With Man of Steel hitting the big screens this weekend, a familiar problem will sweep some audience members leaving the theater. Whenever a comic book movie comes out, be it Iron Man, X-Men, or Scott Pilgrim, all the comics publishers and comic book shop owners hope for one sentence on everyone’s lips:
“That movie was great – I would love to read some comics about that character now!”
This is, of course, the goal, and in some cases, it’s true. But then the very next question to come along, and usually derails the whole thing:
“But where do I start?”
With movies based on novels, like Pride and Prejudice or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, this isn’t an issue. Even for larger book series, like the Narnia series or even the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, it’s still fairly easy to answer this question – start with the first book and go from there. But this is where superhero comic books have the disadvantage: many of these characters have been published continuously for 30-50 years in most cases, and some like Superman and Batman have appeared in at least one comic book every month for the past 75 years. Which means there’s a LOT of reading material out there, and no way for a new reader to sort through it all.
So, in light of his recent return to the silver screen, I thought this would be the best time to offer a few suggestions for those new Superman fans who want to read more of his exploits, but may not be sure where to start.
If you’re interested in a clean, modern, accessible origin story, with an excellent introduction of the character for new readers, I highly recommend Superman: Birthright.
A 12-issue mini-series written by Mark Waid and with art by Leinil Yu, this is the best Superman origin of the modern age, presenting a finessed version of the Man of Tomorrow for a modern audience of the new millennium. The book has an excellent approach to Clark Kent (taking extra care to justify his glasses-and-bumbling alter ego), and he really shines as the star of the book both in and out of costume. One of the biggest issues I have with most versions of Superman is that, more often than not, he comes across as having no real personality. In Birthright, Superman feels like a real person, kind yet not a chump, powerful yet not indestructible. He doesn’t feel like the same character who has been around for so many years he’s started to feel stale – he is once again the hero you wish you could be.
On the flip-side of the coin, some comics are a love-letter to all the old comic books that have come before, all the weird powers and imaginary stories, and use them to craft terrific stories about those characters. To that end, one of the best Superman stories is All-Star Superman.
Anther 12-issue mini-series, written by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quitely, All-Star Superman tells the story of Superman discovering he is going to die very soon, and setting his affairs in order (while also fighting giant robots and monsters that eat Time). You don’t have to know anything about Superman or his exploits or his enemies – the book will take you along for the ride either way. All-Star presents a thoughtful reflection on Superman and his many facets, with practically every issue telling a done-in-one story, and each dedicated to analyzing one aspect of his life. For example, one issue reflects on his role as the Last Son of Krypton, while another highlights his relationship with Jimmy Olsen: Superman’s Pal™. Together, these stories come together and tell a lovely exploration of who Superman is, and what makes him such a great character. This is an interesting companion to Birthright, for while that comic is an excellent example of Superman’s origin story in its purest, distilled form, so too does All-Star seem to be the inevitable conclusion to the Superman mythos.
There are several other books I could recommend, but if I had to pick only one more, I would choose yet another out-of-continuity masterpiece – Superman: Secret Identity.
Another miniseries, this one by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen. Yet this one is a bit different than the others… This is not a story about Clark Kent, the boy from Kansas who gets superpowers and hides his true identity from the world. This is a story about Clark Kent, a boy from Kansas who is named after Clark Kent from Superman comics because his parents thought it was kind of funny, and ends up manifesting superpowers apparently out of nowhere. He hides his abilities, but does go on to perform heroic acts dressed as Superman – and if any witnesses see him, who would believe them? I know this may be a strange comic to be on this list, but I think it’s terrific, as it actually analyzes what one of us would do – in a world with Superman movies, cartoons, t-shirts and lunch-boxes – if we found ourself possessed with the incredible abilities of the Man of Steel?
There have been several incredible Superman comics over the years, and no list is ever complete, but I definitely consider any of these comics to be a great place to start. These are some of my favorites for how they characterize Superman, and his greatest ability – the power to inspire the best in people.