Gateway Comics is a recommendation thing I do where I list works in a franchise that are good for new readers, that hopefully make them want to check out more of the franchise or character. It features franchises/characters that I am personally familiar with, although I will be using others’ opinions at times. The key point is that these are recommendations for new readers.
There is no superhero more iconic than Superman. The flagship character of not only DC Comics, but of an entire genre, Superman is a storied character that is almost as old as the superhero genre itself. But with so many stories behind him, that can make him a bit intimidating to read. Especially with the various reboots the character has undergone. But I think Superman, when written well, can be one of the most rewarding characters to read. I personally have mostly stuck to more modern works for Superman, but I think these works to a good job balancing what I like about the franchise. I’m not too big a fan of the franchise, but these comics got me interested in it; I can safely say that they’re good for new readers.
Anyway, the people of Krypton has been written badly very often, but here are some stories that I think will do a good job of introducing new readers to the world of Superman.
Superman: Secret Origins by Geoff Johns
The quintessential Superman origin and also the best, Secret Origins tells the story of Superman’s debut as Superman. It’s filled with heart, taking the best of Superman and distilling the rest, presenting him with the simple-yet-engaging story: Superman learns of his powers and heritage, moves to Metropolis and becomes Superman just in time to stop the publicly adored Lex Luthor. This story will tell you why people love Superman.
Starting from his arrival on Earth, Secret Origins follows Superman as he learns about his powers, deals with being a teenager and finally his arrival in Metropolis as an adult — all at a rather brisk pace. Geoff Johns does a great job building this new world for Superman, as well as leaving room for future stories due to some organic time-skips. From his youth in Smallville that establishes characters such as Pete Ross and Lana Lang to his arrival in a distrustful and cynical Metropolis and first meetings with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, Secret Origin covers it all yet never feels like it overloads the reader. Along for the journey is Lex Luthor, who also moves around in this story until finally becoming the Lex we know, gaining his hatred for Superman. Johns makes sure to keep a sense of fun to everything and presents Clark Kent as naive, but not stupid — the best kind of early Superman. The characters feel like they are at their most iconic, representing the most well-known aspects of themselves, from Lois Lane’s drive and determination to Jimmy Olsen’s boyish bumbling. Combined with the art of Gary Frank, this gives the story a timeless quality that just fits Superman.
Despite a somewhat cheesy tone (the story hearkens very much back to the Christopher Reeve films), the modern writing sensibilities and earnestness of this story and the meaning and impact of events make it a quality read. Of all the different origins Superman has had over the years, this one is the best for new readers. There’s no meandering on Krypton or focusing on Superman as just an alien or an icon, but focusing on Superman as an alien, an icon and a human, while also establishing the rich world that would form around him.
Good for: Those looking for an optimistic superhero origin — an Superman’s current origin as of this writing — that has some weight to it, with a much more classic feel that still has modern writing sensibilities.
If you like it: You can read Geoff Johns’ Action Comics (1938) run (which starts at issue #837, but has Johns take some issues off, so make sure to check the writer), some of which expands on stories and ideas presented here. Although it peters out and Johns leaves the title early, it has some good moments and ideas, such as the Kents adopting a young kryptonian child. Some of the scenes here and Superman’s life as a boy are expanded on in the “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” story from Johns’ Action Comics run (issues #858-863). Finally, the story was re-canonised as Superman’s origin in 2017, making this title a nice companion piece to Superman (2016), which I think is similar in tone, but with a wider focus on Superman’s family — for more information on this series, see below.
Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki
A big strength of the Superman franchise is its ability to be re-worked into Elseworlds (as in, out of continuity) stories. While some of these involve drastically different worlds, some Elseworlds stories are just self-contained minor revampings of characters. One of the best of the latter is Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki, which, in only four oversized issues, managed to top Smallville in presenting a youth-focused coming of age story within the Superman mythos. This is easily one of the best comics looking to find a relatable Super-character.
Taking place as high school comes to an end, Being Super is the tale of Supergirl’s journey of self-discovery — but rather than learning about her powers, which she is already comfortable with, she’s learning about the kind of person she wants to be. This kind of waywardness feels like it so perfectly encapsulates the young adult experience that it just paints the best picture of character development. While there is a plot, the story is as great as it is because of Kara and her friends and their development — the plot is just there to get the ball rolling. There’s action and conspiracies in the small town that is basically Smallville, but there are enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes. The art by Joelle Jones is beautiful, as always.
Supergirl: Being Super is the best comic when it comes to humanising these all-powerful aliens. The superhero antics aren’t the part that matter here, it’s the self-discovery and presentation of high school life coming to an end. While the comic is called Supergirl: Being Super, that is not its greatest strength — it’s about Supergirl being a girl.
Good for: People who want humanised Super stories with an emphasis on coming of age and personal growth, as well as just a perfect depiction of teenage life coming to an end.
If you like it: Sadly, the downside of Elseworlds stories is that they very rarely get sequels. However, Superman: Secret Identity is a well-regarded Elseworlds tale about a boy named Clark Kent after Superman, who eventually discovers that he is, in fact, Superman. Superman: Secret Origin (mentioned above) is also a nice, more blockbuster take on the superhero origin story with some nice sentimental moments.
