Making a list of the 15 best Superman comics to read is difficult when you talk about a character with such a long history as Superman has.
Superman is the beginning of the superhero genre in comics and he is the character that embodies all the great traits that have defined superheroes throughout the years. He is not only a symbol of heroism and hope, but also a testament of humanity’s greatest qualities and the willingness to do good at all times.
I have to say that Superman is a character that you value more as you grow up because you start to understand the value of hope and kindness a lot more, which is why I feel that his stories have a lot more resonance as time progresses.
Of course, as a new reader, you might feel intimidated to start reading his comics –after all, we’re talking about a character with over eighty years of stories to choose from. But we have your back in that regard: we give you the 15 best Superman comics you must read.
Are you ready? Then let’s fly with the Man of Steel!
Okay, let’s start with a curious one. Back in 1978, DC was experimenting with different types of comics and they decided to put their most famous character up against the heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, in a one-shot aptly titled Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.
The story is 72-pages long and features Ali teaming up with the Man of Steel to face an Alien invasion. Come on, how is that not awesome? It’s a very accessible read and it may give you a better feel of the type of comics that were done during that era.
Also, as far as 70s comics go, you can’t get a better team than this: Dennis O’Neil as writer, Neal Adams as artist, Dick Giordano as a figure inker and Terry Austin as a background inker. These four gentlemen defined comics at that time and this is a lineup that the Justice League would be proud to brag about.
Perhaps not the most classic of Superman stories, but a fun one and one of the best superman comics to read from that period.
Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek are two of the most talented writers when it comes to writing classic superhero stories with all the hopeful and uplifting elements that said stories command, so it was logical that they would be a good fit to write Superman and Up, Up and Away is a great example of that.
In this story, Superman has lost his powers and he has been enjoying life as normal Clark Kent for over a year now, but many of his classic villains, including Lex Luthor, are starting to come back and he has to come back to put an end to them (I won’t spoil you what happens).
I often think that the Clark Kent persona doesn’t get enough credit and relevance as he should: after all, Kal-El was raised by humans and on Earth, so Clark Kent should be more than just a mask and should be the most representation of who he is, which is exactly what this story shows: we see his motivations, the way his relationship with Lois works and why he does the things he does.
If you want to get into the character and understand why he decided to put on the cape and the spandex to fight crime and evil, Up, Up and Away is the story for you.
Okay, I’m going to be upfront here and say that I understand the criticism that this Superman story has received throughout the years, but I can’t deny that I really like it and that writer Brian Azzarello does something very interesting here: he plays the classic Silver Age concepts in a serious manner.
A large part of human population has disappeared and Superman is coping with the loss of Lois Lane plus holding conversations with father Leone, who is a man that is suffering terminal cancer. We also have Superman involving himself in a war with a foreign country, a secret organization watching his every move and even an alternate reality where we discover what happened to those that disappeared.
The story is really weird and I would say that is off in many different aspects, with characters entering and leaving the plot with no real explanation. But I think Azzarello is a very capable writer and does an interesting analysis on the most alien aspects of Superman’s personality and heritage, making this version of the Man of Steel very different to what we’re used to. Add to that some of Jim Lee’s best pencil artwork during his time with DC and you have a very imaginative and bizarre storyline.
For Tomorrow is a definitely flawed yet entertaining storyline. I would only advise to be more seasoned with the character to enjoy it more.
I think Peter J. Tomasi is the most underrated comic book writer in the industry right now; I am yet to find a writer who is so effective at writing so many different characters and titles so well and I would dare to say that his Superman run during the Rebirth era is one of the best the character has ever enjoyed, with the introduction of his son, Jon Kent, being a smash hit with the fans.
There are not big battles or flashy Superman displays of power on these stories, but rather a focus on his relationship with his son, the way they interact and how Jon connects with the world around him. I think this is a very compelling and enjoyable read where you can see Clark on a new role as a father.
A very different take on the character, but one that feels logical and coherent with how he has been progressing throughout the years.
Legendary Teen Titans and Crisis on Infinite Earths writer Marv Wolfman wrote the best Superman storyline in years this 2019… and no one talked about it! This is a shame because Wolfman is still in top form and Produced one of the best Superman comics to read from the recent days.
For sure he should be getting more work at DC (but that’s a discussion for another topic).
