Today is Superman Day! To celebrate the iconic character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Destiny Ricks is taking you through the Superman comics decade by decade. There have been many versions of Kal-El over the years, but this list chooses a comic book storyline from each decade. Whether you’re a comic book veteran or a new fan, these are the comics you should pick up to get to know The Man of Steel.
1930s-40s – Action Comics no. 1-50
It’s the one that started it all! It’s always fun to go back to the beginning of a character, especially to see the evolution over the years. Action Comics no. 1 introduced Clark Kent / Superman to the world, but don’t forget that this is also the first appearance of the iconic Lois Lane. At first, Action Comics was an anthology series, tackling various Superman characters and villains. For fun stories featuring the Man of Steel in his early days, pick up early Action Comics.
1950s – Action Comics no. 252
While this story isn’t considered a classic, who can ignore the first appearance of Supergirl? In 1959, Kara Zor-El was introduced to readers, making her mark on Superman’s history in an instant. After her first appearance, Kara Zor-El became a regular in Action Comics, joining the Legion of Super-Heroes.
1960s – The Last Days of Superman
Written by Edmond Hamilton and with art from legendary Superman artist Curt Swan, “The Last Days of Superman” features a Superman that contracts a deadly virus (from space, of course). The gang all comes together, from Lori Lemaris and Jimmy Olsen to Supergirl, to help Superman in his last days. For a Silver Age comic, the stakes are high and it features some classic Superman panels.
1970s – Must There Be A Superman?
Written by Elliot S. Maggin, penciled by Curt Swan, and inked by Murphy Anderson, “Must There Be a Superman?” explores Superman from a real-world point-of-view, deconstructing the character to a degree. In this storyline, the leaders of the Green Lantern Corps question if Superman’s protection has made humanity weak and reliant, making Clark question himself. In today’s context, this is a fascinating story to read as Superman establishes why he should be a protector and why it matters.
1980s – The Man of Steel
Set after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, “The Man of Steel” is a strangely modern Superman story. Written and drawn by John Byrne, “The Man of Steel” reboots not only Superman, but his supporting characters and Lex Luthor, changing them for a modern era. This miniseries modernized Lois as a reporter rather than a damsel, made Lex Luthor much more intimidating, and emphasized Clark’s human elements as he discovers his alien abilities. “The Man of Steel” is a definitive Superman story, essential reading for any fan.
1990s – Kingdom Come
Written by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, as well as painted by Ross, “Kingdom Come” is an Elseworlds story, set in an alternate world where a group of young superheroes, who have no problem taking lives to get the job done, conflict with the traditional superheroes. Superman and the Justice League get tired of this world, and Superman himself lives as a farmer. But, of course, the older heroes come back to knock the new heroes down a peg. Possibly an oversimplification, but make sure to read “Kingdom Come” with fresh eyes, and also let them feast upon Ross’ fantastic artwork.
2000s – All-Star Superman
Writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely came together to create “All-Star Superman,” the definitive Superman story. In “All-Star Superman,” Superman has been weakened by constant exposure to yellow sun radiation and realizes that he doesn’t have much time to live. Each issue explores a particular aspect of classic Superman tropes as Superman closes the doors of his life. “All-Star Superman” is a fantastic exploration of Superman and a love letter to the fans that love him. This series is one of those quintessential stories that can connect with long-time fans or new readers.
2010s – Superman: Earth One (2010)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski with artwork by Shane Davis, “Superman: Earth One” is a personal favorite of Ricks’. “Superman: Earth One” showcases the last moments of Krypton, Superman’s origin, and his early life, modernizing the Superman comics and grounding them in reality. “Superman: Earth One” explores a younger Clark Kent as he discovers his powers and his place in the world, creating a fascinating retelling of the Superman origin story.