Superman has been gracing the covers of comic books since he first appeared in 1938, making him one of the most often used characters to be displayed on comic books. After almost 80 years of publication, Superman's image is also one of the most recognizable of all time, so deciding on 15 comic covers throughout that history was no easy task!
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We at CBR sat down and went through literally thousands of books to bring you the 15 we consider to be the most defining, exemplary and iconic Superman covers of all time. You may not agree with all of our choices for this list and you might have a few favorites we didn't feature, so please let us know in the comments what you personally think are the most iconic Superman covers ever!
15 DC 100 PAGE SUPER SPECTACULAR #13
DC released its line of 100 page super spectacular books within its respective series'. Issue #13, written by Jerry Siegel and penciled by John Sikela, was released in June 1972 as issue #252 in the Superman run. Neal Adams illustrated the cover featuring the "World's greatest flying heroes" with Superman prominently taking the center stage on the wrap-around cover. Other members of the Justice League, as well as various superheroes from the DC Universe, are all featured speeding off to the right.
The book contains 12 separate stories, all dealing with superheroes who can fly, and while the stories within are certainly good reads, the cover art is something to really appreciate. Ten of the stories printed in the book were reprinted from other previously released issues of numerous DC titles. The 12th piece, "Key to DC's Flying Heroes" is a half-page text piece with a history of the characters featured on the cover.
14 THE KINGDOM #1
This One-Shot comic featuring the Superman from Earth-22 has an amazingly drawn cover by Fernando Pasarin and Alex Ross. The book was published in 2009 and was written by Geoff Johns and penciled by Pasarin. Featured right in the center of the page is the beautifully painted Man of Steel himself as he is flying alongside his many allies up, up and away into the sky as Gog stands below with arms out grasping towards the mighty heroes.
The series saw the ultimate battle between the heroes of the Justice Society of America divide and then reunite to go against Gog, an Old God of the Third World who initially began as a benevolent force, but later turned into the series' main villain. He was even instrumental in the creation of Magog after saving Lance from death. Whenever a comic features a cover painted by the talented Alex Ross, it tends to fall within the realm of iconic, but this particular issue featured the Man of Steel in such a way that we couldn't keep it off this list.
13 SUPERMAN #233
Ask anyone and they will tell you that Kryptonite is Superman's one major weakness (and magic... and red suns... but we don't need to go into all that right now). It's in the movies, the comics, books and even debuted as a plot device in the old radio show back in the 1940s, so people are pretty familiar with it. What would Superman even be without this limitation? A god? Perhaps, but that's not something this particular issue goes into. "Superman" #233, written by Dennis O'Neil and penciled by Curt Swan, featured one of the greatest covers to ever grace the book.
The cover was illustrated by Neal Adams and it depicts the Man of Steel breaking his bonds with his almighty pectoral muscles! We can infer that the chains are made from Kryptonite since they are green and the caption between his legs reads "Kryptonite nevermore!" Of course, as we now know, Superman is still susceptible to exposure from the green rocks of his homeworld. The story "Superman Breaks Loose" involves an experiment that seemingly turns all Kryptonite on Earth into iron, but it's not meant to be.
12 JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #10
"Justice Society of America" #10, written by Geoff Johns and Alex Ross with pencils by Dale Eaglesham and Ross was published in December 2007. The book features the first story in "Thy Kingdom Come" and tells the tale of Superman of Earth-22 and the struggles he went through in his native reality. The cover was painted by Alex Ross and features the Man of Steel looking somber as he grasps his hands and looks down. The members of the JSA look on from behind in this captivating image. The importance of the post and the look on Superman's face suggests the pain he is reliving that each reader learns as he or she turns the pages in this wonderful book.
"Thy Kingdom Come" was a compelling event throughout the DC Universe that somewhat mirrored Marvel's "Days of Future Past" event. The Superman from Earth-22 attempts to stop the same event from occurring on Earth Prime's timeline that occurred in his own thanks to the Old World God called Gog.
11 SUPERMAN #14
Everyone knows that Superman stands for peace, justice, and the American way, but modern readers may not know that the last bit was plastered on the cover more times back in the day that they might be aware. "Superman" #14, written by Jerry Siegel and penciled by Leo Nowak, features about the most patriotic depiction of the Man of Steel the artists had drawn with this glorious cover design by Fred Ray. There's a reason why patriotism was first and foremost in everyone's minds when this book hit the newsstands; as it was published in January 1942, coming out only a month following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The stories within had nothing to do with the sneak attack that brought the Americans to war, but that didn't stop DC from taking the chance to show the world that Superman was on our side. He stands in front of a shield emblazoned with the stars and stripes of the American flag while a bald eagle lands on his left arm. Was it propaganda? It might have been a little, but what it truly represented was America's resolve in what was to be an incredibly tough time moving forward.
