My journey through “the shelf” continues with a collection of Superman stories labeled, as the title of this posts shows, “The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told”. I’m always curious about such collections, and even moreso with this particular one. Superman has been around for a number of decades, with a new story every month, sometimes more than one if you count his various appearances in other comics. How then, does anyone sort through such a dense amount of material to decide which dozen or so issues are the best stories ever?
I can only imagine that there are a number of readers out there familiar with this trade who may not agree with the stories collected here. Some may wish other stories had been included, or feel that some of those presented here aren’t worthy of the “greatest ever” title. I’m still relatively new to comics, and my exposure to Superman hasn’t been very extensive at this point, but based on my limited knowledge I would say this trade is a rather fair compilation of great Superman stories.
What I like about this collection is that there’s a balance between stories that serve as a major catalyst to the overall story, and ones that are just downright entertaining. With the former, we get to see Superman travel back in time to Krypton before it exploded so that he may help his parents fall in love (courtesy of Jimmy Olsen, a magic stick, and a rather odd typo). Such stories were poignant and added to the reader’s understanding of Superman’s character. We see him experience sadness, grief, and regret, and while these aren’t traits generally associated with a hero, they make his actions that much more heroic. A hero who has overcome loss is always more honorable than one who has never faced challenges in life. The few Superman stories I had read previously made the character seem like a beacon of justice, fearless and invulnerable to just about anything (except Kryptonite). Although these physical traits remain mostly unchanged, it was refreshing to see that Superman could be affected on a more personal level.
On the flipside, the book was filled with plenty of silly moments as well, such as one where a villain gets the jump on Superman and throws him out a window.
As I was reading, all of the crazy, outlandish moments kept standing out to me. Especially with these earlier comics, I found the weirdest panels to be the most intriguing. As such, I suppose it makes sense that I’m happy with the stories chosen as the greatest ever told. They’re entertaining in the oddest possible way.
I mean, honestly. Superman is flying Hitler and Stalin to Switzerland to stand trial. How great is that?! Plus the inclusion of real-world events (which at the time would have been all-too present in the minds of readers) makes me happier than I can say. Watching history and fantasy blend together is something I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of.
So many strange happenings occurred in these comics that this book could have just as easily been called “The Weirdest Superman Stories Ever Told”. How often do you get to see Superman and Mr. Mytzlplk having a blowing contest?
I worry about the writers who imagined such stories. Still, they’re extremely entertaining, so I can’t complain. Plus they serve as a nice change of pace from the nitty-gritty, more realistic stories I’ve been reading as of late in some of the other comics, such as Batman. We all need a little humor once in a while, and Superman delivers.
A handful of the stories compiled here are “imaginary” stories, posing “what if” scenarios for the Superman Universe. For example, what if Lex Luthor decided to turn over a new leaf and become good? Or, what if Krypton had never exploded?
The latter story I found especially interesting, as Superman was able to see what his life would have been like had Krypton survived and Superman never came to Earth, thanks to a special gift from Batman and Robin. The story itself was extremely well-told, creating a fully realized, believable existence on Krypton. My favorite parts, though, were Batman’s random comments, interspersed throughout the comic.
The combination of a heart-wrenching story with comedy worked extremely well in this issue. Whereas some comics attempt this and fail, Superman managed to present a story that was both funny and touching.
Jokes and absurd panels aside, I really enjoyed the stories in this trade. There haven’t been too many Superman-only trades on “the shelf” so far, so I was glad to read this collection and learn a little bit more about his character. Some aspects I found a tad silly (there’s a super-dog. And a super-cat. And a super-horse. Does Superman have a super-zoo somewhere??) but most I felt added to the overall storyline. With my few brief forays into the Superman comic, I wasn’t sure how much I liked him. His earlier stories made the character feel a bit one-dimensional. I was glad to see him gain more of a personality in this collection. With numerous references to supporting characters (I finally know who Lana Lang is, yay!) and a handful of villains, I feel more exposed to the Superman mythology than I had previously.
Although I haven’t read much of the early Superman comics, I know he’s a character who makes repeat appearances on “the shelf” as the comics move into the 80’s and beyond. I’m happy to say I’m looking forward to reading more about his character, moreso than I had been previously. Hopefully the future comics continue to combine drama with absurd comedy. It just works for Superman, and makes me enjoy his stories that much more.