Whatever did happen to the Man of Tomorrow?

 ·  1 comment

Over at the Absorbascon, Scipio happened to ask for theories why he hadn’t enjoyed the Superman titles for a while. Being the helpful and Superman-loving chap that I am, I wrote him probably a way-too-long response, and I’m reprinting it here. Comments are welcomed; I’d like nothing more than to talk Superman for a bit.


I happen to be a very ardent Superman fan, so your question is very important to me. I apologize sincerely for the length of this comment, and feel free to read as much or as little of it as you want, but I did want to try to answer fully why I think you might not have been enjoying Superman. I’ve made some suggestions at the end of this comment for some Superman trade paperbacks to try; if you happen to sample any, please do let me know what you think. Here goes:

You weren’t enjoying Superman through the entirety of 2003 because the editors tried the worthwhile experiment of placing on the books Steven Seagle, who had admitted to a certain creative difficulty with Superman despite writing the excellent It’s a Bird. Seagle did a twelve-month run that tried to highlight Superman’s super-powers, but ultimately just became confusing. In addition, the series featured a quick deletion of Seagle’s Supergirl, Cir-El, most probably because everyone realized the run wasn’t working half-way through, and then needed to clean it up in time for both DC’s upcoming Supergirl and Infinite Crisis plans. So it’s a run that didn’t start great, and then had to be truncated, and it wasn’t helped by Scott McDaniel’s art, which was fantastic on Nightwing, but didn’t pair exactly right (or at least didn’t look quite the same) with Andy Owens, and that contributed to the confusing appearance of the whole thing.

At that same time, Adventures of Superman write Joe Casey tried another noble experiment, this time of writing a Superman who, for almost a year, never hit anyone. Never once solved his problems with violence, instead using reason and his wits. Think about that. That’s not only brilliant, but I imagine it’s really really tough to do. And ultimately, Casey had already been on Superman for a while, and may have already been ready to be done with it by that point, and so the plots, as this experiment continued, became more and more outlandish, until it just didn’t feel like good Superman reading any more. That’s what happened there. Superman: Man of Steel had already been cancelled by that point for Superman/Batman, and Joe Kelly continued his fairly good run on Action Comics until the creative teams changed in 2004.

All of this was preceded by a run from about 1999 to 2002, with the Superman titles written by Jeph Loeb, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, and Mark Schultz, which was really very good. They breathed new life and some modernity into the Superman titles that had disappeared toward the end of Dan Jurgens and company’s run. At its heyday of the Death of Superman (or even Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite), the Jurgens run of Superman was, in my opinion, the definitive Suerperman, but its time had past, and the Loeb Superman was fresh, large, and colorful. And from Superman Y2K through Our Worlds at War, they did a fantastic job. But I think there’s something to be said for keeping a team on a comic only twelve issues; there’s no chance for it to get stale. And by 2002, and into 2003, the teams got a little stale, though I maintain that the Loeb/McGuinness Superman shined throughout.

In the last year, you had the Azzarello/Lee Superman, the Rucka/Clark Adventures, and the Austen/Reis Action (all of this precursed by the new continuity Superman: Birthright). I’ve only read the beginnings of the Rucka and Austen titles, and I can say they’re … different. Not bad, not great, just different. It’s a Clark Kent that’s weaker, and a Superman that’s stronger, maybe too much stronger. Depends on your individual tastes. Austen’s run has only lasted twelve issues, whereas Rucka’s run has been renewed, so take from that which is the current definitive Superman. Whether you’ll enjoy them or not is hard to say.

So I think the reason you stopped reading Superman is because, eventually, the teams on Superman in the triangle days (which I remember fondly, too), eventually puttered to a stop, and by the time Loeb and company came in, you were probably already gone. And if not, there were plenty of jumping off points along the way after that, too. But let me give you some jumping on points, some suggested Superman reading that I think is good, including some newer stuff, and maybe this will renew your taste in Superman:

  • Superman: Man of Steel - the first Byrne miniseries. I imagine you’ve read it, but if not, these stories still stand up today.

  • Superman: The Man of Steel vol. 1 - 4 - these are the new DC collections of the initial John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Marv Wolfman stories. They’re somewhat clunky by today’s standards, but if you read them recognizing that they’red 1980s comics, it’s good stuff.

  • Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman - I know it sounds hokey, but this is actually a collection of some of those early Byrne et al Superman stories, and I recall it as being pretty good.

  • Superman: Eradication!
  • Superman: Panic in the Sky
  • Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite
  • Superman: They Saved Luthor’s Brain! - all of these are good early Superman stories
  • Superman: The Death of Superman
  • Superman: World Without Superman
  • Superman: The Return of Superman - the Death trilogy, when that creative team was firing on all cylinders
  • Superman: For All Seasons - Jeph Loeb’s excellent first Superman story, setting the tone for his 1999 - 2002 work

  • Superman: No Limits - this one, I’ll warn you, has some parts good and some parts bad, but it’s good to read before Superman: Endgame
  • Superman: Endgame - the first multi-part story from the new creative team has a great ending
  • Superman: Til Death Do Us Part
  • Superman: Critical Condition
  • Superman: President Lex
  • Superman: Our Worlds at War Vol. 1 & 2 - the three above again have their hits and misses, but they’re probably good to read before Our Worlds at War so you know what’s going on
  • Superman: Return to Krypton - a good story with hits and misses

  • Superman: The Greatest Stories - contains Action #775, which everyone raves about

  • Superman/Batman: Public Enemies - this is some great Superman, better than the Superman/Batman: Supergirl trade

  • Superman: Birthright - if you don’t mind Waid’s changes, this is a good story overall

  • Superman: Godfall - not exceptional, though the art is good, but this’ll help understand the beginnings of The Wrath of Gog and Unconventional Warfare

  • Superman/Batman: Supergirl

  • Superman: The Wrath of Gog - Superman as portrayed here is competent and powerful, but also cocky and sarcastic. Some like Austen’s take, some don’t; I put it in this list as it’ll help explain some aspects of Unconventional Warfare.
  • Superman: Unconventional Warfare - the beginning of Greg Rucka’s run

  • Superman: That Healing Touch - part two of Rucka’s run, forthcoming

  • Superman: Secret Identity - this is an “Elseworlds” tale of sorts, that I’ve heard is good but haven’t read

There you go. Thanks!

Comments ( 1 )

  1. I've actually stuck with the Rucka Superman book. I'm not quite sure what about it I'm finding appealing, but I'm enjoying it anyway.

    I thought Austen's run started off with potential. We could really use a book that's just Superman hitting things for 30 pages a month, but it went rapidly into heavy continuity mode in a very weird way and it turned me off it.


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