THE BEST OF THE BEST1 of 12With this week’s news that Geoff Johns will take over as writer (teamed with artist John Romita Jr.) of DC’s eponymous Superman title in the summer of 2014, the publisher’s Chief Creative Officer and arguably most marketable creator will get his third high-profile opportunity to put his forever-stamp on the Man of Steel.
Johns previously teamed with Superman film director Richard Donner and artist Andy Kubert on "Last Son,” a five-issue 2006 story arc in Action Comics, and then in 2009 retold Superman’s origin in the six-issue Superman: Secret Origin along with artist Gary Frank.
While time will tell if Johns breaks through to deliver one of the best-remembered runs of Superman’s 75 year-plus history, time has already told us the creators from all different forms of media who have.
So today we take a look some of those creators who have contributed the most to what we think of when we think of Superman and his world.
MARK WAID2 of 12Over the years, noted Superman superfan Mark Waid has written numerous stories starring the Man of Steel, but none more moving, more striking, or more important the Superman: Birthright, a 12-issue miniseries that updated and retold Superman's origin for the modern age.
Though the story of the end of Krypton and Superman's early days has been told numerous times, Birthright brought a new, more human perspective to Superman's story. By at once establishing a level of power that hadn't been seen in Superman for decades, while also spending a great deal of the story focused on Clark Kent, Waid redefined the man behind the powers and set him on a journey of self discovery leading him, inevitably, to becoming the world's greatest hero.
Sections of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel took cues and themes from Birthright, focusing on Clark Kent and his journey towards heroism.
JACK KIRBY3 of 12Though Jack Kirby is best known for his work shaping the Marvel Universe, after jumping ship for DC and the promise of more creative freedom in the early '70s, Kirby created the Fourth World saga, which many fans consider his masterpiece. The Fourth World told the story of a race of "New Gods," beings that typified good and evil in fantastic ways.
Seeking a way to connect the New Gods to DC's contemporary stories, the decision was made to make Jimmy Olsen a central figure in the Earth-bound aspects of the Fourth World, forever tying Superman to the fabric of Kirby's space opera. While it's true that Kirby didn't get a lot of hands-on time with the Man of Steel, and many other writers had Superman venturing into space, what Kirby did that no other writer before him had done is give Superman an insular, interstellar mythos all his own. Kirby created characters like Darkseid and Intergang that have become synonymous with Superman and Metropolis, forever influencing the work that followed, even after his time at DC had come to a close.
DAN JURGENS4 of 12In some ways, Dan Jurgens is destined to always be known as the man who killed Superman. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Along with several other co-writers, Jurgens spearheaded Superman's adventures for a major portion of the '90s, writing and drawing several different Superman titles in his time with the character.
Undoubtedly, his greatest contribution to the Superman mythos remains The Death and Return of Superman, a story in which Jurgens' creation Doomsday slays Superman, only to see him replaced by four imposters, before returning to life and defeating the Kryptonian monster.
The collected edition of The Death and Return of Superman remains one of the best selling and most popular comics of all time, and it's no wonder why. While characters, even major ones had died in mainstream comics prior to the event, and some had even come back from the dead, to do something like that with the most popular and recognizable character in the world was unheard of; to say nothing of the quality of the story itself. Jurgens also oversaw the wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and created numerous villains and supporting characters integral to an entire era of Superman stories.
OTTO BINDER5 of 12The writer of many stories featuring Superman and his peripheral characters, Otto Binder also created numerous characters and aspects of the Superman mythos. Binder created or co-created not just the Phantom Zone, Brainiac, and General Zod, but also the version of Supergirl that remains a major part of the DC Universe to this day, and the Legion of Super-Heroes, who have grown from supporting characters for Superboy into a franchise of their own.
Binder also created lesser-known parts of Superman's world, including Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, Lois Lane's sister Lucy, and Krypto, the Super-Dog. Interestingly, Binder cut his teeth in comics working on Captain Marvel — now called simply "Shazam" — a character clearly inspired by Superman. Captain Marvel was so similar to Superman in terms of his powers and concept and more, importantly, briefly more successful than Superman that National sued Fawcett Comics, owners of Captain Marvel, and took possession of the character, allowing his trademark to lapse, and the burgeoning Marvel Comics to steal the name.
GRANT MORRISON6 of 12Grant Morrison's contributions to Superman's legacy are important less for his creations, and more for the way he has been uniquely able to synthesize so many disparate aspects of Superman's mythos into a single, unified vision of a larger than larger than life Man of Steel. An advocate of the idea of superheroes as modern mythology, Morrison views Superman as the central figure of that mythology, and has crafted some of the best Superman stories of the last 20 years around that vision.
Chief among these, is All-Star Superman, an out-of-continuity tale of Superman's last days which sought to reexamine Superman as a mythological being, dialing into the core tenets of his heroism, and taking him to places as far-flung and exciting as he's ever been. With 2011's launch of DC's "New 52," Morrison went to the other end of the spectrum, focusing on Superman's early days as a hero of the people, bringing back elements of the character not seen since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character.
