12. Superman: Earth One - 2010
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Drawn by Shane Davis
Superman: Earth One is one of the most recent iterations of the hero’s origin story, so it’s a great place to start if you’re not familiar with the character. But, since pretty much everyone is at least a little familiar with the character, it’s a good place to get a little deeper into his backstory. The graphic novel depicts the last moments of Krypton, like you’d expect to see, but also follows Clark Kent as he moves to Metropolis to try to find his place in the world, and Superman as he takes on his first major opponent. The Earth One books don’t follow the exact same continuity as the rest of the DC Universe, so there are some differences between this Superman and the Superman from the monthly titles, but the main themes are all still there.
11. Superman: Secret Identity - 2004
Written by Kurt Busiek
Drawn by Stuart Immonen
Another origin story of sorts, this is an alternate telling of the Superman story in which Clark Kent exists in a world where Superman is a comic book hero, much as he is in our world. Clark starts to develop powers similar to the fictional Superman’s powers, and has to balance his personal life and his new life as a superhero — all while keeping his identity hidden from journalists and the government (both of whom are much more scrupulous than their fictional counterparts).
10. Superman: Peace on Earth - 1998
Written by Paul Dini
Drawn by Alex Ross
Part of the The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes collection, Superman: Peace on Earth follows Superman as he tries to tackle an issue that isn’t dealt with a ton in comic books: poverty and world hunger. Superman encounters a starving woman in Metropolis, and takes it upon himself to feed every hungry person in the world. He meets with the United Nations, who reluctantly allow him to carry out his ambitious plan, but he quickly discovers that feeding the world is easier said than done.
9. Action Comics: “Brainiac” - 2008
Written by Geoff Johns
Drawn by Gary Frank
This run of Action Comics from 2008 is a retelling of Superman’s first run-in with one of his most popular enemies, Brainiac. The story follows Superman as he encounters the villain while he is miniaturizing and bottling entire cities so that he can catalogue (then subsequently destroy) the entire universe. Brainiac reveals that his next target is Superman’s hometown of Metropolis on Earth, and that he intends to destroy Superman and Supergirl since Krypton has already been catalogued and they are just loose ends to be dealt with. A classic Superman story through and through.
8. The Death of Superman - 1992
A controversial storyline from DC, Death of Superman is exactly what it sounds like. A being of incredible power and anger called Doomsday escapes from a mysterious prison and wreaks havoc across Metropolis. Superman attempts to stop the monster, but quickly finds that he has met his match. The two punch their way across the city, and as they put in their final blows, both characters appear to die. The series was highly criticized when it came out, partially because of the complex story lines and need for convoluted explanations that followed Superman’s “death.” The guy who made the movie Chronicle, Max Landis, has a pretty great video explaining the series. Watch that:
7. Superman: Last Son of Krypton - 2006
Written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner
Drawn by Adam Kubert
When a spacecraft containing a Kryptonian boy crash-lands on Earth, Superman takes it upon himself to look after the child and protect him from the government and the Kryptonian villain General Zod, who has escaped his prison, the Negative Zone, to reclaim his son, the newly adopted Chris Kent.
6. Crisis on Infinite Earths - 1985
Written by Marv Wolfman
Drawn by George Pérez
Crisis on Infinite Earths is an interesting story because it’s essentially just DC turning into a skid. By the 1980s, the continuity of the DC Universe had become extremely complicated. There were different versions of different heroes on different Earths in different dimensions, all used to try to explain broken timelines and evolving origin stories that had gotten a little out of hand. Recognizing that they had a lot of loose ends, DC decided to bring all of the heroes from the “multiverse” together for one big event that eliminates most of them in order to continue on with one unified continuity.
5. Man of Steel - 1986
Written and drawn by John Byrne
The Crisis on Infinite Earths finally gave us one single Superman, so we needed one single origin story. Man of Steel is a cleaned-up version of Superman’s origin that addresses all the continuity issues that had arisen since Superman’s inception in 1938. The six issue story also modernizes Superman and his supporting cast, such as changing the character of Lex Luthor from a maniacal super villain scientist to a greedy and manipulative businessman.
4. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? - 1986
Written by Alan Moore
Drawn by Curt Swan
Before Man of Steel presented the modern Superman, Alan Moore ushered out the Silver Era Superman with this two issue run. The story is told from Lois Lane’s perspective as she recalls his final days ten years after Superman’s disappearance. The story follows Superman as he takes on a number of his most infamous opponents, and his eventual demise after he encounters Golden Kryptonite, which strips him of his powers.
3. Kingdom Come - 1996
Written (and painted) by Alex Ross
Drawn by Mark Waid
Kingdom Come is a mini-series published under DC’s Elseworlds imprint in which Superman and his fellow Golden Era heroes are aging relics in a world of sleek, irresponsible new superheroes. After retiring from the hero business, Superman becomes concerned with the new breed of heroes who are causing more problems than they are solving. After one hero causes a massive disaster that wipes out the entire Midwest and kills millions of people, Superman decides to come out of retirement in an attempt to bring some order back into the world.
2. Superman: Red Son - 2003
Written by Mark Millar
Drawn by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett
Another series published under DC’s Elseworlds imprint, this story speculates about what might have happened if the rocket that brought Superman to Earth had crashed in Soviet Russia instead of Kansas. Needless to say, history is quite different in a world where Superman is a Soviet super-soldier, and America struggles to maintain its democracy in a world where communism reigns supreme. It’s up to one super-intelligent scientist named Lex Luthor to figure out how to stop Superman and the corrupt Soviets from getting their way.
1. All-Star Superman - 2006
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Frank Quitely
All-Star Superman is a book that exists in its own, non-canonical narrative, in an attempt by Grant Morrison to strip the character down to his very basics and tell a Superman story without needing to worry about continuity. Lex Luthor manages to to trick Superman into absorbing massive amounts of solar radiation, granting him new powers, but also giving him just one year to live. Superman then must decide what his priorities are during his last year alive as his new powers slowly destroy him.