Updated on August 17, 2022
I saw on the Apple app store a promotion for Superman’s 80th anniversary in “Action Comics.” The app store listed what Apple considered five key Superman moments from his 80-year comics run.
Unfortunately, most of Apple’s “key moments” are questionable at best. Their moments include: the birth of Jon Kent (“Convergence”); when Superman renounced his US citizenship (“Action Comics” #900); that Superman’s funeral was well attended (from the “Death of Superman” storyline); that Superman shaves using heat vision (from Byrne’s “Man of Steel”); and that time he walked across the country (the “Grounded” storyline).
Needless to say, I figured I could do better than Apple’s listings. So, here’s my list of 10 key Superman moments from the comics. I’ll note they’re key moments, so they might differ from “favorite stories” picks. I’m also excluding origin reboots, as those are usually more continuity-focused than iconic, plus DC’s gone through multiple reboots by this point.
1. Action Comics (vol. 1) #1 (June 1938)
Key moment: The first appearance of Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
Obviously the key moment above all the others. Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane first appeared here, as well as a few other key aspects of the Superman mythos.
2. Action Comics (vol. 1) #23 (April 1940)
Key moment: The first appearance of Lex Luthor, Superman’s archfoe.
While Superman fought various criminals (plus the Ultra-Humanite) before this point, it’s Luthor that became the most iconic Superman supervillain of all time—not to mention one of comics’ most iconic villains, period. Pretty much every incarnation of the mythos features Luthor, and for good reason. Despite not having powers (save for the occasional battle suit or similar device), Lex’s intellect makes him a match for the Man of Steel.
3. More Fun Comics #101 (January 1945)
Key moment: The debut of Superboy (Superman as a boy)
Superboy first appeared in this issue, and became a DC mainstay for the next 40 years. The original version was written out in the mid-80s. However, the idea of a “junior Superman” has stayed around, with Kon-El, a clone of Clark and Luthor, and Jon Kent, Lois and Clark’s son. Moreso, the idea of Clark having had adventures as a youth in Smallville also has stayed around in various forms to this day. The most famous example is the TV show “Smallville,” which ran for a decade.
Superboy also introduced multiple elements into the Superman mythos, including the town of Smallville, Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Krypto, the Phantom Zone, and the Legion of Super-Heroes.
4. Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955)
Key moment: The debut of Krypto the Superdog.
Krypto marked the first ongoing Kryptonian character to be added to the Superman mythos besides Clark himself. He was erased from continuity in the mid-80s “Man of Steel” reboot, presumably having been deemed as “silly” and to make Clark the sole Kryptonian. However, the Dog of Steel made a big comeback in the 2000s, including appearing in his own animated TV series.
5. Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958)
Key moment: The debut of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
A major Silver Age spin-off of the Superman comics was the Legion of Super-Heroes, the 30th (later 31st) century teenage superhero team that was inspired by the legend of Superboy… who (via his ability to travel through time) became a member.
The series was quite popular over the years, gaining its own fan base. However, DC’s various reboots, the fact the team’s set at a temporal distance from the “main” DC Universe, and other changes have led to the Legion not being very prominent these days. That said, a new Legion series launched in 2019.
6. Action Comics (vol. 1) #252 (May 1959)
Key moment: The first appearance of Supergirl (plus Metallo)
Supergirl (Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin) arrived on Earth in this issue, and marked a major shift in Superman’s status quo: he finally had a living relative from Krypton present on Earth. Supergirl went on to gain her own fan base, a movie in the 1980s, and also a TV show in the 2010s.
This issue also saw the debut of Metallo, who’s a super-strong cyborg powered by a green kryptonite “heart.” Thus, Metallo’s been a recurring threat to Supes over the decades.
7. Adventure Comics #283 (April 1961)
Key moments: The first appearance of the Phantom Zone.
The Phantom Zone was used as a prison for Kryptonian criminals, as Krypton didn’t believe in capital punishment. Its prisoners survived Krypton’s explosion, and would occasionally escape and threaten Earth and/or Superman (his father Jor-El discovered the Zone).
The Phantom Zone became famous among the general public thanks to the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies, along with one its prisoners, General Zod.
8. The Death and Return of Superman (1992-1993)
Key moments: The death of, well, Superman; the debuts of Doomsday, Steel, and Superboy (Kon-El version)
“The Death of Superman” (and his return) is easily the most famous Superman storyline of the past few decades. The cover to “Superman” (vol. 2) #75 (Superman’s demise while fighting the monster Doomsday) has been homaged and parodied numerous times.
The story received large amounts of hype in comic shops. It also attracted much mainstream media attention, with news stories covering Superman’s demise.
The storyline also gave us several noteworthy new Superman family additions in Steel and Kon-El.
9. Superman: The Wedding Album (December 1996)
Key moment: The wedding of the canonical versions of Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
The Silver Age saw its share of “Lois and/or Clark get married” stories, though these were always fake-outs or annulled somehow. 1978’s “Action Comics” #484 saw for the series’ 40th anniversary the wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane of Earth-2.
But this issue saw the “main” comics continuity versions finally tie the knot, without being a hoax, a dream, or an imaginary story. The idea of Lois and Clark as married has stuck around in comics to this day (the 2011 New 52 reboot aside).
10. Convergence: Superman #2 (July 2015)
Key moment: The birth of Lois Lane and Clark Kent’s son Jonathan.
Despite the muddled and confusing nature of “Convergence” (and how they later integrated Clark, Lois, and Jonathan into mainstream DCU continuity), the fact the “canonical” versions of Lois and Clark permanently became parents makes this one qualify for the Superman key moments list.
DC also publishes a series of young adult graphic novels costarring the “Super Sons” Jonathan (as Superboy) and Damian Wayne (as Robin), Batman’s similar-aged son.
Image from “Action Comics” #1000 (June 2018). Art by Jim Lee. (DC Comics)