On April 17, 2018, Superman celebrated his 80th birthday! Not only that, but Action Comics, where he made his first appearance, just hit 1000 issues–the first time an American comic ever had that many issues!
Superman was vastly different in his first appearance. The only powers he had were superhuman strength, speed, and leaping–not flying. He worked at the Daily Star, not the Daily Planet. (the old-time radio show changed it and also added Perry White and Jimmy Olsen to the cast) He grew up in an orphanage instead of on a farm. He was more aggressive than he is these days.
These days, Superman is now married to Lois Lane, who once considered him a rival. But perhaps the biggest change is now he’s a father! As a result of the Convergence event, Superman’s son was born, named Jonathan Kent, after Superman’s earthly father.
There’s a belief that Superman is outdated. His “boy scot” personality and idealistic nature are considered passé. Today’s superheroes are supposed to be edgy, dark, and not ever smile. They try it with Superman, and it never works. That’s not what fans want! They want a Superman who represents our best and brightest, who never stops doing what is right and gives great speeches. Superman is just as relatable and flawed as the rest of us. The powers change nothing.
Like many Superman fans, I have my opinions. My favorite people who’ve worked on Superman include John Byrne, Alan Moore, Dan Jurgens, and currently Peter J. Tomasi. One of my favorite characters is Bibbo, a bartender who considers himself Superman’s biggest fan.
Here are my favorite Superman stories. I’m not limiting myself to comics. I’ll also be looking at movies and television.
10. “Son of Superman” (Superman [Rebirth] 1-6): One of the most recent stories has Superman challenging the Eradicator, a sentient Kryptonian artifact. I love the part where Lois Lane puts on Batman’s Hellbat armor, enhancing her strength in order to save Jonathan from the Eradicator.
9. “Elseworlds: Red Son”: What if Superman wasn’t found in America, but instead in Communist Russia? In this story, Superman becomes a tool of the Communist regime, and Batman is an anarchist plotting to kill him. With the American spirit engrained in Superman’s mythos (although technically he wasn’t supposed to be a patriotic character), this was a great twist.
8. “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies”: I came so close to putting the “World’s Finest” episode of the animated series in this list, but I liked this movie better, so it gets the nod. Lex Luthor has become president of the US and declared Superman “Public Enemy #1”, and ordered several superheroes to forget their friendly alliances and bring him in. It’s well-paced and non-stop action. The banter between Superman and Batman is great. And the ending is so satisfying.
7. “Superman: the Man of Steel” (Superman  1-6): After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DC universe was rebooted for the first time, and John Byrne came on board to re-imagine Superman for a whole new generation.
6. “All-Star Superman” (All Star Superman) DC’s All-Star Superman was part of a failed attempt to redefine its popular characters, without all the continuity. Just tell a great story and gain new readers who don’t want to dig through all the continuity and just read a good story. Grant Morrison truly captured Superman’s heroism the only way he could, and Frank Quitely did some great art. The movie based on it, which I saw before I read the comic, is a faithful adaptation if you don’t want to read all 12 issues.
5. “The Death/Return of Superman” (just get the graphic novel collections) The famous arc that introduced us to Doomsday, the relentless brute who was the only foe Superman could not defeat. There are three collections in this arc: Death of Superman, World Without a Superman, and The Return of Superman. Dan Jurgens writes a story that shows us just how important the Man of Steel is and that he still matters.
4. Justice League Unlimited: Season 3, episode 13–“Destroyer”. This episode has the Justice League form a wary alliance with Luthor’s Secret Society of Supervillains to fight Darkseid. It’s an epic finale for one of the best cartoons Paul Dini and Bruce Timm ever made. I especially like the part where Superman tells Darkseid “[Batman] won’t quit as long as he can draw breath. None of my teammates will. Me? I’ve got a different problem. I feel like I live in a world of cardboard, always taking constant care not to break something, to break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control, even for a moment, or someone could die. But you can take it, can’t you big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you just how powerful I really am.” Then he delivers the most powerful punch he can, knocking Darkseid through several buildings. Then Superman catches him in mid-air and punches him again, sending him crashing into the ground and creating a tremor with the impact.
3) Elseworlds: Kingdom Come: I actually already discussed this in a previous post.
2) “For the Man Who Has Everything” (Superman Annual #11, 1985) It’s Superman’s birthday, and Mongol has given him a very special present. He has entrapped him in the tendrils of an extraterrestrial plant called the Black Mercy. While he is ensnared, Superman experiences a fantasy: Krypton was never destroyed and his father is still alive. He has a life of complete happiness and he has to give it all up or he will die. It’s one of Alan Moore’s best stories.
1) Superman II : Richard Donner’s Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve are the definitive Superman cinematic saga. Both films hold up very well (note: he did not direct III or The Quest for Peace, the worst ones in the series from the 80’s). I like the second one best for its epic fight with General Zod.
2 thoughts on “Happy 80th Birthday, Superman!”
This is awesome, Jason. While I read Superman off and on when I was growing up, and of course I like him, I prefer Batman in general, as you do. I HAVE however been reading Superman since Rebirth started. All that having been said, I was surprised at how many of the appearances and stories on your list I was familiar with. I’ll be checking out the ones I haven’t seen. Thanks for this!
I forgot to mention Public Enemies is animated as well as a comic book. The cartoon is non-stop action.