You can't go home again... Or can you?
I write a lot about Superman on this blog for one very simple reason: He is the gateway superhero. Batman and Wolverine may be cooler, Spider-Man may be more sympathetic, and the Flash may be faster, but none of them have truly grasped the public consciousness like the Man of Steel. People who have never read a comic in their life can tell you what his powers are, what planet he comes from, what it says on his driver's license, and who he's in love with. He's been around for almost 70 years, and people still watch the movies & TV shows, buy the toys, sing songs about him, and laugh at all the jokes (two words: "mean drunk").
I think he's endured so long because his legend is more open to interpretation than any of the aforementioned characters. He's been used as a metaphor for the American dream (his creators were the children of Jewish immigrants). He's also been used to represent what is wrong with America (Frank Miller's Dark Knight stories). Kingdom Come used Superman as the embodiment of the troubled comic-book industry of the mid 1990's. The TV series Smallville uses Clark's emerging powers and how he chooses to use them to represent the journey through adolescence into maturity. Finally, the films portray him as an allegory for the Judeo-Christian Messiah (a case can be made for him as both Moses and Jesus, as well as the promised Messiah that the Jews are waiting for).
The makers of Superman Returns built their film around both of these assumptions, and delivered a great movie. It wasn't bogged down with exposition, because we already know how Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and The Daily Planet fit into his life. It has various subtexts that touch upon religion, family, love, and society. And it's got plenty of explodo to boot.
(In addition to what was mentioned before)
All-Star Superman (bi-monthly comic): The two most imaginative men in comics, writer Grant Morrison and penciller Frank Quitely, pack each issue of this new title with the same kinds of crazy ideas that happened in the Superman comics of the 50s and 60s, while still taking the character and legend into uncharted territory. And each issue is self-contained, so new readers can just pick an issue up and enjoy.
Up, Up, And Away: This recently completed story arc (which will be collected into book form in a couple of months) explores similar themes to the film: In the comics, Superman went away for a year because he had lost his powers (Clark Kent continued to work at the Planet). This story concentrates more on Superman's reintegration into the heroic community, as well as what his enemies were doing during his absence. A great re-introduction to the mainstream Superman titles.
DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore: This collection of odds and ends by one of the most respected writers in the industry features two of my absolute favorite Superman stories:
- "For the Man Who Has Everything...", where Superman learns what his life would be like if Krypton hadn't exploded (this issue would later be turned into an episode of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon);
- "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?", a fitting ending to the Superman legend.