Man and Superman has a very simple plot: Clark Kent arrives to Metropolis and has to cope with some of the usual challenges that any common person has to deal with when moving to another city (finding a good place to live, accepting any job to make money, having a hard time making friends, etc.). Along the way, he also struggles to accept the obstacles that come with his recently established superhero persona.
We have read or see Superman’s origin story and see him established many years–what we don’t usually get to see is the period between both eras, where the character is transitioning from one to another. Wolfman does a superb job in showing Clark at his most human and I think anyone can relate to what he goes through here.
The Death of Superman is one of those events that DC Comics didn’t know how to capitalize on very well, given that by 1994 –only a year later after killing their flagship character- they were already resurrecting the Man of Steel, which lessened the impact of this crossover event that should have been a lot more meaningful and impactful at long term.
Regardless, this storyline shows Superman going up against Doomsday, a new villain that had been teased for several issues throughout the character’s books and who runs over the vast majority of the Justice League of America until having a final showdown with the Man of Tomorrow, with both of them dying in the process.
This event was huge at the time and it became one of the highest selling comics of all time, with great artwork by all the artists that contributed to it and a phenomenal battle that went down as one of the all-time greats in the history of the medium.
Scottish writer Mark Millar is known for having a knack of deconstructing classic superheroes and he does exactly with the Superman: Red Son miniseries, reimagining Kal-El’s origin by making his ship land on the Soviet Union rather than on the United Stattes.
As we can imagine, this change a lot of repercussions on world politics as Joseph Stalin raises Superman as his own son and the Communists have a lot more power than the Americans. This results on the United States having to rely on their greatest genius, Lex Luthor, to stand up against Superman and their Communist reign.
This is definitely a very fascinating tale of how politics and a different origin could shape Superman to be a very different character, with Millar being quite crafty and intelligent in the story’s development–very few Elseworlds stories have the uniqueness of this miniseries.
One of the best Superman comics to read for sure!
The creative team of Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, director of the legendary 1978 Superman film, had a terrific run in Action Comics, with Last Son of Krypton being the proverbial jewel of the crown.
The story deals with Superman finding a rocket that has a kid in it and he is certain that the boy is from Krypton, just like him, who he tries to protect from Lex Luthor and General Zod, now part of DC Comics’ canon.
Johns and Donner have a great understanding of what makes Superman tick as a character, which is why that I truly recommend this storyline: you’re going to get a very human and emotional story where we understand Superman on a personal level a lot more.
Taking artist Dave Gibbons and writer Alan Moore, who would be known as the two guys that made the legendary Watchmen series, to write a Superman story is something that could have caused a lot of problems if they didn’t understand the character, but this annual story (back when annuals were a big deal) shows the entire opposite.
It’s Superman’s birthday and a few of his superhero friends (Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman) bring him gifts to his Fortress of Solitude, but one of them is a plant that belongs to super villain Mongul, which results in the Man of Tomorrow dreaming what he always wanted: a Krypton that never exploded and a son of his own.
Alan Moore is a legend of the industry, but sometimes he is only pointed out as someone that can only write negative and pessimistic stories, but For the Man Who Has Everything is a wonderful story that shows Superman at his finest and coping with the loss of his own planet and culture.
You can find this story, plus our 5th pick and some other great Superman stories through the years in the beautiful Superman: A Celebration of 75 years that you can buy at a good price on Amazon by clicking here
Geoff Johns has done a lot of powerful and meaningful stories throughout his career, but I have to say that Superman’s Secret Origin is one of his highest points, making another look at Kal-El’s beginnings that feel both organic and compelling.
There is no denying that Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman in the late 70s and 80s movies has been extremely iconic and you get a vibe from those films in this comic, showing Clark’s self-discovery and finding his own purpose in this world. It does help that talented artist Gary Frank draws Superman like Reeve’s version of the character.
Simple, emotional, hopeful and inspirational, Secret Origin is everything Superman should be.
We usually think that deconstructing heroes or adding more complex themes was something that started in the late 70s with the likes of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, but the reality is that writer Elliot S. Maggin was already doing that with the Superman #247 storyline, Must There Be A Superman?
Drawn by legendary Superman artist Curt Swan, the Man of Steel is taken to the leaders of the Green Lantern Corps, the Guardians of the Universe, who claim that his actions as Earth’s protector has made humans dependent of him and that has stunt their growth as a civilization, which results in Superman coming back to Earth rejecting the possibilities of helping people through several ordeals and difficulties.
