Superman gets a bad rap. I don’t know why, but he does. Maybe in this day and age, people just hate the idea of a dude in bright blue spandex flying overhead like some sort of god. For me, it’s because he’s so overpowered that I incorrectly think you can’t tell too many good stories with him. Whenever that thought goes through my head, I have to remind myself I actually like Superman. I may not like him as much as Batman or Flash, but Big Blue holds a special place in my heart. So, in honor of his birthday, I’m going to talk about my experience with the Last Son of Krypton. After all, what else do you get for the man who has everything?
My introduction to Superman was probably the same as most people my age: A mix of the Christopher Reeve films and Super Friends. Now, I know I’ve seen those movies, but I legit don’t remember much about them. I haven’t seen them since I was a wee little lad. The image that’s stuck with me all these years, though, is Zod and his followers in the Phantom Zone. My memories of Super Friends is about the same. I recall being in awe at some of the ridiculous stuff he did to save the day, but that’s about it. That show was actually my introduction to most of the DC pantheon. Except for Batman. I’ve been a Batfan since before I can remember. Back to Supes, though! Because now it’s time to talk about something that’s really stuck with me.
The DC Animated Universe is the go-to for anyone looking to get into DC–other than the comics, of course. But yeah, Superman The Animated Series is fantastic. Watching this as a kid is what really made me love Superman. His fights with Lex Luthor, Brainiac, and Darkseid enraptured me as a child. I laughed during his encounters with Mr Mxyzptlk (it brings me great honor to announce I spelled this correctly on the first try), and I didn’t even know what think when Lobo showed up. Of all the episodes, the two-part finale “Legacy” is easily the one that gave me the most chills (not counting “World’s Finest,” that is). The reason for that is because “Legacy” had huge ramifications on a later entry in the DCAU, Justice League.
Darkseid’s appearances in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited were the only times at that point I’d seen Superman actually hate someone. I mean, the Big Blue Boy Scout drops this line in the “Twilight” two-parter, “I’m not going to stop until you’re just a greasy smear on my fist.” Dude! I cannot properly express my hype at that time. I assume the look on my face was a large awe-struck grin combined with tears welling up in my eyes. And to think he outdid that with his pre-ass-kicking speech in the JLU finale “Destroyer.” See, Darkseid was running roughshod for a bit, but then Superman comes in with this, “I feel like I live in a world made 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 ya, big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose, and show you just how powerful I really am!” AAAAHHHH! They then proceed to fight through and destroy a good chunk of an empty Metropolis (ya see that, Man of Steel?). Before I move on, I’d like to mention one last bit from the DCAU. Probably my favorite episodes from Batman Beyond are parts one and two of “The Call” (damn, I love two-parters). In it, Terry McGinnis is recruited by none other than Kal-El himself to join the Justice League. Sure, it wound up being a trap, but it was still great seeing Superman in the Beyond timeline.
As far as live action goes, I know I liked Lois and Clark as a kid, and I watched Smallville religiously for quite a few seasons. By the by, Clark/Chloe for life. I probably have to revisit it again, but I recall actually enjoying Superman Returns. I even own it on DVD. Probably just caught it at that time when I really didn’t think too critically at all. I also really like Man of Steel, despite calling it out in the last paragraph. I quite enjoy that movie, and I’m cool with it being the launching pad for the DC Cinematic Universe. Even if it is a bit darker than I’d like. I’d suggest checking out the Superman movies from the DC Universe Animated Original line for a better feature length Superman experience. Both of the Superman/Batman films and any of the Justice League movies before Justice League: War are essential. Superman: Doomsday and All-Star Superman are good, but both work better as comics. I haven’t seen Superman: Unbound or Superman vs the Elite, but I hear the latter is superb. But now to the bread and butter.
Some of the best graphic novels I’ve read are Superman trade paperbacks. I may not follow any Superman books in individual issues, but he has some great stories out there. The first truly great one I read is the Mark Millar story Superman: Red Son. This Elseworlds tale takes a look at what the world would be like had Superman landed in Russia during the Cold War instead of Kansas. We get to see an American Bizarro created by Lex Luthor, a Green Lantern Air Corps, a black and red color scheme for Wonder Woman, and–my personal favorite–Comrade Batman. I freaking love Comrade Batman. Red Son has an ending that kinda comes out of left field, but it’s the first thing I recommend when someone wants to check out Superman comics. Well, it’s the second thing now that I’ve read Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu’s Superman: Birthright, which is yet another take on Superman’s origin. Written by Waid and drawn by Yu, though, it’s probably one of the best origins out there for Mr. Kent.
Speaking of “best”–the best Superman story I’ve read is All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. It’s not one I often suggest since it’s very much a study of the character and his mythology, and I don’t think it’s new reader friendly. Yeah, it’s self-contained in those 12 issues, but it’s not something you tell someone to read for an introduction. Another Superman story I love that not many talk about is Emperor Joker. It’s a giant, cosmically absurd crossover written and drawn by a number of people where Joker obtains the powers of Mxyzptlk. It’s strange, but it’s awesome. Other Superman books I have and quite enjoy are Superman and the Legion of Superheroes and Last Son of Krypton–both written by Geoff Johns. Superman: Earth One is good, but I don’t remember too terribly much about it, and I haven’t picked up any volumes past the first one Speeding Bullets is another really cool Elseworlds tale that sees Kal-El’s spaceship found by Thomas and Martha Wayne, leading him to become Batman instead of Superman. And as for The Return of Superman…. I’d like to talk about a book that means more to me than even I could ever truly comprehend.
The very first graphic novel I ever owned/read is The Death of Superman. Even looking at that picture and typing these words is making me a little misty-eyed. See, my dad’s a teacher, and one of the things he used to do with his students was organize yard sales. They’d bring stuff they didn’t want and sell them as a group. Well, Dad knew how bored I’d be since I was just a kid who had no interest in being outside (I was well into my lazy phase…which has yet to end), and he bought this graphic novel from one of his students so I’d have something to do. Ladies and gentlemen of the reading public, I cried when I read this book. There’s no other way to put it. The ending narration and images to this day get me choked up. Sure, I know it wound up being undone (I really like that book, too), but to this day, The Death of Superman is one of the most prized books in my collection. I still have that very same copy Dad got for me all those years ago. Hell, I just opened up to the page with Lois holding his dying body, and I teared up. This book showed me what comics could be; how they could make people feel. Sure, before and after that I’d picked up a few floppies from antique stores, but I never seriously collected them. That didn’t happen until 2006 when I started following Teen Titans and 52. But this book is what put that thought into my mind. It’s what made me consider really picking up comics for years. And now I have 2400 individual comics and over 300 graphic novels. It took a decade or so for me to really start, but The Death of Superman was the beginning my love for comics.
That’s pretty much my experience with Superman. I left out group graphic novels (although Kingdom Come is probably more a Superman story than anything else) and other individual comics since I wanted this to mainly be about me and Superman. He’s not my most favorite superhero, but I can never deny what he means to me and the world of comics. He was the first of them, and he may very well be the best of them. It’s cool to hate on Superman nowadays. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. The fact remains, though, that Superman is an endearing and enduring part of modern mythology. I love Superman. Sure, I don’t love everything he’s been in, but I can’t say that for any character with such a long history. I don’t think anyone can. When it’s all said and done, Superman is still one of the greatest characters to ever exist, and writing this has made me realize he means even more to me than I ever knew. Happy Birthday, Superman.