Perfect 10: Superman

Perfect 10 is a series of essential recommendations that fully encapsulate a comic character – 10 desert island picks of runs, single issues, arcs, etc – curated by Comfort Food Comics.

  1. Superman: Strength: By Scott McCloud, Aluir Amancio, Terry Austin, Patricia Mulvihill & Todd Klein. I more often than not tell people this is my favorite Superman story ever. Where does Superman’s real strength come from? It comes from his moral compass. This is a guy who is so strong because he is centered and self assured from being raised by such formative, good parents. In this story he goes against a relatable everyman criminal, John “Fido” Pollock. Fido clashes against Superman because he sees him as this big unobtainable picture of strength that he uses as a symbol of all the people that have punched down on him over the years. By the end of the story, it’s shown how wrong Fido is and how profound the inner strength of Superman is. This one is just so incredibly good as an examination of the special sauce that makes Superman’s character so great. This is the one where you stop and say “Oh, I get Superman now.”

2. “Ex Machina” from Christmas With The Super-Heroes #2: By Paul Chadwick, John Nyber, John Costanza & Tom McCraw. Paul Chadwick of Concrete fame writes and draws this 8 page masterpiece. A man breaks down in a snowstorm on Christmas and when no one helps him he prepares to commit suicide. At the last minute, Superman knocks on his window and asks if he can come in and sit. Superman fixes his car with his powers but at the same time just sits and listens to this man’s story, this man’s problems and tries to help. He learns he’s alone and sympathizes with him. He tells the man to contact his estranged daughter. And at the end he gives the man The Kents’ address and tells him to go there for shelter; that theyre friends of his who will help him out and asks the man to be discreet about this. In eight pages, Chadwick takes this huge character and boils him down to his essence in such a simple, perfect manner. It’s such a wonderful story because Superman saves a life just by being there, just by being a great person rather than some mythical superhero.

3. Superman 654: By Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Dave Stewart & Comicraft. I’ve written extensively about this single issue story here. A fantastic done in one that gives you a perfect dose of Superman’s character in a day in the life of the hero. This one also features some top tier Clark and Lois romance and my favorite visual interpretation ever of Lois by Carlos Pacheco. Clark and Lois are just about the best couple in comics and this shows you why. Incredibly endearing, charming story.

4. All Star Superman: By Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Jamie Grant & Phil Balsman. This is the big one. This is your evergreen pick that DC always pushes but they are so right in doing so. Morrison manages to blend every facet of the character’s long history together in one remarkable, uplifting, moving tale. You will be changed after reading this one. Everything that makes the character so special is on every single page of this book. It’s as close to a perfect statement as you could ever hope to have for Supes.

5. Superman 156: By Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan & George Klein. The best of Silver Age Superman. This one is the Turner Classic Movies Superman. The Cary Grant Superman. Classic. Timeless. This one gives you all the overdramatic melodrama of that era when Superman is going to die. In his last days he sets out to do some final tasks and inspire all those around him. This one has all of his supporting cast in it and the infamous “Every man can be a Superman” moon message panel. It’s an incredibly well crafted book showing what Superman means to all those around him and the world.

6. Action Comics 858-863 – Superman & The Legion Of Super Heroes: By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, Dave McCaig & Rob Leigh. Probably the weakest on the list but this one hit me at such a formative time I can’t help but love it. Just an extremely entertaining romp that puts the adult Superman squarely back into the world of the 31st Century. This reinvigorates the classic Legion while also showing how strong of an impact Superman and his message of protecting everyone, regardless of their differences is. Some of Johns’ actual best work is during this Superman run and Frank’s art here is some of his greatest and is the true highlight. This one just really makes you fall in love with Superman and the Legion even if you’ve never read a comic with them in it before. Is it as deep or important as Johns would have you believe? No, it’s big, dumb fun that he himself almost ruins by being hilariously serious, lacking self awareness, going too dark, making it too bleak and unleashing yet another of his patented “Rebirths” on the Legion. Even with all that, it remains the exciting Superman Saturday morning cartoon with its bright colors and fast paced action. You cant help but smile and cheer and get wholly invested even with the Johns-isms coming at you hard and fast.

