Matt Grant

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5 Graphic Novels That Get Superman Right

We need to talk about Superman. 

Let's face it: The Man of Steel gets a bad rap these days. The recent DC Cinematic Universe iterations of the character, with their dour outlook and glowering Superman, fall far short of what makes America's first and (still) greatest superhero compelling. Believe it or not, Superman used to actually, you know, save people and stop needless destruction, not cause it. 

To prove it, here are five graphic novels that get Superman right. Zack Snyder, take note: 

1. Superman Birthright

One of the best Superman origin stories to come out in recent decades, Birthright sees Superman's calling to fight for truth and justice as just that: a birthright. Even as a young freelance photographer, Clark Kent can't seem to help putting himself in harm's way. As he researches his extraterrestial ancestry, an odd S-shaped symbol keeps popping up, and Clark begins to wonder if there's more to who he is than just taking pictures. When he finally pulls out the red cape from the ship that brought him to Earth in, he says, "This obviously meant a great deal to my forefathers....it's time it meant more to me." 

Birthright also explores an interesting dynamic between Supes and Lex Luthor, influenced by the CW smash Smallville, which was at the height of its popularity when this book came out. Lex and Clark are actually friends in high school, although the megalomaniac doesn't remember him when they're older. Instead, Lex conjures up a Kryptonian army to attack Metropolis and discredit Superman, forcing Superman to convince the citizenry that he's actually on their side. 

2. The Death of Superman 

If Birthright is all about the beginning of Superman's career, The Death of Superman is all about the end. When a mysterious being known as Doomsday appears out of nowhere and leaves a path of destruction in its wake, the Justice League of America try to put him down. However, Doomsday makes quick work of the JLA, and it becomes clear to everyone that this looks like a job for Superman. 

As Superman attempts to slow Doomsday's march towards Metropolis, he makes several detours to save innocent victims who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in the monster's path. At one point, he even turns back from pursuing Doomsday to rescue a single mother and her two children whose house is on fire. In the end, Superman sacrifices himself to save the people of Metropolis, just like a true hero. 

3. Superman for All Seasons

Another Superman origin story, this time set in the 1950s and inspired by Norman Rockwell. Seasons is told in four chapters, each coinciding with a different season. What sets this story apart, however, is how well it grounds Superman in Smallville.

As Clark Kent visits his family's Kansas homestead four times a year, he struggles internally between wanting to stay there, where he feels comfortable, and going off and saving lives in distant Metropolis. This book gets to the heart of what makes Superman a fascinating character. Underneath the invulnerable skin, he's really just a farm boy with incredible powers he didn't ask for and a destiny he isn't sure he wants. 

4. Kingdom Come 

Perhaps one of the best Superman stories of all time, Kingdom Come envisions an older, jaded Superman. Forced into exile after a changing world gives their allegiance to a new breed of superhero, Superman and the Justice League are coaxed out of retirement when these new superheroes and supervillains start battling each other with little thought to who gets hurt in the process. 

Kingdom Come is all about the difference between two kinds of justice: the kind that sees all human life as valuable, and the kind that doesn't care about anything other than getting the job done. In all respects, it is the story that Batman V. Superman should have been. 

5. Superman: Secret Identity 

This fun take on the Superman mythos is set in the real world. Well, sort of. When a couple living in Picketsville, Kansas with the last name of Kent decide to call their son Clark, the poor boy grows up being teased mercilessly about sharing a name with Superman. Clark resents his name until he wakes up one morning and realizes he actually has Superman's powers. Deciding not to put his new discovery to waste, Clark buys a Superman costume and saves lives in secret.

There are lots of fun parallels to the famous story here. Clark moves to Manhattan and works at The New Yorker, where co-workers set him up with a reporter named Lois as a joke. Of course, the two actually fall in love. This story hints at what it would be like if Superman actually existed and tried to have a normal life, while being a superhero on the side. 

There are so many great Superman stories to explore, so many great facets of the character left undone. We can only hope that DC will take one of these tales - or one of the many, many more that I left out - and make it into the next Superman film. The Man of Tomorrow deserves so much more! 

What about you? Do you have a favorite Superman comic that I left out? Leave a comment!