- Superman's origins on Krypton, being found as a baby and raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent, discovering his powers, resolving to use his powers for good, and creating the costumed Superman persona with his parents' help as a way of keeping his heroing and the resultant celebrity separate from his personal life as Clark Kent.
- Told from Lois Lane's point of view as she attempts to get the first interview with Metropolis' new superhero (and gets a bad first impression of new colleague Clark Kent).
- Superman investigates a vigilante in Gotham City, and winds up helping Batman crack his latest case. The two heroes gain a grudging respect for each other, but (in deliberate contrast to the pre-Crisis status quo) are too different in outlook to become close friends.
- Superman and Lex Luthor meet for the first time, when terrorists attack one of Luthor's parties. After Superman cleans up the terrorists, Luthor reveals that he knew they were coming but had his security hold back so he could see Superman in action, and offers Superman a job. Superman's response is to run him in for endangering his party guests.
- An attempt by one of Luthor's pet scientists to create a Superman duplicate results in a bizarre warped copy that attempts to live Superman's life, trying to do good deeds for people who are as afraid of it as of what it's trying to rescue them from, and forming a connection with Lois' sister Lucy.
- Clark Kent goes to visit his parents in Smallville, reminisces about the past, and discovers a recording of Jor-El that teaches him about his Kryptonian origins. He affirms that, although he appreciates knowing where he came from, he now thinks of himself not just as an alien visitor but as a citizen of Earth.
The Man of Steel was followed up by three four-issue limited series (also written by Byrne) that explored the Post-Crisis world of Superman: The World of Krypton, The World of Smallville, and The World of Metropolis. The Man of Steel was Superman's established origin until the release of Superman: Birthright.
Not to be confused with the later published Superman: The Man of Steel, which was published from July 1991 to March 2003.
The Man of Steel provides examples of:
- Alas, Poor Villain: Played with. Superman and Batman feel bad for Magpie, but feel worse for her victims.
- Anything but That!: "NOT HAPPY BIRTHDAY! NOT HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"
- Bait-and-Switch: Issue 5 begins with Superman apparently apprehended Lex in a green power suit (identical to the pre-Crisis suit) telling him he's caught him. Then in the next page, Superman is actually speaking to Lex in his office desk while the suit is being worn by one of Lex's henchmen.
- Batman Gambit: Batman has one ready to keep Superman from immediately apprehending him for vigilantism before having a chance to see the good he does. It's brilliant, it's specifically tailored to Superman's strengths and weaknesses, and (especially the key detail revealed at the end of the issue) it says a lot about how Batman sees the world. Batman has rigged his suit with a proximity sensor tuned to Superman's unique Kryptonian physiology, and warns that if Superman touches him, it will set off a bomb hidden "somewhere in Gotham City", which will kill "an innocent person." "It's a touch Machiavellian, I admit. But my end justifies my means." On the last page, Batman reveals that the bomb was in his utility belt the entire time. The only life at risk was his own.
- Blind and the Beast: Lucy Lane and the Bizarro-Superman in issue #5.
- Childhood Friend Romance: Lana has a crush on Clark Kent, who only sees her like a sister.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Lex Luthor, for the first time. It was a brilliant choice, as it explored Superman's moral code. From here on out, for the most part Lex was a Devil in Plain Sight and often a Villain with Good Publicity, not an outlaw scientist who was often forced to don a purple and green Power Armor to deal with Supes.
- Cultural Rebel: Jor-El isn't happy with the unfeeling isolationist lifestyle Krypton currently live in until its destruction.
- Foreshadowing: In the first issue, the Kents are being spied on. It was Dr. Emmett Vale, who used his science to create Metallo. The same character is the one snapping a pic of Supes without him realizing at the end of issue #4.note And also took the rocket, and Superman saw tire tracks driving away from where the rocket was hidden.
- Groin Attack: In Issue #4, Lois and Clark encounter a couple of South American terrorists on board Lex's luxury liner during a party and even though the terrorists themselves are armed, Lois isn't afraid of them as she kicks one of them in the groin so that she can then get his gun and start to fight back against the terrorists until Superman arrives.
- Heroic Sacrifice: "Bizarro", apparently.
- Ironic Echo:
Batman: [Magpie]'ll find herself a hotshot legal eagle, and be back on the streets before you're halfway home to Metropolis.
- In #3 and 4.
Superman: (to Luthor) I thought you'd still be off conferring with those lawyers of yours. The one who had you back on the streets in less than two hours.
- It's Personal: After being arrested by Superman, Lex swore he'll pay him back and show Metropolis who the most powerful man in the city is.
- Like Brother and Sister: Clark assumes he and Lana Lang are this, oblivious to her obvious feelings for him.
- Living Lie Detector: Superman is established in issue #3 as a living polygraph; his super-senses let him monitor the heart rate, breathing, etc. of anyone he talks to and spot subtle stress signs.
- Mega-Corp: LexCorp
- Midnight Snack: In issue 6, Clark Kent gets up in the middle of the night while staying with his adopted family the Kents to get a snack from the refrigerator when he encounters a holographic vision of his real father Jor-El, who touches his son and begins to reveal his true origin as the last son of Krypton.
