The 10 Greatest Superman Comic Book Runs, Ranked

He may not be your favorite superhero, but if he’s not, your favorite superhero exists because of him. When Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938, it changed the comic book industry forever, starting a wave of superhero media continuing to this day. And while many other characters have overshadowed him recently, with Superman: Legacy on the way, don’t ever count out the big guy’s pop culture staying power. But with 85 years of Superman comic book runs from incredible creators, which ones are the very best? Here is our ranking of the best comic book eras in the Man of Steel’s long career.

Superman drawn by Curt Swan, John Byrne, and Frank Quitely.
DC Comics

10. Mark Millar

with Dave Johnson, Andrew Robinson, Walden Wong, and Killian Plunkett

Covers for Mark Millar's 2003 Superman Elseworlds tale, Red Son, by artist Dave Johnson.
DC Comics

Writer Mark Millar, known today for edgy fare like The Authority, actually started his American comic book career writing several wholesome Superman stories. These were contained in the pages of Superman Adventures, based on the ‘90s cartoon. As fun as these were, his next most famous Superman story became his most revered, 2003’s Superman: Red Son. Although a non-continuity Elseworlds story, this series explored a world where Kal-El landed in the Soviet Union, not Smallville. In Russia, cape wears you he grew up as a tool of the state.

What’s fascinating about this story over other Elseworlds is how Kal-El’s innate sense of fairness and goodness shines through. No matter where they raised him. It helped that the art by Dave Johnson, Andrew Robinson, Walden Wong, and Killian Plunkett was consistently top-notch too. Most writers on this list have far more Superman stories under their belt than Millar. So it says a lot that mostly because of just three issues, he left his mark on the Man of Steel.

Issues in Mark Millar’s Superman Run

Superman: Red Son #1-3 (2003) Superman Adventures #19, 25-27, 30, 31, 36, 52 (1998-2000)

9. Kurt Busiek

with Stuart Immonen, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Pete Woods

Covers for various comics in Kurt Busiek's Superman run, including 2004's Secret Identity.
DC Comics

Writer Kurt Busiek was already a comics legend for his runs on Avengers and Marvels before going to DC and taking on Superman. But when he finally did, his Superman stories were among the best ever in the modern comics era. His first Superman story was an Elseworlds tale, Secret Identity. This four-part series was set in our world, centering on a guy whose parents, unfortunately, gave him the name Clark Kent. But when Clark actually starts developing powers like the fictional man he’s based on, everything changes. This mini-series follows Clark throughout his life as he struggles to live up to the fictional legend of Superman, and what his legacy means. Artist Stuart Immonen does some career-best work here, and it’s a truly fantastic read.

After that incredible run about the “fake” Superman, Busiek took on the real deal in both Action Comics and Superman. His “Up, Up, and Away” arc (co-written with Geoff Johns) focuses on what it would be like for Clark Kent to still be heroic after a year with no powers, emphasizing what made him “super” wasn’t his Kryptonian genetics alone. It also explored what it would be like to take up the cape after a year as an ordinary man. Busiek’s later “Camelot Falls” storyline really explored Kal-El’s biggest weakness outside Kryptonite: magic. The late artist Carlos Pacheco brought an unparalleled sweeping grandeur to Superman during this run. Busiek’s era is one that definitely deserves more attention and truly is one of comics’ best Superman runs.

Issues in Kurt Busiek’s Superman Run

Superman: Secret Identity #1-4 (2004) Action Comics #837–843, 850, 852–854 (2006–2007), Superman #650–675, 712, Annual #13 (2006–2011)

8. Mark Waid

with Leinil Francis Yu

Covers for Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright by Leinil Francis Yu.
DC Comics

Mark Waid has written some of the best Flash and Justice League stories for DC, and many argue his Kingdom Come mini-series is one of the best Superman stories ever. And while it is, since it focuses on the DC Universe as a whole, we’re not counting it as just a Superman tale. And yet, Mark Waid still makes the cut, despite mostly writing random Superman issues here and there until 2003. In that year, he and Leinil Francis Yu created the 12-part mini-series Superman: Birthright, which retold Superman’s origin story for the 2000s.