7. Superman Smashes The Klan: By Gene Luen Yang, Gurihuru & Janice Chiang. Simply the best Superman story in the last decade. This is a timeless story about doing the right thing, using your privilege and strength to help all people, and combating racism and injustice in all forms. Not only all that, but a pretty damn great Superman action story and character exploration too! This is a book that a 4 year old or a 90 year old can enjoy and learn from and that’s a rare thing in media. It feels progressively modern while also feeling timeless. This book is special.

8. Reign of the Superman/Return of Superman – (ACTION COMICS #687-688, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #500-502, SUPERMAN #78-79, SUPERMAN ANNUAL #5, SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL #22-23 and SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL ANNUAL #2) (ACTION COMICS #689-692, ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #5, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #503-505, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN ANNUAL #5, GREEN LANTERN #46, SUPERMAN #80-83 and SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL #24-26): By a whole host of talented comic legends including Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Karl Kesel, Dan Jurgens, Jon Bogdanove, Jackson Guice, Tom Grummett and many more. I love Post Crisis Superman so much and this is probably my favorite story from that period. This is the Terminator 2 of comics. You know when you’d fall asleep on the couch on a random Saturday and you’d wake back up and some action movie you’ve never heard of would be on USA, TNT, FX, etc; and you’d end up getting so sucked into the movie you end up loving it? This gives you that same feeling. This is the big 90’s popcorn movie starring the whole amazing Superman cast of characters. Superman has just died and four men claiming to be the resurrected version of him appear on the scene. But which is the real Superman? All four of the Supermen are amazing characters in their own right. Each book follows one of the Supermen and the art and tone of each one is so varied it gives you something uniquely special in every different story thread and they all eventually converge into each other for the climax. The building crescendo to when Superman finally returns is paced so well and has you at the edge of your seat the whole time. I just love this story.

9. Superman Man Of Tomorrow 1,000,000: By Mark Schultz, Georges Jeanty, Denis Rodier, Dennis Janke, Rob Schwager & John Costanza. Part of the brilliant DC One Million crossover event, this issue sees Superman in the 853rd Century. Here he asks to be shown the entire history of the whole Superman line, his ancestors and their centuries long battle with Arch-Enemy Solaris, The Tyrant Sun. This book is PACKED with so many interesting, amazing ideas about Superman’s son, grandson, and so on and so on. Each little sentence about a Super ancestor could be a whole comic series. Frankly, I am extremely disappointed DC hasnt had an anthology series that’s run for hundreds of issues about Superman’s long lineage introduced here. It’s a perfect version of Superman’s legacy and heroism and how it will always endure throughout time. It is just so interesting and fun to speculate on all these little juicy story ideas; to dance between the future eras here and make your own headcanon with all the genius potential cooked up.

10. Final Crisis: Superman Beyond: By Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy,Rodney Ramos,Tom Nguyen,Walden Wong, David Baron, Steve Wands & Ken Lopez. A tie-in to the Final Crisis event, this story has Superman develop 4D-vision and team with a group of Multiversal analogues of himself to fight against a reality consuming evil vampire Monitor, Mandrakk. Their combined powers allow Superman to merge into the Superman Colossus, a giant thought robot to combat the Dark Monitor in the Monitor’s world, in a self assembling hyper story that is alive and adapts around them. In this ever changing reality of ideas and thought that alter all of reality’s story; what words does Superman inscribe on his tombstone as a warning? “To Be Continued” Chills. Perfection. It is insane, bizarre and stupidly wonderful. This is a thoughtful, extremely meta narrative about the power of stories, about creators and the ongoing real life comic industry. It is such a smart love letter to Superman and comics.

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