Superman (2016) by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
The DC Rebirth initiative saw the overhauling of DC Comics’ entire superhero line, in an attempt to bring back what many felt was lost with the New 52 reboot. Superman (2016) is actually about the pre-New 52 Superman, who had moved to the New 52 Universe along with his wife, Lois Lane, and his newborn son, Jon Kent. What follows is a great superhero comic about family, friendship and the type of problems that Superman can’t just punch away.
Superman (2016) follows the Kent family as Clark comes out of hiding to take the place of the New 52 Superman who had recently died. Along with him is Jon Kent, whose kryptonian powers are only just beginning to emerge, and who is ready for some adventure. Like Tomasi’s Batman and Robin (2011) run, Superman is more focused on the character relationships than the events themselves (although Superman is definitely more action-oriented when it wants to be), focusing on the family dynamic of the Kents. Jon really is the star of this comic, as he comes to learn about his powers and establish himself in the DC universe, eventually even meeting and befriending Damian Wayne. Superman, in the meantime, establishes himself as the optimistic, hopeful Superman we all know and love — with the occasional conflict with a supposedly heroic Lex Luthor. Lois Lane’s story is more focused on in Action Comics (2016), but she has a strong presence here and kicks ass. The best part about this comic is how Superman can only rarely punch his problems away, because these are problems like someone corrupting Jon or teaching Jon how to be a hero; though of course there are some big action scenes that artists Patrick Gleason and Doug Mahnke clearly have fun with.
While the story is a bit all over the place — not helped by how Tomasi and Gleason took frequent breaks from the series for fill-in writers or the Superman Reborn crossover with Action Comics (2016) that serves to add to the overall DC Rebirth story, or the Super Sons of Tomorrow crossover with Teen Titans (2016) or Super Sons (2017) — this comic is a treat. With a perfect balance of fun, dark and dramatic, Tomasi and Gleason managed to reinvigorate Superman and create a great path for the franchise to follow, while bringing Jon Kent into the limelight as one of the best creations of the 2010s. Superman (2016) was one of the most unique superhero comics on the shelves, and I’m still sad that the run was ultimately cut short.
Good for: People who like character-driven stories with a focus on family and heart, with just enough superhero punch ups to keep from being too slow.
If you like it: Superman: Lois and Clark follows the Kents after they just arrived on the New 52 Earth, detailing Jon’s discovery of his heritage and what the Kents have done while in hiding — it’s also a great story with some interesting ideas and problems that Clark can’t punch away, and I highly recommend it. Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics (2016) is a nice companion book to the series that’s more of a traditional superhero comic, but has some interesting stuff with Lois Lane’s return to the Daily Planet, a heroic Lex Luthor and some playing with continuity regarding the mystery of Mr. Oz — keep in mind that the issue numbering starts at a weird place (issue #957). Super Sons (2017) focuses on the adventures of Jon Kent and Damian Wayne and is just straight-up fun. Brian Michael Bendis’ The Man of Steel (2018), Superman (2018) and Action Comics (2016) runs serve as the most direct follow-ups to this run, but I have to say… try to read those last.
Superman: Secret Origin is, tonally, a similar read to Superman (2016) because of a sentimental tone balanced with big superhero action — also, it’s the origin of this Superman. You can also go back and read Tomasi’s Batman and Robin (2011), which is a spiritual predecessor to this series.
Super Sons (2017) by Peter J. Tomasi
The comics above all have a degree of seriousness to them, and a lot of them are character-driven stories about the coming of age of heroes. Super Sons (2017) is not that. Super Sons is a fun superhero comic about two boys having adventures. Basically it’s the candy of superhero comics — and I say that in a good way.
Super Sons is a spin-off of Tomasi and Gleason’s Superman (2016), focusing on the friendship and adventures of Damian Wayne and Jonathan Kent. The tone is very much like an after-school adventure , with the boys doing these things in their spare time and it largely acting like their own little club. They fight kid villains, go to alternate dimensions, and deal with Damian’s evil mum. It’s all incredibly charming, helped by the art, primarily by Jorge Jimenez, who makes everything light and cute to fit the tone. The Super Sons of Tomorrow crossover between Superman (2016), Teen Titans (2016) and Super Sons, benefited this series the most. It serves to further develop Damian and Jon’s relationship, and while their friendship doesn’t develop too much in this series, it’s just fun to see the two interact.
While Super Sons is by no means a particularly deep comic, it’s fun. Damian and Jon get to just be two boys having adventures together in their off time, stepping away from their fathers’ huge shadows. This comic is essentially a palate cleanser that you read after you’ve consumed some deep and meaningful or dark media. It’s sweet dessert, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Good for: People looking for a fun comic that shows the lighthearted side of two characters who are usually steeped in character development, but who still get to develop their friendship into one of the most iconic partnerships of the Batman and Superman franchises.
If you like it: Adventures of the Super Sons (2018) is a 12-issue follow-up to Super Sons, also written by Tomasi. If you want to see how Damian and Jon met, and want some stronger character development for Jon, Superman (2016) by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason is a good read. Finally, John’s story continues in Brian Michael Bendis’ The Man of Steel (2018) and then Superman (2018), but his changes to Jon have not been well-received.
Hopefully that’s enough to keep you aspiring Superfans busy for a while. This list was a bit hard, since I tend to gravitate towards more character-driven works when it comes to Superman. That said, I think the different approaches and tones gives some variety. Anyway, happy reading and see you next time.