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My Top 5 New 52 Superman Stories: Take Two

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My conversation with New 52 Superman before writing this blog.

With Justice League of America #10 released on Wednesday November 30th, New 52 Superman has officially made his last appearance and Rebirth aka Pre Flashpoint Superman is now the only canon Superman appearing in DC Comics. As some of you familiar with me may already know, I was not a particularly big fan of the New 52 Superman throughout his tenure. He was too aggressive, too cocky, too angry, too emotional, too quick to act, too inconsistently portrayed etc etc. There are far worse versions of Superman in Elseworld alternate comics but out of the 'canon' Supermen; Golden Age, Pre Crisis, Post Crisis and New 52, the New 52 version will remain at the bottom. For the most part, these past 5 years have been one of the worst periods for Superman comics in my opinion. However, despite the stormy skies, there were some silver linings within these clouds. There were some decent to enjoyable comics featuring New 52 Superman.

I've written a previous Top 5 New 52 Superman comics blog on this subject back in 2013 but my preferences have changed since then. This blog will include story arcs with multiple issues and only focus on the Superman Family titles. No Justice League or guest appearance comics included. And if you're somehow behind on New 52 Superman, there might be minor spoilers so you've been warned.

(Honorable Mention) Superman #32-38: The Men of Tomorrow

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This arc was Geoff Johns' return to the character to give Superman a much needed boost after Lobdell's clunky train wreck of a run on the Superman title. In this story, Johns returned Clark back to The Daily Planet after Clark had spent some time away from the newspaper to run an independent news blog with Cat Grant (called the stupidest name ever, catandclarkgrantopolis) During a fight with a mysterious alien, Superman is assisted by a man named Ulysses, who is from Earth but was sent to the Fourth Dimension to escape a laboratory accident in a reverse parallel to Superman's origin. Superman takes Ulysses under his wing to teach him about life on Earth, to work together fighting the mechanical threat of The Machinist and to help him find his parents. However, Ulysses' adopted people come to Earth to offer 2 million people the chance to come to the paradise world of the Fourth Dimension and Ulysses' dark secrets come to light as a threat Superman must oppose.

This was going to be number five on my list but then something occurred to me to change it. In any case, Johns does a decent job trying to fix and restore familiar elements of the Superman mythology that were sorely missing after the mess Lobdell had made of the Superman status quo. Although Johns essentially swept the blog under the rug, nothing was done with it and all it did was distance Superman from his normal supporting cast into only superhuman interaction. I still support Johns' choice to bring Clark back to the planet. Superman was characterised much better than under previous writers, being less aggressive and angry and more calm and reasonable which was in line with Johns' depiction of him. However, Ulysses' potential as a sympathetic villain was wasted once the truth about him and his adopted home was revealed. The Machinist was a pointless waste of a villain who has not been seen since. And this story introduced the dreaded Solar Flare which released all of Superman's solar energy in a blast that left him powerless for 24 hours. Hence why it's an honorable mention.

5) Superman Unchained #1-9

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This mini series was released for Superman's 75th anniversary and generated a lot of buzz with Scott Snyder and Jim Lee as the main creators on it. Superman Unchained involved Superman saving several satellites from crashing onto the Earth caused by the terrorist group Ascension and then searching for an unknown being who stopped a satellite that was heading for a deserted area. The investigation leads him to General Sam Lane and an organisation called The Machine who had existed since World War II carrying out covert operations around the world. They attack him with black hole weapons but are interrupted by Wraith, an alien who landed on Earth in 1938 with even greater powers than Superman. Wraith has no personal quarrel with Superman but believes he isn't living up to his potential and that his connection to humanity is pointless. Meanwhile, Lois Lane is investigating Ascension and barely survives a plane crash having been saved by a deserter of the group who gives Lois a strange crystal before being killed. Lois is captured by Ascension who reveal The Machine received an equation that enhanced human technological progress in the 20th Century. They launch every nuke on the planet that Superman only prevents with one of their own crystals. Wraith and Superman then come into conflict in an all out battle All the while Lex Luthor is sent to, and escapes from prison, kidnaps Jimmy Olsen and uses him to carry a mysterious object and reveals a bigger plot.

All this is just the bare bones of Superman Unchained and at the time it was released, this was the comic I defended the most on the Superman boards as I thought it was the only tolerable comic. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see it wasn't nearly as good as I once did. That doesn't mean there are not still good things about Unchained. It's action packed with some particularly jaw dropping fight scenes between Superman and Wraith. There is a really great sub plot involving Clark, Lana and a farm silo they used to jump off for fun that ends much better than the main story does. Snyder's early storytelling was excellent with some nice mysteries, characterisation and story beats. And despite the delays, Jim Lee did do a good job on the artwork. However, this series is rather flawed. As mentioned, the series suffered numerous delays due to Lee's slow work schedule and his wife giving birth that it took one and a half years to be completely finished. Snyder does try to sound smarter than the story actually is same as in his Batman run and overfills it with too many real parallels. Despite a good start, Wraith too is wasted as a villain by the end. Speaking of the end, the endgame is rushed and forced out of nowhere completely. But worse Snyder makes one of the most fundamental and disappointing misunderstandings of Superman at the end of the story that killed the momentum.