In a day and age where people are very critical of Superman and what he stands for, I think this is a very important story about why he does the things he does and why said actions matter.
4. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Superman #423, Action Comics #583 (1986).
Giving a superhero an ending is one of the most complicated tasks because their stories never seem to end, so Alan Moore was handling a big challenge with this two-issues storyline where he had to put an end to the Silver Age Superman because of the upcoming event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was going to kick start a whole new universe and reality for these characters.
Fittingly, Moore is accompanied by artist Curt Swam in a story that concludes every single subplot that you can imagine and gives Superman a very emotional, fitting and dignified ending, with him finally managing to get the life he always wanted.
To this day, I’m still amazed by how well Moore understands Superman and how his usual comments on the superhero tropes don’t seem to neglect his respect towards a character of this nature. Very good story that you should definitely read.
I’m not a fan of Mark Waid, but in the 1990s he wrote two titles that meant a lot to me: his Flash run with Wally West and Kingdom Come.
This miniseries has a very interesting story: the world is ruled with new, young superheroes that have no qualms in taking lives or doing whatever it takes to get the job done. As time progresses, Superman gets tired of this world without morality and goes to live his life as a farmer, with the rest of the superheroes that we know doing the same. But after a certain series of events, they decide to come back and teach these new kids a lesson.
The story was written at a time where antiheroes were at their most popular and it served as a commentary on where these classic characters stood in comparison, with Superman taking a central role as the representation of all these classic values and morals. Not only that, but Alex Ross not only contributes with some of the best art that has ever graced a comic book (and also contributed a lot to the story).
Kingdom Come is one of the best stories in comics and definitely one of the best when it comes to Superman.
2. The Man of Steel (1986).
After the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC decides to reboots their entire line and created just one universe where all the characters would coexist in a much more cohesive way. When it came to their flagship characters, they decided to update them and their origins for the modern era, which resulted in legendary artist and writer, John Byrne, to revamp Superman for the 80s and that is how we got this miniseries, The Man of Steel.
One of the key elements that Byrne implemented on this miniseries was making the human elements of Superman’s story much more prominent, making Clark Kent the dominating aspect of his character and the alien elements something that he is discovering along the way. Krypton, rather than being a futuristic and almost idyllic civilization, is shown as decaying and lacking the humanity and feeling that we have on the human race, thus highlighting how Kal-El’s time on Earth defines him as a person.
We also have to point out Byrne’s art. I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I say that he was to the 80s what Jack Kirby was to the 50s and 60s and Neal Adams to the 70s, with Byrne defining what comics in this decade should look like. Replacing Curt Swan was never going to be an easy task and Byrne passed that test with flying colors.
This is the definitive Superman story and you should check it out because it’s very likely that the version of the character you’re most familiar with was inspired by this miniseries.
Writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely took their time to finish this maxi series, All-Star Superman, but I have to say that it was definitely worth it: we’re talking about the definitive Superman story and the one that defines him the best.
In this story we find a Superman that has been overexposed to yellow sun radiation and now he is facing the fact that he is going to die very soon, so he decides to give closure to many different aspects of his life and each of the twelve issues deals with a very specific aspect of the character’s usual and classic tropes.
Morrison truly understands Superman and here we have a maxi series where all the different eras of the character are addressed, making it a love letter for the fans of the character and especially to those that have been reading since his Silver Age years. It feels cohesive, logical and a fitting to the most important superhero in the history of comic books.
This book feels universal and accessible at the same time. Even if you haven’t read superman comics, you’re more than familiar with him, his cast of supporting characters, his powers and his origins, so you can read this book and have a really good time enjoying what I consider the best possible ending for a character of his stature.
Dealing with his own mortality and trying to have closure in his life, All-Star Superman feels like the best possible story that could have written about this character.
Did you enjoy our list of the 15 best Superman comics that you must read? Do you think we missed anyone? Let us know your comments below!
And remember… Keep up reading good comics!
About the writer:
Kevin is a Venezuelan writer who loves talking about comic books, literature, films, football and series. Fiction writer. Manchester United supporter. He has written in Spanish and English for various magazines and websites, such as Thundersteel Magazine, Chiesa di Totti, The Busby Babe, Revista Kamandi, Animated Apparel, MusikHolics, Gemr, La Soledad del Nueve, Mariskal Rock, Sail Away.