With his debut in Action Comics #1 in 1939, Superman launched the comic book superhero. During his long history, the Man of Steel’s adventures have been illustrated by many of the greatest artists in the comic book industry. These five artists are not only great illustrators and storytellers but during their tenures as Superman artists they produced the seminal work in Superman’s ongoing battle for “Truth, Justice and the American Way!”
Update! Man of Steel takes Flight on June 14th, 2013
On June 14th, 2013 Superman returns to the silver screen in Man of Steel. After Superman: The Movie and Superman II, the Man of Steel’s movie legacy has ranged from mediocre (Superman Returns) to just god-awful (Superman IV: The Quest for Peace). The trailers and TV spots for Man of Steel give me hope that Christopher Nolan, the mastermind behind The Dark Knight Trilogy, and Zack Snyder, director of Watchmen and 300, are going to revive the film fortunes of the world’s greatest superhero.
Neal Adams is one of the pioneers of realism in comic book illustration. Adams exploded onto the scene in the late Silver Age and by the early 1970s he was one of the most sought after talents in the industry. His contribution to the Man of Steel are hundreds of beautiful covers for Action Comics, Superman and Superboy (not to mention Superman as part of the JLA). Unfortunately, he drew interiors for only one issue of Superman, #254.
Joe Shuster, with writer Joel Siegel, kicked off the age of the Superheroes (which I’m happy to say is still alive and well). Compared to the art in a modern comic book, Shuster’s work appears less polished (true) and more juvenile (arguable). One thing his art has in spades is energy. Leaf through an early Action Comics or Superman comic and you can see why the Man of Steel captured the imaginations of generations of the young at heart. Joe Shuster made everyone “believe a man can fly”.
By the late 1980s, Superman was in a bit of a creative rut. Superman was seen by many fans as hopelessly out-of-date and increasingly irrelevant. He was your GRANDfather’s superhero. After DC’s major spring cleaning event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, John Byrne was tapped to modernize the company’s flagship character. Byrne toned-down Superman’s god-level powers, scrapped some of the crazier aspects of Superman canon (a full spectrum kryptonite. ‘Nuff said!) and tied it all together with his high-energy artwork in 1986’s Man of Steel miniseries and reboot of Action Comics and Superman.
Curt Swan is the quintessential Superman artist of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. He drew Superman in Action Comics, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Superman, and World’s Finest, and drew Superboy in Adventure Comics for over 3 decades. His swan song (sorry…this pun was too good to leave in the holster) was the “final Superman story” Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow (Superman #423 & Action Comics #583) in 1985 as DC prepared the reboot of their iconic character in Man of Steel.
If you own a Superman lunchbox, t-shirt, button or other piece of Superman merchandise, chances are that you own a piece of Garcia-Lopez artwork. Besides his stints as penciller on Action Comics, Superman and Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Garcia-Lopez also defined and refined the look of the DC Universe as the artist for the DC Comics Style Guide in 1982. Garcia-Lopez is the Artist’s Artist and his mark on the Man of Steel endures to this day.