List
Happy Birthday, Superman! This past April marked the 75th Anniversary of the hero. To celebrate that, and in anticipation of Zack Snyder's upcoming film Man of Steel, we have put together a list of some popular Superman tales at the New York Public Library. Be sure to also check out our individual feature of Superman: Earth One and similar lists featuring Batman and The X-Men. Also, please comment below with your favorite Superman story. We want to know what your favorites are, too.
Where were you when Superman died? This was the question many people were asked in 1992 after DC Comics made a fateful decision to kill one of the benchmark characters of their company. In an effort to revitalize Superman in popular culture and save floundering sales, the editors at DC wanted to show us what it would be like to live in a "World Without a Superman." The story begins as a monstrous unknown creature emerges from the Earth and begins to rampage across the country. The Justice League attempts to stop it, but the creature—who literally has one hand tied behind his back—swiftly defeats the team in a matter of minutes. Booster Gold is actually knocked into orbit, but Superman manages to catch him when he arrives. Booster comments, "It's like Doomsday is here!" inadvertently giving the creature a name. Superman is unable to halt Doomsday's thrust to Metropolis. After an epic battle in front of the Daily Planet, the two deliver a simultaneous blow that kills them both.
The last few panels of Superman #75 show Lois Lane bidding a final farewell to the love of her life as he slumps to lifelessness out of her arms. The image is profoundly haunting, and Superman's death made national headlines. Four heroes would soon emerge in Metropolis after Superman's death all of whom were suspected to be reincarnations of the hero in some form.
It all had to start somewhere. These collections, assembling early Superman comics by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Leo Nowak, and others, detail the early foundations for the Man of Steel. Before the Crisis on Infinite Earths and John Byrne's subsequent reboot of the character's origin and powers in 1986, Superman was so powerful he could literally move the Earth out of orbit with his bare hands. He also routinely encountered other Kryptonians due to a variety of unusual circumstances, which made his standing as "The Last Son of Krypton" a little silly. While many of these zany stories seem over-the-top and maybe even a little ridiculous, I have a soft spot for some of these classic tales. Vintage stories from the 1940s include, "Superman Joins the Circus," "The Lightning Master," and "Racket in Metropolis."
We all know Superman fights for Truth, Justice, and the American Way... but what if he didn't? What if Kal-El from Krypton didn't land on a Kansas farm as a baby, but Soviet-Era Russia? What would that mean for the world? Author Mark Miller, creator of Kick-Ass, explores these questions in his 2004 Elseworlds title. Lex Luthor, the neglectful husband of reporter Lois Lane, has become a symbol for American ingenuity and perseverance as the spread of communism has all but enveloped the world. He still has an unhealthy obsession with the Man of Steel, however, and plots his ultimate defeat. Superman is too concerned with problems at home to notice though: a costumed vigilante calling himself "Batman" has taken to terrorist action against the state. The story has proven so popular, the recent Injustice: Gods Among Us game has included specific downloadable content featuring it.
Brian Azzarello, creator of 100 Bullets and the later writer of The New 52 revamp of Wonder Woman, crafts a psychedelic tale of Superman dealing with an unknown threat that has caused a significant number of Earth's population to vanish. The event where everybody disappeared is known as The Vanishing. Superman, off world at the time, is racked with guilt and doubt due to his inability to prevent the disaster. This is combined with his own feelings of powerlessness, as his wife Lois Lane was one of the people to mysteriously vanish. He confides in a priest named Father Leone who is dying of cancer. He also squares off with a superpowered monster named Equus in the Middle East. The story is a little bizarre, but Jim Lee's artwork—and his propensity to show Superman hovering in midair with glowing red eyes—makes this two volume set a masterpiece.
