With Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel getting closer by the day, and DC’s New 52 bringing sweeping changes to the big blue Boy Scout’s mythology, it is an exciting time to be a Superman fan. But in our opinion, it’s also a great time to become a Superman fan if you weren’t before.
Although Man of Steel won’t be adapting any comic book story directly, influences are already visible. Being the rabid comic book fans we are, we think getting familiar with some of the best and most groundbreaking Superman origin stories will prepare fans for the film like nothing else.
With that in mind, here’s our list of 4 Comics to Prepare You for Man of Steel.
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Things have been changing over at DC Comics in recent years, as the conflicting origin stories on this list are just one way that decades of comic book fiction can pose some dilemmas when new readers try to start from the beginning.
So, with the chaos left in the wake of DC’s “Infinite Crisis,” the company’s Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, set the record straight concerning Superman canon; “Superman: Secret Origin” is the Man of Steel’s now official origin story.
Unfortunately, comic fans hoping to see a refreshing, daring take on the industry’s greatest character won’t find such exploration in this arc, since it was never Johns’ intention to shake things up; rather, he wanted to put all the character’s components into place. In a nutshell, “Secret Origin” pays homage to the earliest and most iconic Superman stories, while still honoring the later adaptations and updates (Clark Kent, for instance, is a virtual dead ringer for Christopher Reeve in Superman: The Movie).
Though the book contains some rather fantastic elements that the film is unlikely to adapt – the time-travelling Legion of Superheroes, Metallo – screenwriter David S. Goyer has explicitly claimed that “Secret Origin” is guiding his hand. Because of that, this one is worth picking up.
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Shane Davis
Although the term ‘updated origin story’ gets thrown around pretty frequently these days, there are actually only a few that stand out in the vast Superman mythology. But while “Secret Origin” may be the new canonical origin story for DC’s New 52, the publisher is still a fan of different creative takes.
As the premiere story in DC’s “Earth One” series, “Superman: Earth One” is writer J. Michael Straczynski’s re-imagining of a contemporary Superman. Akin to Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe, the story places Clark Kent in today’s world, and lacks much of the sugar-coating of older comics.
The vision was a hard sell to devoted fans, but features a few intriguing ideas. For starters, Clark’s super-strength, super-intellect and super-speed give him the chance to attain both fame and fortune – provided he keeps their source a secret. In the end, it’s not what Clark can do, but what he can’t allow that drives him to become a hero.
Featuring a darker, more hesitant Clark and an otherworldly enemy threatening all of Earth, there’s plenty here that fans can expect to see tackled in Man of Steel. Not to mention a take on Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen that proves they’re more than just Superman’s ‘pals.’
Writer/Artist: John Byrne
The subject of much division among DC’s most devoted fans, Superman’s updated origin story for “the modern age” originated as a necessity. Following DC’s epic “Crisis on Infinite Earths” event – stripping down ‘multiple universes’ to a single reality – the publisher was in need of a new Superman origin; one modern audiences could embrace.
Enter John Byrne’s six-issue series, “The Man of Steel.” The new origin story cut out the sillier elements of the character’s fiction, removing the likes of Beppo the Supermonkey and establishing Kal-El as Krypton’s sole survivor, and undoing his Smallville career as Superboy.
The series is certainly dated at this point, but many of Byrne’s ideas have persisted, becoming central to the character’s identity: Lex Luthor is a brilliant businessman, not a mad scientist; there are limits to Superman’s abilities; and Kryptonite is simply radioactive, not mood-altering. Fans may still disagree over some of the more controversial decisions, but Snyder and Goyer have already shown they’re adopting Byrne’s vision of a cold, antiseptic Kryptonian society where Kal-El is unique simply because his parents loved one another. Thankfully, the ‘birthing matrix’ is being left out.
As the origin of the modern Superman, “The Man of Steel” is a must for any comic fan.
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
There are few comic book characters that writer Mark Waid hasn’t been asked to write. So when the mind behind “Kingdom Come” was asked by DC Comics to produce a new origin story for Superman – one that any reader could pick up and instantly be brought into the heart of the character – he didn’t disappoint.
Putting “everything he ever loved about Superman” into this origin story, DC’s original plan to have the arc exist as a standalone introduction was tossed aside, and “Birthright” was adopted as the new canonical origin for Superman, replacing John Byrne’s “Man of Steel.”
Aside from the one-of-a-kind artwork from Leinil Francis Yu, Waid took it upon himself to craft a Clark Kent that is unsure of his mission in life, a world traveler, and a fiercely determined journalist. It was Waid who came up with Superman’s ‘S’ logo meaning more than a family crest (on Krypton, ‘it means hope’), and early evidence suggests it will influence the upcoming film in several ways.
Simply put: if you haven’t read it, or are the slightest bit hopeful about the approach being taken with Man of Steel, you must read “Birthright.”
That concludes our list of Superman stories we feel will only enrich a moviegoer’s experience while watching Zack Snyder’s upcoming reboot.
Some of the comic book industry’s most acclaimed and respected writers have tried their hand at telling an origin story that would make the Superman myth speak to a new generation and cultural time period, and the wait to see if David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder will add their names to the list of successes is almost over.
Which of the entries on our list will you be taking into the theater with you? Do you hope to see Man of Steel pay tribute to some more than others, or is comparing them just a bad idea? Sound off in the comments.
Man of Steel hits theaters June 14, 2013.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.