Waid made Superman more a citizen of the world than just America in Birthright, and introduced the concept that the “S” shield as the Kryptonian symbol for hope. Waid writes about Superman’s innate goodness in a way that’s not goofy or unbelievable, but truly endearing. Yes, it’s yet another Superman origin story. And not even our favorite on this ranking! But Superman’s origin story is retold and reinterpreted so many times because frankly, it’s that great. It’s practically Biblical. And Birthright is one of the best versions of this story told in the comic book medium.

Issues in Mark Waid’s Superman Run

Superman: Birthright #1-12 (2003-2004)

7. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

with Doug Mahnke

Covers from the Superman Rebirth era by Patrick Gleason and others.
DC Comics

2011’s “New 52” reboot of the DC Universe elevated some characters, but others got the shaft. While Grant Morrison’s New 52 Action Comics was a brilliant reimagining, it strayed too far in some ways. Taking away his marriage to Lois Lane after 20 years, pairing him romantically with Wonder Woman, and wearing armor to boot, didn’t work long term. So in 2016, DC began their “Rebirth” era, and no one benefitted from this more than Superman. Writer Peter Tomasi, who was an editor at DC before writing monthly comics, brought back the classic nature of Kal-El, and actually improved him, together with co-writer and series artist Patrick Gleason.

During Tomasi’s run, mostly illustrated by co-author Patrick Gleason and Doug Mahnke, Clark Kent was married to Lois Lane again, and she and Clark had a young son, Jonathan Kent. Lois and Clark were raising young Jon in Smallville, foreshadowing TV’s Superman and Lois. Peter Tomasi focused his stories on the Kents as the coolest parents on Earth, alongside all the big world-ending battles. For years, Superman has been the avuncular “dad” of comics, and Tomasi and Gleason brilliantly made that literal with his Clark, who became the father everyone wished they had. Superman fans were lucky to have this era last a good four years.

Issues in Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Superman Run

Superman Vol. 4 #1–25, 27-28, 33-39, 42-45, Annual #1, Special #1 (co-written with Patrick Gleason, August 2016 to July 2018)

6. Jeph Loeb

with Tim Sale, Ed McGuinness

Covers for Jeph Loeb's Superman for All Seasons by Tim Sale, and the ongoing Superman title by Ed McGuinness,
DC Comics

Writer Jeph Loeb has written some of the most defining tales for both Batman and Spider-Man, but also for the Man of Steel as well. This run began in the 1998 four-part mini-series Superman For All Seasons, which leaned heavily into the cozy, Americana aspects of Clark Kent’s story. Tim Sale, Loeb’s frequent collaborator on series like Batman: The Long Halloween, drew every page like it was sunrise over a Kansas cornfield. Each of the four issues featured narration by someone close to Superman, showing us how they saw him. Loeb and Sale portrayed the vastly different ways Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Lana Lang, and Pa Kent viewed Superman, and his role in the world.

Not to be overshadowed by his past work, Loeb wrote a long run on the main Superman title, with artist Ed McGuinness. Loeb complemented McGuinness’ broad cartoony art with stories that suited it. These included a return to Krypton, and Joker getting the powers of Mister Mxyzptlk. Most memorable though? When Lex Luthor harnessed the prejudices of the American people in an effort to become President of the United States. (You know, stuff that only happens in comics). Loeb would eventually write some stellar Batman/Superman stories in a subsequent team-up book. But his solo Man of Steel adventures remain all-timers.

Issues in Jeph Loeb’s Superman Run

Superman For All Seasons #1-4 (1998), Superman vol. 2 #151-182 (1999-2002)

5. Geoff Johns

with Gary Frank, Adam Kubert, Pete Woods

Art from several collections of Geoff Johns's Superman work, from artists Andy Kubert and Gary Frank.
DC Comics

Almost no one is better at DC Comics in rescuing lost elements of past continuity and giving it modern relevance than writer Geoff Johns. After tackling Green Lantern, JSA, and Teen Titans, in 2006 he turned his attention to Superman. Somehow, he found his way to incorporate all of Superman’s lost eras into a cohesive whole. At first, he had help from his professional mentor Richard Donner, who co-wrote his first Superman arc with him. Donner just so happened to direct Superman: The Movie, don’t ya know?

