Man of Steel and Superman's Best Alien Invasion Stories

Repeatedly in the course of the ramp-up to Man of Steel's theatrical release this summer, director [...]

Man Of Steel TV Spot #3 Black Zero

Repeatedly in the course of the ramp-up to Man of Steel's theatrical release this summer, director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan and others involved with the production of the film said that they had set out to make a very different, much more science fiction-y Superman movie. Krypton, they said, had never really been all that well-explored, and they wanted to make Man of Steel a first contact story, focusing on the way humanity would deal with the realization that they weren't alone in the universe. The film, then, dealt with Superman--who had been living in secret and performing smaller-scale heroics anonymously for years--finally having to out himself publicly after the discovery of his Kryptonian heritage set off a chain reaction of events that brought General Zod and his army of Phantom Zone criminals to Earth for blood. It was an alien invasion story, to be sure, including the wrinkle--one that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way--that Superman had to first take out the alien technology before he could even handle the one-on-one fighting part of the film. In preparation for tomorrow's big release of Man of Steel on Blu-ray and DVD, thought it would be a good time to look back at some of our favorite alien invasion stories from Superman's history. There are a lot of almost-kinda-sorta alien invasion stories (Doomsday, for instance, is technically an alien, but he didn't bring an army with him or invade from the skies so it's a bit different) and a lot of alien invasion stories that are almost-kinda-sorta Superman stories (like DC One Million), but we're going to try and focus here just on big Superman stories that deal with alien invasions. Let us know which ones you think we missed!


Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Superman is stripped of his powers and forced to box against Muhammad Ali for the amusement of would-be alien invaders in this bizarre story from the '70s. It's gorgeous, though, and a ton of fun. And it's Grant Morrison's favorite Superman story! "What I loved about that book is it was actually Superman with a guy that we recognized from the ring, from on television, and the two of them were duking it out with aliens," Morrison told the Superman 75th Anniversary panel at San Diego Comic Con International this year. "And it was so beautifully drawn with Neal Adams. It was a kind of preposterous story but it's also Superman at his best and Superman learning to box from The Greatest. I just love that book."

Panic in the Sky

Panic In the Sky! When Brainiac takes over Warworld and comes to invade Earth, Superman must lead Earth's heroes in to defend our planet. This was one of the best-loved stories of the "Triangle Numbers" era that came after the Crisis on Infinite Earths and before Infinite Crisis. Following the John Byrne reboot, Krypton was reimagined less as a world of supermen and more as a science fiction wonderland. Many of Byrne's changes were carried over into Man of Steel, and it's this period of the comics that probably influenced much of Cavill's characterization as well, since he admitted to having boned up for the gig in part by reader the Death and Return of Superman saga. That era was marked, even before Superman's death and the furor that followed it, by a number of mini-events running through what were first three and then four monthly Superman solo titles. Panic in the Sky!, along with Time and Time Again, were two of the most critically-acclaimed among them and established Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway (who were filling the shoes of John Byrne and Marv Wolfman) as stars in their own right.


Superman: Earth One This one was a bit of a surprise because it felt so cinematic that many readers picked up the "rebooted" Superman origin meant for casual fans to familiarize themselves with the character and immediately thought, "This is what the movie is going to be like." And to an extent, it was: Superman was younger, prettier and more reluctant to use his powers, not particularly at home in the world. The alien invasion was brutal and destructive in a way that Superman stories generally haven't been in the past, at least onscreen. Where Superman: Earth One really excelled in many ways, though, was in balancing all of that with Superman's inherent brightness. That's something Man of Steel has been criticized for, and it will be interesting to see whether, once Superman is at home in Metropolis and surrounded by his familiar tropes and supporting cast, that will be back in the next film. Brainiac


Geoff Johns crafted an alien invasion story that was so popular that it turned into one of the DC Universe animated feature films not long after it was finished in the comics. That's no mean feat, since it had to compete with the rest of the books on this list for consideration. Of course, the other side of that is that there wasn't a whole ton new in the Brainiac story. As Johns did throughout most of his time on the Superman titles, his primary focus was to take disparate bits of history and streamline them into a whole. So he got a great Zod story, a great Brainiac story and a great Legion of Super-Heroes story...but he did so without bringing too much of himself into the title. On the one hand, that's exactly what many fans want: let the character speak for himself and don't insert yourself too much. On the other hand, it's hard to declare something a classic if it kind of feels like it could be by anybody.