- Mysterious Protector: Clark was doing this til the space plane forced him to rescue it in public. His worst fears were confirmed shortly afterward, when he told his parents about how he was mobbed by people, "They all wanted a piece of me." This led to his creation of a Secret Identity so he could have a private life.
- Mythology Gag:
- Clark's secret identity would be his "Fortress of Solitude". It would be some time before the actual Fortress of Solitude was re-established Post-Crisis, and at first it was just called "the Fortress". In one story, Superman hid his secret identity from a telepath behind a door identical to that of the pre-Crisis Fortress.
- In issue 3, Batman wonders if he and Superman could have been friends in another lifetime. At the time, the intention was that they would not be friends in their Post-Crisis lives. Inspired by their dynamic relationship in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
- In the splash page of issue 5, Superman captures who the reader assumed was Lex in a familiar looking power suit◊. But it was one of Lex's mooks in an experimental LexCorp suit.
- "Bizarre— Oh, forget it!"
- The plot of Issue 5 is similar to Bizarro's debut in Superboy #68.
- While the cover of each issue features a character facing the reader, Issue 5 has Bizarro's back facing the reader. A nod to his pre-Crisis counterpart being a mixed-up, backwards creature.
- In the issues where he appears, Lex Luthor sports a head of red hair, but it is clear from the progression of time that he is losing his hair (Lois at one point says, "You're beginning to look like Fred Mertz!"). In a Silver Age Superboy story, Lex blamed Superboy for an accident that resulted in his being bald. In this story, he blames Superman for his being arrested like a common criminal. It's not said, but it's implied that Lex blames Superman for his stress-induced male pattern baldness as well.
- No Name Given: The imperfect duplicate was never named "Bizarro" in-story. Though, Who's Who: Update '87 #1 gave it that name.
- Obstructive Vigilantism: Addressed. In #4, the Mayor deputizes Superman, allowing him to do more than just a citizen's arrest of Luthor. Since Superman obeys the laws, he remains a deputy for Metropolis for the rest of the run, averting this trope.
- Our Nudity Is Different: Kryptonians are shown dressing in outfits that cover their entire bodies except their faces. When Lara views Jor-El's images of Earth, she is horrified at the sight of a field worker with his shirt off, which qualifies as obscene exposure by Kryptonian standards.
- Police are Useless: Averted. Superman spies a mugging, but doesn't intervene because he sees the Metropolis police taking care of it, implying that Superman doesn't need to intervene on every petty crime going on in the city.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: In this series, Kryptonians were born in a "birthing matrix," and immediately isolated from every other Kryptonian. In this manner, there was no way anything one Kryptonian said or did could possibly offend another. When Jor-El contemplated sending his child to Earth, he initiated a face-to-face meeting with the child's mother, Lara; the first such meeting between Kryptonians in several hundred years. When Lara views Jor-El's images of Earth, she is horrified at the sight of a field worker with his shirt off. Nevertheless, Jor-El convinces her to send the birthing matrix to Earth and they continue their illicit affair until Krypton is destroyed.
- Byrne borrowed elements from the 1978 Superman film. Krypton was depicted as a cold and emotionally sterile planet, and Smallville was placed in Kansas. He also kept Ma Kent alive to see Superman debut, though he kept Pa alive too (Pre-Crisis, both had died when Clark was still Superboy). Clark also never became Superboy like in the film.
- Byrne's characterization of Clark was derived from George Reeves's portrayal in The Adventures of Superman TV series. Unlike Christopher Reeve's Clark, which was an act once he got the Superman costume, George Reeves's Clark reflected Superman's true character more, being much less timid and wimpy. For Byrne, Clark was as much or even more of "the real person" as Superman was.
- Secret Keeper: Lana Lang, instead of Pete Ross, in this continuity.
- Shaving Is Science: Issue #4 reveals that Superman uses heat vision reflected with a piece of metal from his birthing matrix ship to shave.
- In issue #3, the Magpie kills one of her henchmen using a re-enactment of the "Happy Birthday" gag from the Looney Tunes cartoon "It's Hummer Time!" (it's a Non Fatal Explosion in the cartoon, but the henchman doesn't have the good fortune of being a cartoon character. Plus she puts the dynamite right in his mouth).
- Lois insults Lex by saying he's starting to look a lot like Fred Mertz.
- Space Plane: Superman makes his public debut rescuing an "experimental space-plane" from crashing.
- Steven Ulysses Perhero: The villain Batman is after in issue #3 is the Magpie, who is driven by a compulsion to steal and hoard valuable artworks. Her real name is Margaret Pye.
- Super Hero Origin
- Superman Stays Out of Gotham: Addressed in the third issue. Batman tells Supes that "Defending a planet and cleaning up a city are two very different things... Gotham City isn't your turf. It requires a different approach." By the end of the issue, Superman warns Batman he'll come after him if he ever cross the line.
- Villainous Breakdown: Magpie. Discussed◊ by Superman and Batman.