Working with amazing artistic collaborators like Gary Frank, Johns gave Clark and Lois an adopted Kryptonian son, restored Kal-El’s connection to the Legion of Super-Heroes, and combined every version of Brainiac into the ultimate iteration of the classic villain. He even made Bizarro fun instead of annoying again. The best chapter in Geoff Johns’ run was the six-part Secret Origin. A new retelling of Clark’s oft-told backstory, it found a way to unite everything. There were elements of John Byrne’s ’80s take on Clark Kent, to the 1978 film, to Smallville, and more. All combined into the best version of Superman’s origin story yet. The Geoff Johns run was relatively brief in the grand scheme of things, but it made an incredible impact.

Issues in Geoff Johns’ Superman Run

Action Comics #837–840, 844–846, 850–851, 855–873 (2006–2009), Superman: Secret Origin #1-6 (2009-2010)

4. Grant Morrison

with Frank Quitely, Rags Morales

Cover art from some of Grant Morrison's Superman runs, including art from Frank Quitely and Rags Morales.
DC Comics

Grant Morrison is one of the greatest voices in comics, and has written definitive runs on most of the famous superheroes at this point. And many feel their All-Star Superman is the most definitive take on the character yet. And we’re inclined to agree that, as its title suggests, it’s absolutely stellar. Produced with frequent collaborator Frank Quitely, Morrison told a 12-part story about Superman facing his own impending death, after his cells absorb too much solar radiation on a rescue mission.

All-Star is a celebration of everything we love about Superman, further solidifying him as a man who does good just without tragic motivation. Morrison knows how to embrace the wacky Silver Age side of Superman with earnestness, and somehow, things like Krypto the super dog don’t seem so silly anymore. Almost no part of Superman’s extensive mythology isn’t celebrated in some way in All-Star. This is a comic about the world’s oldest superhero that just might make you cry at the end.

And then, there’s the polar opposite of All-Star, Morrison’s 2011-2012 “New 52” reinvention of the character for Action Comics with artist Rags Morales. Morrison went back to 1938 for their take on Clark’s early years, making him a “hero of the people.” He’d stop the corrupt and abusive, only with godlike-level powers. Eventually, the “New 52” Superman went hard sci-fi, explaining how Superman got into a costume that was an alien suit of armor. That part of the book strays a bit far from what we want from Superman on the regular, but as an Elseworlds tale, it rocks. They are easily the Man of Steel’s most important 21st-century creative voice.

Issues in Grant Morrison’s Superman run

All-Star Superman #1-12, (2005-2008) Action Comics Vol. 2, #0-18, (2011-2013), Superman and the Authority #1-4 (2018)

3. John Byrne

with Jerry Ordway, Marv Wolfman

The post-Crisis era Superman covers, by artists John Byrne and Jerry Ordway.
DC Comics

Despite massive success on the big screen, by the early ‘80s, comic book Superman was seen as a relic of a bygone era. He was too squeaky clean, too powerful to write stories around. Everything about him felt stale. After DC Comics cleaned house continuity-wise with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they gave Superman a major overhaul, going “back to basics” with one of Marvel’s most famous creators at the helm, John Byrne, who was partially responsible for the success of the X-Men.

Byrne revamped Superman’s origins and mythos in his 1986 Man of Steel mini-series, stripping away much of the goofier Silver Age aspects of his character (no Superboy career, so super pets, etc.) There weren’t thousands of other Kryptonians anymore. He truly was the Last Son of Krypton. Following Man of Steel, he wrote and drew a relaunched Superman and Action Comics, where he revamped both Superman’s supporting cast and villains for the modern era. He even un-killed Ma and Pa Kent, giving Clark a world in Smallville to go home to.

Superman soars into the sky, art by John Byrne.
DC Comics

Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway worked in tandem with Byrne on Adventures of Superman at the same time. No one character got a better upgrade in the Byrne era than Lex Luthor, who went from cackling mad scientist to megalomaniacal CEO and one of the most powerful men on Earth. Much of the ‘90s Superman: The Animated Series was based on Byrne’s run. Although his run only lasted two years and roughly 50 issues, it remains a high watermark in Kal-El’s career. And it put Superman comics back on the map.

