With the wrap-up of writer Joe Keatinge's multi-artist "Strange Visitor" epic in Adventures of Superman last week, the series is nearing a full year of weekly, digital Superman stories. It's easily been the best, most daring Superman title DC Comics has been publishing in 2013 and 2014 (and not just because Superman gets to wear his real costume in it). Edited by Alex Antone, Adventures of Superman invites creators from all strata of comics to put their own stamps on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's original American superhero, free from the aesthetic constraints of the publisher's main line of New 52 comics and continuity. We like it so much, Adventures of Superman ended up on our list of the best comic books published in 2013.
We thought it would be a good idea to look back at the series so far, so I've compiled the following list of stories that readers unfamiliar with the series should go back and catch up with if they want the high points of the past year. At a dollar a pop, they're all well worth it.
NOTE: All the buy links go to DC Entertainment's digital comics store, which works with Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and probably some other devices as well. You can also find every issue of Adventures of Superman at ComiXology.
Additionally, you should know that DC calls its digital-first issues "chapters," which has made some people think each new edition of Adventures of Superman is one piece in a massive storyline, as is the case with some other digital-first comics. They're almost all self-contained, so don't be scared when you click over to the digital storefronts.
Written by Jeff Parker
Artworl by Chris Samnee
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Though it generated what was likely some unwanted attention, the controversy surrounding author and gay rights opponent Orson Scott Card writing Adventures of Superman’s first issue (which resulted in his story being delayed indefinitely) ended up being something of a blessing for the series. Instead of whatever Card’s issue was going to be, readers got this one, which did a wonderful job of laying the groundwork for what the series has been ever since.
The Superman who appears in this issue is clearly a different animal from the always-raring-for-a-fight New 52 version, and having his classic costume on isn’t the only indication. This is the classic Superman, more than willing to throw himself in front of stuff save people, to be sure, but his interactions with the crazed drug addict who serves as the antagonist, Leon, are measured and sensitive. Superman treats the guy like a person, despite Leon’s harmful actions. Samnee draws the issue with a sort of old-fashioned feel, too. Not that it doesn’t feel modern, but there’s a timelessness to it. (The panel above is a wonderful inversion of the cover to Action Comics #1, for example.)
The issue, curiously enough, ends on a cliffhanger that will almost certainly never be resolved. It’s an odd choice, but several other stories that followed did the same. Perhaps it’s a writer’s reflex or maybe it’s an intentional nod to superhero comics never really ending. Or maybe it’s just a way to leave a reader wanting more, which it certainly does.
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Artwork by Joëlle Jones
Colors by Nick Filardi
I’m a well-documented sucker for a good comics story about journalism, and on top of that I love lighthearted superhero yarns in which lots and lots of events happen in just a handful of pages. Fialkov and Jones trust readers to fill in a lot of gaps here (a future Jimmy Olsen and Kamandi come through asking for help in one panel, and three panels later, a bearded, tired Superman returns through the same portal), but it’s all easy for even a casual superhero fan to follow. It all builds to a great payoff between Lois and Clark.
This is the type of story you’d almost never get in a main-line Superman issue -- it’s not “important” enough, not even for a fill-in -- but it’s infinitely more fun to read than a lot of what is deemed important.
Written by Nathan Edmonson
Artworkt by Yildiray Cinar
Colors by Matthew Wilson
This is a really compelling story about Superman protecting a child at all costs, first from the American military who want to blow up a strange creature from the sky, and then from the violent aliens who want to kill the tiny space princess at all. This is one of a bunch of stories in the series that present a spin on Superman’s origin, and it’s the most subtle of the bunch. This story kind of falls apart at the end when Superman seemingly kills a bunch of the aliens before threatening to destroy their home planet (if the last scene wasn’t so mercifully brief and kind of vague about what actually happens to the aliens, it’d probably sour the whole thing), but up to that point, this is a great one.
Story and artwork by David Lapham
Colors by Lee Loughridge
Many of the best Superman stories focus on the character’s inspiration influence on regular people, but the notion of him becoming a dangerous influence on those who adore him is rarely explored, possibly because it can easily turn toxic (in fact, one of this series’ few complete misfires was an issue in which a teenager purposely drives onto train tracks to meet Superman and dies because Superman is too busy with Lex Luthor to save him, ostensibly making a supervillain out of his best friend, who burns his Supeerman t-shirt in rage). But as you might expect from the Stray Bullets mastermind, Lapham's story walks the tightrope fairly well. A cult who worship Superman as a deity persuades members to jump off buildings, with the faith that Superman will save them every time. It all turns out to be a con, of course, and Superman uses some cleverness to stop the madness.
