With the possible exception of people who have been living on the moon these past 80 years (emphasis on possible), you’ve seen Superman before, whether it’s in a movie, a TV show like Lois and Clark or Smallville or on a t-shirt or poster. He’s part of our worldwide pop culture landscape.
Still, there’s a very good chance you’ve never read a Superman comic before, and with 80 years of comics to choose from, you might not know where to even begin. Fortunately, there are plenty of complete, classic Superman tales available at your local comic shop, bookstore or online retailer that are perfect for fans new to the world of Superman comics or comic books in general. You just need to know what to look for. Here are five acclaimed Superman comics, all available as graphic novels that you can easily find online, that are ideal for readers new to his world.
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan
Superman: Birthright is a perfect first dive into the world of the Man of Steel, particularly for anyone looking for a newer, fairly modern take on the character. As the title suggests, this story is Mark Waid’s take on the very famous story of a Kryptonian ship crash landing on Earth and opening to reveal a little baby who will save the world. As such, you really don’t even need to know who Superman is or what he stands for to understand everything that takes place over the course of the book’s 100+ pages.
Birthright marries arguably the most famous origin story of all time with some tremendous action scenes beautifully rendered by series artists Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan. If you want to see Superman take on foes in battles worthy of the big screen, while narratively evolving his tenuous sense of self, then this is absolutely the story that you want to start with. The plot itself doesn’t stray too far from the classic source material, but it is a very fun presentation of it and it really, really moves.
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett
Looking for something totally different? Superman: Red Son is a alt-universe Superman story set in Russia. It’s got a very simple premise: What if Superman landed in the Soviet Union rather than in the American heartland when he crash landed on Earth? Red Son is a period piece squared away in the 1950s during the height of upheaval for the Soviet Union.
(Fun fact: the title is a play on Krypton’s red sun, Rao, that does not give Kryptonians superpowers the way that Earth’s yellow sun, Sol, does.)
Under the auspices of Communism, Superman still learns to value the little person, but as a worker toiling away for the greater good, even as he is guided by his handlers into acting against those same people’s best interests. The internal struggle that this evokes in him in Red Son makes for some dynamic reading. Written by Mark Millar, the creator of Kingsman and Kick-Ass and writer of Marvel’s Civil War comic series, Red Son dreams up a very clever way to bring this universe’s versions of Superman and Lois Lane together in a beautiful moment that suggests these two characters will always be inextricably drawn together, no matter which countries they may find themselves in…and that they’re better for it.
Red Son is a self-contained, one-and-done story that explores who Superman is and what he stands for through a much different lens. If you’re someone who thinks Superman comics are boring, you may want to check out Red Son.
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Dave Gibbons
Want something shorter, but no less substantive? Try this beloved story by the same team behind WATCHMEN, one of the most critically acclaimed and bestselling graphic novels in history.
“For the Man Who has Everything” finds Superman falling victim to the Black Mercy, an alien plant that feeds on its victims while placating them with appealing hallucinations. The results have formed the basis of a story which has been adapted both on the animated Justice League Unlimited series and more recently in live action on Supergirl.
While celebrating his birthday, Superman is overcome by the alien entity (that looks kind of like a scary flower). It renders him into a dream state where he was never sent to Earth, instead growing up on Krypton with his family. The dream allows Superman a glimpse at what could have been, something that ultimately cements the idea that the best thing that ever happened to him was being sent to Earth.
“For the Man Who has Everything” is important as a reflection of a changing tone in comic book history, for marrying the most alien and human elements that exist within the character of Superman…and for simply being darn good. It’s solid science fiction storytelling by a master creative team that will have you pondering its themes for days after you’ve finished reading it. This story is part of the DC UNIVERSE BY ALAN MOORE collection.
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Stuart Immonen
What if Clark Kent was a real person? What if he lived in our world? These are the key questions that Secret Identity spins out of. This uniquely different Superman tale introduces us to a young man living in Kansas with the unfortunate name of Clark Kent. As you can imagine, this Clark has been the butt of so many jokes for most of his life, but things start to change for the better—for the super—when Clark begins manifesting the powerset associated with the fictional superhero with whom he shares a name.
Artist Stuart Immonen marries Busiek’s clever story with painterly art, giving the book a fairytale-esque quality. It lends a sense of magic and majesty to a story that is, ostensibly, set against the world that we, as readers, live in.
Clark eventually meets a woman named Lois Lane and they start a life together. The consequences of their union spin a little further from the classic Superman narrative and as the book comes to a close, it gets really, really…interesting. To reveal more would be to spoil the fun, but if you’ve ever daydreamed of becoming a superhero, Secret Identity should be on the top of your reading list.
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely
Acclaimed writer Grant Morrison is famous for his theory that the Justice League are a pantheon similar to the Greek Gods, and that Superman is both an allegorical and perhaps literal Sun God. Well, All-Star Superman is the series where Morrison puts that theory into practice. Here Superman is dying, but before he shrugs off this mortal coil, he must undergo a series of labors in the style of Hercules.
Frank Quitely draws what has become one of the definitive representations of Superman in the pages of this miniseries, but equally iconic are his takes on many of the characters that populate his world, from Lois to Lex Luthor to Krypto.
This is a series to be savored—to many fans it’s the greatest Superman comic ever written—and it rewards rereads, so after you’re done, you’ll want to keep it on your bookshelf. A complete tale from start to finish, you’ll likely have your favorite chapters, but some standouts include a beloved, quirky episode where Lois gets super-powers for a day and an emotional goodbye to Pa Kent that features a twist that will leave you sobbing (in the best way!).
All five of these comics are readily available in print or digitally. Guess what? ACTION COMICS #1000 is a great starting point for new readers too! Find out a lot more about this milestone issue by clicking here.