Issues in John Byrne’s, Jerry Ordway’s, and Marv Wolfman’s Superman Run

The Man of Steel #1-6 (1986), Superman Vol. 2 #1-22, Action Comics #584-600, Adventures of Superman #424

2. Mort Weisinger’s Silver Age Era

with Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Al Plastino, Curt Swan

Several Silver Age Superman covers by artist Al Plastino.
DC Comics

Most of the names on this list are modern, adhering to what we think of as a creative team “run” on a specific title. This practice mostly didn’t start until Marvel in the ‘60s. Before then, different writers and artists tackled superhero characters, thinking readers didn’t care who was writing or drawing them. But in Superman’s case, the main creative force behind his stories for 15 years was a man named Mort Weisinger. Under Weisinger’s tenure, the Superman mythology expanded greatly, more so than in any other time.

Technically, Weisinger started on the Superman books in 1954, introducing spin-offs for Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane. But in 1958, his genius really started to flourish, when Weisinger hired Otto Binder, who wrote the bulk of Captain Marvel stories for Fawcett Comics. He was mostly paired with artist Al Plastino, whose happy whimsical style was the perfect complement to Binder’s take on Superman. Most of the covers for the Binder/Plastino Superman issues were by Curt Swan, arguably the definitive Superman artist of all time. Jerry Siegal, Superman’s co-creator, came back to DC in 1959 as well, and wrote much better stories for the character in the Weisinger era.

The Superman family of the Silver Age of comics, as drawn by Curt Swan.
DC Comics

From 1958 to 1969, Weisinger introduced elements like Supergirl, Krypto the Super Dog, the Legion of Super-Heroes, many shades of Kryptonite, and Kal-El’s powers coming from Earth’s sun. Then there are the villains, like Brainiac, Bizarro, and Parasite. Also, the Phantom Zone and its criminals, including General Zod. And although he didn’t create it, Otto Binder (under Weisinger’s guidance) greatly expanded the importance of the Fortress of Solitude. Under his watch, Krypton went from a footnote in Superman’s history to a full fleshed-out culture. Eventually, all those additions accumulated into too much (hence the post-Crisis Byrne reboot.) But almost no one contributed to Superman lore more. And silly as they are, these stories are just fun. And all foundational to what we think of today as Superman.

Issues in the Mort Weisinger Superman Era

Action Comics #241- 392, Superman Vol. 1 #120-231, Adventure Comics #247-396 (1958-1970)

1. Mike Carlin’s “Triangle Era”

with Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Karl Kesel

Superman covers from the '90s, from Kerry Gammil and Dan Jurgens.
DC Comics

Our number one slot of Superman eras is a weird one, because it doesn’t belong to one creative team. It belongs to several, all working in concert over several years under one editorial voice. That of Mike Carlin. After John Byrne left the Superman books in 1988, sales dipped, and Clark Kent was back to where he was in terms of fan apathy. With three Superman titles still being published a month, group editor Mike Carlin suggested a format that would tie all these separate titles into one grand narrative. Carlin instituted a small triangle on the cover of each issue, saying where each issue of Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Action Comics fell in each respective year’s timeline. And it worked.

Writer/artist Dan Jurgens, industry vets Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway, Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Karl Kesel, and a few more largely forged this “triangle era” in its early days. With the addition of Superman: Man of Steel, the saga was now a weekly soap opera, something even X-Men and Spider-Man at Marvel weren’t at the time. And it flourished because each title’s individual teams talked to each other and truly coordinated under Carlin’s direction. This was something unprecedented in mainstream superhero comics.

The Death and Return of Superman, art by Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway.
DC Comics

The first year of the “triangle era,” 1991, didn’t see a big bump sales-wise. Despite the huge change to the mythos of having Lois Lane finally learn Superman’s true identity, as she and Clark become a true power couple at last. At a frustrated editorial meeting early in 1992, Mike Carlin jokingly said “What if we just kill him?” And then, they did. “The Death and Return of Superman” created a massive event in comics, rarely seen before or since. Sales soared, and the Superman titles became an addictive weekly fix and top DC seller for years following. The “triangle era” technically lasted until 2002, but really ran out of steam around 1997. This was when Superman got electric powers, a gimmick story best forgotten. But for those first five years, it was as good as the Last Son of Krypton’s stories ever were. Or may ever be again.

Issues in the Superman “Triangle Era”

Superman Vol. 2 #51-176, Action Comics #661-785, Adventures of Superman #474-598, Superman: The Man of Steel #1-119 (1991-2002)

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