Superman’s image is initially tarnished, but he finds a way to save the day, as he should.
Written by Tim Seeley
Artwork by Mike Norton
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Quite a few Adventures of Superman stories focus on Big Blue serving as a role model for kids, and this one ends on a beautiful note. Much of the issue tells two seemingly unrelated stories about Superman fighting Darkseid and a young Russian orphan named Tonya dealing with daily struggles. But it all comes together in the end, in a moment that’s genuinely heartwarming and uplifting without being at all schmaltzy.
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Eduardo Francisco
Colors by Stefani Rennee
Adventures of Superman’s second issue, by Jeff Lemire, is a Bizarro story in which Superman and NASA come up with a way to use the well-intentioned anti-Superman’s limitless energy and immense power for good. This story is something of an expanded version of that, though it also explores the concept of what it would be like if Bizarro could act out his impulses in a constructive way, serving as a second Superman, as it were. It’s a great concept, and some of the smaller details -- such as people not really wanting to be saved by a monster -- are really well-observed. The relationship Superman and Bizarro develop is really nicely fleshed out, too. Francisco does an amazing job of giving Bizarro tons of character, and subtle coloring changes show the shifts in his personality. It’s another beautifully subtle piece of work.
Written by Josh Elder
Art by Victor Ibanez
Colors by Matthew Wilson
One interesting tic in the Adventures of Superman series is that villains seem show up whenever writers please, and a lot of writers seem to really love Metallo. He’s all over this series. That’s likely because many of these stories have very limited space and Metallo, with that hunk of Kryptonite in his chest, is the clearest and most immediate physical threat to Superman. Not only does this issue feature Metallo, it’s also about Supes’ influence on a kid who watched the hero and the villain fighting. It’s a simple story, one that recalls the classic “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man,” and it may verge into sappiness, but if Superman can’t get a little sappy, who can?
Written by Derek Fridolfs
Pencils and colors by Sean "Cheeks" Galloway
Inks by Derek Laufman
One of the great things about DC's digital offerings is that they give readers such an array of different art styles to check out. An animation professional as well as a comics artist, Galloway's art has a cartoonish look to it, but this story is not Superman Adventures (based on the Warner Bros. Animation series of the 1990s). Galloway's work is utterly distinct, creating a whole different feel for the characters even in this already eclectic anthology (Clark Kent's bowtie is especially sharp).
The two-part story wasn't a total win for me in that it presents Superman with a dilemma he is ultimately powerless in the face of and ends with a kid being sad, but it's full of interesting concepts. Superman reading his fan mail is a great idea, and the conceit of a kid who is a monster but doesn't want to be makes a lot of real-life fears come to life.
Written by B. Clay Moore
Artwork by Gabriel Rodriguez
Colors by Alejandro Sanchez
Again, a lot of these stories have Metallo in them. He’s almost incidental to this one, though, which is mainly about a reporter named Carl Hobson thinking he’s scored a big story about Superman’s relationship with The Daily Planet. Namely, he thinks that Superman works for them as a ploy to sell papers. In his futile search, he accidentally sets off a chain of events that leads to a huge prison break in which he’s taken hostage. Superman deals with the problem and forgives Hobson when he’d be completely justified in writing the guy off for trying to drag his name through the mud. It’s another example of Superman winning the day via compassion, and it’s refreshing.
The Coming of Sugar and Spike…?
Written by Fabian Nicieza
Pencils by Phil Hester
Inks by Eric Gapstur
Colors by Nick Filardi
Superman isn’t a character who gets a lot of stories that play as full-on comedy, which this story most definitely is. Here we see Superman have an eventful night of babysitting Sugar and Spike when the Atomic Skull attacks. It reminds me of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner’s incredibly enjoyable Supergirl story in Wednesday Comics a few years back, another comic that wasn’t afraid to play a superhero story for laughs. It worked there and it works here.
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Evan “Doc” Shaner
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Take one part The Iron Giant and one part Silver Surfer, throw them together with Superman’s origin, and you get this story, which combines a charming, Silver-Age appeal with some sophisticated modern storytelling that packs a real emotional punch. Shaner’s art strikes a great balance between Art Deco past and a high-tech, alien future, which again, gives the whole endeavor a timeless vibe. This is a rare occasion in which Superman suffers a genuine loss, but one that feels totally earned. For what it manages to accomplish, this may be my favorite story of the series.