The creative team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are well known for their inspired collaboration on Batman: The Long Halloween. Here, in their light-hearted tackling of the Superman mythos, they look at the first year of his superhero career through the eyes of the "normal" people that surround him. When he leaves home in the spring, his early adventures are narrated by Pa Kent. As he makes his initial debut in Metropolis, Lois Lane admits her overarching fascination with him. Fall belongs to Lex Luthor, who has hatched a fiendish plot with a femme fatale to permanently remove this new thorn in his side. Returning home for the winter, Lana Lang reflects on being one of the only human beings to know that Clark Kent is Superman... and how hard it is for her to think of him as anything other than the boy next door. A thoughtful look at the Man of Steel, Sale's timeless depiction proves to be a delight.
Who—or what—is Brainiac? Over the years, Superman has encountered many creatures and robots using that particular moniker. Which one is the "real" Brainiac? Author Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank provide the answer in this story, showing us that Superman had yet to encounter the true Brainiac in any of his engagements with the villain over the years. Superman just battled "probes"—advanced scouts sent out by Brainiac proper to identify and target worlds deserving of his villainous interest. Deciding that Earth is indeed worth his attention, he arrives with the intention of defeating Superman, bottling a major city for study, and annihilating the rest of the planet. Superman, of course, rushes to our defense... only to discover Brainiac is much more physically imposing than he could have imagined.
Recovering the shrunken, bottled city of Kandor after his encounter with the true Brainiac, Superman is overjoyed when he is able to re-enlarge the city in the Arctic. With over 100,000 residents in Kandor, there are now suddenly that many individuals on Earth that all have Superman's abilities but none of his discipline. As the Kandorians increasingly antagonize the human population both inadvertently and on purpose, General Lane and Lex Luthor "defend" humanity by sending assassins after their leaders. Using technology recovered from Brainiac's ship, the Kandorians are able to create and establish an entirely new planet—dubbed "New Krypton"—in orbit around our sun. Embracing his Kryptonian heritage, Superman joins them on their new world, leaving Mon-El and the heroes Nightwing & Flamebird to defend the Earth in his place.
With Lex Luthor as his new ally, Brainiac returns intent on reclaiming Kandor for his collection. He attacks New Krypton in earnest, and only General Zod, Superman, and the Kryptonian Military Guild stand between the villain and the planet's civilian populace. The Legion of Superheroes also emerge to help Kal-El, revealing that without their assistance, it's possible he may perish in the resulting conflagration. Supergirl meets Brainiac 5, and the latter must conceal his future relationship from her to prevent his presence from polluting the timeline. Mon-El shows up to lend a hand, and Superman and the Legion attempt to liberate the bottled cities trapped in Brainiac's possession. Zod and Brainiac square off, with the General managing to subdue the Coluan. He is about to execute him when Superman intervenes, reigniting the long standing animosity between them.
Following the loss of New Krypton, Superman is despondent. He is confronted by a widow who accuses him of allowing her husband to die when he abandoned Earth for his people. Deeply affected by the woman's words and feeling an overall disconnect from humanity, he decides to take a walk across the country. Helping whoever he meets along the way, these stories show a relatable Superman who has many of the same internal dilemmas and existential questions that we all have. Helped along the way by heroes like Batman and the Flash, perhaps the most interesting story features Lois Lane returning to her home town. She reflects on the life she might have had if she had married a "normal" man, and how being married to Superman means that she not only spends most of her time alone, but also that she won't be able to have his children.
Alan Moore, author of Watchmen, was charged in 1986 with writing the "last Superman story." It begins with a reporter, years after the hero was last seen, tracking down Lois Lane to interview her about Superman's final days. We learn that Lex Luthor sought out the remains of Brainiac in the Arctic, only for his will to be taken over by him. The Luthor/Brainiac composite recruits the Kryptonite Man and the Legion of Super-Villains, among others, to attack Superman at his Fortress of Solitude. The Man of Steel makes his last stand there, aided by the temporarily superpowered Jimmy Olsen and Lana Lang. The collection contains several Moore Superman tales, including a bizarre encounter with Swamp Thing and one titled "For the Man Who Has Everything"—a birthday story that was adapted in the animated Justice League Unlimited.