4) Action Comics #26-29

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Greg Pak's opening arc on Action Comics is next on this list. Here, an expedition group, including Lana Lang, are being attacked by a giant monster and Superman comes to their rescue. Superman is reunited with Lana Lang, befriends the monster Baka and encounters a new foe in Ghost Soldier. Instead of destroying the monster, Superman takes it to the Fortress for safe keeping. Lana's investigations into an underground ruin bring Superman and Baka into contact with Ukur The Beast Master and a subterranean kingdom. When Superman and Lana discover a certain species of underground creature are drained to death for their energy, they break them out with the help of Ghost Soldier only for the tables to turn in the complete opposite direction and good intentions result in a deadly mistake.

As Pak's run went on, I feel he went too far into certain cliches, continuously had Superman screwing up and not learning from his mistakes and making Superman over-emotional. This story is at least still fresh enough and early on in Pak's run that I can overlook these problems. Pak provided the story and the series with a much needed energy and distinct identity that it had been looking since Morrison had left the series. His inner monologue for Superman was at the time uniquely introspective amongst the other Superman comics at the time. Pak revitalised and revived Lana Lang into a determined, intelligent and capable secondary lead perhaps at the expense of making her too much like Lois Lane since Pak wasn't allowed to use her. Ghost Soldier and Ukur were interesting antagonists in this story whose potential had not yet been squandered. Kuder's art was kinetically charged with his motion style complementing Pak's script. However, the consequences of the mistakes that happened in the story could have been avoidable had Superman been more thoughtful and careful and Pak's approach to Superman was the beginning of an unfavourable characterisation.

3) Batman/Superman #28-30: Universe's Finest

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A 3 issue filler arc written by Tom Taylor of Injustice fame. A moon rescue carried out by Superman leads to the discovery of a giant alien corpse with the Superman and Batman signals burnt into the moon rock. Superman brings Batman to the moon to investigate revealing a message intended for Superman about a lost Kryptonian. Upon the alien's father arriving, they hitch a ride on board where they are informed the co-ordinates in the message are of a super sun. Superman races off to investigate whilst Batman is attacked by the bounty hunter Lobo on the alien ship. A trap is revealed for both heroes and Superman is captured to replace the dying Daxamite whilst Batman is pursued by Lobo.

This is a short but sweet self contained arc that was much more enjoyable, entertaining and compelling than anything else in the Batman/Superman series, let alone the entire New 52 Superman comics. Superman and Batman's dynamics are much more balanced without losing the depth their relationship has. The plot is a well crafted cosmic mystery that is well paced and has some neat twists. Both Superman and Batman come off naturally (and there is a more New 52 like moment involving a giant alien hand that I'm OK with) and the ending with the Daxamite is a touching bittersweet one where he finally earns his freedom and spends his last moments staring at the sun with Superman and Batman. For his reputation on Injustice writing a brutal and evil Superman, Taylor knows how to write a feel good classic Superman.

2) Superman #39: 24 Hours

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Right before one of the worst Superman stories came one of the best. This was the epilogue issue to Johns' Men of Tomorrow storyline and revolved around Clark and Jimmy just spending the day talking about the revelation that Clark Kent and Superman were one and the same. A robbery turned hostage situation shows Superman's true heroism talking to the gunman without his powers completely vulnerable to being killed and Jimmy sees what makes Clark Superman. This story beats out Men of Tomorrow simply for the feels it brings. Much like a recent issue of the Rebirth Superman series, it's simply a slice of life story with no powers, no big crazy major plot, just two friends walking, talking, working and eating together. So simple yet so compelling with the insights and character moments it provided. This story had a major influence on an episode from the Supergirl series so there was clearly a lot of impact from this issue to inspire others. It was this issue that reminded fans of what Superman could be like, which made the loss all the more disappointing.

1) Action Comics #0-18: The Grant Morrison Run

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I doubt I can truly summarise Morrison's complex, psychedilic and era spanning run on Action Comics in just one paragraph on a blog. Descriptions really can't convey the full picture of what Morrison wrote in his 19 issue Action Comics run. Morrison went for a synethesis of every era of Superman, the social crusader of the Golden Age, the insane trippiness of the Silver Age and the pathos of the modern era all fused under one storyline. Every issue is practically connected one way or another so focusing on one arc is pointless as it all ties into the bigger picture with Morrison's style of writing. Although it can often be overlooked and underappreciated, this had the best handling and best New 52 Superman stories for me. I may not have liked the rough and cocky Jeans and T-shirt Superman, but Morrison justified him as part of a character growth for Superman. There were some great ideas Morrison introduced with one of the best origins for Mr Mxyzptlk I've ever read. The banner image is the cover of my favourite issue of Morrison's run, Action Comics #13. Where the Phantom King criminal Xa-Du traps Superman in the Phantom Zone where Superman meets Krypto and The Phantom Stranger and literally beats Xa-Du with the unstoppable force of his will. That's pure Superman comics right there.

Whilst I already prefer the Rebirth era of Superman comics, there were some decent Superman comics in this time. But they only came when the writers adhered to a consistent vision and actually remember the staple characteristics of Superman comics. That's why the New 52 Superman failed to live up to his potential.

Hope you enjoyed reading, feel free to comment below with your thoughts and favourite New 52 Superman stories.

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