10 ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #1
"All-Star Superman" was a miniseries consisting of 12 issues printed between January 2006 and October 2008. The series was written by Grant Morrison and penciled by Frank Quitely with Quitely and Jamie Grant providing work on the cover for issue #1. The cover art features Superman sitting atop a cloud and looking over his right shoulder at the reader as he passes Metropolis below. The miniseries shook things up with the Superman continuity and even took some notes from the pre-Crisis version of Superman.
The 12-issue series explored the mortality of the Man of Steel and the revelation of his true identity to Lois Lane. There are several throwbacks to the pre-Crisis Superman, including the bumbling nature of Clark Kent and the manner in which Superman was able to convince earlier versions of Lois that Clark and Superman were not the same person. She doesn't initially believe his revelation and it makes for an interesting look into Superman lore pre and post-Crisis. Morrison described the series as "The re-emergence of the original, Pre-Crisis Superman but with 20 years of history we haven't seen."
9 CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS #7
"Crisis on Infinite Earths" #7, cover art by George Perez, won the DC Comics All-Time Best Cover Award in 2007 and it's easy to see why. Without even cracking the cover, it's apparent that everything has gone to hell, with Superman holding the lifeless body of his cousin, Kara-Zor-El (aka Supergirl), in his arms with tears running down his cheeks while the entirety of the DC Universe's superheroes somberly standing in the background.
"Crisis on Infinite Earths" was a significant addition to the DC library. While this particular issue featured the death of Supergirl and has an amazing and iconic cover to boot, the series helped to fix DC's somewhat confusing continuity. After half-a-century of publishing, it came time to trim the fat and do away with the confusion sewed by the introduction of numerous Earths via the multiverse. Writer Marv Wolfman alongside series penciler George Perez produced Crisis to help simplify the narrative continuity by removing the multiverse concept altogether. Since the 12-issue miniseries debuted between 1985 and 1986, the DC Universe's continuity has been divided into either pre-Crisis or post-Crisis periods.
8 SUPERMAN #75
The so-called Death of Superman storyline from the early 1990s was little more than a gimmick to sell more books and boy did it work! It also had the unforeseen consequence of destabilizing the comic book marketplace for years, but that's another story. When "Superman" #75, written by Brett Breeding and penciled by Dan Jurgens, hit the stands, it did so with so many cover variants, we needed to specify which one we were referring to for this list. For this list, we are looking at the beautifully drawn cover by Jurgens, featuring the standard title with a shredded cape blowing in the wind against some bent rebar.
The image is iconic for a number of reasons. Anyone walking by a newsstand who didn't know of the "Death of Superman" event would probably stop and take notice. Yes, it says "The Death of Superman" on the bottom of the cover, but seeing the tattered remains of the red cape with the Superman symbol recognizable on the front still gives us goosebumps... even if we knew it was just a ploy to sell more comics and bring about a bunch of Superman clones.
7 SUPERMAN #24
"Superman" #24, written by Don Cameron and penciled by Ed Dobrotka, featured another patriotic cover showing the American people that if anyone supported them, it was the Man of Steel. This cover, illustrated by Jack Bumley, shows Superman standing in a defiant pose while holding the American flag in front of a major metropolitan area; again, probably Metropolis. This issue was first published in September of 1943, which placed its debut right smack in the middle of the second World War, during one of its most important conflicts, the invasion of Italy.
The American people, as well as all of the Allied powers, were sitting on the edges of their seats while hundreds of thousands of American and British troops invaded Europe for the first time during the war. Comic books during this time featured many patriotic covers, including Captain America socking Hitler in the jaw before America even got into the conflict. Putting Superman on the cover holding the Stars and Bars was just another way to help the war effort, even though the stories within the book had nothing to do with the ongoing conflict.
6 SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI
This stand-alone one-shot issue, "Superman vs. Muhammad Ali" written by Dennis O'Neill and Neil Adams with pencils by Adams, hit the shelves in 1978 and answered the question of who would win in a fight, the Man of Steel or The Champ. The cover was penciled by Adams and Joe Kubert and featured a full wrap-around showing an entire crowd gathered in the arena to witness the bout. This was the first time Superman shared the title of his book with a real person, and like the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manilla, it is remembered as one of Ali's most iconic fights as well, even if it was fictionalized.
The story opens up with a race of aliens called the Scrubb who demand to fight Earth's greatest champion. Since Ali and Superman both stepped forward to take on the role, the Scrubb commander pits the two against one another to determine who was truly the greatest on the planet Bodace (where Superman's powers don't work). This was an iconic issue that nearly didn't happen, but once Ali gave his approval, the book received a go from DC and the ultimate fight between champions came to pass.
