Jun 29, 2016

The 40 Years of Comics Project - The Weekly Graphic Novel: Week 13 - Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, 2004


I have a hard time with this. How can these possibly be the "Greatest Stories Ever Told?" Granted, some of them are really very good, but some of them just fall flat to me. And that's the key. I've argued that through his over-definition, Superman comes to exists as an abstract, a cipher for so many different ideals and beliefs. As such, every single person who has read any amount of Superman stories is going to have very different ideas of what constitutes a "great" tale of this hero. Couple this with the ongoing (one might say "neverending") nature of his stories, and surely by now, 12 years after the publication of this collection, one, maybe two, of the stories in here have been eclipsed by something else. Like, perhaps, those Final Crisis ones I read a few weeks back?

I have a few of the other "Greatest Stories" collections, and most of them suffer from the same problem to a greater or smaller extent. The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told avoids the problem by confining itself to a historical period, thus limiting the pool of stories from which one can select. And The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told lessens the problem by selecting a character whose appearances, though numerous, are hardly on the same level as Superman (or Batman, for whom there also exist a collection of this sort).

To me, these kinds of collections need to be seen as historical records of a sort. And there also needs to be far more notation within the collections as what criteria were used to determine the greatness of each story. Some in this collection (including a really great, cosmic 70s Steranko piece) seem to have been included because they'd never been reprinted before. I don't see this as necessarily a good reason to include a piece in a greatest hits collection - surely if they were amongst the greatest stories, they'd have been reprinted before 2004.

There is a 2006 edition of this collection that features completely different stories, and I think that if it were perhaps renamed as a biannual publication, or included the date on the cover, we could see it as a snapshot of what was loved and lauded at a particular time in the hero's existence, that it would offer something of a commentary on how Superman was perceived at a particular time. Sadly, there's something disingenuous about the title of this collection, something that's somehow trying to be definitive about a subject that is without definition.

That said, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" was a great enough story that I think I'm going to have to go back and read the Joe Kelly era of Action Comics. Beautiful commentary on the Authority-esque trend in superheroes, and on the role of Superman in the ever-expanding field of superheroes.

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