With elements and themes of All-Star Superman having made their way into 2013's Man of Steel, Morrison's take on Superman as a figure of myth is as poignant as ever.
RICHARD DONNER & CHRISTOPHER REEVE7 of 12"You'll believe a man can fly." That was the tagline for Richard Donner's landmark Superman: The Movie, and the film truly lived up to that promise. While later films in the series saw a progressive downgrade in quality, Superman: The Movie relied on classic interpretations of Superman and his supporting cast to capture a sense of wonder and heart central to Superman's story, and unseen in film until that point.
Arguably the first true "superhero movie," Superman: The Movie set the stage for the renaissance that genre films are now experiencing by proving the idea that yes, audiences will believe a man can fly, and more importantly, they'll never stop.
At the center of the film was a young, charismatic actor named Christopher Reeve. Though primarily a stage actor with a limited film repertoire, and far from the studio's first choice, there was something about Reeve that was absolutely magical when he became Superman. From his striking good looks to his easy confidence, Reeve was a powerful and emotive hero in deep contrast to his bumbling, endearing take on Clark Kent. Sadly, Reeve was paralyzed in an equestrian accident years after his turn as Superman was over, but the actor remained a strong crusader for the ideals that Superman embodies, becoming an advocate for the rights of the disabled and paralyzed until his death in 2004.
CURT SWAN8 of 12For over 30 years, Curt Swan was the man who defined the look of Superman and his world. Working on numerous comics, and co-creating and designing too many characters and elements of Superman's world to truly list, Swan's heroic, high-flying take on the Man of Steel remains the most definitive ever presented.
Swan's version of Superman was so prevalent, and so central to DC's branding of the character that Swan was often called in to redraw the work of other artists whose renderings of Superman did not hew closely enough to his own, such as with Jack Kirby's highly stylized take on the character. Most importantly, Swan brought humanity and believability to Superman as an emotional figure that placed him squarely in our midst, not as an alien high above us, but as a benevolent visitor striving to be the best of us.
B.P. FREEMAN & JACK JOHNSTONE9 of 12You might be asking yourself "Who are B. P. Freeman and Jack Johnstone?" Well, the answer is simple, and a lot more important than you may realize. Freeman and Johnstone were the writers of The Adventures of Superman, a radio program that ran from 1940 to 1951, and introduced numerous elements of the Superman mythos that have become some of the key aspects of Superman's history.
Starring the dynamic Bud Collyer as Superman, the program was hugely successful, and even became an occasional platform for social justice all on its own, with Superman taking on the Ku Klux Klan in one of the series' most memorable stories. On top of that, The Adventures of Superman originated the now ubiquitous lines, "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! No! It's a plane! No! It's Superman!" along with characters like Perry White and Jimmy Olsen and concepts like Kryptonite, which was created to give Bud Collyer time away from the set, and allow secondary characters to take the focus.
In fact, the first meeting between Superman and Batman in any medium actually took place on The Adventures of Superman, with Batman and Robin occasionally returning to the show thereafter.
JOHN BYRNE10 of 12In the '80's, after years of increasingly convoluted plot lines and character developments involving multiple realities, multiple versions of their characters, and an almost impenetrable swath of titles, DC made the decision to streamline its continuity, effectively rebooting their entire line, and starting over basically from scratch.
This approach allowed them to cherry pick not only the best parts of each character's history, but big name creators eager to do definitive work on major DC characters. Perhaps the most notable, and successful of these reboots was John Byrne's Man of Steel, which brought Superman forward into the modern day, redefining not only his origins, but his powers, his history, and his relationships along the way.
Byrne, hot off a critically acclaimed and well loved run on Marvel's X-Men, was as big a name in comics as existed at the time, and in scoring him for their Superman reboot, DC not only made a huge coup, but a brilliant creative decision as well. Byrne's take on Superman's power level, his history, his world, and even his appearance are still some of the most defining characteristics that most people associate with Superman.
Byrne was not the first to redefine Superman's place in the world, but he was certainly the most successful, with the ramifications of his run still being felt through numerous further reboots and revisions from DC in subsequent years.
JERRY SIEGEL & JOE SHUSTER11 of 12When two men from Cleveland dared to dream bigger than any cartoonists before them, little did they know that they had created not only the most enduring, influential, and beloved character of pop culture, but also a new genre that would spawn countless thousands of stories and characters and become a modern mythology for our time.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's contributions not only to comic books, but to our culture go far beyond Superman, but it all started with the Man of Steel. Though many of the conventions of Superman's mythos that we now take for granted were later contributed by others, it all sprang forth from that core ideal crafted by Siegel and Shuster of a man with strength and powers far beyond those of mere mortals, who used those gifts as a hero of the people, and as a champion of truth and justice for all those who could not defend themselves.
Seventy-five years later, Superman is as important and poignant as he ever was, and people still look to him as a symbol of the strength and unity for which we all strive.
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