5 GIANT SUPERMAN ANNUAL #1
The first "Giant Superman Annual" was released in 1960 and it featured eight separate stories where the standard issue normally featured only four. The book was written by Edmond Hamilton and penciled by Wayne Boring with cover art by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye. The cover art is classic Superman with the Man of Steel front-and-center in one of his defiant poses, snapping chains with the might of his amazing pecs again, because why bother using your hands when you just don't need to?
All around Superman are images of himself as a baby, Lois Lane, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, Krypto, Supergirl, Jor-El, Lana Lang, Lori the Mermaid and Perry White. One of the better stories in the book, "Superman's First Exploit" shows how Kal-El, while still only an infant, successfully bested a crystalline insect on a meteor while still aboard Jor-El's rocket he took to Earth. Even before he made it to Smallville, Kal-El was already kicking butt as a baby. The revelation of this incident even validates a claim made by Dr. Reese Kearns, who was previously discredited making Superman capable of saving lives and reputations, which is more than most can do.
4 THE MAN OF STEEL #1
"The Man of Steel" was a six-issue miniseries written and penciled by John Byrne that ran from 1986-1987 that reimagined the origin story of the Man of Steel. The first issue in the series had cover art by Byrne and Dick Giordano. The series was important in Superman continuity because it featured the first official appearance of a post-Crisis Superman, which completely ignored the stories that came before it. That's what the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" allowed creators to do: reimagine our favorite superheroes, like Superman, in a new light.
Byrne's "Man of Steel" delved into the events that shaped Clark/Kal-El into becoming Superman and touched on what inspired him. The newly crafted origin for the Man of Steel would remain as the most oft-used since its debut and remains the one most familiar to the current generation of readers and film viewers. There were two covers illustrated for this book released in approximately the same number. The one not featured in this list showed Clark pulling open his shirt to reveal his costume underneath standing in front of Krypton as his rocket blasted away.
3 SUPERMAN #199
When you are touted as being faster than a locomotive, you might just gain the attention of the scarlet speedster himself and need to prove your worth with a race around the globe against The Flash! That's what went down in "Superman" #199, written by Jim Shooter and penciled by Curt Swan, the two heroes raced one another to determine once and for all who was the fastest man alive! This was the first time the two raced and it came with incredible cover art by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson. These two weren't just racing to satisfy their egos, the whole thing was set up to benefit the United Nations.
Two gambling syndicates got in on the action, too, and set up bets. They couldn't leave it all to chance and only offer a simple one-or-the-other sort of odds so they placed traps along the way so people could individually bet against the heroes on who would get through them and how. The amazing issue established a longstanding competition between the two heroes that would play out again over the years, but this first look at who was the fastest is one of the greatest covers of all time.
2 SUPERMAN #1
The very first solo series starring the Man of Steel came close to taking the number one spot on this list, but came in at number two when faced with the competition (more on that in a minute). The first book in the "Superman" run was published in June 1939 and featured a story called "Clark Kent Gets a Job" as well as four others. The book was written by Jerry Siegel with art by Joe Shuster and cover art by Leo O'Mealia. When "Superman" #1 debuted, he wasn't able to fly yet (and could only leap tall buildings in a single bound), so we see the Man of Steel in mid-jump over some buildings in what must be Metropolis as he looks down at the city below.
The main story centers on Superman's origin followed by his first time out as a superhero. He breaks up a prison riot and learns that a singer named Bea Carroll killed Jack Kennedy and framed Evelyn Curry for the murder. When he learns this, Clark takes the information to the editor of the Daily Star, George Taylor, who hires him on the spot, bringing Clark into the world of journalism.
1 ACTION COMICS #1
The number one pick for our list had to be the one that started it all, "Action Comics" #1, with cover art by Joe Shuster, was the first appearance of the Man of Steel himself. "Action Comics" #1 was first published in June 1938 and is the second longest running comic book series of all time next to another DC classic, "Detective Comics." The first issue features the debut and origin stories of Superman, Lois Lane, Krypton and many other characters and places. There were seven stories printed in the book, but the main story "Superman, Champion of the Oppressed" was all about the Man of Steel.
The cover image depicts what is probably the most iconic shot of Superman ever drawn. Superman is holding a wrecked car above his head and is hurling it to the ground as onlookers flee. The image was even recreated in the 2006 theatrical film, "Superman Returns" starring Brandon Routh and the Man of Steel. Given the initial appearance of the most recognized superhero of all time, we couldn't place "Action Comics" #1's cover in any place but the top of our list.
Which cover featuring Superman is your favorite of all time? Let us know in the comments!