I’ve made no secret about my enjoyment of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Many hated it. The chief complaint I’ve heard centers around the portrayal of Superman. Let me suggest these seven stories that will wash the aftertaste of that movie right from your mouth and one that offers a bitter pill to swallow.
“Superman v Luthor” from Superman #4, 1940. Story and art by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
A red headed Luthor and Superman face off for the first time. Through a series of tests, Superman proves his power. He can travel faster, fly higher, and lift more than any technology, while surviving practically anything. Siegel and Shuster make a point to show Superman saving a number of people from harm establishing the character’s concern for others early on in his history.
“What if Superman Ended the War” from Look Magazine, 1943. Story and art by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
An early, interesting, and very short look at how Superman could affect world politics. In this issue, the Man of Steel flies to Berlin and Moscow, picking up Hitler and Stalin and delivers them to Geneva to appear before the league of nations.
Superman doesn’t waste time fighting soldiers or destroying the machines of war. Instead, he intervenes at the highest level to stop the conflict.
“The Girl from Superman’s Past” from Superman #129, 1959. Story by Bill Finger with Art by Wayne Boring
Bob Finger, one of the creators of Batman, penned this story of romance. After rescuing a disabled fellow student at Smallville University, a young Superman falls in love with this mysterious co-ed. The story reveals Lori Lemaris as an Atlantean spy, a mermaid sent to the surface world to evaluate the air breathers’ technological progress.
This story paints an image of a lonely and nearly friendless Clark Kent falling hard for a woman who matches Superman’s courage and may surpass his intelligence. By the end of the issue, Lori needs to return to her people and the relationship ends.
The comic doesn’t directly explain why these two can’t stay together. Superman is more than capable of surviving the ocean depths and no prohibitions against cross species marriage are mentioned. The reader is left to draw a singular conclusion. Unwilling, or feeling unable, to give up his role as Superman in the surface world, Clark resigns himself to a bachelor’s fate.
“The Death of Superman” from Superman #149, 1961. Story by Jerry Siegel with art by Curt Swan & George Klein.
This imaginary tale starts with Lex Luthor curing cancer. Impressed by Luthor’s change of heart, Superman argues for the villain’s release from prison. Lex Luthor becomes Superman’s BFF and reveals the Man of Steels deep levels of trust and naivete.
Luthor eventually betrays Superman and kills him with a kryptonite ray. While the world mourns the loss, Supergirl captures the villain. A Kryptonian court sentences Luthor to the Phantom Zone.
“For the Man Who Has Everything” from Superman Annual #11, 1985. Story by Allan Moore with art by Dave Gibbons.
Before they created the Watchmen, the creative team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons authored what many consider the most well written Superman story. Attacked by a telepathic, alien plant, Superman lives through an idealistic existence as an average Kryptonian citizen on a planet that never exploded.
The comic offers the reader a rare glimpse into Superman’s true desires. He wants to live a normal life, marry a good and talented woman, succeed at an intellectually stimulating career, and have children. It is only his incredible power and deeply rooted sense of responsibility that prevent him from fading into the mass of humanity.
Shaking off the influence of the Black Mercy is described like ripping off an arm. Superman does it to save the Earth.
All Star Superman, 2005 ~ 2008. Story by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quietly.
Author Grant Morrison pitched his idea for a revamped Superman all the way back in 1998. At the time he wanted to attempt “an honest attempt to synthesize the best of all previous eras. Our intention is to honor each of Superman’s various interpretations and to use internal story logic as our launching pad for a re-imagined, streamlined 21st century Man of Steel.”
The fulfillment of that dream reached the stands in October of 2005. Poisoned by Lex Luthor, Superman faces the last year of his life. His actions speak to both the human and superhuman aspects of the character. He reveals his secret identity to Lois Lane and undertakes a bucket list to help both the Earth and Krypton.
All Star Superman presents a modern image of the character, without sacrificing the huge heart of the character and left a deep impression on Superman fans. IGN.com ranks this tale as the #1 ranked Superman story of all time. This meme, critical of Zach Snyder’s handling of the character, draws from All Star Superman.
Superman: American Alien, 2015. Story by Max Landis with art by Nick Dragotta, Joelle Jones, Jae Lee, Frances Manapul, Tommy Lee Edwards, Jonathan Case and Jock.
This eight issue miniseries explores Superman’s origins from new and more longitudinal angle. Illustrated by a different artist, each issue focuses on a specific moment in Clark Kent’s life. This slice of life approach allows Landis to really examine the factors that combine to build the character of Superman. It’s “less about becoming a superhero,” the writer tells us, “and more about becoming not-an-asshole.”
Each step of this journey reveals some small component of Clark Kent’s compassion for others and a growing sense of responsibilities such emotions compel. Unfinished as of this writing, I am looking forward to seeing Landis’ vision of a fully formed Man of Steel.
Superman: Red Son, 2003. Story be Mark Millar with art by Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett
The master of nihilism, Mark Millar, delivers this tale of Superman landing in the Ukraine to become,”the champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.”
Believing in the Communist cause and acting for the good of the people, Superman grows up to nearly take over the world as an authoritarian dictator. Superman creates the ultimate “Nanny State.” It’s mentioned that people don’t even wear seatbelts anymore, firm in the belief their leader will save them if they get into an accident. Only through the efforts of Lex Luthor, depicted as quite the sociopath, does the US remain unconquered.
A true commitment to the underlying character of Superman, his compassion and humanity, generates a very different outcome.